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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. Mike C

    Alan, sadly, if you take religion out of the equation there would probably be allot less to fight over. More people have died in the name of "GOD" through out history than any other cause. What most people do not realize is that all 3 religions(Islam, Christianity & Judiasm) all start with the same GOD. Whats that say for religion? Therefore, if everyone foused more on what they have in common and not so much on religous norms, people might get along better and have a better understanding of each other. In the end it probably won't matter, we are humans first and we have been in conflict with other humans for all of history.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • shut_up

      YOUR AN IDIOT! THE THREE RELIGIONS YOU MENTIONED DO NOT HAVE THE SAME GOD????? JESUS, THE HOLY SPIRIT AND GOD IS THE TRINITY! THEY ARE ONE GOD. THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD AND HE HAS A SON NAMED JESUS. THEY ARE MANY SO CALLED GODS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN, RAIN GODS, SUN GODS BLAH, BLAH! THE BIBLE WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING YOU NEED. ANYTHING ELSE IS TRASH!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Raj

      To shut_up,
      Look at your post – you're the kind who will be labelled a terrorist if you were a Muslim!

      November 29, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  2. Mike

    Can we agree that there are good and bad people in every cultural, religeous sector of society..?...White, black, asian whatever....? Great. The problem I have with this obvious at a propaganda campaign lifting up a religeous secotr of our (US) society will danerously feed people's ignorance in this country, to the fact that the WORLD does not see US Muslims as "good" Muslims and that a majority of Muslims WORLDWIDE act or behave in this manner. Islam in other countries such as Iran, Saudi, Egypt, Indonesia see American Muslims as Postates. Even countries like Kuwait, UAE are seen as "less than Muslim" by the majority of Muslims in the world. I can assure you if there was a statistic, I would be right.

    All I'm saying is, treat people right...based on content of character. But DO NOT be lulled into thinking that "Oh, the poor discriminated Muslims" all fit the sanme mosque. Just like Christians, lots of different denominations and interpretations of their scriptires.

    The Calaph is being established, and an Umma is in the waiting. The idea tio take over America by the less than desireable Muslims is still in place. The plan to out breed us is underway. Look at England. The most popular name this year is....Mohammad. France, Spain, Portugal.....all previous Christian dominated....all losing the breeding battle. I know..You're a nut case pal!". Whatever. The people who know the truth will prolly keep their mouths shut and the uninfirmed ignorant will reply.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • hebgb

      ...The people who know the truth will prolly keep their mouths shut and the uninfirmed ignorant will reply....

      Are you a product of public education and are their poster child for unmitigated success?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Jon

      "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion." ~ Steven Weinberg

      November 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  3. shagpal

    I blame jews

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • yeahyou

      islamonazi

      November 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  4. rickster

    I have to admit, if you are wearing a towel on your head, I'm affraid of you.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      I'm "affraid" of your inability to spell, but it does make your ignorance easier to spot.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • redwhiteblue

      I have to agree with you. If you are wearing any muslim clothes, I am afraid of you. You do not hold the same values as I do and Christians don't go around killing others in the name of Jesus. Yes the crusaders did but they were ignorant of what Christ teaches. If you are a muslim no tv show is going to change the minds of people who have been killed by your radical believers.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. Dude

    I havn't seen this show, but may I ask the obvious question; When will a reality show about real Mormons come out?
    To me, as an actual member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I wonder if even a small fraction of the 52% of Americans that say they don't know what a Mormon is, would get some idea of how normal we actually are in America, just like Muslims. If they saw our lifestyle, again just like Muslims, people would see we are everyday Americans too, not some 19th century holdback like the polygamist Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (not affiliated with them at all) that people portray on shows like Sister Wives, and etc.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Ken

      My only point is do Mormons think you are a person and OK if you choose not to be one. Are you free? Muslims are not free and are enslaved to their religion.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  6. American Muslim, what an evil mask

    There is nothing called as 'American Muslim'. Go to the muslim dominated areas in America and you will see with you own eyes the true colors of Muslim (Examples are already seen across the European Union). If the so called "American Muslim" wants others in America to clear the doubts of Muslim, then I would suggest you go back to your home country where you came from and bring reformations there. Then let others see and learn from your examples. Talk the words and walk the language of love in your country and then convince the rest of the non-Muslim world.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Please give examples of where Muslim law supercedes the secular law, and please don't bother referencing any of the FOX news outlets, or Glenn Beck.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  7. Bob

    Pretty cool they never have to wash their hair. I am so glad that I am old never had to put up with all this BS in my youth. I just love a religion that uses our freedom of religion against us yet they have no freedom in their own countries. I just ignor so called American Muslims because our weak will follow anyone even those with cool aid.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  8. The Loon

    people do realize it's not these Muslims many of us feel uncomfortable around...it's the ones who think the girl in the picture should be stoned to death because we can see her face and she's smiling...we don't like the ones who want to kill us

    November 29, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  9. XtianNation

    Muslims will NEVER be Americans!!!! They don't have the capacity to understand freedom and democracy!!!! Only through Jesus can anyone understand the concept of freedom!!!! There's a reason why all of the free nations in the world are Christian and all of the dictatorships are Muslim or communist(atheist)!!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Jon

      I can understand being hating Islam but hating atheism is just silly. Atheism and Science have brought about almost every means of technology and medicine that keeps you alive. What has christianity brought us besides gold crucifix necklaces that rappers wear and a giant barely coherent book?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • sagar

      How about India? It is not Muslim neither it is Cristian. Can you guys see beyond your riligion?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Last time I checked, countries like Venezuela were Christian and Cuba were Christian. In El Salvador, the right-wingers there murdered Archbishop Romero, and executed hundreds of priests, nuns, and lay workers.Your conclusion has so many holes in it, someoune could drive a truck through it.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • CNNUser305

      http://nobeliefs.com/Tripoli.htm

      The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense founded on the Christian religion. Please read it. My fear for you is that you have no sense of history and what each religion has done to many groups of people. This is life. Please educate yourself.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  10. seriously?

    The folks on the show are great Americans. They bring something different to the table (this is a melting pot, after all), but more importantly, they have assimilated to this country and respect those around them. The problem I have is that these are the kind of Muslims that no one is speaking of when they complain about Muslims. The Muslims many people have issue with are the ones that would complain about the show (the ones that have no interest in respecting other non-Muslims in this country and have no intention of ever assimilating to this country...the kind that come here to take advantage of our great country and then kill their children in the name of "honor" when they become like the people on the show. I don't appreciate this show's one-sided agenda to pretend that all those other types out there do not exist b/c those are the ones that make people nervous. The show also depicts white people as if they are ignorant morons b/c how dare anyone get scared on a plane when there is a Muslim woman after what America went through on 9/11.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  11. Chris Honry

    "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." THAT's JUST THE POINT: YOU DON'T do all this. You all sit back quietly and expect us all to go nuts when a pastor burns a Q'uran in FLorida. We see angry frothing at the mouth psychos bashing cars and people in the streets of Europe because some cartoonists made funny on Mohammed. Any group that wants to kill someone for a cartoon is sick in the head and will not be tolerated by Americans. Once you show tolerance like true AMERICANS you have a chance at being accepted as Americans. Not before.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      True Americans like you? Don't think you qualify at this moment. Pack your bags!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  12. shamgar50

    Get the damn rag off her head, and I might think you have a brain and listen. Until women stop wearing symbols of oppression, and ignorance (why don’t men have to be modest and cover their heads?) your words mean nothing.

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

      My Goodness... we really are ignorant. What's next tell the Jews to take their Yamakas off??? Should we tell the Hinus to take their rags off too?? We really are shameful! You are shameful!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  13. Believer

    America needs to shut the borders and not let these muslim fanatics in.....their goal is to take over the world and you people supporting them will be responsible if it happens.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  14. Joe

    hey Rex 9/11 really hapened! They brought this on themselves....

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

      Exactly!!!! WE WILL NEVER FORGET WHAT YOU DID TO US!!!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  15. Gary mitchell

    I truly believe that blacks who was first brought over here (USA) ,their religion was Islam. Remember slaves did not had the rights to read or write and were taken out of their real names so as the native people. Their is a old song slaves use to sing in the church. (GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION, ITS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME).

    November 29, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Cailfornian american

      The blacks that were brought as slaves were into voodoo and witchcraft back in Africa.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  16. bridgmjm

    That's it CNN, promote conflict by continually posting Religious articles.

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

      cnn is run by religion, race baiting jews

      November 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  17. Ken

    No Defense !!!! There is no defense for any religion with no tolerance for other religions period. Get an edict from the Muslim leaders around the world stating it's totally OK that you can reject it then we'll talk.

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

      There was once a zero tolerance group of people it was called Nazi Germany.... Anybody want to relive that nightmare?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • bob

      i will do that when you get the same thing from all the "christian" "leaders". i had to put those two seperate words in seperate sets of quotation marks.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Ken

      BTW I have no tolerance for any group mind that will not tolerate others beliefs. I may think you are wrong but I will never say mean things and hold it against you. Everybody has a right to chose. right or wrong.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • bob

      ken, the right wing evangelicals in this country have been pushing that for decades. they hate gays, minorities, muslims and anyone that doesnt give 10% of their income to them.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • ThaGerm

      Only recently have SOME religions attempted to reconcile their LONG HELD BELIEF that they are the chosen ones. Look at Mormons or Jews or MOST CHRISTIANS... your comment is just about as ignorant as you will find. Haters gonna HATE I suppose.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  18. maidny

    CNN and MSNBC are nothing but a kiss-up and propaganda for Muslims, but they don't dare to show what Muslims do to other people (even in the US) , Muslims are hateful people hating everyone (specially behind close doors), and they pretend they like us in our face, I lived between them all my life

    November 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Ryan W

      You are absolutely correct. I lived next to Muslim neighbors 1/2 my life. They readily admitted their conceit for America and they also readily admitted their joy in seeing American Soldiers dying overseas at the hands of Muslims. I was shocked that they readily admitted this but they did. This is nothing more than the libs trying to promote an untruth, that "Muslims are just normal folks working and living in America". This is a total farce and completely untrue but it is an idea that must be
      promoted and projected as true when all evidence indicates Muslims hate America, that even the most "moderate" Muslims are very self-righteous regarding their religion, and that they hate our military and the US even though they desparately escaped their worthless Muslim countries to come here. Total propaganda here.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  19. rickster

    If muslims were 'American', they wouldn't care what kind of religion their neihbors believed in.

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

      Tell that to the Christians.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  20. Jeff

    Can somebody please explain to me why, as an American, I would need, or even WANT to be "educated" about Islam/Muslims? Why are there not any programs aimed at educating the Muslims about America, our heritage, our beliefs? It's because they don't care, they don't care what our beliefs are, about our hiertage, they only care about taking the country over little by little, which they are doing a fantastic job and being very successful. We need to wake up people, these are not peaceful people, they do not come here to live the American dream, they come here and other countries for one purpose and one purpose only, to take it over.

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

      Islam is a religion, just like Christianity. It isn't a country like America. Americans can be muslim/islam and still be American. To be American is not to be Christian.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • tab

      good point!

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

      that good point comment was to Jeff

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

      Muslim is a religion, not a nationality.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • bud

      Their mandate is to control the world by any means necessary with no consequences.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Jeff

      @ Raven: Keep in mind when Christopher Columbus set our for new worlds, he landed here in America. The land was not vacant, it was owned by the American Indians, and we all know what happened from there right? Did he learn the Indian culture and blend in? No, they took it over! Also, remember the Crusades? Look up the Crusades, that was not a Nationality, it was a religon!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:38 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.