Interview With Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Zaib Shaikh
Zaib Shaikh has been leading a prominent career within the Canadian entertainment industry as an actor, producer, and director.Some of his most recent work includes the Gemini nominated film,Othello,The Tragedy of the Moor. Shaikh was actively involved in its creation as co director, co producer and co writer. Shaikh’s long list of television credits include series such as Metropia, Da Vinci’s City Hall and The Dead Zone. Currently, Zaib also has a great deal of involvement with many television and film productions through his production company, Governor Films.
Zaib Shaikh is best known for his role on Little Mosque on the Prairie as the compassionate ,Imam Amaar Rashid .With the show approaching its sixth and final season this and Zaib being kind enough to participate in an interview with me, we discuss how he was initially appointed the role, the challenges which he faced as he learned portrayed the character as well as how he has related to the character
Shaikh also reflects on Ammar’s relationship with Rayyan,[ Sitara Hewitt] from the two’s initial chaperoned dating to the controversial kiss which the couple shared after having been married.
Shaikh also gives viewers an update on what is to come in the show’s sixth and final season, in terms of Amaar’s married life with Rayyan, his new dynamic with Sarah Hamoudi[ Sheila McCarthy] as a son-in-law as well as his continued challenges of being Imam at Mercy Mosque. The talented actor also makes a noteworthy comment by sharing his perspective on how the series finale will satisfy viewers.
The actor also discusses his reaction to announcement of the show’s conclusion,shares his reflections on his favourite moments on the show, discusses his anticipations on how both Amaar and the show shall be remembered, Zaib’s experience as a role model as well as his final message to fans of the show.
Take a read through our complete interview with Zaib, below!
Abbas Karimjee:Lets discuss your initial appointment to the role of Amaar. Were you contacted for the role or did you audition? Could you please walk us through this initial process?
Zaib Shaikh:The Producers of the show heard of me through the director of the 1st season and he basically recommended me for the role.I put myself on tape because I was living in Vancouver at the time and lo and behold, the rest is history.
AK: How has being a real life Muslim allowed you to relate to the character? In what other ways have you also connected with Ammar?
ZS:I think Ammar is definitely connected to me because I’m a Toronto born Muslim who strongly believes in Canada, being Canadian and Canadian values but still has a strong spiritual connection to his faith. Ammar is actually a kind of perfect Canadian and that is something that has been my goal as a Canadian – to give the most I can to and for my country. Ammar is constantly striving to achieve the best of his Canadian-ness and the best of his connection to his faith every day and that’s something to admire.
AK:What challenges were initially involved in portraying the character of Amaar and how did you overcome this?
One of the biggest challenges is that Ammar is the nicest man I’ve NEVER met. He is honest, straightforward, optimistic, fair and committed to the best of everybody. I’ve known a lot of people of all kinds of cultures, creeds and religions and I have never met that kind of man – ever – so it’s hard to play a character that almost doesn’t exist no matter what his faith or nationality.
AK:How do you think Amaar has developed over the course of the series, both through his various relationships as well as an Imam at Mercy Mosque?
Ammar began as the outsider to this world, this community, and this group of people. Basically he was like the 2.1 million Canadians that watched our premiere on CBC. He met Mercy for the 1st time. Now as we present our farewell season, Amaar, like all Canadians and those audiences who watch it on over 80 countries worldwide, has become a citizen of a town, and idea, called Mercy.
AK:This season marks Little Mosque’s final season.What was your reaction when you discovered this and could you please briefly describe the circumstances which resulted in the show’s end?
ZS:This is a show that changed the world for the better and I think we were all thrilled that the show gets to have a farewell season as a kind of Thank You to our Canadian audience. So many successful shows don’t get that final chance to really give a proper ending to their story and I think it’s great that the Creative and Productions teams and CBC gave Little Mosque that chance.
AK:Last season Amaar and Rayyan became engaged and thus began dating through chaperone. According to Muslim law they refrained from physical contact. Could you please describe some of the challenges involved in this and the ways in which you think intimacy of their relationship was still conveyed?
ZS:It certainly is a unique romance on television. Typical love stories on Television shows have physical gestures and customs that everyone is used to seeing as they witness a progression of relationship between two characters. Sitara Hewitt and I had the challenge of showing all that progression through looks, smiles and physical distance until that first kiss for our season 5 finale. Ammar and Rayyan said “I love you” a whole season before they kissed. How weird is that? It’s incredibly challenging to pull of a romantic story arch in our setting and I’m proud of the work we achieved and the results it had for our audiences.
AK: Last season ended with Amaar and Rayyan, kissing in their rented limo as wedded couple. A certain portion of the online fan base expressed their views on how they thought it was inappropriate, both on the blog as well as through the show’s official Facebook page.What is your response to this perspective and what are your thoughts on the suitability of the scene?
ZS:I know a lot of married Muslims that kiss and some that don’t.The happier marriages are those with the kissing.The children of the marriages with the kissing are also better adjusted.That’s my experience.
AK:This season, Amaar and Rayaan return from their honeymoon to Mercy. Could you please give us an idea of some of the challenges which are in store for the couple as they begin their married life together?
ZS:I think the audience will enjoy seeing this particular Muslim couple in their home behind the white picket fence as it were.With Ammar and Rayyan it’s the first time in Television that any Muslim couple has fallen in love, married and moved into their own home. It’s all new and challenging and rewarding
AK: This season Sarah and Yasser finalize their divorce. Could you please give us some idea’s Amaar’s attitude and level of support towards Sarah as she goes through this?
ZS:Amaar is committed to being the perfect Canadian the perfect Muslim, the perfect husband and now the perfect son in law as well.No wonder he’s always so flustered.
AK: Could you please give us an idea of what this season is leading up to? What can viewers expect of the series finale itself?
ZS:They can expect something totally full circle and something that leaves an unforgettable smile on their faces by the end.
AK: How do you hope both Little Mosque and Amaar, in particular will be remembered as?
ZS;Little Mosque has already been called the Cosby show for Islam by Katie Couric, it’s won amazing humanitarian awards, it’s been inducted into the Museum of Television and Radio Arts in New York & LA, it’s in over 80 countries world wide and wherever I have been around the world whether Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, New York, Capetown, London, Los Angeles (you get the picture) someone always knows about Little Mosque and Amaar. That’s already happening or happened so I could hope for nothing better.
AK: Could you please share some of your favorite moments of working on Little Mosque, onscreen and/ or off-screen?
AK;How has working on the show,influenced both your acting career as well as your personal life?
ZS:A show like Little Mosque has indelibly etched itself into the hearts, minds and lives of all those that have worked on Little Mosque and I am no different.
AK: What has been your experience as a role model and why do you think the character of Amaar is so influential?Has being a real life Muslim added to the pressure of your role as an influential figure?
ZS:It is simultaneously incredibly humbling and pride filling to walk in Amaar’s shoes. He is a character under tremendous scrutiny by Muslims and Non-Muslims as an Imam and Muslim man and it’s one of the most challenging roles I’ve had to inhabit. Amaar can never just be Amaar Rashid. He’ll always be the Imam, he’ll always be the first Muslim character played by a Muslim actor as a leading character on television in the English speaking world. Frankly, that is terrifying and I can’t believe I ever agreed to do it.
AK:With Little Mosque coming to an end,what message would you like to convey to fans of the series?
ZS:Thank you to all our audiences who have tuned in and lived with us these past 6 years.Thank you to Canada for being a courageous country to show this kind of work and thank you to the CBC for making it happen. Little Mosque is seen as a “game changer” around the world and Canada and the CBC are recognized for being the country that launched such a show.