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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. Andrew Brown

    "The show wasn’t going to feature scholars refuting the (ridiculous) claims made about Islam."

    Funny ... it seems to me that the BEST strategy would be for learned muslim people to EXPLAIN HOW there is a misunderstanding of Islamic doctrine.

    Don't you think that if Islamic scholars could simply prove how "ridiculous" those claims are, people would understand the religion better? Or maybe it isn't so simple to prove that those claims are so ... ridiculous. Perhaps this show is indicative that it is much, MUCH easier to ignore the elephant in the room and just paint a pleasant, shallow, and very patronizing picture to show non-muslims.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  2. guest1

    looking forward.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  3. TheReaperD

    I'm sorry but, this is normal for most television. I highly doubt that Jersey Shore accurately reflects people that live in New Jersey. If we're going to be unbiased, than we need to do it across the board. Otherwise, we're just pandering to a special interest group.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • angryAmerican

      All TV is BS, most of the news is BS... We need to make our decisions and judgements on our own experiences. My street has several different nationalities and religious families up and down it.. I say hi to all of them, watch them yell at their kids, wash their Toyota camrys or mini vans and go to work, come home and watch TV. They live pretty much the same as me, except on sunday or whatever day their religion uses they go somewhere differnetly then me for an hour or two.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  4. BobZemko

    Just another crappy show to go along with TLC's lineup of crappy shows.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  5. SuperFan

    Bet if we tried a show called "Tried & True Americans" it would get yanked because it would be insulting to other nationalities, religions, etc....we're not even suppose to say "Merry Christmas" because it's insulting to others...that's BS...this was OUR country long before it belongs to others...if you want to come to our country then you respect our beliefs and our traditions, DO NOT make us change them because you don't agree with them..I try so hard to accept everyone and feel everyone deserves a good life...but then don't try to change MY LIFE and the life my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on...were so proud of...went to war for....lived for.....you want ur beliefs? fine...don't screw with mine!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      I am also surprised that there isn't a reality program focused on Native Americans ...

      ... oh wait, that's not what you meant. 😉

      November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Jason

      You mean if there was a show full of racist redknecks? This was not "our" country to begin with.. We stole if from Native Americans, then punished them because they were not like us... sound familiar?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • angryAmerican

      What tribe of Native Americans are you a apart of? If your not a part of one, then everything you said applies to you also ,and we should be living our life according to the Native American beliefs and traditions.

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

      SuperFan, are you aware that celebrating Christmas was widely not celebrated in this country until 1870? It was even illegal to celebrate it in some cities/states. Yet, a wave of reform came over the country and citizens began to change what Christmas represented, it wasn't until the 1800's that people began celebrating Christmas as the family-oriented holiday that we know it as today. Christians in this country have flip-flopped in their morals and beliefs so many times since we were founded by the Puritans. Read up on your American religious history. Thousands, maybe more, people have died in THIS COUNTRY, BY CHRISTIANS, in the name of Christianity. Like other posters have said, are you also one of those who doesn't want to acknowledge what our government did to the Natives?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • B

      SuperFan, ignorance is a disease.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  6. J in NJ

    I don't have a problem with any American Muslim. They don't want to b low me up. It is the ones from the Middle East that want to k ill me I have a problem with! Why don't they take this show along wtih their coexist bumper stickers and go to Iran or Syria and talk to them.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  7. True Light

    Interesting to read “we’ve resorted to defense tactics". That is absolutely true because Islam have no ways to deny what it commands in the Koran or what their prophet said. For example, how can they justify this: Qur'an: 9:5 "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war.". The unbelievers are any non-Muslim creature!

    Certainly not all Muslims should be painted as terrorists, but that is only for one reason which is they do not know their religion. When a Muslim becomes a religious then he/she is a definite bomb threat and risk to all fellow human.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Jason

      Should I start quoting the Old Testament?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • No Way

      You are quoting the Quran out of context, which is no better than the Christians who quote the Bible out of context to support any one of a number of hate-driven agendas. Jesus himself said "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword". Wow, did I just quote Jesus as being as barbaric and warloving as Muhammad? Please....get an education beyond selectively quoting religious texts, the province of ancient fools.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • hazmatsuits

      Not that it matters, but just noting that an "unbeliever" in Islam usually means someone who doesn't follow any of the 3 Abrahamic religions(Judaism/Christianity/Islam), not all non-muslims.
      Either way, there's nothing in the Quran thats any worse than the old testament, they've both got some stuff that's crazy if taken literally

      November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  8. Rob

    If Muslims want to be taken seriously, when they throw out repressive regimes they should stop voting for repressive Islamist regimes to replace them.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • angryAmerican

      We should also stop electing individuals who are seilling our future to the Chinese and are more interested in the war machine then the well being of America. You have to ask yourself why are we in teh middle east, they dont want us there and would they have the hate they do for us if we stayed out, made our oil purchases and left them alone.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • UnSub

      You're absolutely right Rob, it's just that simple. I mean our political system here in the states is in shambles, and if we just vote for the right guy it will all be fixed immediately. You've made it so clear now what need to be done. Thank you sir, you are quite the scholar.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Rob

      You also make the fantastic point that during the muslim elections every year all muslims should have a say in a specific countries elections. I mean, doesn't everyone vote internationally? Just this year alone I've gotten to vote locally as well as in the Israeli, Spanish and Australia elections....

      November 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  9. Mark

    I am saddened by the bigotry in these comments. Freedom of religion is one of the pillars of America's success, and I for one think we should embrace religious diversity- and I'm agnostic. Hopefully the people posting here don't truly represent a random sampling of Americans.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • True Light

      You are right Mark – but the problem is how to balance our freedom with "some" muslims" trying to kill us when their religion calls for that? read this quran verse for examle:
      Qur'an:8:39 "Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah."
      Qur'an:8:39 "So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief [non-Muslims]) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone (in the whole world)."
      Ishaq:324 "He said, 'Fight them so that there is no more rebellion, and religion, all of it, is for Allah only. Allah must have no rivals.'"

      November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • SuperFan

      I would agree except other nationalities/religions try to strip me of my beliefs...we can't say prayer in school anymore, we can't say Merry Christmas, they don't want "In God We Trust" on anything, they want us to remove the 10 Commandments....if they want us to respect their beliefs...RESPECT OURS!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Bill

      How can we tolerate intolerance?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Dan

      I think these postings are what the majority of people think on this subject. I think Americans are tired of our representaitves handing over our country to anyone/group that thinks we should change. These people are coming here (the U.S.), why should we adopt their beliefs and change our history for them. If they want ot be "American" Mulsims then adopt our laws and rules...if not stay out!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Kenn

      It makes me sad as well. America never asked its immigrants to change for her, We have always adapted ourselves to them. Pizza, whiskey, and cowboys come to mind as three things Amricans love that were not ours to begin with, but we sure took them and ran with them.

      All you Christians yelling about your beliefs why don;t you sit down, shut up and actually leaern them. Christ said to love one another, you are NOT doing a very good job. You sound more like the Pharisees.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  10. Katie

    I don't trust anyone "in the name of any religion." It's all bad, especially Islam and Christianity.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • angryAmerican

      Why those two?? Ahhh maybe because you have a limited understanding of both and know nothing of any other,,,Thought so..

      November 29, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Agree

      Katie I could not agree with you more. Do you suppose that Christians Muslims really understand, or even want to understand, how many innocent people have been killed, how many wars have been fought, in the name of 'religion'? The best part is that you don't KNOW that what you believe is even the 'right' belief! You're trusting the words that someone told you, and words that people have translated and passed down through thousands of years. There's a reason I've shunned religion in general. Why worry so damn much about what happens when you die. When you die, you die. Why not focus on not killing and hurting people while you're alive?

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

      I find it interesting that people blame God because people screw up their commandments. Leaving Islam aside, since I don't know that much about it, a Christian is supposed to live their life for the Glory of God and emulate Christ to the extent a human can do such a thing. That's a pure ideal, that if practiced would make the world a better place. The problem is that it is well known that only 1/3 of "practicing" Christians even bother to show up to church on a given Sunday. They instead sleep in, play tennis, read the newspaper, go shopping or attend sports events. The percentage of Christains that even try to live like Christ is so small that it can't even be measured. But, that's not God's fault. He wants better for us. We're just too ignorant and selfish to listen.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. Enoch

    What Muslims really need to improve their image is to stop killing American citizens. That would go a long way toward that.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • angryAmerican

      Yeah that would help, it would also help if Americans stopped killing other Americans also.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • No Way

      When Americans stop killing Americans, maybe we can point the finger at the Muslims.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • cameron

      They are doing that everyday...see, no stories today either about muslims killing americans.

      what this show is doing is reflect the normalness of average americans who happen to belong to the religion of Islam. the only image you and i have of muslims are from 10 o clock news, which represents less than 1% of world's muslims

      November 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  12. right

    just another ploy to degrade christianity from the left. this country was built on Trust In God, so leave my God alone or get away from me, muslims dont like it because we worship our God and not theirs, well if you dont like it, get out of my country and go straighten yours up, but quit trying to change our ways or we will give you change you wont like and it will start with your anti-christ obama and his followers.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • nerve9

      A. It's not "your" country. It's OUR country. Don't forget it. B. This country was founded on the idea of religious freedom and strict separation of church and state. Time to read up on your history.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • B

      Freedom of religion...

      November 29, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Kking

      Now you just sound sillt, because they do worship the same God. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all Abrahamic reliogions and believe in the same, one and only, God. Crack a book and educate yourself.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • No Way

      The God of Ishmael was the God of Abraham and Isaac, which means "Al aH" is, in fact, the Hebew and Christian monotheistic deity. To argue anything else is extreme ignorance of all three religions.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Kenn

      I don;t worship your God. I am an American. So what now? We agnostics need to get out since we aren't god fearing REAL 'MERRICANS like you Christian crazies?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  13. ralph Petrillo

    Muslims are not needed in the United States. THey do not believe in equal rights THey marry their daughters through arranged marriages. They have caused so many wars that it would be better if they could all leave the USa. Get back to your own countries and get out of the USA.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • angryAmerican

      Your the authority on who America needs, Your comment makes as much sense as me saying America doesnt need you for whatever reason I choose to pull out of my A...

      November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      You clearly have no conception of what America is all about.

      Kids, they just don't teach Civics anymore ...

      November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      Muslims
      marry their daugthers through arranged marriages to righteous men they approve of

      We
      marry our daughters by dropping them at the local pub among a lot of complete strangers

      that makes us superior!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Kenn

      Way to be a bigot Ralhpie... I sure am glad you are here to represent me and the rest of the 300 million people in this country.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  14. marina

    The authors insights are really cool especially being a young Muslim. If we can guide the younger generation to look at life this way, then we will be a great society someday!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  15. Bob

    We should not judge a group of believers based on what a minority of radicalists are doing. But we expect the majority of believers to denounce loudly the radicalist and to explain the confused position of their religion. I'd like muslims to explain clearly this verse from the Quran found in Surah 9:5 ""ight and slay the pagans (or infidels or unbelievers) wherever you find them". This verse is fueling all radicalist movements. Any muslim on this blog wants to shed a light on this verse?

    November 29, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Bob

      "fight and slay the pagans (or infidels or unbelievers) wherever you find them?" (Surah 9:5).

      November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      [9:4] (But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous.
      -
      5. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Stephen L.

      I'm saddened at how people only take one part of a verse and ask questions about it, read the whole verse, the whole topic then you will find your answer. As a christian myself, I have read the Qu'ran, and I made sure to go through the verse you mentioned. I understood the whole topic, there is more to it than what you just put down, you're only looking for arguments. Yoy only put one part of the verse, please post the whole verse or the whole topic.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • David

      Acts 3:23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.

      So, believ ein jesus or we kill you. Nope, no way that Christianity can't be seen as bad either.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Bob

      I thought instead of being defensive, someone would shed a light on that verser not for me but for the muslim radicalists who use it as their inspiration for murdering innocent people. Remember religious radicalist muslims are killing innocent people everyday all over the world. What can muslims do to change that?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  16. Dan

    I have watched the show, don't like it. If they truely want to show they are "American" Muslims...then stop wearing the Burqa!!!! I do not see the Burqa being any different than other head coverings that was/has been banned because of possible terrorists attachments!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • B

      What does wearing a burqa have to do with anything?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Jason

      So now to be American someone has to dress the way you believe is okay? What about Native Americans who still dress in traditional Native American clothing? What about Goth people? What about FREEDOM! I can dress however I want. I am not Muslim, and am sad to say that before I met many, many Muslims, I may have thought the same was as so many other closed minded people. But once you get to know Muslims, they are no different than you or I. They want a healthy family, opportunity for their children. They want education, and safety, food and water.. just like the rest of us. Yes, there are extremists.. Those also exist in Christianity.. OPEN YOUR MIND AND HEART!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • teamroper

      Dan, And those under the burqa's really stink in the summer.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Shannon

      What difference does a burqua make as opposed to a baseball cap that most teenage boys wear all the time? Those aren't banned (though they should be). It's a head covering. Let it go.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Charles

      So now America has a dress code? Grow up. If some members of the Muslim community voluntarily choose to wear a burque as a demonstration of religious piety or modesty, it is no different than an Orthodox Jew wearing a yamulke or an Amish man maintaining a beard. Their choice – not your business. The idea that such is "a threat" is a red herring argument that could apply to nearly any piece of loose clothing.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Kenn

      Yeah if they wanted to be REAL 'MERRICANS they should just be CHRISTIANS!!

      You are an idiot by the way.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  17. Bob

    fred, you still haven't escaped the question, after all your dodging. Here we go again. We're on to you:

    Buck up and answer: do you condemn the eternal torture that your god metes out for even minor transgressions during a short mortal life?

    Answer up time.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Cold_Hard_Facts

      Do you condemn the punishments mandated by Deuternomy, including death to children for disobeying their parents and for drunkeness?

      Answer time.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Bob

      You betcha.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  18. realist

    I wish people would stop saying"spreading the word of god".. brain washing. pure and simple.

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

      I would have to disagree that its that simple, Know many people of many faiths who choose their religion after study and what they felt fit in with their morals and life, not brainwashed in the least.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      but thats the word of "god"

      November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  19. daveinla

    yet another dumb TV program. Throw it in with Discovery 'American Chopper father vs. junior" and History Channels "Pawn Stars."

    November 29, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • angryAmerican

      Dont lump this in with the two awesome shows you just mentioned.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Dolphinvet

      At least Pawn Stars is interesting and without propaganda.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  20. BARRY WICKSMAN

    ISLAM IS THE GREATEST THREAT TO ALL DEMOCRATIC NATIONS . PLEASE WATCH THE DVDS-ISLAM :WHAT THE WEST SHOULD KNOW, AND OBSESSION. WE MUST UNITE AND FIGHT AGAINST THIS VICIOUS THREAT.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      Islam is the third greatest threat

      no 1 threat is the chinese!
      no 2 threat is ourselves, who are selling our country to the chinese!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • John

      Well said Barry...

      November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
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About this blog

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.