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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. SomeGuyInNC

    The morons on this thread who wish to ban/remove/kill Muslims in America should look in the mirror. Christianity (American or otherwise) has managed to do more damage over time. Inquisition anyone? Crusades? "The Mark of Cain"? A blind eye or worse to violent racism? Please, stop telling me you're wonderful for being Christian - you're not making anyone's life better, you're not a member of some privileged elite, and it's no honor to "succeed" when you aim so very very low.

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

      You couldnt be MORE wrong! How many Christians were killed in Rome (fed to the lions) because they were simply Christians. Islam has barely been around for 600 years so Christians and Jews have a few thousand years head start on them, dont worry, at the rate they are going, they will catch up! Oh....have you found the common theme here....MAN. The Common theme is MAN, not Religion! Man is cruel. Man is evil. Open your mind just a bit SomeGuy in NC.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Jrodd

      Alot of bad things happened under the guise of Christianity. However they did not follow the teachings of the bible but used it as a way to get support from the church, Kings and Queens. But today we all have come a long way since those days. But how come it is that the muslims haven't? Still treating their own as dogs and women even worse.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • makar

      Inquisition – 12th century, 11th, Crusades -12th and 13th century. we are now in 21 century!!!! Wake up

      November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Katherine

      Makar; Do you think Muslims are in the 21st Century? They are not even in in the 17th Century yet.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • EyeGuy

      Islam has been around for 1500 years, not 600.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  2. Joseph Haba

    Are Americans still in the state of denial about the French and Muslim threat? Open this: http://www.changeafrica.com/1/id195.html

    November 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  3. Rizengrom

    It's all Obama's "muslim" fault...

    November 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • jack

      there may be more truth to that than what you may realize

      November 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  4. aycaramba

    The conflict between the Christians and Muslims is basically that between people brainwashed to believe their own version of nonsense. We need to eliminate both by starting with the children, and educating them properly to see that religion, any religion, is nonsense. In one generation these conflicts can be eliminated completely.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bill

      Sounds like you want to go back to the days of Communism where religion was considered the opate of the masses. The problem is that in a country with the legal separation of church and state, the state cannot suppress religious belief. Children should be taught more about the world's many religons. They should also be taught about atheism. There are lessons there that we can all use in our lives. You don't have to believe in God or practice the various rites of a particular religion, but you would live a much more full life if you are exposed to those teachings.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  5. aycaramba

    We need to do away with any and all religions. That's the only way we can hope to bring rationality back to our nation and start dealing with things in a reasonable manner. Religious disputes will never stop until and unless one side destroys the other entirely. Not the outcome I want to see.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Wendy

      Oh yes of course!!! We see how well our public schools are doing today since we removed prayer or any talk of God in them.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Canus

      "Oh yes of course!!! We see how well our public schools are doing today since we removed prayer or any talk of God in them."

      ...Please tell me more of this amazing mind-control miracle that removed the ability of children to pray or talk about God in school.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • TRUTHKEEPER

      We seen what atheism does under Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Hitler yeah just peace and love riiiiight

      November 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  6. mypointofview

    If you look back in history, crimes were commited against jews, Native American and African American...They were commited by who? It is convinience to take the present snapshot and forget what happend in the past....it is bitter truth but needs to be told

    November 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Really

      Yeah Americans tend to forget they killed millions of Native Americans for their cause and Christianity.

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

      It's OK to be violent, hateful, and genocidal as long as you are non-muslim. If you are a Muslim and commit any of these transgressions you are considered a terrorist.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Married to One

    I read a comment that the person said Islam teaches "convert or be killed", which I find odd as I have been married to a muslim for 6 years now and neither her or her family have taken me out yet.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • cowflop

      Sleeper cells, all of them. They blend in until they get "the call".

      November 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • jack

      I belive they're talking about him. If you are in the religion you can't leave it.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Poop goes the weasel.

      Well maybe tonite is your lucky night.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • RADDA

      well as u said " u r still married to a muslim. try leaving the marriage or the muslim faith. if he is a true muslim he will have to kill u. thats the message in the quran

      November 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Michelle

      Actually many people convert to islam and find it hard to leave it because they don't want to. If they do then they do leave it peacefully I don't know where people come up with these things, they just can't stop making things up about islam.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  8. Matt Slick

    Why is the news media so incredibly silent about the state of affairs of Islam in western countries (Norway, England, France, etc.) where there are muslim dominated cities that the nationals won't go into for fear of violence? What about these areas that want sharia law and defy the laws of the countries they live in? Islam is not just a religion. It is a religio-political and will destroy every government in which it operates once it gains enough people. This is repeatedly demonstrated by the facts! Furthermore, the Qur'an tells Muslims to kill and go to war to fight for Islam: Surah 2:191; 2:193; 3:118; 4:75,76; 5:33, 8:12; 8:65; 9:5; 9:73,123; 33:60-62. Check out the various contexts. It is okay to beat wives: "As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly)..." (Quran, 4:34). Don't take Jews and Christians as friends: "O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people" (Quran 5:51). Islam is inherently dangerous. http://www.carm.org/islam

    November 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Dr. Mir

      You have obviously not found a correctly translated Quran because that is utter nonsense. Islam believes Jews and Christians are people of the book and should be treated with respect as well as other religions. Why don't you people spend more time looking into your own religions versus trying to taint Islam. Christianity isn't what it used to be if you haven't noticed recently. And by the way, the way you are justifying all this violence by the Quran is the same way the KKK justified lynching and segregation using the bible.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • jack

      GOOD DOER: You're totally naive

      November 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  9. 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 12:32 pm |
    • Michelle

      lol why don't you try getting rid of all religions, let's see how long it'll take you

      November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Michelle

      why say things that you know aren't going to happen, might as well do something else that's actually possible if you really want peace.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  10. TRUTHKEEPER

    I and rest of informed people WON'T fall into the schemes of TAQIYYA and KITMAN that muslims cloak themselves with to deceive non-muslims,..where they can be awesomely friendly and smile all time to your face saying one thing but truly they have a dark agenda saying something else and act differently when they are in their gatherings.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  11. Plug1

    People should busy themselves with their own religion, you say you believe in God but many of you reject the Old Testament of the Bible. You say you believe, but many of you love and follow the very things that God, advise you to stay away from. Most Christians, don't follow anything from God, and only follow their own desires. They will tell you their Christian, but if you ask most of them things pertaining to the Bible they couldn't tell you much from THEIR OWN BOOK OF BELIEF!!! but the same people will try to critique Islam and the Qur'an. Also stop being racist, yeah people do it on the Internet but WOULDN'T DARE CALL THE NAMES YOU CALL, TO SOMEONE'S FACE!!! Your not that brave. Have a nice day... And to the Muslims...A'salaamu laikum wa'rahatulilliahi wa barakatuh.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  12. Osman Khan

    It was a great show. Although it may not be representative of entire muslim poulace of USA, I found it an un biased natural depiction of muslim community in the environs of Dearborn MI. It was certainly devoid of fear mongering by otherwise demonizing the law abiding majority through branding them as terrorist and anti-US.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  13. Katherine

    What is not being represented by the All American Muslim is how they want their cake and eat it too. In Canada for example, they have taken Christianity out of our schools and now they are demanding Muslim prayer time and space in our schools. They have taken Christ out of Christmas and now our holiday is Winter Festival. They have demanded we take Christmas Trees out of public buildings and that we refer to them as Holiday Trees. They have done in a very short time in our country what our Jewish brothers have never done to us in history. There is no such thing as an American (or Canadian or European) Muslim. They have ruined their own countries and seek a better life in Western Countries only to take them back in time 2000 years. When was the last great invention or progress from a Muslim country. The treatment of their own people in their own countries not to mention their own children in their own familes is beyond our comprehension and we are to believe they are a peaceful and loving religion?

    November 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • kurtzie

      Well said. I'm as fed up as you are. I say what I feel directly to people's faces, and if they don't like it...too bad. It's time we take back our own country!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Lennybob

      Hey Wait, they invented the wheel? didn't they?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Good doer

      You're still generalizing my dear. Muslims are humans just like you and everyone else. They have the good, the bad and ugly. So are all other people with their religions. Is there evil in Muslims? Absolutely yes. But is their good in them? Of course and it is vast. If you try to sit here and convince me that your religion and your society is perfect, everyone would agree that you're painting a uotopian image. Don't forget that you as "Canadian", don't even belong to Canada per se, as Canadians are nothing but a wave of mostly European immigrants. Canada or the new world really belong to the Natives. And let's not talk about the massacres and genocide that were carried out against them by Christian-European settlers.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • vintage274

      Muslims did not take prayer out of our schools. Reasonable, thinking Americans like myself, reared by Christian parents, who believe that NO religion should be IMPOSED in a public setting funded by a secular government (which is what ours is) took religion out of the schools. Religion should be TAUGHT at home. No one is stopping chidren from saying their prayers in a public school. They just can't expect that everyone else follow their religious practices as well. Muslim students need to be given a quiet corner in which to pray at lunch time. Reasonable request. They aren't asking everyone to be forced to pray with them. If you feel threatened religiously by Muslims, then you don't understand Islam at all. I feel far more threatened by people like you who seem to think that you have the right to impose your own religious beliefs on an entire country.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Bob R.

      Katherine and Kurtzie, get a grip. And Katherine, although you don't sound as radical as Kurtzie, your comments show that you are on you're only a half a step away. If you ever met Kurtzie, you would probably follow whatever radical ideas he/she had–like a sheep to slaughter. Pathetic.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • vintage274

      When was the last great invention from a Muslim? The Arab world is the Cradle of Civillization. The basic medical knowledge that keeps you healthy every day is Arab in origin. Many of the great scientific principles of the world are Arab in origin. Islam was the religion of knowledge when Christian Europeans were still scratching fleas in the Dark Ages. You need to study some World History, lady. (By the way I am a 10th generation American WASP and have actually STUDIED history.)

      November 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Jack B

      You're absolutely correct, Katherine! Islam has been and continues to be the bane of hundreds of milions of people throughout the Middle East and Asia. There is not one truly democratic Muslim country: They're either theocracies or dictatorships. And only those countries that have oil have sound economies. And now you have illegal hordes of Muslims that cannot be assimilated flocking to the cities of Europe, into the cities of the very West on whom they blame their 'misfortunes'...And we, in our naive adherence to 'political correctness', allolw it to happen...

      November 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • jack

      GOOD DOER: You're totally naive

      November 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Ignorance

    I think most Americans are ignorant and the reason behind their ignorance is the failure to want to educate themselves about other cultures, beliefs and traditions. And because of their big headedness, these traits are passed on generation after generation, producing more ignorant people! You need to educate yourselves before passing comments on other people's religion, race and culture. Respect is the key word! Look around you, every race and religion has it's weaknesses, has it's own fair share of problems. No Christian is bigger than the other person, no matter what you think!

    November 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Stompin Mad

      Ignorance... that's you100%..you need to take a good look around, if these people are so offended by the people in America and this country, then they need to go back to their country of origin and stay there. They come into this country, want all of these changes made to suit them, taking away our rights of FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND FREEDOM OF SELF EXPRESSION, the political correct are destroying this nation. If your a black, white, Asian, Arab, African, gay, a man, a woman, or whatever your religion is you need to accept life as it comes at you and deal with it!!! When everyone can except me 100% then I will except them, life is not a one way street.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • G

      You're 110% correct. By far, most Americans are ignorant. But, unfortunately, the same thing can be said for most people around the world. The bigger problem however, is that most people relish in their ignorance and don't wish to educate themselves on different cultures and/or point of views and are content with their own hubris.

      November 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  15. kurtzie

    "All American" and Muslim just doesn't sound right.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Good doer

      Take back your country from who? The Natives that European settlers wiped off the map?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  16. cowflop

    The United States of America and the civilized world is at war!

    It is a war, not against any particular country, but with islam!

    Why do you people try to ignore or deny this!!!???

    November 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • kurtzie

      I agree with you. It's us against them, and I hope Americans realize this before it's too late.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • YippeKIAMF

      It is a war, not against any particular country, but with prejudice assholes like YOU! !

      November 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Brook Shields panty liner

      You are correct Sir but these politically correct cowards are chickenShyt mother Phuckers. These pro-muslim americans need to spend a year or so in Iran and get to know muslimism.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  17. Rizengrom

    She will need basic drywall tools to remove this makeup!

    November 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  18. EyeGuy

    I think it's ludicrous that an argument even has to be made that 'not all Muslims are the same'. Are there really people out there who actually think that every single person of any group thinks the same? And then do these people watch 'All American Muslim' and say, 'Wow, I had no idea. Turns out Muslims ARE individuals and not cyborgs receiving instructions from the Grand Ayatolla"? If you need TV to tell you that, it's pathetic.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  19. vintage274

    I have really enjoyed the show. Yes, it is surprising to see on national TV the large concentration of Muslim culture in Dearborn, Michigan. But then if you stop to think, there are MANY concentrations of culture across the country. Think of Chnatown in San Francisco and Harlem and Little Italy in New York City and the Barrios or Cuban Miami. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA where Polish Hill and Squirrel Hill (Jewish conclave) are simply part of the landscapes of life. None of these groups has "taken over America." We are not as accustomed to seeing Muslims in large numbers, and the newness of the idea and our unfamiliarity with the lifestyle jars our paradigm of what our country looks like. I taught for a while at a Muslim charter school in the Bay Area. My students ran the gamit from studious to jocks to outgoing social butterflies. All the girls wore hijab. All the students did prayers at some time during the school day. Otherwise, they were teenagers like any other I have taught over the years with all the same mannerisms and problems and drama. I think the show depicts real people who debate their own cultural expectations and show that there are wide variations in any cultural group.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Big Bob

      Little Italy? Other than about 2 blocks, it's Chinatown now. In fact, Chinatown is as far uptown as Spring Street now.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ignorance

      Vintage274: Thank you for your comment, you are one of the educated, literate ones that show it is possible to respect other cultures!

      November 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Btru

      Good point. I do not watch the show but an article I read had critizied the show for not showing any non-arab muslims. That is one point that many Americans seem to forget that Muslim does not equal Arab. There are Christian Arabs, and Muslim Asians. And they are just like you and me in most cases.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  20. jack

    This show should be removed as propaganda. Do you understand the religion behind that girls smiling face? She probably doesn't either but it's there to use her and anyone it can. It still has the same intent and that's world domination at the expense of real freedom. This show is being used to show a false face of Izlam. To really be faithful to izlam is to reject our democracy as we know it. To see where it wilol take us just look at where it's been and where it's been settleing. Why would they be any different here?

    November 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Way to anthropomorphize a completely inanimate idea. I suppose some dude named Roman Catholicism conducted the Inquisition singlehandedly too?

      To be strictly accurate, you don't understand Islam either. Unless, that is, you speak Arabic and have read the Qu'ran in it's original form. Any translation is actually an interpretation, as any novice linguist can tell you.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • snuffyandmerlin

      Agreed. This is all a front to make us more sensetive to these ideals. I am sorry but what they are selling, I am not buying.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Btru

      Wow. Your comments match Hitler's views. Just exchange Jew for Islam and it's a perfect match. Hope that makes you feel better.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • babysteps

      Maybe you could learn to spell "Islam" before you purport to know anything about the religion. Unfortunately it is the ignorance to people who claim to understand what Islam is about without really knowing anything about it is the one of the reasons why Islam is so misunderstood in the West. The other reason are the so-called Muslims who justify violence in the name of Islam. The third reason is because Muslims in America and the West are so often silent in the face of this sort of misunderstanding. There are many things that have to change to make this world a better place.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • jack

      BABY STEPS: i do know how to spell islam but I spell it izlam because on other sites they won't let you write that name so we have to intentionally mispell it. You're not as smart as you think. We understand it enough. We know what we;ve experienced and I've heard from muslims own mouths what they belive. we didn't just makwe this up. Remember we've been continually attacked by them.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
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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.