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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. GAW

    Trolls abound... Don't feed them!

    November 29, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  2. Deathstalker

    As long as you cover your head with something because you think God cares then I dont see you as smart or American.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Deathstalker is moron

      Then what about Jews & Nuns – they cover their heads too...

      November 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  3. cowflop

    I learned all I will ever need to know about islam and muslims on 9/11/2001.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Quid Malmborg

      You're obviously a failure of the real education system then. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, so why live your life in fear and ignorance as you do currently?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Nonimus

      Now we've learned all we ever need to know about you.

      Epic flop!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  4. Neil

    What is all american muslim? It has been always all Islamic muslim and their motto has been my way the only way

    November 29, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  5. us1776

    Islam is by far the stupidest, most backward religion in the world.

    It should be illegal in the U.S. due to its lack of basic human rights for women.

    .

    November 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • XtianNation

      Yeah, except all of the liberal communists are in love with Islam and will never allow us to do the right thing and ban that toxic religion!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • raggmopp

      christianity is the bloodiest religion in world history. christianity should be illegal as it continues take, deceive, and corrupt it's members.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Nonimus

      How does one decide on the stupidest and most backward religion... there are so many to choose from.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Quid Malmborg

      That puts Islam on the level of X-tianity.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Alan Dala

      My friend, if you'd read a book once in a while, you would know that Islam is about peace and love. Christians and Muslims believe in the same God, BTW...If a bunch of lunatics confiscated their religion and make it a weapon that doesn't mean it is backwards. You think Christians would be more tolerant? History taught us differently...Bottom line is to leave religion where it belongs...in our hearts, not in politics...

      November 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • us1776

      XtianNation, nah. communists like atheism.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  6. A muslim

    Even you live in america you should be anti-american for the sake of justice. That does not imply terrorism by the way. I really cant guess your minds' reactions to be anti-american.
    Of course I will stay in my lands and you will do the same. But I will always have problem with you as a Turk, as long as 'America' continues to make people 'sleep', make them think that the world is okay with me, despite the existance of people even noy dying because of hungry.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • whatajoke

      Thank you for your confusing poor english opinion. FAIL.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • OldGoat

      Exactly what was that diatribe about?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Fred Thomas

      In my mind it is bothersome that in the beginning – Islam warriors swept out of thier original homelands across North Africa – not for land or riches but to kill all who would not covert. All religions are backward and self serving – that is why there have been so many wars, to much torture. Every country in the world has been and is being torn apart by too strong a belief in their religion.
      I think that the actions a religion take when the religion is forming becomes the base for the actions through time.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  7. Danielle78

    My only problem is that this show does not reflect on people strictly following muslim practices. i think it is because their treatment of women for the stricter muslims is so medieval and misogynistic, that there would be an outrage against the muslim community. They have two families where the women dress very provocatively, and two other families where muslims where only a head scarf. There are no burqas, and the women in families that strictly comply to muslim practices probably would not be allowed to be videotaped, or talking to other men. I believe in freedom of religion, but I really wish their opinion and treatment of women were that they were equals, and not inferior, or "delicate," so they are not allowed to manage themselves

    November 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Danielle78

      *wear

      November 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Big Bob

      But notice the Catholic kid MUST convert to Islam before he can marry the muslim daughter. That is ALWAYS the case.
      With Islam it is only permitted to further populate the world with muslims and to deminish the ranks of the kuffar!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  8. Joe

    Here's what I would like to ask any Muslim, whether they are American or otherwise.

    1. Do you recognize Israel's right to exist?
    2. Do you denounce terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas?
    3. Do you agree with everything written in the Qur'an regarding the treatment of Christians and Jews?

    Let's start there and see what develops.....

    November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • tab

      That silence has spoken for itself, there were no responses to you very valid questions.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • MSL58

      Don't forget the question "Do you agree with Islam's approval of marriage for 9 yr. old girls?".

      November 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Nonimus

      Do you agree with Palestine's right to exist?
      Do you denounce terrorist organizations like Army of God and the Lord's Resistance Army?
      Do you agree with everything written in the Bible regarding the treatment of adulterers and disrespectful children (i.e. stoning them to death)?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Just Joe

      To Nonimus:
      Do you agree with Palestine's right to exist? Yes
      Do you denounce terrorist organizations like Army of God and the Lord's Resistance Army? All Radicals.
      Do you agree with everything written in the Bible regarding the treatment of adulterers and disrespectful children (i.e. stoning them to death)? Hardly. I tend to make my own mind up on issues.

      But this isn't about me and I think most individuals would avoid inflicting conflict.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Just Joe,
      Sorry, I was responding to @Joe.

      November 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  9. nyclposter

    Im not worried about Muslim Americans because by the 3rd generation, they will be "Americanized" just like the rest of us. I already see Muslim girls wearing their thongs under the religious garb.

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

      You closet freak!

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

    Thank you for writing this! Well put and right on point. It is just the type of thing most of the haters on this page have been saying all along, only now that a Muslim is saying it... Wait, that reminds me of something, GOP anybody?

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

      Hey, Im GOP and I understand and support you. Don't fall for the left liberal lies my friend.

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

      @nyclposter: Hey, now that's a stereotype too. I know there are reasonable conservatives out there and you stereotyping all liberals is just trying to fix a wrong with another wrong.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  11. jill

    Some on here say that they are "assimilating " to America....NO...they are not. We are being forced to assimilate to their beliefs...

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

      the word you are looking for is conviction, they have it, most americans don't!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  12. sagar

    I hate political correctness. BE REALISTIC.
    Muslims have been successful to draw everybody's attention through terrorism.

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

      The show does a great job representing the MINORITY of muslims who behave as American people do. It defeats the purpose of teaching anyone about how the majority REALLY live here and over there..

      November 29, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  13. 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 christian...don't worry, i'll type it slow, i know most of you suck at reading comprehension as seen by your often complete lack of knowledge of the book to which you folks base your lives on...

    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 11:31 am |
    • Jon

      I think I'm going to go with the first argument then the second. People hate muslims simply because their religion is behind the times. They have made no progress towards the secular world that the rest of us believe in today. Literal translation from the Kuran encourages violence and hate towards other people. Just look at any article about the middle east in the last few years and you will simply see there is a lot wrong with it.

      As for Christians hating Jews, I never understood it. Jesus was a Jew. Therefore to hate Judaism is just silly. But then again, I don't think Christians are much better than Muslims. It's just that Christians seem to be swayed by the government a little better. Then again, look how many Christians don't believe in evolution. It's quite mind-blowing.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • twirtzy

      Wow, way to use your own hypocrisy to point out the hypocrisy of others. You are no different than the "Christians" you are attacking.

      BTW, I have no dog in this fight. I just found your post to be incredibly hypocritical.

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

      ok well, sadly i am not getting the response i was hoping for...so

      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 11:40 am |
    • twirtzy

      After reading your post, it's rather obvious that you are no better than the people you are complaining about.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Big Bob

      Put the relativistic bong down, doofus...

      November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      @Joe:
      Interestingly, there is no such thing as a literal translation of the Qu'ran. Any version of the Qu'ran that is not in Arabic is considered to be an interpretation, not a translation. The reason is that Arabic does not translate well into English, or any other language for that matter. Words carry different connotations in different languages. Classic example is the arabic 'jihad', which can be translated as "war" or "struggle"; the first implies violent confrontation, the second implies more personal or peaceful conflict. There is no such thing as a nonviolent war, but there is such a thing as a nonviolent struggle. The way in which it is translated has a profound effect on the way the doctrine as a whole is understood.

      I would recommend, as with any translated religious scripture, that you check out several versions translated by different parties and note the differences before you come to any conclusions.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • hippypoet

      really...none of you understand this? just sad and pathic!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • twirtzy

      Not getting the response you want? Sounds like you were trolling for something and didn't get it. Take your ball and go and home.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • hippypoet

      twirtzy, your showing your stupidity again... might want to see to that!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • twirtzy

      Very good debating technique there. Can't defend your post so instead you go resort to insults. I sort of expected that given the tone of your first post.

      So just what was the response you were looking for?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Fred Thomas

      I don't trust Islam because that practice what they preach!

      Intelligance is the same for all races as we all came out of Africa from one tribe 200,000 years ago.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  14. Just Joe

    I think if you enageg with a person of any race or religion and you will typically find that we are all alot more similar than different. Meaning we tend to share the same hopes, dreams, and wants for ourselves and our neighbors. I would say your typical person doesn't seek conflict from their neighbors and are more than willing to let people go their own way as long as it doesn't affect them personally.

    I think it's when we get to collective and the vocal minority when we start having issues (combined with the political guidelines). Here in the US, we have the freedom of religion and the right to free speech (though people tend to be persecuted if they step too far away from "political correctness" these days. I think the issue we have is that there isn’t a reciprocal relationship across these points of view. It seems mostly 1 sided that Americans should accept Muslim because of our belief in these values.

    It doesn’t seem that there is any point of view that Muslims should be accepting of Americans (or maybe I just never get to see that media because I don’t live in a nation that has a large Muslim base). In that way, it doesn‘t seem like both sides are taking the journey together and it’s up to 1 side to come to terms with the other rather than a coming to terms with both groups involved.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  15. palintwit

    You can put Mohammed and Allah in a big sack along with Sarah Palin and her teabaggers and hang the sack from a tree. If you then beat the sack with a 2×4 you'll hit the right one every time.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Jim

      You know that Allah is your God right? Allah is Arabic for God, you idiot.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  16. Hotlanta

    My primary care physician is a Muslim and he knows I am not. If he wanted to kill me he would have done it long time ago.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  17. cerjio

    Mohammed was a military minded man whose armies attacked Mecca a city that made money by selling a pantheon of religions. He selected the existing moon-god symbols for his religion, thus the crescent moon rather than cross on flags and ambulances, and the 'moon rock' (meteorite?) worship during that mass walk around thing they do.
    He is the only figure from a major religion who was militant and sought personal wealth. We aren't allowed to express such thoughts without a penalty of death from this religion, but I am a bit tired of hearing people project benevolent qualities upon Islam which do not exist. Of course their are good people who believe in Islam, unfortunately they are the ones who mistaken about the basics of the teachings of their clerics.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Concerned Citizen

      @cerjio...would be interesting to know where you got your information...did you fabricate that before or after you did the line of coke?
      @hebgb-i guess you are exactly right and America has NEVER had crimes committed against women, children, elderly, special needs nor have any "red blooded" americans ever blown up their own people ...come out from the rock you live under and get some fresh air of reality.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • cerjio

      Its historically accurate and merely a statement of facts.

      Meanwhile your reply is both a smear and an attempt to deceive.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Big Bob

      I would never be accused of being a muslim lover, but Mo took Mecca peacefully through soft jihad. It was Medina that was conquered militarily.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • someone2009

      hello Cerjio

      November 29, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • someone2009

      If what u r saying is true, how come that I am a muslim following Prophet Mohammed teaching and do not worship moon-god. I understand that some people do not accept Islam but please do not lie and tell the truth. Islam is about worshiping the creator , the creator of heaven, earth, moon, and every thing else. He is the same god who created Adam, sent Moses, jesus and sealed the prophethood by sending Mohammed to the entire humanity.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • someone2009

      If what u saying that using the force was what make people comes to Islam, so please answer these questions. How come people accepting Islam in the US ? How come that people of Indonesia become Muslims without a single muslim soldier went there? How come that Islam is the currently world fastes growing religon while politically and military speaking Muslims are the currently weak.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  18. AhhPures

    You are NOT just like everyone else, sorry, no.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  19. aycaramba

    We need to do away with any and all religions. Religions are based on false, dreamed up illusions. We should not have to deal with lunatics that are disconnected from reality and the real world, and deal with things in a totally inappropriate fashion as a result. Religious people with their ideas belong in a rubber room, not be out and about espousing their nonsense.

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

    Everything I need to know about this faux religion of inclusiveness and peace, I learned from 9-11, seeing the beheadings in the ME and hearing stories about the abuse of children and women.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:29 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.