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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. CQD

    While I have not watched the show, mainly because I didn't know it existed, I don't think the American-Muslims will be able to do it on their own. It's going to take the moderate Muslims, from across the globe, to help put an end to radical Islam. THEY will also have to stand up against their bretheren and say STOP, this is NOT Islam.

    As far as them trying to help their image? I don't think anything will really help them advance their cause. I think there are things they (and every race can do) to promote tolerance, and that's what we need to strive for...tolerance. I will not embrace one religion over another, but will I hate/dislike that religion? Not unless they thrust their beliefs down people's throats. Once they do that, I personally will stop listening.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  2. Robert

    Interesting how they show a convert to Islam, if it was the other way around he wouldn't be around.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  3. Onegood1

    Want to improve your image? Let's see if you can go for a few years without blowing up a building or murdering innocent civilians. Then go put your mosque in a place not so close to ground zero.
    Thats a start.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Truefax

      EXACTLY RIGHT.
      Terrorism has made Islam into a joke, we're all still waiting to hear the punch line.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • D

      Shocking...a stereotypical bigoted and ridiculous comment.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • DrDoITT

      D: since you are so open minded, go to an inner city (any inner city) with a rolex watch and a iphone at 2 AM and lots of cash.. You see, just coz you have been migged once doesnt mean it will happen again. People are all good you see. Time for all of us tp sing kumbaayaaa

      November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  4. Adam Smith

    How about we start judging people as individuals. This idea that we need shows to improve the image of an ENTIRE group of people is ridiculous. I know when i meet people i would only like to be judged on how I represent myself. I respect others and I like to surround myself with individuals who do the same. I could care less what religion, race gender or orientation you are.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Truth

      There's 2 kinds of muslims: 1-convicted terrorists 2-those that haven't been convicted yet

      November 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • angryAmerican

      I agree, but unfortunately its not gonna happen. Americans hate pretty much everybody in the world just as much as these Muslims hate everybody. Hate is the one thng we all share and seem to agree on.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      three actually.
      3. on the payroll of the CIA

      November 29, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  5. Roman Catholic

    how much the liberal media defends Muslims
    they want to extend Islam and sharia all over kill non Muslims and change our values and

    November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Truth

      There are two kinds of muslims: 1-convicted terrorists 2-those that haven't been convicted yet

      November 29, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  6. S

    Yes I am an American...An American Muslim that is.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  7. ensense

    s

    November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  8. Jake

    Great article! Thank you!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  9. S

    No Barbara I don't think it is right for anyone to kill innocent people.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  10. Willis

    Yes nice job CNN on another wasted top center banner for THIS? Are we really still apologizing to Muslims? All for what? Because of conservatives, is that really still why? Is this an issue even ? Or would we LIKE it to be an issue? Im waiting for more attacks on Christians in your articles, I'm sure Christmas is coming so you can dissect that holiday and search for pagan roots as you do in everything. Nevermind apologizing to the Muslim culture, where ironically enough flourishing radical conservative views are rampant regarding the constriction of women's rights. The extreme element of Muslim society will ALWAYS take the cake in terms of what we should be vigilant about; we take note of that as we anticipate your negative reporting on Christianity. Priorities are clear. Yes Muslims in America have equal rights as any other religious group. And when any religious group OTHER than Muslims become for the large majority of the world's ideology-driven terroristic violence, then CNN, I guess, will not have a need to continuously apologize to them with fluffy articles. Is that how it really works?

    November 29, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      I think you meant to post this comment on some other article, as it clearly doesn't relate to this one.

      As always, one should prudently hesitate before clicking on the "Post" button.

      You're welcome!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Z. M.

      Did you read the article? This guy is talking about embracing American culture.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  11. Reality

    o On the koranic passages and world domination:
    o
    "Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

    Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa, as I described in the previous chapter.

    Islamic armies, imbued with what Mohammed claimed was divine authorization, imposed Islam by force over vast areas, all the while extorting wealth from subjugated Jews and Christians to fund their ongoing conquests. As I noted, major defeats at Tours, France, in A.D. 732, and again at Vienna, Austria, in A.D. 1683, halted Islam’s attempt to take all of Europe by force. Gradually Islamic forces were forced to retreat from Europe, except for part of the Balkans. But Islam has again set its sights on a conquest of Europe and of European civilization, wherever the latter has spread to North and South America and other regions. Muslim strategists ask their followers, Why do we find in these modern times that Allah has entrusted most of the world’s oil wealth primarily to Muslim nations?

    Their answer: Allah foresaw Islam’s need for funds to finance a final politico-religious victory over what Islam perceives as its ultimate enemy: Christianized Euro-American civilization. So, Islam follows Nazism, fascism and communism as the world’s latest hostile takeover aspirant.

    Nazis, fascists and communists failed. Does Islam have a better chance at success? I believe it will flounder if we awaken to its threat in time; yet, if there is not adequate planned resistance, Islam does have a better chance of succeeding. Communism’s world takeover attempt was guaranteed to fail because its economic policy was naively contrary to human nature. Advocating the rubric What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine, communism failed to see that human nature will not keep those two balanced propositions in equilibrium. Like

    a female black widow spider consuming her mate, the latter part of the formula makes a meal of the former, leading to the collapse of any system based upon that formula.

    In contrast, political systems do well if they can persuade people to adhere to What’s mine is mine and What’s thine is thine maxims.

    Only if a strong religious incentive is added does such an idealistic formula have any long-term chance. Even then success will be spotty. But communism (and Nazism, for that matter) excluded religion. And that mistake was the final nail eventually clamping a lid on communism’s coffin. Communism, on a historical scale, perished while still in its childhood.

    Islam is not repeating communism’s mistake. Mating political cunning and incredible wealth with religious zeal, Islam does have a chance to succeed and will succeed unless major parts of the Western world unite to take appropriate countermeasures. But many Western leaders, unable to believe that a mere religion could possible be a serious political threat, keep proclaiming themselves as Islam-friendly, reasoning that all religions are good-aren’t they?

    A Muslim strategist in Beverly Hills, California, declared several years ago, as quoted by a friend of mine: “Now that the struggle between Western democracies and international communism is winding down, it is time for the real and final struggle to begin, and we are going to win!”

    Don Richardson

    November 29, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      Is this where we start quoting text from the bible about Christian soldiers converting the non-believers? Just let us know.

      😉

      November 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Really

      ^ I dont get this. People try to convert you to their way of thinking everyday. At least christians dont try to exterminate whole populaces.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      ^ Really. Holy smokes are you going to be shocked when you actually start to learn world history! If you are not familiar with the shocking atrocities commited in the name of Christianity, get a paper bag and start breathing into it right now.

      Oh, silly me, you have no interest in history. Facts conflict with your paradigm. 😉

      November 29, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  12. rs1201

    and how do these American muslims respond to the muslim brotherhood holding a rally in Cairo's al azhar mosque calling for the killing of all Jews? where do these American muslims stand when their brethren in the ME call for the annihilation of Israel and all Jews? As an American Jew, I don't look too favorably to these "American" muslims reproducing as much as they do and becoming a majority...sharia law is not something any American would look forward to living under.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Abe the Egyptian

      They did not say anything near that. Stop spreading your poison in here. People like you will spend all their lives attempting to create fear and they will never succeed. The world is so open now and everyone can verify your statements

      November 29, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  13. angryAmerican

    Hey, to be honest the majority of the Muslims I know are like the ones on this show, Yeah I know there are alot of crazy ones over in the middle east and of course a bunch of nuts here too, but I think over here there are no more of the crazy ones then the cult christian groups and others...

    November 29, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Really

      Christians dont fly airplanes into buildings, or do suicide bombings, or trample over police to rush an embassy, or cry death to whole races and countries.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Thatwasthen

      Grow up. Get real. Don't be so naive.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  14. rr

    I knew plenty of Muslims in both school and college and none of them associated with me or the other Americans around us. We were the enemy to them. They segregated themselves in their own little groups. I don't care how many shows they do to try and improve their image they are very a very closed group of people.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Eddie

      So what? Indians, African american, and any other minority group do that

      November 29, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      To be clear, you just said, "I don't care how many examples you give me of Muslims acting differently than I believe, you can't convince me otherwise.'

      To paraphrase, "Fat, drunk and [willfully ignorant] is no way to go through life, son."

      November 29, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Wendy

      Did you ever stop to think that they may have felt unwelcome or like minority. Sorry you limited experience left you with that impression but as a Canadian, I lived over there for 5 years and was welcomed with open arms, but I was open as well. I had not judgment or preconceived ideas. There are good and bad in every religion. I was in the Middle East during 911 and we were all devastated by what happened, I learned more about the Koran and that no where in that book do they allow or encourage mass killings. America is not innocent in their "crazies and extreme people" who feel the need to wipe out people.

      My hope is that people will open their hearts and minds to other cultures and religions so that we can end this lifelong war over who is right and who is wrong! I embraced their culture, learned their language, the basics to get by and I felt I earned their respect as a result, I was welcomed into their homes, to their weddings I felt none of what you felt. They feel judged and painted with the same brush so that might be why they are less inclined to jumped to Americans for friendship.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Faiq

      I am a Muslim and I am sorry to heart that the Muslims around your area are claimed to be closed minded people. You see the thing is that now, not every Muslim spens enough time on improving upon his/her own morals that the society wants to see. I've been in a high school I had a lot of friends, but that is becasue I was nice to everyone. I wish I could talk to those Muslims that are around you...

      November 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Jayhawker22

      I went to a large public nversity and it was exactly the same for other minority groups. Nice call buddy, you know nothing.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  15. raMMer

    To "S". I am American. You are more than welcome to leave at any time.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Jake

      You clearly don't have the slightest idea of what it means to be an American.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  16. DaveNYUSA

    "Some say TLC's new reality show plays on stereotypes and doesn't fully represent the American Muslim community. But writer Khurram Dara says it's exactly what American Muslims need to improve their image."
    Yes, phuque reality, just say what you want, as always, huh CNN?

    November 29, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Truth

      There are 2 kinds of muslims: 1-convicted terrorists 2-those that haven't been convicted yet

      November 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Bazoing

      In my experience, Islamics have almost always been OK. I also laud bowing to praise God repeatedly every day. However, every family eventually has a bad apple and the Koran contains some very awful things which will then turn up. Islamics must form theocratic Islamic governments. That is indeed in the Koran. Whenever their population in a country approaches as little as 15% there is trouble. I honor your faith and humility, but I want you far away in your theocracies and my family safe.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Wendy

      TRUTH,

      You are so narrow minded, bet you have never traveled the world! It's people like you who create and encourage wars. There are plenty of crazy Americans who have gone through schools and buidlings blowing up their fellow men. Open your eyes to some of the looneys who have done the same thing and are "American". There are extreme groups in EVERY religion. I lived in the Middle East for 5 years, my son was born there and I loved every minute of it. I was welcomed with open arms and open minds! I was there during 911 and they felt just as angered by that event as we did. Learn and read my friend, you are living a very closed off unrealistic life!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  17. Ram

    MEMO TO MR. DARA –

    It is disgusting to stereotype or engage in closet (or open) bigotry of anyone because of their religion – and this certainly includes Muslim-American citizens.

    At the same time, it is a curious artifact of American Muslim life whey they remain generally silent in the fact of radical Muslim terror.

    Why haven't American Muslims had the equivalent of a million man/woman march on Washington?

    Why aren't they demonstrating and demanding that Radical Muslims cease their worldwide killing of innocents?

    Why aren't they highly visible protesting that Wahibists and Muslim extremists have perverted the name of Allah with mass murder, and that they have highjacked the religion itself?

    For the life of me - I can't understand the general silence of the American Muslim community when they seem to have so mucht to gain by these and similar acts of solidarity against the reign of terror here and around the world.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Jake

      Where are the Christian marches protesting violence done in the name of Jesus?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Joe

      Why aren't Christians marching on Washington to show that Christianity doesn't condon the killings of the people in Norway? Why aren't Jewish Americans marching on Washington to protest the killing of innocent children in Palestine? That is a redicules question and expectation. Why don't I march on Washington? Because I have to go to work and worry about real life. I, along with every other American Muslim, can and have spoken out against extremism but you don't care to listen.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Laura

      The thing is...they don't believe they should have to apologize for what the extremists are doing. Do all Irish have to apologize or speak out against the IRA? Do non-violent Basques have to apologize or speak out for the violent acts of the ETA? They believe that most people should be rational & realize the extremists do not encompass/represent all Muslims. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I do see your point, but again, as someone who has Muslim friends, they don't understand why they have to explain or denounce the work of the extremists who are clearly not a representation of Islam.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Paul Hogue

      I am still waiting for apologies from Christians for the violent and provocative anti-government sentiment that led directly to the bombing of the Murrah building in OKC and the killing of 168 people including 19 children. Where are the apologies for the over 700 killed by the Catholic IRA between 1968 and 1998, and the killing of over 800 by the Ulster Protestant paramilitary groups? Where are the mass demonstrations by Christians apologizing for the murder of 77 in Norway? There was a long, long list of Christian apologists who were leaders of their congregations for the bombings and murders by Eric Robert Rudolph. And why haven't the Christian groups who dominate local television, national cable and radio apologized for the Klan?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  18. anne

    I would love to see a reality show that focuses on rational people who live their lives in the pursuit of knowledge, peace and facts. Follow scientists and other logical people who want to make the world a better place, without relying on ideology that is incompatible with world peace. No drama, no hatred, just publicly verifiable evidence about how the world works around us.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Joe

      If you feel that people who follow science would be rational and peaceful you don't understand Humanity.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  19. Juan

    Nice argyle sweater.

    November 29, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  20. richunix

    You are an American first....if you are a US citizen! Religion is secondary to any nation…

    November 29, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • angryAmerican

      Not really realistic, as anyone with a strong faith would put their religion before any country. So we need to find better solutions to getting along.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:11 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.