As Rayyan Hamoudi on the Canadian television series Little Mosque on the Prairie, actor Sitara Hewitt plays the devout Muslim daughter of a Muslim father and a mother who converted to Islam from Anglicanism. In real life, Ms. Hewitt was raised Anglican. Below, she reflects on her unique role for the Anglican Journal.
I feel a bit overwhelmed as I sit in my sunny kitchen, chatting on the phone with the organizer of the Miss Pakistan World Pageant. I have been asked to host the pageant this year.
When I say, “overwhelmed,” I mean it in a positive way. It’s been exciting to experience how Rayyan and, more surprisingly, I – Sitara Hewitt – have become a role model of sorts to young Muslim women around the world.
Maybe I am surprised because of the fact that just two years ago I had difficulty paying my rent so that my parents delicately suggested that perhaps I should find another career besides acting. Or maybe it’s the honour of being considered a role model and needing to strive to measure up.
Then again, I’m pretty sure that it’s because of the realization that the show we shoot in our back yard has had an impact on millions of people across the globe.
Being cast as Rayyan Hamoudi was so fortunate for me. Rayyan is the first character of her kind on television, a fact that appeals to the innovator in me. Rayyan allows me to channel experiences from my childhood into my current work. On top of that I’m challenged to keep learning everyday. Through my character I’m discovering what it would mean to be a modern, Muslim, woman living in Canada.
Rayyan and I have enough similarities that I consider her a kindred spirit. We also have enough differences to keep me studying in order to play her. We’re both biracial; she’s Lebanese/Canadian and I am Pakistani/Welsh. Rayyan was raised secular Muslim and became devout of her own volition and I was raised Anglican.
While I was growing up my parents were involved in academic research. Because of that I was fortunate to grow up in three different places and cultures. In Canada we lived in Elora, Ont. I was also able to experience Islamabad in Pakistan where we lived with my relatives as well as the mountain villages of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan. For many years we celebrated Eid with my cousins in Islamabad. At Christmas we’d be back in Elora to observe midnight mass at the local Anglican church.
When my mother and I lived in the villages of the Himalayas where she did her PhD research, we would observe the local traditions and cover our hair as all the women did. The people in this region were so welcoming to us that it was only natural that we should respect their Islamic customs. In fact, when I was there I felt naked when my head wasn’t covered – I loved my shawls! I still return every three years and my mum and I have a fantastic time going to the bazaar to pick out and haggle for our new chadors.
It is interesting to me that years later I would be cast in a role where I wear the hijab.
I consider it an honour to represent young progressive Muslim women. How cool is it that I get to play a character who looks glamorous while trying to be more devout! I also respect anyone who is trying to be a better person, which is why I have a great deal of respect for Rayyan.
The people I work with are talented and Little Mosque is a brilliant show. Audiences seem to enjoy the world of Mercy, Sask., and I get to continue to do what I love. Now that’s a blessing.