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Zaib Shaikh
Zaib Shaikh.

Zaib Shaikh

Actor lands a plum role with a CBC hit

Young big-city hotshot leaves Toronto, travels west, and finds a financially shaky but ultimately noble calling in a small community of lovable eccentrics. Hilarity ensues.

Are we talking about Zaib Shaikh, U of T graduate and co-founder of the Whistler Theatre Project in British Columbia? Or are we talking about Amaar Rashid, Shaikh’s character, the flustered imam on the CBC comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie? Turns out it’s a bit of both.

“The character is very similar,” muses Shaikh. “This big-city kid who decides to take on something greater than himself.”

Shaikh, 33, graduated from the University of Toronto Mississauga’s theatre program in 1997, and has worked in stage, film and television ever since. Last year, he and two friends started the Whistler Theatre Project in a resort town better known for its skiing than stagecraft. The theatre company’s inaugural production – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – was a hit, and a second season is gearing up.

And speaking of hits: Little Mosque broke the viewership record for a CBC-TV première and grabbed headlines around the world with its culture-clash comedy premise. The show centres on a group of Muslims establishing a mosque in small town, Saskatchewan. The mutual xenophobia, of both the town’s white-bread populace and its emergent Muslim community, is at the core of the show’s cultural satire. But the concept became a political hot potato long before the first episode aired. “I don’t think anyone anticipated the human-interest story that we would become,” says Shaikh. “We were just trying to do a good television show that makes people laugh.” Turns out it did, and so Little Mosque will also have a second season.

Whether it’s bringing Shakespeare to the ski slopes or comedy to the Koran, Shaikh says he wants to make a lasting contribution to Canadian drama. “That’s very idealistic, I know, and potentially naive,” he says, “but that’s how I got here in the first place – by being idealistic and naive. And so far, it’s working out.”

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  1. 6 Responses to “ Zaib Shaikh ”

  2. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I noticed that this article uses the phrase “the town’s white-bread populace."

    Why choose the phrase “white-bread” rather than “Caucasian” or “white” unless the intention was to disparage white people?

    I am both disappointed and concerned that U of T Magazine would accept this derogatory term.

    H. Ferrugia

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Like H. Farrugia, I am upset that U of T Magazine used the term “white-bread” to refer to whites. What a sad world we live in if we have to cross the line of decency to emphasize a point. By the way, I can find many racial slurs in various dictionaries, but that doesn’t mean that I have to use them. There is something that each of us should use – and that is good taste.

    M. Novar
    Mississauga, Ontario

  4. Raj khan says:

    I agree with the comments of H. Ferrugia and M. Novar. Using the term "white-bread" to refer to white people is like calling a brown south-Asian guy a "paki." We should avoid these terms.

  5. Troy L says:

    H. Ferrugia, M. Novar and Raj Khan need to calm down. "White-bread" refers not to the colour of anyone's skin, but to the colour of the bread they eat, which is white (a la Wonderbread). You are confusing "bred" (referring to race) with "bread." It is a derogatory term, yes, but only to imply that what a person does is bland, unexciting or monotonous. I'm all for 12-grain flax bread and people who think before they type!

  6. Patricia (Pat) Startek says:

    In the article about Zaib Shaikh, it is written that he is currently 33 years old and that he graduated from the theatre program at U of T Mississauga 20 years ago! He would have been 13 years old! Is this correct?

  7. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Yes, the article was published in 2007, so he was 33 at that time, now 43.