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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. phan

    the problem with moderate muslims is that they are lazy. they want everything done for them... they sit around praying all day and radicals took over their country. now they dont have the character, to take it back themselves. instead of helping they are aiding terrorists out of fear instead of helping us regain control of the country. they won't die for what they want or what they think is right, moral... there aren't many muslim heroes out there to help us destroy the people they say are taking their religion out of context. its hard to trust people who sit there, see aweful things happening and do nothing about it. and this is where we are today. they dont fight, they dont help us but they have alot to say how they differ from the terrorist but dont seem to want to do anything about it to secure their country. and live in peace.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Chris Honry

      You got it right. There's no "resistence movement" visible or affecting things.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  2. krishna

    A muslim cannot see that Allah of the muslim, Lord of the christian, God of the jew and Bhagwan of the hindu is one and the same God. The Oneness of God is the most fundamental truth. A muslim cannot see that because of the Koran. Koran explicitly says that Allah is the only true God and worshipping other Gods must be shunned. So Koran is fundamentally flawed. So all muslims that follow the Koran about a billion and half are all flawed in their reasoning. The Koran has created 1.5 billion morons. How can you set that right ?

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

      "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman."

      (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

      Read your own book sometime, moron.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Frankly Speaking..

      I thought the creed of hanuman-the monkey god was extinct but then people like you remind me that stupidity is immortal.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • krishna

      @Frankly Speaking.....Cant blame you for your stupidity. What can you expect from someone who follows the stupid koran.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • American born muslim

      A muslim knows that Allah is One God, the same one God of Christians, Jews and any other religion that believes in the one God that created us all. Allah means God in the Arabic language. People of religions other than Islam who speak Arabic refer to God as Allah, even those Christians in Arabic speaking countries.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Raj

      Oh common!
      Christianity also talks about one God and no to other! But majority of Christians respect other faiths and religions. Its not about what was written in a book – it's about literally following it. If and when Muslims stop following Quran literally.

      Now here's my theory – 🙂
      Islam is one of the newest religions – it is going thru its teenage years when religion is most important aspect of life Mullahs/priests have very high degree of influence in society. Christianity went thru this phase about 500 years ago and Hinduism went thru this phase about 2500 years ago. Give it some time – hopefully in this day and age, it'll not take Muslims another 500 year to grow up and have mature thinking.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  3. Martin

    OH PULEEEEEEEEZE ,

    November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  4. A muslim

    The Infidel from Egypt, you are wrong Islam is a peaceful religion but note that quote of Malcolm X, you can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
    Hey the one who calls muslims to go out of USA, was your country built on your lands? You said the trust in God but USA was built on the massacres of the natives. Thank Allah that I don't live in your lands but mine which is land of islam. We have Turkey because of the existance of islam but what about USA? Is it because of christianity or some bad purposes which could lead white man to perform cruelty? Also, you had better to know the Turk who is no other person than a muslim, will always remain as anti-american.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • alsmeer1

      who is no other person than a muslim, will always remain as anti-american.

      another indication that whether from Europe or the East or West or in America........ this is the sentiment Americans feel threatened by. if you come to America, then embrace America & her way of life. you can still have your 'religion' but live by American laws , etc. stop pushing muslim sharia and other muslim ways on American soil.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Budrowe

      We also thank Allah that you don't live in our lands! Please do us a favor and STAY in yours!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • A scholar

      You are correct that the Native Americans in North, South and Central America were basically massacred, but they were massacred by Europeans too- the French, Spanish, Italians, British, and so on, until the USA gained independence. Also, disease spread by Europeans killed more Native Americans than any sort of violence. However, the Middle East has seen more war, more violence and bloodshed in the past 10,000 years, than in any other place in the world. That region, once referred to as the "center of the world", has been supremely active in history from empire to empire, and violence continues to plague the middle east today, not just between religions and countries, but as the foundation of its justice system. Also, at least Turkey is a progressive country, and hopefully they will stop killing the Kurds.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • The infidel

      Who cares what America did. I am talking about your evil and terrible Islam! and this sharia law that keeps creeping in the west will mess everything up. people leave the middle east and leave sharia in search of real freedom. and now you want to screw the free west too? if you like sharia so much go to stupid saudi arabia where a woman can't go out without a male guardian. seriously stop being stupid and think for a bit.

      November 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Wylie-Mike

    Then it is all about image. What really needs to happen is to explain why the image being portrayed isn't squaring with the really that their global imperialist leaders threaten us with.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  6. girlfriend

    muslims worship a pedophile – I despise them
    muslims lie – I dislike them
    muslims suicide bomb – I loathe them
    muslims whine – I think they are pathetic

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

      You really have nothing better to do with your day? Did you ever imagine yourself growing up to be such a nasty, petty little person when you were watching Disney as a kid?

      What a disappointment to yourself you must be.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Believer

      Agree. We don't want them in our country!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  7. Rex

    Islam is a religion and being a Muslim means you're a follower of Islam. America is at war with the Middle East not the Muslims. (who knows what reasons. Maybe America wants the control of the oil?) There are Muslims in different countries and continents in this world. There are African Muslims, there are Malaysian Muslims, Singaporean Muslims, etc. You can't equate hating the Middle Eastern countries with hating the Muslims nor can you equate hating America with hating Christians. A true Muslim does not believe in killing children and innocent people.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  8. hmmm

    Why folks follow a pedifile sevont is beyond me.

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

      As opposed to following a God who murders all the firstborn CHILDREN of Egypt after hardening Pharaoh's heart so he would reject Moses?

      Because THAT makes sense.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Allen

      No Alan, that belief is retarded also. We dont need any more idiocy in this country.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  9. Abubakar

    By their fruits, we shall know them. If you cannot love your brother you see, how can you love your so-called Allah that you have never seen. Muslims, Islam or whatever you call yourselves, clean your house. Accept that there wicked things you do. Clean your house, love your neigbor as yourself. stop killing and bombing innocent people for the name of a god. Come face to face and dialogue with people. Do not hide and kill. Repent. Try Jesus

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

      Amen!!! Truly, Truly only Jesus is the way to peace and eternal prosperity!!!! Anything else is a straight path to evil and damnation!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • tallulah13

      Or maybe people could try to just be good humans. When you take away religion and politics, most people have the same concerns: home and family and the welfare of the ones they love. You don't need a religion to be kind and peaceful, in fact, religion is too often used as an excuse to discriminate and foment hate against others. Just look at some of the responses here.

      Very few things are as divisive as someone shouting "my religion is right and yours is wrong!", especially when there is no factual reason to believe any god exists at all. Just treat people as you would be treated. No religion is required.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  10. r-hope

    I sometimes wonder to whom or what would the anger of CNN posters be directed to if Islam did not exist. Seriously people! Some of you all need some therapy

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

      The religion of peace has no place in our country! GO HOME MUSLIMS!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • tallulah13

      Of course, those muslims who were born in the US are already home. If you don't like that, then perhaps YOU should go home.

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

    The best way for them to 'improve their image' is to stop killing innocent people. DUH.

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

      Amen to that idea.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  12. XtianNation

    Don't be fooled!!! The devil will masquerade as a normal person to get our guard down and strike while our back is turned for verily that is his way!!! Truly we must be ever vigilant and defend this great nation against the threat of Islam and no amount of ACTING "nice" will trick me into falling asleep and letting Muslims take over this country!!! The United States is the only country in the world where true Christians live and if we let Muzzies take it over then true Christianity will be destroyed!!!! We cannot let that happen EVER!!!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Jenny

      You are so ignorant and stupid.

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

      Agree 100%! They're loyalties are always to their murderous god and will kill us if we let them assimilate.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • tallulah13

      The United States was founded on the idea of freedom. One of those freedoms guaranteed by the Consti.tution is the freedom of religion. Citizens of this country can believe, or not believe, as they choose. While there are many christians of many denominations in this country, there are also muslims, jews, buddhists, hindus, wiccans, pagans, agnostic, atheists and followers of many other faiths. This is not a christian nation. Your hateful rant is a disgrace. You might as well be spitting on the const-itution.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @XtianNation
      Please define "true christian".

      November 29, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  13. Joe

    if the Muslims want to show good faith how bout stepping out against the acts of terror on the Jewish and American people. instead as a hole you choose to be quiet and even some will go as far as to hide these people. This is another chance to brainwash the youth to believe we should trust these people. Give us reason.

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

      Joe get a life moo other fooooker and then fooook your self. I am a jew and you are so ignorant and idiot.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Bob

      @Max: You are really a kind of jew! This is really how you talk to your family.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  14. truthkeeper

    Google TAQIYYA and KITMAN and tell me now if you can trust Muslims.-

    November 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  15. Bob

    I thought instead of being defensive, someone would shed a light on that verse (Quran 9:5) 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 and stop the violence? It is nice you are reaching out to non-muslims for your image, but would the impact bigger if you were reaching out to the radicalists among you and convert them?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  16. Logan

    I've watched All American Muslim and it is an interesting show. Having said that I look as it purely as entertainment like any other reality show. They are all scripted to some extent. I also stopped in and looke at Barenakedislam.com and got told I was ignorant because I didn't buy into their idealogy of hatred towads all Muslims. I feel American Muslims are like anyone else, just trying to make a life for themselves and their family and they are not any more violent then your average Christian American. We should all respect one another and learn to live together in peace. This gentlemen writing the article is right on target. American muslims need to integrate more into society so people can see that they are no different from teh rest of us.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  17. Maria

    I really loved the show. I can truly relate to some of the characters. My family is Catholic and my sister is dating a practicing Muslim man. He's a great guy, but if he hadn't have told me he was Muslim, I never would have known. His family is the same. Don't forget that this is a man of God who treats my sister better than these so-called Christian men she's dated. My mom and dad still have reservations, but I don't, so far. I've heard nothing but great things about him, from my sister, and she is quick to drop a guy if he's not making the cut. We need to stop grouping all Muslims into one pot. In Christianity, we have our zealots and fundamentalists, but we're not being grouped into one negative group (maybe by some–LOL!). Why do we do this very thing for our Muslim brothers and sisters?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Jay Wilson

      "He's a great guy, but if he hadn't have told me he was Muslim, I never would have known"

      And therein lies the problem. Islam doesn't compel men to wear a hijab or worse...a burka that labels their women. Why is that do you suppose? Why is it that Muslim men need to have their "urges" suppressed by having women cover themselves, but women aren't afforded the same respect. Don't Muslim women have "urges" as well? The real problem here is that Islam is controlled not by its moderates, but by its radicals – the radicals who appear in YouTube videos describing the "proper" way to beat your wife or who advocate the extinction of another race of people, or demand that non-Muslims convert or possibly face death. Is that stupid or what. You can force me to follow the rituals at gunpoint, but you cannot force me to actually believe. Sadly, Islam is yet another reason why religion is a blight on mankind and will probably lead to its destruction.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  18. The Infidel

    STOP LYING. Islam is not peacful you stupid liers. It says right in the quran that you should FIGHT and wage WAR against the unbelievers. I am from Egypt and I know this.

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

      "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman."

      (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

      Nice try. You've probably never even been to Egypt. Or seen it on a map.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Jenny

      HA HA HA HA ok I was going to say something in defence but honestly, I think you are some dumb 14 year old kid. And I concur with Mr Alan...you don't even know where Egypt is on a map. Amazes me how much hate is on here for people who are so quickly judged. Wow.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • The infidel

      I don't hate muslims. I hate islam. I am from Egypt and I lived in cairo, maadi. wait until they introduce sharia in the west and we will see if you will like it or not. if you don't like it you will be shot in the face. do you even know what sharia means? i hate people who just talk without an understanding of the subject they're talking about. please do some research about sharia before you come and tell me that sharia and islam are peaceful and they promote equality between all races and religions.

      November 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  19. DrDoITT

    google "peace of the quraysh" for a back to the future moment

    Also, google "dhimmi" for what happens to people who are oblivious to reality and dont take action in time. Like Theo Van Gogh.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  20. OldGoat

    These Muslims claim to be Americans, yet they continue to wear the uniform of the Middle East and act like Bedouins in the desert. Are they American or Middle Easterner? I think it's the latter and that they are here solely to take advantage of our system without having to contribute anything meaningful. Meanwhile, Muslims hide behind the First Amendment as they preach their hatred toward the USA.

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

      OldGoat ... you obviously don't realize that ALL immigrant groups tend to look like they're from the old country until 2 or 3 generations have been born in the U.S. Right now, we are seeing in America a predominantly immigrant Muslim generation. They and their children will not "melt" into the American pot all that much, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren will probably be a very different story.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • cherrypieguy

      Well it looks like the old goat has his head set square on his shoulders.............RIGHT YOU ARE! Take off those ridiculous rags (that can hide all sorts of weaponry) and start acting like Americans. ISLAM SUCKS RIGHT ALONG WITH ALL THE REST OF THE WORLDS RELIGIONS!!!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:14 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.