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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. johnnyoh

    AHHAHAH Hilarious. They post this right next to the picture of Muslims in Iran, taking hostages at the British embassy. You left wing idiots just don't get it do you?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • AlanW

      It's almost sad how stupid a Western-educated person can be. You need to get off your couch, brush the potato chips off your chest, lay off beating your wife for 5 minutes, and try getting at least a hundred yards or more outside the front door of your trailer and see a bit of the world.

      It might just shock you.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Chaiah

      @ AlanW Alan, it isn't "almost sad." It IS sad.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  2. alex

    Muslims...as unwanted here in the states as the illegals!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  3. Red Pison

    America is called a melting pot for a reason. We accept people for their differences and they in turn integrate into our society as well. Except that most muslims won't do that. If you don't meet everyone half way, then why should we even bother to do the same?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • AlanW

      And you base your assertion that "Most Muslims won't do that," on what? Does the fake statistics fairy leave bogus claims under your pillow each night as a reward for being such a moron?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Chaiah

      Tell me – how many Muslims do you know, personally? Also, muslims, and jewish individuals like myself, are limited in what we can consume due to religious constraints. So, we might not be able to go to your home for dinner or to a particular restaurant. However, our children play at school together. We go to movies. We are involved in our communities... etc.

      I, a jewish woman, have muslim friends. If Jews and Muslims can be friends – what's your problem? Perhaps, just perhaps YOU are not the one going "half way." "Half way" means that YOU may have to make the effort. Perhaps Muslim folks are afraid of you... Did you ever consider that?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Katherine

      Melting Pot; assimilation is good. Multicultralism like Canada or European countries is a huge mistake.

      November 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  4. Rizengrom

    **** you and your muslim propaganda!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • zappy

      what? did you just say puck?

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

      Nope, it was |=uck

      November 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  5. Johnson

    I'm still not comfortable when I see them. I think about the terror and you just don't know who the good ones are. I do think the airlines should profile. Israel does it and it works for them.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Wow

      "I do think the airlines should profile. Israel does it and it works for them."

      Then they should profile EVERYONE to be fair and not just a few. Wow you need to get some serious help for your prejudice.You realize whites felt the same way about blacks back in the day.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • AlanW

      So incapable of empathy. What if everyone named "Johnson" were selected for additional screening because 1 out of the billion "Johnsons" in the world set off a shoe bomb at some point.

      It's just mind-boggling how foolish people who think like you do are. It's like you don't even realize how the things you say echo the things said by evil, oppressive majorities all throughout history. It's reactionary, hysterical, nonsense .

      November 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Julie in Austin

      @AlanW: Tell you what - as soon as people named Johnson, disproportionate to their representation in the general public, start bombing people, buildings and airplanes, we'll get right on that profiling all people named "Johnson". Right now there is one and only one group that fits that description - Muslims. Does it mean all Muslims are bad people? No. It just means that if you want to find the "bad people", you don't look for people named "Johnson".

      November 29, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Chaiah

      So, when Timothy McVeight bombed the federal building in Oklahoma, did you advocate all white people being profiled? When nutjobs bomb doctors' offices that proved all sorts of care for women, should everyone in that particular religious or political stance be profiled? REALLY? Wow...

      November 29, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Chaiah

      Grrr. I hate when I make typing errors and cannot edit. So, this is a caveat for any misspellings/mistypes. Sorry!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  6. Yenta

    I never ceased to be amazed by some of the totally stupid comments people post on the internet–exemplified here by the faction that hates all Muslims. All the Muslims I know are no different from everyone else. They just have a different religion with different holidays and traditions–and they are embarrassed by the fanatics.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  7. Ali

    you making a great point in your article, thank you.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  8. NickZadick

    When will they air a show called "living free of invented warlocks in the sky" ?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • AlanW

      I'd watch it.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  9. Susan

    I'm really tired of hearing about Muslims. Just do what you're suppose to do and keep it within your religion. Nobody cares what is going on in your religion except the FBI, CIA, Home Security, and any other organization protecting the US from terriosts. All Muslims are not terriosts true but it was Muslims that caused 9/11. Sorry Dudes.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  10. MIKE

    Ok guys come on lets be honest, if we were to be objective then the American army would be the largest terrorist group worldwide and the US would be a country living on terrorism since the beginning. I mean the polls anywhere outside the US even in Europe shows the US and Israel to be the biggest threats to the world. If a muslim shoots a bird, its barbaric actions, but the US and its army kill millions all over the world not just in muslim countries for a barrel and Oil and thats acceptable. The highly educated americans get it but most of this country is composed of greedy corporations and stupid rednecks, hard to explain Islam to.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • hippypoet

      ah, thank you mike – you hit the nail on the head! everything you said is true!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Chaiah

      Amen!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • malibu123

      ...only from the corroded mind of a liberal.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • jack

      Word up

      November 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  11. imagine

    muslims do as well in america as americans do in theirs...all together who cares..

    November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Chaiah

      Ah, so being an "american" is a religion? I see...

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  12. vharmony

    All I can say is, Disgusting!!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  13. Chaiah

    As a Jewish woman, I LOVE the show and it has helped me gain an understanding of Islam. Every group has weirdos associated with it and it's a true shame that, quite often, most of us only associate a group with the radical factions. I appreciate the devotion to their faith that is shown on the show – as well as the diversity. TLC deserves an huge "thumbs up!" for producing and broadcasting this show. A sincere thank you to those Muslim families who are sharing their lives with us to help all understand that they are just like all of us: working, raising families, having a devout faith that respects others... I hope to share more with my Muslim friends and be an example to others who would shun those of the Islamic faith due to the wrong generalized perceptions inroduced by 9/11.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Sam

      Loved what you said. My thoughts exactly.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  14. Sam

    I liked the show. It was a bit of fluff, but all reality shows are that. I'm a muslim - an Irish muslim at that - and think it is a good idea to show muslim families in their normal day-to-day lives. We're not radicals - not even us Irish ones!! - just like most Christians.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Susan

      It wasn't the Buddists, Christians, or Catholics that caused the 9/11. What is an america to think when they meet a muslim...are they extremists or not? Do they think the same way as the extremists? Don't care its just better to stay away.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  15. DaVinci64

    I dislike the fact that instead of embracing their own culture their main focus is to show American that they have conformed to western ways. Only the ignorant and unwashed firmly adhere to stereotypes and these individuals will never be convinced that Muslins are anything other than what their distorted images are of them, because of cognizant dissonance, so what's the use. Live your life freely in the skin that you're in.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  16. Mircat

    Who is to say that these people aren't all plants to make us think Muslim's are all friendly people, who love nonMuslim's and who love America? It happened during the war and Muslims are at war with us certainly in their own minds. I don't think this small percentage of Muslims represent the larger majority who hate us and America. I'm not buying it. If they love being Muslim so much they should go live in a Muslim country, get out of the U.S. and off my TV set.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Look@UrSelf

      So u claim 2 know majority of the muslims? If u did, u would not have said what u said

      November 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • AlanW

      This country doesn't belong to you and the content of your comment indicates that it is, perhaps, YOU who should be the one to get off your couch, brush the potato chips off your chest, and get a hundred yards or further from the front door of your trailer sometime.

      You might just learn something. As it is, you aren't an American. You're a disgusting stereotype that does a disservice to decent Americans everywhere.

      Clown.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Chaiah

      How very ignorant you are. It's a real shame that bigotry and ignorance such as yous exists in the United States of America.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • steveo

      ...and off of my airplane.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Kal

      Who do you represent? Your hatred represents America? It's obvious that you represent hatred what ever your race or ethnicity might be!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • AKA

      I think it is you that should be deported, since you represent none of the qualities that this country was founded on.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Change the channel

      Mircat, simply put, if you don't want to watch it turn it off. I for one WANT to see it on my TV and therefore I watch. I know several Muslims, and aside from them telling me what their religion is, I would have no idea in most cases. There are good and bad in every religion and for someone to say that the majority of Muslims hate the U.S. isn't fair. Sure there are people that feel that way, but there are people that don't. I am tired of all the hatred. Until someone does something to you, you really have no justification for not accepting them.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Alamin

      Conspiracy Theories; Ha!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • R. Tam

      Obvious troll is obvious.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  17. 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?

    come now, look inside yourselves, find peace thru knowledge not ignorance....answer the questions honestly....will shall all be amazed at what we find i'm sure!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • 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 11:02 am |
    • NickZadick

      I don't hate muslims... I hate that the human race still believes in made up old men in the sky that idiots dreamed up thousands of years ago!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • steveo

      I think it's pretty much because so many of them kill innocent people.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • JoJo

      is it because they have more conviction then you?
      is it because they practice what they preach?

      On what do you base all these conclusions?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • evil islam

      HERE IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTIONS.
      In a horrific display of barbarism, a masked person claiming to be Abu Mus’ad Al Zarqawi slaughtered American contractor Nick Berg. Sitting in a chair, Berg made the following statement: “My name is Nick Berg, my father’s name is Michael, my mother’s name is Susan,” the man said on the video. “I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in … Philadelphia.”

      The video then changes to a scene of masked men, with Berg sitting in front of them. After reading a statement, the masked men were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” – “God is great.” They then held the head out before the camera.

      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?

      come now, look inside yourselves, find peace thru knowledge not ignorance....answer the questions honestly....will shall all be amazed at what we find i'm sure!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Change the channel

      hippy, I don't think it's fair for you to say "average moron Christian". The average Christian is not a moron. Extremists, in any religion, may be morons but not the average person. I am a proud Catholic Christian and I have Jewish and Muslim friends and in fact, my husband is a Muslim from N. Africa.. I am an average Christian and I am not a moron. Just my 2 cents.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • hippypoet

      JoJo
      they are not conclusions they are questions designed to make you think... and most responses i have gotten show a complete lack of thought.

      First, if anyone says that someone or some group is smarter then you or another group an intelligent person might say "well, being we are all humans and share the same ability to learn we may smart and dumb in equal numbers. Perhaps just not the same fields of study"
      Second – if one can't see these questions as an exercise in thought and rationale then that person has failed the test...placing opinion in the mix as to thwart the morons is just another test to see truly how moronic people can be!
      Feelings get in the way of proper thought and reasoning...one who is made angry has a much harder time doing a simple task when compared to the level headed person!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • MIKE

      hey hippy, seems like a waste of time arguing with those inbreeds, tell them where can I find cheap beer, and they will tell you, ask them which continent is france in, they probably wouldnt know the answer. they hate jews and muslims cause the average jew or muslim is 50 times smarter than the average american. So any opportunity for them to spread hate, they will use it to the full degree.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  18. kiko

    Look at the mess they created in some of the countries in Europe.There is a muslim clergy in New York that goes with his bullhorn and muslims brothers to our american streets and speaks about how much he hates the U.S.A. That 9/11 was the best thing that ever happen so-on and so-on.Most of these people are barbaric with one goal in mind and that is to spread there so call religon and hate to the non belivers. You better be a beliver in any of their muslim dominated counrty if not your done.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • total nonsense

      THis is exacly wy NON Mulsim should be allowed in the USA all enemy bases (IE: Mosquees) desroyed. THe world if at war with Islam and muslims must be stop at all cost.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Miguel Caron

      You don't have to be a Muslim to hate America. Countries around the world have been doing it for centuries now.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Kal

      Heck American hate America right now! Religion has nothing to do with hating America. Americans are hating themselves and in the process they hate everybody else instead of fixing their growing problems they want to hate on others hoping that they will get better!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  19. Taurean05

    Ok. I will tell you what happened the other day. Two weeks ago I was at the MVA of my city, saw a muslim young woman on her 20s, with a dark hijab on and very, very low rise jeans. When she was called by the attendants and sat. Her butt crack was "on display" for probably 30 minutes, which I consider totally inappropiate for ANY woman. But I am still wondering why her friend (another muslim girl) did not say anything. Instead she kept waiting for her with all of us.

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

    I think America needs to be introduced to Canada's "Little Mosque on the Prairie" 🙂
    Great sitcom show by a Muslim comedian!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:54 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.