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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. KC

    Gee, TLC didn't see fit to do a show on the Christians being murdered by Muslims.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Kay

      Or a show about Christians killing Muslims, either. What's your point? This isn't the History Channel. Yeesh.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  2. Robert

    These communities trouble me, the segregation from American life, the anti- cultural stance made in these communities is very un American. Too many times money sent back to the Arab states is tied to the terrorist cause directed at the dismanteling of the American dream. How can these communities really make there home here but not integrate into our society? What sacrifice have they truly made for the freedoms they enjoy? They can not continue to act as if they do not add to the difficulties to our societies anti-Muslim anxieties. Welcome yourselves to America and embrace our way of life, and in return America will embrace you.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  3. jrt1098

    I'll feel better about muslims in America when they begin to openly condemn people who want to assasinate people like Salman Rushdie, defend womens rights, and say that not only is Sharia Law not the law of the land.....it's bizarre !

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

      They do. All the time. The problem seems to be that vast numbers of Muslims don't come to *your* house and knock on *your* door and do it right in front of *you*. Of course, even if they did, you'd probably forget about it by January.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  4. Tim

    All people need to do is to treat other people as you would like to be treated. After that, religion does not seem to offer anything more than wishful thinking.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  5. religionofviolence

    ALL muslims are to be considered potential terrorists and as such need to feel the pressure of constant monitoring, be kept from key positions that could threaten national security and their mosques should be also infiltrated and monitored for subversive activities. They have a proven track record as a people not to be trusted and they are historically a religion bent on terror and violence. ALL AMERICAN MUSLIM is just a SOB story and a plan to whitewash a threat to our society and nation. --– Thank you Bill. I re-posted your exact text because I agree 100%. What a BS story, show, and the bent propaganda is leaking from every side... Pathetic.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • AlanW

      You are a sad, small-minded, individual and right now my sole consolation is that the content of your comment assures me that you yourself will never hold a "key position" and become anything more than the irrelevant hatemonger you are today.

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

      All Muslims are to be considered terrorists? You are the reason why American is a mess. If Christians, as a whole, were held accountable for the acts of individual or sects of believers, you really think it would be the go to religion of this country? You know...the "same religion that harbors pedophiles"? Generalizing just makes you look like an idiot.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • cowflop

      Agreed religionofviolence!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  6. Karin

    Some of my best friends are muslim – or "non practicing" muslims (whatever that means) like the Prez – you get the religion from your father – and it just stays with you – sometimes quietly – sometimes you do things that are 'muslim' and do not know it – because it is in your blood –

    November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • rashid

      You are right, you get the religion from your father. I lived in Muslim countries for many years and was constantly asked 'why arent' you a Mulsim?' My response was, 'because my father was not a Muslim". End of conversation on religion.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Den

      You should get better friends.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. mn guy

    TO S
    Richunix is right. If you put any thing before American. YOUR WRONG . And being a American- muslim comes second to human rights and freedom WE HAVE IN America. Iam sicken every time I see a Muslim girl-woman cover head to toe. Being forced by BY THE ISLAM. Wake up smell the BACON. Enjoy FREEDOM, Embrace FREEDOM, LOVE FREEDOM. That is being a American!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Chris R

      The freedom to cover one's self in accordance to Islamic law is *still* freedom. Let's say we banned this practice like they did in France. Would that be an expression of freedom? Outlawing a practice simply because we don't like it? How does that promote freedom?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  8. Betty

    any person in the right mind realizes there are Muslim families that are "everyday American families"...but to impose their religion on others is dangerous...because the propaganda of the holy jihad is a threat to our countries security.....and there is a big movement...that keeps recruiting and teaching the young.....

    November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  9. Scotty

    It's funny how this comments section makes Americans look like psychopaths. You guys make yourselves look bad. The Media makes muslims look bad. As soon as you realize the entire world looks at your comments and facepalms, maybe things will turn around for you.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  10. rashid

    Ever see an unemployed Lebanese? A lazy Egyptian? A criminal Palestinian? No, they're too busy chasing the American dream. Islamic immigrants are great and fit right in. Get off the stupid veil preoccupation and look at the way they live. Clean, orderly, drug-free, responsible. They open good, nutritious, clean restaurants as well. No, I'm not a Muslim, and I really don't like the religion, but I get it.

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

      Gosh, a totally unbiased opinion........right, RASHID?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Den

      Until they strap on the explosives

      November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  11. TampopoLoco

    America! The world's biggest drama queen.

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

      You are right. America has turned into a teenage girl. lol

      November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  12. Bohun

    Islam is not a religion, it is a brain washing cult. They do not have respect for the dignity of human life and the only thing they respect is brutal force.
    You can not trust those individuals, just like you could not trust brainwashed Hitlerjugend – they will do whatever they will be told to do. And everything will be justified in the name of ...you know whom...
    It is so sad that we are trying to hide our heads in the sand....they are wonderful people among them, but they are suppressed and scared by the bloodthirsty followers....

    November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  13. jimmy

    Ignorant Xenophobes

    November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  14. cowflop

    Sleeper cells, all of em. Just waiting for the call.

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

      You're an idiot!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      from their CIA handler. wink.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. BillCunnane

    ALL muslims are to be considered potential terrorists and as such need to feel the pressure of constant monitoring, be kept from key positions that could threaten national security and their mosques should be also infiltrated and monitored for subversive activities. They have a proven track record as a people not to be trusted and they are historically a religion bent on terror and violence. ALL AMERICAN MUSLIM is just a SOB story and a plan to whitewash a threat to our society and nation.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      we need more homeland security.
      for god's sake, i ve got $45,000 invested in military supplier stocks.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • fbysea

      Equal atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity and for a much longer time. Ignorance and bigotry are the evils which enable all fanatics to carry out their bloody message, whatever religion they claim to adhere to.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Chris R

      Same with the Jews!!! We all know that they are communists acting as a fifth column for the international communist conspiracy! That's why they've taken over Hollywood! To brain wash our precious Christian children into thinking that being Jewish is cool, that communism is 'hip', and that democrats aren't brain sucking aliens from the planet Narquon! We all know that Jews killed Christ! It's not like Jesus was a Jew! That's why they killed him, because he was a Christian!*

      *The above was sarcasm intended to point out the idiocy of the previously expressed opinion. Failure to identify the above as sarcasm may be an indication that you are an idiot, over sensitive, or looking to be offended. Please consult a physician for help with this malady.**

      **The above warning about sarcasm was also sarcastic. If you are offended you really are just an idiot and no physician can help you.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  16. jbm66

    Religion is the biggest scam of the millenium. Man, what a racket... Tax free too... I am working my butt off to make a living and these clowns are preaching to the millions of idiots and get rich. Wow it is already the 21st century and we still believe in this BS. When will we ever grow up?

    November 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Gregory Faith

      I'm with you brother!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  17. mesostupid

    When are all the ignorant fools on this planet going to realize that ALL religion is a fictional fairy tale?? Just do whats right and be a good person. Its that simple. Even one of the greatest minds to ever live on this planet said religion is childish and if you stop to think about it, you just might realize how stupid and ignorant you really are!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  18. Kentucky Man

    I wish we didn't have to have crappy shows like this in order for public opinion to be changed- I wish that people would just look at census data which clearly shows that most Muslims do not hold overtly radical views.

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

      Because we all know census data collects information on political or religious beliefs as opposed to being a head count.

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

      Haha, well said.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  19. hippypoet

    why do all you people seem to hate muslims?
    is it because they have more conviction then you?
    is it because they practice what they preach?
    is it because they look different?
    is it because they sound different?
    is it because they wear strange things?
    is it because they are, and this has been proven thru the centuries, smarter then the average christian?
    Or is it because they are not christians?
    WHY?
    Oh and same goes for jews...there seems to be a lot of jew hate from christians too... so lets repeat the questions for the average moron christian...don't worry, i'll type it slow, i know most of you suck at reading comprehension!

    is it because they have more conviction then you?
    is it because they practice what they preach?
    is it because they look different?
    is it because they sound different?
    is it because they wear strange things?
    is it because they are, and this has been proven thru the centuries, smarter then the average christian?
    Or is it because they are not christians?
    WHY?

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

      You're an idiot.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • KC

      Its because Islam is a religion of violence and hate

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

      katie, thank you for proving my point. 🙂

      November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Ghenghis Khan

      ummm,
      its because we are addicted to their liquid schit = oil.
      and they are addicted to our weapon systems.

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

      muslims, jews, and christians share the same god and much of the same teachings and principles – the differences are not as many as the similarities!

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

      "is it because they practice what they preach?"

      This.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • b

      no... it's much simpler than that. its because they blow up buildings and kill people.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • UmmNo

      Why do WE hate muslims? Shouldn't your question be why do THEY hate US? (Of course, us being any non-muslim whether religious or secular). And, your list is pretty laughable. Muslims smarter than Christians through the ages?!? Pure unadulterated ignorance and hatred on your part. Let me guess... you're a muslim! Now go protest on the street and fire off a few rounds into the air to prove how smart and tolerant you are.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Betty

      Because they refuse to condemn the jihad of their brothers to a large extent....

      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • hippypoet

      b

      no... it's much simpler than that. its because they blow up buildings and kill people.

      are you soo blind that you can't see christians do the very same thing! Was Bush a christian, yes, did he blow stuff up, yes, did he care and act like he was doing "gods work" YES!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • LedZep

      That is because not all muslims are terrorists but almost all terrorists are muslims

      November 29, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • hippypoet

      NO, i am not a believer in any religion... they are all just different forms of the same delusion!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • hippypoet

      LedZep
      That is because not all muslims are terrorists but almost all terrorists are muslims

      first, don't ever shame such a great band with your fuking stupidity ever again!
      and second, wrong, most terrorists are people who inspire terror – not much there to do with religion!
      Infact the majority of people who cause terror are actually christians – thru lies, hate, and bigotry towards others... and its only because of the persistance of such moronic beliefs that these statements are believed to be true...the more it is said the more believe it to be true!

      November 29, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  20. Den

    Remember what Generals Sherman and Sheridan said about the Plains Indians about 135 yrs ago? It pertains even more to muslims.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:34 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.