By Sangeeta Kumar
‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ is the first series of its kind on prime-time Television. As two million viewers from Finland to Gaza tune in to watch the show Sitara Hewitt, as Rayyan Hamoudi, the devout, secular, hijab-wearing Lebanese-Muslim physician, is furiously becoming a role model for young Muslim women across the globe. EGO chats with Sitara about what it means to be a part of this cultural phenomenon.
EGO: Zarqa Nawaz has definitely pulled off a coup of sorts, airing ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ on prime-time Television. Tell us a bit about your role as Rayyan Hamoudi, the devout, secular hijab-wearing Lebanese-Muslim physician.
Sitara: Rayyan is a character very dear to my heart. She’s strong but also fun and quirky. She started wearing the hijab of her own volition, her mother doesn’t. She struggles with trying to live her life to the best of her ability and doesn’t always succeed, but is remarkably resilient and positive. I find her a great mix of wacky and grounded. This season she is engaged to be married, so it’s been interesting to explore that side of her life.
EGO: How did you land the role?
Sitara: My agent found the project, I thought the script was great and original, and lucky for me I landed the part.
EGO: The show premiered last year to over 2 million viewers and is fast developing an international fan base from Finland to Gaza. What does it feel like to be a role model for moderate Muslim women across the globe?
Sitara: We were all stunned at how well the show continues to do. Two million viewers in Canada is essentially unheard of, I think we were the first series in 11 years to get such great ratings. I was delighted, there’s a lot of talent on the show and I’m glad people are seeing it.
As far as being a role model I find that a difficult question. I am so glad that people enjoy and relate to my character, and I feel that is a testament that I’m doing my job well. However while I have a great deal of respect for the character that I play and her beliefs, I’m not a young Muslim woman in real life, I am an actor and my priority is doing that to the best of my ability. I’m just trying to figure it out and find a balanced life like everyone else! Ultimately I’m grateful to be doing what I love, on a show that has significance and that is being seen around the world.
EGO: On June 10, 2008, FOX announced that it plans to “adapt” Little Mosque on the Prairie into an American setting. It’s interesting coming from FOX. How do you think that’ll work out?
Sitara: I think it’s fantastic that a network in a market as big as the USA is inspired by our show.
EGO: ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ is essentially a comedy about culture clashes. Were you worried about any potential controversies that the show might give rise to?
Sitara: No, our show may not please everyone but what show does? Little Mosque is a calm and heartwarming comedy and the focus for us is on putting together a good piece of television.
The show does not try to raise controversy or force it’s opinions on anyone. People of all walks of life can relate to it and I feel it bridges gaps by being mainstream and fun to watch.
EGO: One doesn’t usually correlate mosques and prairies.
How does the show manage to balance authenticity and the fictitious world of Mercy, Sask.?
Sitara: We film our exteriors in a Little Town called Indian Head in Saskatchewan. It is beautiful, Idyllic and totally feasible that it could be Mercy. The town in real life has an eclectic mix of people, like most places in Canada.
EGO: You are of partial Pakistani Muslim descent. Can you give our readers a peek into your background?
Sitara: I was raised Christian, my parent’s are Welsh and Pakistani and are both Anglican Christians. I’m not a Muslim, I just play one on TV! I had to do a lot of research with young Canadian Muslim women in preparation for the role, and read books on Islam.
While I grew up in Canada, I feel lucky that I got a to experience both Pakistani and Welsh culture, as we spent time in all three countries. Pakistan is so beautiful, the Himalayan mountains are one of my favorite places on earth.
EGO: You were a dancer in Deepa Mehta’s film, ‘Bollywood Hollywood’. It’s not unusual for girls form the South Asian Diaspora to make their way into Bollywood. Would you be open to that?
Sitara: I grew up watching Bollywood films, I love them! As for working in them I’m open to it, though it’s not my focus. If the right script came along that was inspiring to me, then I’d definitely consider it. I like the idea of exploring a variety of genres.
Thank you for your time and good luck!