Zaib Shaikh and Sitara Hewitt, better known to "Little Mosque on the Prairie" fans as their alter egos Amaar Rashid and Rayyan Hamoudi, are reminiscing about their influential little show with a "fond sadness." Even after six seasons, both still seem awestruck by the incredible reception the show has had around the world, racking up humanitarian awards, critical accolades and even an induction into the Museum of Radio and Television in New York City.
The groundbreaking CBC comedy is winding down in its sixth and last season, with the series finale set to air on Monday, April 2. The show has attracted a loyal fan base over the years, both in Canada and beyond. In fact, "Little Mosque" now airs in 83 countries around the world. Not bad for a little show from Canada's public broadcaster.
Huffington Post TV Canada sat down with Shaikh and Hewitt to look back on the series -- and chatted about everything from unusual encounters with fans to getting emotional while filming the last season to what to expect from the series finale.
How did you react when you found out this would be the last season?
Sitara Hewitt: Well I, along with the rest of the cast, thought that the fifth season would potentially be the last. So when we heard we'd be going for a sixth season I was overjoyed. It was a huge blessing, because as an actor all you really want is a job so you can stop waiting by the phone for your next job.
Zaib Shaikh: Because it is a groundbreaking show, I think the producers and the network knew if there was going to be another season it needed to really be impactful and round out the story, and we got that in this season. We're very proud of that.
What was it like filming the last season? Did anyone get emotional at any point?
SH: Oh yeah. I'm a very sentimental person. Almost every single day of that final season I walked around the sets with a great amount of gratitude and appreciation...
ZS:... Confusion, loss...
SH: Yes, loss! A great sadness! [Laughs] No, we had fun in the sixth season, but on the last day I cried. The show really was a part of history. It was groundbreaking. To have been fortunate enough to be a small part of that was really a big thing in my life. I also kind of grew up on the show. I was pregnant and had a baby and got married in my real life, so this show will always be a very special part of my life.
Didn't your baby appear on the show?
SH: He was in an episode! Rayyan and Amaar babysit my baby.
ZS: Yeah, he's now working in LA.
SH: He's got an agent, a manager, I can't even get him on the phone! [Laughs] No, he's at home.
Zaib, what about you - any tears?
ZS: That nostalgic feeling of being a part of something so amazing and having to let go does make you get teary-eyed and misty. You realize this will never happen again, and it won't in that way that it did. It's amazing to be a part of. It's fond sadness that you kind of look back and go wow, there's nothing to say. It was very emotional, the final season, in the sense that we rounded out characters that we inhabited for six seasons. And we won't get to share those moments again.
SH: What's cool too is that it's in its third season or second season in other parts of the world, and so to other viewers it's still a new show. And that's exciting. Even though it's ending for us, it's only just begun for a lot of people. It was such a simple show. The jokes were just about real life and people and love. The trials and tribulations of small town life. And yet the show was epic for the barriers it broke down and the nuances it showed the world about a culture that has been misrepresented so much in the past.
What was your favourite fan feedback from over the years?
SH: I did some character research with a group of Muslim women to learn about being a Muslim woman in Canada, because I had no experience with that. One of the girls wore a head scarf and was very much like Rayyan, she gave me an instructional book about Islam, and inside she wrote, "Dear Sister, thank you so much for being brave enough to portray this character when so many other people have been afraid to in the past." That spoke to me because it showed me that I wasn't just entertaining people anymore, but I was part of a process that made people feel "seen" in the mainstream media.
ZS: CBC had a campaign where we had this Beatles thing, like we're the most famous Muslims in the world. The darker press was like "Really? Why? How? Why is the CBC taking itself so seriously?" Even from our end it was like, "Wow, this is weird that we're doing this!" And yet, I've gotten a chance to be around the world and people know this show. People in Iran know this show. People in South Africa, the south of France, the Belgian Congo, New York, people at Harvard, people in LA know this show. After the first or second season I went to LA and people had heard of this show. And the head of the American Muslim Association on CNN and said this show will do more for race relations between Muslims and non-Muslims than any international conference could ever do. That, to me, is amazing.
Where were you most surprised to be recognized?
ZS: In Toronto, at the Manulife Centre, there was this dude who had like big headphones on his head. He's a white dude, but had a totally tricked out, hip-hop kind of vibe to him. He looks at me and goes "Assalamu alaikum, dude!" It was a very slow moment because he was going down and I was going up. It took me a second to understand what he said, and I just went wow, I think that's one of the coolest people that watches my show! [Laughs] He didn't look like he'd be the demographic. This guy should not have been watching that show on CBC at 8:30 on a Monday night! But that dude not only knew about the show, but said "Assalamu alaikum!" to me! That was pretty cool.
SH: Mine's not as cool, but last week I went into a casting office in LA for a meeting, and this head casting director who my manager had warned me was so big and so busy walked out of the room and said "I am a big fan of yours!" That's odd because our show doesn't air in the US. So the fact that she was a big fan of my work on "Little Mosque," -- one of the only shows I've ever done in a country where the show does not air in the middle of Hollywood -- really spoke to the span of this Canadian show.
Do you think fans will be satisfied with how it wraps up?
SH: I do. I think it's a big juicy, full final episode with lots of surprises.
ZS: Our fans that watched our first episode and know exactly what happened will love how our final episode ends. They'll go, "Yeah, that's cool." They'll smile.
The series finale of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" airs on CBC on Monday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT.