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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. G-Unit

    Eventualy people will come to realize that muslims, like christians and beleivers of other faiths are as normal (and weird) as any other group pf people. The act of a few should not be a reflection on the religion as a whole. Christianity is a not a religion of molestation because priests engaged in crimes of pedophiles, nor is islam a religion of violence because of the acts of terrorrists affiliated with the religion. The child molesters are not real christians and the terrorists are not real muslims...it is that simple.

    Tolerence comes from understanding and education. Terrorists, fanatics, closed minded people can only survive in an environment of blind hatered and fear spreading.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  2. Martinez

    Yeah Muslims are evil, I don't care if the women wear head scarfs like Mary did, or have long beards like Jesus and Moses did.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Nonimus

      +1 for satire

      November 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  3. Scbydru

    I like the show. Also, in response to a lot of the comments here, Christians, Catholics, etc are the least tolerant religions that I have ever dealt with in my life. They honestly believe that they are the only religions and that no others should exist. I do not claim any religion and have gotten more grief from them acting like I have to pick one than from my Muslim friends. They tell me that it should not be rushed and to go with what is in my heart. The Muslims that I know are the most giving and caring people that I've had the pleasure to meet. As with any religion, there are the zealots who make their peaceful counterparts look bad. Like someone else commented, let's not forget about Hitler and the Nazis. The KKK and also the Aryan nation claim to be Christians and that the hate they teach comes directly from what they claim is written in the bible. Do they represent every Christian? No, of course not just like the Muslims that you see on the news don't represent all Muslims. The show represents American Muslims. They are not the ones who are freaking out about a cartoon. They are the ones who are living their lives just like you and I.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Al Gore

    I love the muslims and in the interest of peace would be willing to visit the muslim holy men and give them all a hand jobbie!

    November 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  5. hippypoet

    this is only a test of your local thought process, remember, this is only a test!

    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! So many have failed so far – how will you do?

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

      I put my head up my ass, daily and look inside myself.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • hippypoet

      well that was a terribly sh!tty response! next try! so far, you all fail!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Lilly

      For Muslims, I have no problem confessing it's the first two lines. They have way more conviction AND they practice what they preach. This IS the main problem that I have with them. Many (but not all) will put their religion ahead of everything. I just don't see the respect for other groups that their religion apparently teaches. I would be just as alarmed if Christians were this dedicated to their religion. I believe the time of religion shaping our policies should be long over. Religion puts too much distinction on the 'chosen' people, at the expense of people who do not have the same beliefs.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  6. cowflop

    Islam exists for two reasons only.

    1. Convert you.

    2. If #1 is not possible, k!ll you.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Nonimus

      This is different from Christianity how?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • really?!

      A couple of words for you to give some persepctive...
      Crusades;
      Spanish Inquisition

      oh wait, those weren't the same rules because you are Christian, therefore those were ok...

      November 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  7. cerjio

    We keep getting propaganda from the talking heads and now television shows. The characteristics of Islam are represented by liberal media types as benevolent and statements are made such as '...certainly Mohammed was peaceful.'

    These lies just exacerbate the real problem which is this religion is a cult which requires you to:
    1) join, 2) be enslaved, or 3) die. Mohammed was a war maker, a business man who sought wealth and he was not at all peaceful or charitable.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  8. DJMcFly

    GOOD TO SEE Many Are Not Buying Into The Insane Liberal Media "Glorification" Of Islam.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  9. YankeePatriot

    As long as you have strong Jewish lobbies like AIPAC and violent organizations like the Jewish defense league, our foreign policy and public opinion will always be shaped to portray Islam as our enemies.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • DJMcFly

      YEAH.....More than 30 Terrorist Attempts In USA Since 9/11.........ALL By ....Hmmmmmm....THE RELIGION OF PEACE.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • YankeePatriot

      We need to stop fighting expensive proxy wars for Israel in the middle east and bring our boys back. Israel has problems with Muslims because they are sitting on occupied land which belongs to Palestinians. It's time we stop transferring billions to Israel and let them fight their own wars.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • really?

      Ummm DJMCFLY you do realize that people have been killed in the name of Christianity as well? Crusades anyone? If you're going to condemn one you have to condemn all religions that have sough to assimilate or destroy. Can't have it both ways!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  10. chefdugan

    Mulsims in America are like all other ethnic minorities – they do not assimilate and hang together. Very, very clannish. Okay, that might seem normal but I can trust blacks, hispanics, orientals to, in the end, be loyal to AMerica. I wouldn't trust a Muslim any farther than I could throw a tank.

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

      Wow...I don't think I've seen anyone, under the age of 80, use the term "Orientals".

      November 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  11. Jessie

    I dont understand why so many pick on muslims. Im not muslim but they believe in the same God that we do and we have very similar beliefs. How about you be-friend a muslim and find out how close their beliefs are to Christians and then you can say whatever you want. We are humans we have no right to out judgment on anyone when we dont even know what they truly stand for

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

      It's hard to befriend a Muslim. I am a very outgoing person. I've tried. They do not want to be your friend. You can't make someone be your friend. They are my neighbors. They do not want to talk to you.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • jb1331

      While I understand your overall point, to be technically correct, Muslims do not believe in the same God that Christians do. Christians believe in a tiune God, One God in three persons, Father, Son (Christ), and Holy Ghost. Muslims do not believe in a triune God and do not see Christ (the second personhood of God) as anything but a prophet. It's erroneous to say these are the same God.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  12. NobodysFool

    What do you expect a Muslim to say? LOL! Cowflop has it right. Anyone who believes the crap Muslims are trying to sell is in serious danger. They are loyal to Islam and Sharia. They can't be true to America and be patriots at the same time. Islam is on a mission to dominate the world – just ask their leaders. They proudly proclaim Islam will rule the world. Islam is not a religion – it is a cult. What is so "peaceful" about Muslims? They have MURDERED MILLIONS of innocent Christians and Jews. They come to America and DEMAND we accommodate them instead of conforming to America. Let an American try that in the Middle East. They shove their ways down out throats and expect us to like it. If the Middle East is so wonderful and they love their culture, then why don't they stay there? The sooner they realize they are not wanted here, the better for all of us.

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

      AWESOME, couldn't have said it better my self, if it so wonderful over there stay the hell there...

      November 29, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • lea

      I agree. It scares me to think of the furture when they out number us, as we are having less kids and they are haiving more. Soon their vote will out number ours and they will have their Shira

      November 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      So, by your inescapable logic, Christians can't be patriotic Americans because their first loyalty is to Christ and the Ten Commandments? Jews can't be loyal citizens because their first loyalty is to Moses and Leviticus? Grow up. If you had your way the only people with the right to vote would be the money-worshipping dregs of society. Atheists have more patriotism and tolerance than your bigoted statement.

      All religions are, by definition, cults. Tautology much?

      Of course Arab Muslims (the subpopulation to which you are referring, completely disregarding the substantial population of black home-grown Muslims in the USA) demand that we respect their culture. So do Irish Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, British Anglicans (Episcopalians on this side of the pond), Indian Hindus, and a thousand others. That's what makes America great: you bring your culture with you and add it to our melting pot/tossed salad of awesome. Of course there are clashes, but the peaceable handling of these disputes as opposed to descending into civil war is one of America's finest achievements.

      There are more Buddhist temples than mosques in my Cleveland suburb. The horror!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  13. Lilly

    I think that the most enduring problem that Muslims will have in the US (or any other western country) is that MOST will put their religion and other Muslims ahead of their country. Although many Westerners claim a strong belief in God, they usually put the country ahead of their religion and their fellow countrymen ahead of their religious group. I have never heard a Westerner ever say that an attack on a Christian is an attack on all Christians. Westerners may feel like they are superior to other groups but rarely make it policy that they are better by nature of their choice.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  14. M

    The Muslims don't assimilate like people from India, Asia, Europe and ect. Many don't seem to like the country and complain a lot when we offer free housing, help, education, and saftey. AND a lot of support. In Minneapolis we have a lot of Somolians. I don't care what religion you are, but will you at least be a little friendly or thankful? Gee Wiz- you go into a Somolian market and they look at you like you should not be there. Never say hi. Crabby people with no personality. Many other cultures are just so much more friendly and fun to be around. Maybe the next generation will assimilate?

    November 29, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • AbdulQ

      Who says anyone needs to assimilate in the first place?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • really?

      i don't understand the logic that people need to assimilate. this country was founded on the premise of being free to be who you are and practice whatever religion you choose. so what they don't want to be your friend? you don't have enough? i mean seriously have you ever been to NY? not the friendliest bunch when you run into them on the streets. and i'm ok with that. being east coast born and bred myself i don't walk around speaking and smiling randomly at people. i mind my business and keep it moving. and thankful? for what? they are here working hard just like everyone else to make themselves a good life. they are not required to kiss the "natives" a**es. you need to get over yourselves!!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  15. Raj

    The Goal of Islam is world domination. It is clearly mentioned it Quran that Muslims must kill / convert / subjugate non-Muslims and iinstill global caliphate. Only morons does not accept it. Muslims practice many different methods to achieve this goal. Taquiah,. religious lie or deception, is their best weapon. They also use LOVE JIHAD, LITIGATION JIHAD in addition to violent jihads to achieve it. Wake up, unless you want your children live in future Saudi Arabia.
    |Learn more in FAITHFREEDOM dot ORG

    November 29, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • XtianNation

      Muslims are Truly barbaric and the most vicious animals on the planet!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Pot, I would like you to meet my friend Kettle. I think you guys should be friends, since you have so much in common...

      November 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  16. Proud American

    @ Khurram Dara – I strongly disagree with your first paragraph and that Islam's image or perception in America is accurate or understandable. Hundreds of millions of viewers every hour of every everyday are exposed to images and/or sound bites of Moslims and Arabs that are commetting or in the planning stages of committing a terror act. Ask yourself why?
    I agree with your over all statement that we as individual Moslims are responsible for making sure we are portrayed accurately but I will tell you that against such a orginized movement that is a task as difficult as parting of the sea or giving life to a death body.
    Devils advocate for a moment, lets ask why would very small and unorginized groups of Moslims and Arabs (FYI; there are Arabs of all faiths and No faith at all) would be fighting America?
    1) Could be because Arabia in the last 60 years has been turned into swiss cheese with multiple new countries.
    2) Could be because there are large and very visible number of American troops in these Arabian countries.
    3) Could it be because All of the Pro American governments in these countries are not governments of the people, for the people and by the people.
    I think the answer is all of the above and more. I could confidently tell you that if I had foreign troops living in America for decades and those troops try to devide America and/or exploit America, I would be fighting too.
    I understand that as the richest nation in the world we need raw resources, materials and markets, I am all for and, I enjoy it but I think we should go about getting it in a different way then the cold war era tactics. I gaurantee will not have Arab terrorist.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  17. The Doctor

    Muslims are nothing more than terrorist.I suggest they be treated as such

    November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Concerned Citizen

      Doctor of Idiots.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  18. palintwit

    Once when I was vacationing in the Middle East I saw a muslim by the side of the road with his arm all the way up a camel's butt. " Car trouble ? " I asked. Badda-boom ! Badda-bing !

    November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • XtianNation

      Lol!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  19. XtianNation

    Muslims are barbarians!!!! I once knew a Muslim and he seemed like a nice person then I found out that he wanted to implement Sharia Law!!!!! You can't trust these people!!! Even when they seem "normal" they are plotting against you!!!! They are sneaky and they hate freedom and America first and foremost!!! They will deny being Muslim if it helps their agenda to destroy America!!!! They have even been able to infiltrate the White House!!!!

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

      In what capacity did they invade the White House? One of the gardeners?

      November 29, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • XtianNation

      They took over the very highest office in the nation!!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Nonimus

      @XtianNation
      "They took over the very highest office in the nation!!!!"

      Sorry, that is incorrect.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  20. DJMcFly

    ANOTHER ATTEMPT AT LIBERAL MEDIA WHITE WASHING ISLAM........Why Do Democrats Love Muslims?

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

      Because DEMONICrats hate Christianity!!!!!

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

      It could be, and call me crazy here, that accepting people regardless of any one specific attribute like race, se.x, origin country, orientation, etc... is the right thing to do and should be encouraged. Then again I wouldn't want you to rock your world too much my only hope is that you can at least meet a muslim person and make judgement from that rather than listen to Fox news hammer you with false information all day.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • B4Cons

      Well said Chuckles.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
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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.