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My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints
Samira Amen, who's featured in "All-American Muslim."
November 28th, 2011
02:38 PM ET

My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints

Editor's Note: Khurram Dara is the author of "The Crescent Directive: An essay on improving the image of Islam in America," coming this winter (Tensile). He tweets @KhurramDara.

By Khurram Dara, Special to CNN.com

For the last decade, Islam has been under a lot of scrutiny, and understandably so. When you’ve got terrorists all over the world declaring war on America and the West in the name of Islam, it’s only natural that people will have questions.

But this reasonable concern has rapidly turned into irrational suspicion, with anti-Muslim groups seizing on the opportunity to paint all Muslims in America as radical-loving, violence-approving foreigners.

The problem is that the response from American Muslims has been about as effective as Herman Cain’s PR strategy in the face of sexual harassment allegations. Instead of pooling our resources to combat radicalism, or taking a more active role in our communities so that other Americans better understand us, we’ve resorted to defense tactics.

We tell people that the Quran is being taken out of context. We focus on efforts to try to “educate” the American public. And we desperately cling to the idea that if people just had a better grasp of the facts on Islam, they wouldn’t buy into anti-Muslim propaganda.

Unsurprisingly, none of that has changed Americans' view of Islam.

So when I heard that TLC was doing a reality show about several American Muslim families, I was intrigued. The show wasn’t going to feature scholars refuting the (ridiculous) claims made about Islam. It was going to show regular Muslim families living in America. It was going to show, rather than simply tell, people about Muslims and Islam.

After three weeks of airing, “All-American Muslim” has done just that. Whether it was Mr. Aoude prepping his pregnant wife for that hectic hospital trip, or newlyweds Jeff and Shadia worrying about how their families will get along, it has shown viewers the single most important truth that will change the perceptions of Muslims: We are just like everyone else.

There has been widespread praise from TV critics, calling the show "intimate and heartfelt" and "as good as it gets" and praising TLC for how it has "upended the conventions of reality television."

The show’s premiere had 1.7 million viewers, making it the No. 2 program in its time slot among key demographics and scoring TLC's best Sunday prime time performance in more than a year.

Predictably, the show was also met with harsh and unfair criticism. Anti-Muslim groups wasted no time citing this as another example of Muslims trying to “take over” America.

This was expected. What wasn’t expected was the reaction from some other American Muslims.

“The families aren’t Muslim enough.”

“They aren’t good role models.”

"They don't represent all American Muslims."

Is the show a perfect cross-section of the American Muslim demographic? Are they the most religious families? Is it full of people you aspire to be one day?

No, of course not. It’s reality TV. It’s entertainment. We American Muslims ought to look at it in the grand scheme of things instead of just criticizing the show by saying it “doesn’t represent me.”

You’re right. It doesn’t represent you.

That’s because no TV show, no organization, no movement is ever going to represent you better than you can represent yourself.

“All-American Muslim” is not going to change the image of Muslims on its own. But it’s got the right idea. It’s premised on the fact that people judge a group not just on its beliefs, but also on their interactions with members of that group.

So if you don’t think “All-American Muslim” represents you, then go out into your community and show people what being Muslim is all about, from your perspective. Whether it’s a book club or a basketball league, we can all have our own “All-American Muslim” moments.

The most important take-away from a show like “All-American Muslim” is that we Muslims should focus our efforts on showing average Americans that we share far more in common with them than some would like them to believe.

And you don’t need a TV show to do that, you just have to have the courage to break out of your shell and share in those experiences with your American brethren.

Don’t treat TLC’s reality show as the only hope for changing our image, or as our one shot at showing America what Islam is all about. Don’t treat it as needing to be a flawless, immaculate portrayal of Muslims in America.

Treat it as a first step. Consider it a new approach. Look at it as the beginning of the long journey we have ahead, in changing the negative stereotypes about Muslims in America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khurram Dara.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion • TV

soundoff (2,050 Responses)
  1. Joel M.

    i've really, really enjoyed watching this show. as a non-muslim who knows little about muslim culture (i don't really know any muslims, actually, so beyond what i know about the basics of the religion, i don't know anything about day-to-day life), i've really enjoyed learning new things about people. things that add nuance are so helpful to our understanding of the world.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  2. old-glory

    FYI: Report on the Islamophobia group behind the FFA /Lowes controversy...

    Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America

    Download report from website.

    http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/08/islamophobia.html

    December 19, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  3. imsunr

    But, Khurram, what are Muslims willing to do when the negative stereotypes are true and an accurate portrayal of what is fundamental to Islam? You need to address and renounce that apostasy is punishable by death. In America, anyone has the right to change religions, e.g,, from Islam to some other. That is just one example taken from Sharia that is typical of the many philosophical differences between Islam and America that make Islam incompatible with our culture. Once Muslims reach a consequential percentage of a community, they start imposing Sharia on all. Everyone should watch the YouTube video of a Muslim street fair in Dearborn, MI. Some religious group that are not Muslim is trying to pass out literature on public streets and they are harassed by Muslim security personnel to the point of being removed by the police. Even the police would not protect the non-Muslim citizens' freedom of speech. That is why you are not trusted and with good reason.

    December 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  4. Diana

    Homer, I completely share your feelings. How could anyone support this religion- especially women! The opening of the show where one of the hijab wearers says she "flys around educating people like you" is such a turn off. She is so uneducated yet she will be educating Americans on all the great things about Islam? I don;t think so!

    December 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Mike

      This show sucks- but that has nothing to do with the fact that they are muslim. Every scene is full of failure and depressing people talking about their problems. A women resents her child; the football team loses by a landslide, a man has to get rid of his beloved pet dog... who wants to watch a bunch of losers?
      Immigrants from every country need to examine what made America great- because we are a Christian nation. Christianity is full of hope, promise and perseverance. We don’t lean on other family members in such an oppressive way. The fact that their families are so critical and controlling of each other completely turns me off. If anything, this show has confirmed what I always suspected- that these people are not people I would want to spend a lot of time with or bother to get to know better.

      I understand that this show was to let outsiders see that muslims are just like the rest of us, but sorry; my life is not that miserable. There was no joy, no harmony, just of bunch of people putting up with each other.
      We don't need to learn about islam, they need to learn Christianity.

      December 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  5. DeeNYC

    I love the picture of a woman covering her head smiling like she's so happy. What would happen if she decided to take that thing off? Would her husband whip and beat her to death? I'm glad she's happy being regarded in her religion no better than a barnyard animal.

    December 13, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Let's Not be Small Minded

      I am a non-Muslim. If Ms. Dee of NY actually had watched the show she would realize the woman in question is a liberated, single , respected working woman with an awesome personality and family members and friends who CHOOSE whether they will wear the hijab or not. None of them are whipped or beaten for their choice. I come from the Sikh community where unshorn hair and turbans for men are required by the faith but many Sikhs choose to cut their hair. These are individual issues and the great blessing of America is that we all accept each others' diversity.

      December 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  6. jane

    Actually was enjoying the show until the heartless act of giving up a 15 year old well behaved devoted dog and left to people that had so many dogs and vet bills ( or should have high vet bills by the amount of dogs and their conditions ) that the dog will hardly have a quality final years left.
    There are countless of websites to show how to reduce allergies. So not only heartless on 2 peoples' accounts, but a downright lie......regardless of race, creed, religion... This is simply a coldhearted individual. Even her mother understood a dog is like a child.

    December 12, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  7. Traumatized Dog Lover

    Last night I watched the "American Muslim" episode and it was so traumatic I could not sleep after watching it. Jeff and Shadia were moving in together and this entailed Jeff leaving his 14 year old dog at a "farm" with a pack of dogs; hardly a place for an aging domestic animal who needs individualized attention. I can still see the dog with its tail down, looking forlornly through the gates as Jeff took off in his car. I suspect that, in one fell swoop, Shadia has become the most hated woman in Dearborn and Jeff the Most Despised. Too bad because I hoped this show would be a positive element in society. The show left the impression that the Muslim religion despises dogs. A majority of Americans, many Muslims included, love dogs. I have a Muslim friend who dotes on his dogs along with his wife and children; a contrast to Shadia and her wimp of a husband. Muslims are like all other communities; but these vignettes tend to leave an unfortunate impression of a community. I hope some good Muslim or non-Muslim in Dearborn rescues that dog and takes it into a loving home.

    December 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Dog Lover

      I apologize for using words like hated and despised. So So sorry. I understand that some people just don't like dogs and I was so distraught about that dog , I didn't sleep that night and woke up angry. One must not blog when angry!

      December 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  8. Sam

    Bravo Mr Darra, great reporting , thumbs up

    December 10, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  9. Iqbal Khan

    Learn more about Islam.
    check: http://www.iiie.net---www.Whyislam.org---www.yvonneridley.com--www.911bible.com

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBw2Wne0gAU&w=640&h=390]

    December 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  10. DrDoITT

    search a couple of terms in google

    DHIMMI
    PEACE OF KURAYSH (this has some different spellings like Quraysh etc.. look it up)
    JEZIYA

    Then think how to live in peace with....

    December 6, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  11. Muslim girl

    Please every one open ur minds, if u ask any Muslim in the middle east or the US they will tell u Islam continuously preaches Peace, the Quran is a beautiful book just like all the other holy books. Islam has been victims of terrorism too, those small group of people (terrorist) were created to give Islam a bad name, to keep people from converting killing innocent lives both Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam is 1.8 billion and growing, there are people who will take a peaceful religion and twist it to their own ideology, but they are a very small group, who should not be associated with Islam, they do not speak for us either. I can name countless Christian, Jews, Communist etc..... they all have terrorist too, each generation the world chooses to turn against a race or religion.
    I hope we can have peace and the hate will die out, maybe this show can help people understand we/Muslims are normal, in the US there are about 15 million and FBI has proven we are no threat. I read some of the comments and people say they want real Muslims, these people are real, this is our life, yeah we pray, we fast, we dress modestly,we help the needy, we respect each other and our neighbors, treat women equally, Have a lot of fun, get married and pay our taxes this is Islam, so please before making judgments on Islam take time to read about Islam and talk to a local Mosque they will tell you all u need to know. These families on the TLC show I seen like them in the USA and in the Middle-east, yes there are very Conservative Muslims too, who practice the same things except a little more self restrictive, and there are extreme Muslims -not terrorism – just extreme more strict to themselves(very small group), but like in all other religion their a mix of practice within the religion. The majority are very balanced just like the Quran teaches, and the Sunnah books show us how to balance everything. The Quran tells us to respect all people and religions, do not listen to the haters against Islam.
    so a Nun covering head to toe (can not marry, or have children) what do u call her?? DEVOTED CHRISTIAN
    in Islam a women dressed modestly (can marry and have children, work, educate etc....) what do call her?? OPPRESSED, NOOOO, we wear it willingly we are DEVOTED TOO, we love god and we respect the teaching sent to us.
    --Did you know that in CHRISTIANITY every women must cover their hair and there would be a punishment if they don't?
    “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:6).
    --This long list of verses from the Holy Quran and the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) show that Islam at it's core and at its source is a religion of peace. Terrorists or dictatorships who persecute innocent people because they claim it's part of faith are not welcomed – their use of Islam as a scapegoat, does not make Islam what they portray it to be, in fact those false persecutors will be punished themselves by God, "God is the only judge .
    2:256 There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God, he has taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and Knowing.

    This is The teachings of the Prophet on how you and I should treat our Non-Muslim friends and neighbours on a day to day basis as well as how to government should treat a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state.

    "He who believes in God and the Last Day should honour his guest, should not harm his neighbour, should speak good or keep quiet." (Bukhari, Muslim)

    "Whoever hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God." (Bukhari)

    "He who hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state, I am his adversary, and I shall be his adversary on the Day of a Judgement." (Bukhari)

    "Beware on the Day of Judgement; I shall mysefl be complainant against him who wrongs a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state or lays on him a responsibility greater than he can bear or deprives him of anything that belongs to him." (Al-Mawardi)

    "Anyone who kills a Non-Muslim who had become our ally will not smell the fragrance of Paradise." (Bukhari)
    "The best among you is the one who is best toward his wife" According to Aishah, the Prophet used to help his wives with domestic chores: "He always joined in household work and would at times mend his clothes, repair his shoes, and sweep the floor. He would milk, tether, and feed his animals and do the household shopping."
    - For instance, Islam gave a wife the right to acquire and possess wealth and keep it for herself, and she had no responsibility to share the family expenses with her husband. And the husband had no legal right to any of her belongings.
    ===And of His signs is: "that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Quran, 30:21, see also 42:11 and 2:228)
    – Prophet Muhammad

    -- Just a few examples of the Peace and equality in Islam, because we have a lot of ignorance who choose not to learn about Islam- it is NOT evil like the media portrays it.
    these are a few scholar you can check out very smart, and English speakers like Abdur-Raheem Green and other like :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY17d4ZhY8M Hamza yusef
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_QMFJ2CNlY Moez Masoud
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqYNydEH5Sk Yusuf Estes
    too bad you can't understand the arabian scholars like; omar abdel kafi, and omar khalid to name a few.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      Its not whats in a dry book its what people who practice the tenets of the book do.

      modern day europe: liberal democracies accept poor people from muslim countries, and what do they want to do? enforce sharia law, make europe a sharia nation, KILL people who draw a cartoon of mohammed, effectively censor all honest discussion about said behavior by fear and guilting liberal people.... beware!

      December 6, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Larry Gray

      This is a typical example of why many people are turned off by Islam. The Muslim lady tries to portray Islam as harmless and benign, while stating that Muslims treat women "equally." Even though in the Qur'an it is stated that if a wife disobeys her husband he should first refuse to sleep with her and when that fails, he is instructed to "beat her." Yusuf Ali adds "lightly" after "beat her," but this is not what it says in Arabic.
      Then the nice Muslim lady goes off on Christianity, statinmg that all Christian women have to "cover their hair," and if they don't they will be punished? This is what is typical of many Muslims, they react strongly if you "diss" their religion, but they have no problem "dissing" Christians and others in order to make Islam seem more benign than it really is. She says there is no 'compulsion" in religion, but a Christian convert in Afghanistan was granted asylum in Italy because the Muslims there said that the Qur'an decrees that anyone leaving Islam is to be killed. It is always something else, somewhere else, and someone "tarnishing" Islam by depicting it as anything other than peaceful and tolerant of other beliefs and customs. Nothing could be further from the truth, a simple look at the sectarian violence and terrorism in the Middle East shows the true face of Islam as practiced in it's own backyard.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:53 am |
  12. Muslim girl

    Please every one open ur minds, if u ask any Muslim in the middle east or the US they will tell u Islam continuously preaches Peace, the Quran is a beautiful book just like all the other holy books. Islam has been victims of terrorism too, those small group of people (terrorist) were created to give Islam a bad name, to keep people from converting killing innocent lives both Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam is 1.8 billion and growing, there are people who will take a peaceful religion and twist it to their own ideology, but they are a very small group, who should not be associated with Islam, they do not speak for us either. I can name countless Christian, Jews, Communist etc..... they all have terrorist too, each generation the world chooses to turn against a race or religion.
    I hope we can have peace and the hate will die out, maybe this show can help people understand we/Muslims are normal, in the US there are about 15 million and FBI has proven we are no threat. I read some of the comments and people say they want real Muslims, these people are real, this is our life, yeah we pray, we fast, we dress modestly,we help the needy, we respect each other and our neighbors, treat women equally, Have a lot of fun, get married and pay our taxes this is Islam, so please before making judgments on Islam take time to read about Islam and talk to a local Mosque they will tell you all u need to know. These families on the TLC show I seen like them in the USA and in the Middle-east, yes there are very Conservative Muslims too, who practice the same things except a little more self restrictive, and there are extreme Muslims -not terrorism – just extreme more strict to themselves(very small group), but like in all other religion their a mix of practice within the religion. The majority are very balanced just like the Quran teaches, and the Sunnah books show us how to balance everything. The Quran tells us to respect all people and religions, do not listen to the haters against Islam.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Linda

      Dear Muslim Girl, I love your post. I am an American, Irish, Catholic girl. I was excited to see the show's airing and I watch it all the time. Why? I am one who is always interested in knowing and understanding different cultures, traditions and religions. I was hoping that others would feel the same and learn something from this show. Seeing some of the "backlash" really upsets me and only galvanizes my belief that some people will NEVER change and are definitely moved by FEAR. They have no minds of their owns and are afraid to stand out front as leaders against the odds. Being part of a large Irish, Catholic family, this show has made me realize that even though my family can be classified as "the same" even we are different. That's where choice and free will come in. It does not make any of us better or the only right ones, but different. I have been fortunate enough to know many muslims, but that is because I want to. I have read some of the Quran and immediately saw many ties that bind us. I believe that we are so much the same than we are different, that I have personally come to believe that we are "cousins." I hope that statement is not offensive. I do the best I can to speak out against injustice, to question hostility, to bring to light that perhaps one should know what they are talking about before making judgements. I also have tried to teach my children and grandchildren that you are "more blessed" when you are diverse, tolerant, and more accepting of all people. I wish you and yours well, there will always be adversaries, but if not you, then someone else. History shows us that! Much luck to the show and God's blessings for all.

      December 11, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  13. Salaar Shamsi

    Wake Up America, whoever you are, your knowledge and interpretation of the Quran is extremely weak and pathetic. You are deluded and its a shame that you intend to spread a message like this with such pride and confidence. The Quran doesn't endorse any violence at all of any innocent human beings. Islam talks only about Peace and vowing to surrender. You have been misguided, your heart is full of hatred. Do yourself a favor, clear your mind and try to interpret an authentic translation of the Quran without being biased. Yes, a certain section of extremists, are violent in the name of 'Islam' but they aren't truly part of the religion. Why should 98%, who want peace and solidarity suffer because of the actions of 2%?

    December 4, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Diana

      Yet you probably hate all Americans! Hypocrite!

      December 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  14. talezspin

    Media's Islam Deception – don't trust everything you are fed by the media! Go read about Islam yourself. Read the Quran, the Hadiths and the Sirat!

    Also don't trust the whitewashed English translations of the Quran provided by Muslims. Get 'An Abridged Koran' or 'A Simple Koran'.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNL8xugDNZQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  15. talezspin

    Islamic Paradise described by a Muslim Cleric

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdzusekB8cg&w=640&h=390]

    December 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  16. IWearTheHijabAndImProudOfIt

    geez..why cant we all just get along...Im muslim and I wear the 'hijab' I dont judge people WHETHER UR BLACK WHITE CHRISTIAN JEWISH BUDHIST ATHEIST ETC.... and DONT like to be judged ....and my fellow 'friends' DO NOT GENERALISE cuz its kinda gettin annoying and boring....-_-" DONT WORRY BE HAPPY!!!!!!!! Live love & laugh !!!!!!!!!!wish everyone could consider these quotes in our lifes :(

    December 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

      What do you mean, "why can't we all get along?" Do you know what the Muslims are doing in the Middle East and all over the world?? I am from the Middle East as well and they are terrorizing my people!!! You should as your Imam's why they can't teach you all to get along with all religions. Muslims hate Christians and Jewish people... The Christians just forgive and think that because they are following Jesus that they shouldn't do anything back and your Muslims are killing, raping and torturing women and children in Iraq, Turkey and Egypt!!!

      December 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

      And if you are a true Muslim from the Middle East then you already know that the plan in the Koran is to Convert everyone and if they don't convert the kill because they kill for Mohammad. As we see being done in the Middle East now!! The Koran here has been changed to convert Americans.

      December 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

      And Mohammads youngest wife was 9 years old!!! What the heck!!

      December 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

      And Mohammads youngest wife was 9 years old!!! Kill and the men will get 42 virgins in heaven who will give you white green eyed children....Come on!!! No one can fool me because I definitely know what the true Koran teaches. I normally like to see and understand all people and their religions, but the truth is in the Koran that you follow.

      December 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Wake up America

      All of these comments are truly hateful against the Muslim religion and the Muslim people. And before you make judgments based on the Koran, try reading the Bible and some of the atrocities written in it.

      December 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      According to koran its the duty of the muslim to do jihad against non-muslims. Lets ask the zoroastrians in iran around 700 AD and hindus in pak/afghanistan between 1000 AD and 1200 AD, and the animists/buddists/hindus in malay and indonesia 400 or 500 years ago how they got along with muslims. Oh I forgot, they are all gone.....

      December 6, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  17. tab

    Post number 2011

    December 2, 2011 at 12:20 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.