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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. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3ZjsC3BOBE&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  2. MOROUS

    This show has one purpose, to paint muslim americans in a soft were all the same light, while denying the fact that their holy book quran and real actual observant muslims (not the families on this show) are completly against american values and traditions. Many of them although may not participate in physically waging jihad, support charities and organizations that do, and sympathize with their Imam's that preach hatred and violence of the west and non-muslims. In other words must muslims probably wont act on these views, but they do agree with them. You pretty much have to hate Jews and distrust Christians also to be considered a real muslim. It's in the Quran, (Surah 5:51) fact!.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  3. Sy2502

    As long as they insist in seeing themselves as Muslims first, they aren't going to be "all American". Personally, I have had enough of these groups who insist in setting themselves apart from society with their clothes and their views, and then complain because they are treated like outsiders. I assure Muslim women that if you start dressing like everybody else, you are much more likely to be treated like everybody else.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Jaunt

      So what your saying is the people who believe they should let their hair grow to their ankles and wear skirts all year round, but are "christian" should not be descriminated against for the way they dress but Islamic women should.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Khaled Hassaballa

      TO Sy2502:
      Here is my question to you, are you going to let the Nuns take off their scarfs too? so they can be American and dress as your imagination desires? If Muslim Americans are not Americans, why do you keep buying their oil?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jaunt

      My point exactly not everyone dresses alike but because it's a religious reason they are frowned upon. That is BULLCRAP

      November 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  4. xab

    Are the beheadings in the next episode or is that the suicide bombing episode?

    November 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  5. Jaunt

    I think this show is a very good potrayal of these families faith. They are 100% misrepresented because of a terrorist group that has tarnished their faith. I feel like it takes alot for them to put themselves out there and allow people to come into their world and film them. These people have backround outside of America but they are all American citizens and should be treated as such not as if they are doing something wrong by living their lives.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  6. mike

    CNN still doing their best to divide and conquer America.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  7. Roadkill

    Our Bible is about doing our best to find love for others, their book is about authorizing the killing of those that do not believe in their book Koran. I actually read those words in the Koran. So the Bible stipulates that no one has the right to take a life but only God has that right. So the bible is book to follow God while the Koran is a book to follow Satan. Its that simple.

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

      Not true. Much of the Koran is an adaptation of the Bible (both Old Testament and New Testament). Jesus is in the Koran as one of the major prophets. Moses is a leading character. Mary is mentioned in the Koran more than she is in the Bible. You can think of the Koran as the next major section of the Bible just as the New Testament is the next section after the Old Testament.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  8. Canus

    "I dont get this. People try to convert you to their way of thinking everyday. At least christians dont try to exterminate whole populaces."

    ...Native Americans and Jews in WW2 Germany take great comfort in this fact.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  9. richunix

    The issue as I see it, revolves around religion.

    Christian vs. Muslim = Off with their heads
    Muslim vs. Jews = Off with their heads
    Christian vs. Jews = Make lampshades out of them.

    Both sides believe in fantasy, the Christian with Jesus ascending to heaven(somewhere in the desert) only to be followed by Mohammad acceding to heaven in Jerusalem (but buried in Mecca). In short remove religion (mythology) from the equation and find respect for people of different cultures, this world maybe become a better place.

    Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

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

      Great. Now how do you accomplish that?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • richunix

      @aycaramba;

      I wished I really did know the answer, it seems hate does nothing but breed more hate.. There is an old proverb that states:" If you wish to get rid of everyoneone that you disliked, you would find yourself a lonely person and then you would disappear.".

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

      The show isn't about determining the authenticity of religion or the differenences in religious interpretation. The show is about how Americans who believe in Islam are as different as a Catholic in Boston is from a Southern Baptist in Mississippi, yet as similar, too.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  10. cowflop

    I am SO tired of all this politically correct bovine excrement!
    Islam has only two goals, convert you or K!LL you!
    THIS is islam condensed!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • juan

      that was funny, but true

      November 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • ollie

      And I am sick and tired of people writing off my convictions (in freedom of religion and wrongness of bigotry towards any religion) as merely "political correctness", or that I'm primarily concerned with not offending someone. My concern is about sticking to our founding principle of religious freedom in the United States. I believe in not giving in to irrational fear. I care about not being a bigot because that is RIGHT not just because I don't want to offend anyone.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  11. aycaramba

    Participants who said they were atheists had an average IQ of 103 in adolescence, while adults who said they were religious averaged 97, the study found.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • aycaramba

      Any questions?

      November 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  12. omnescient

    @jack and susan:

    the idiocy of your comments speaks to level of your intelligence and its consequent detrimental effects on this country's future.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Michae l J.

      So does your lack of using proper capitalization.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  13. RAZOR

    Sorry really, I don't blow up innocent people like your kind does. I just tell the truth, not many people can handle the truth.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Zafar

      Blowing up people?
      Philistine Iraq Afghanistan Kashmir and many many more

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

      No Americans only killed millions of Native Americans to steal their land.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  14. someone2009

    My freind it is not the power of sword. It is the power of truth.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  15. Joseph Haba

    Why CNN does not want to tell Americans that there are about 35 Muslim terrorist camps in the United States. You don't believe me? Please open this electronic address: http://www.changeafrica.com/1/id237.html

    November 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Michae l J.

      Keep your stupid, irrelevant Web links to yourself, artichoke.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  16. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qofGS4UhjAI&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • jack

      We need to stop this spread of this evil

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

      There is no such thing as a former Christian he never had faith to begin with.

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

      Former Muslim, How I got out of that Satanic Cult

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua9HsFPtPM4&w=640&h=360]

      November 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  17. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIURcB-YdNA&w=640&h=360]

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

      You're wasting your time. No one gives a flying f...lute

      November 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • jack

      he's insulting his first religion but he seems to be content with multiple wives, oppressing others who don't belive and eliminating ones who have left the religion. Guys like this blonde brittain are the ones to fear because they will always be traitors to their own.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  18. Iqbal khan

    increase your knowledge about Islam
    http://www.Islamhouse.com
    http://www.911bible.com
    http://www.quranexplorer.com

    November 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  19. Rizengrom

    We need more atheist churches!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Iqbal khan

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVQ1BWqjTjs&w=640&h=360]

      November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  20. onepointofview

    To judge a faith we need to go back to the founder. We have to ask here did the original Muslim leader teach forgiveness? Did he teach tolerance? Did he teach love? What did he really teach? We need to judge each group the same way. Did he preach and let Allah/God (Allah means God) show the people the way or did he say. Beleive or be killed, married to our men, or be sold as slaves. Check out http://www.americanthinker.com/2004/12/muhammads_wars_v_gods-wars.html. Some good reading there. For me If a religon tells me "if you leave this faith you will be killed" Sorry aint for me. Reply with what you will.

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

      " For me If a religon tells me "if you leave this faith you will be killed" Sorry aint for me."

      I agree wholeheartedly. Your comment reminds me of the inquisition with the Roman Catholic Church. One of the many reasons I left the "christian" belief system.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Michelle

      look at your website "american thinker" if you truly believe what you read on there about islam is credible then you are just retarded. Islam tells us muslims that we are not allowed to kill any human being at all and if muslims are out there doing it then they are not representing islam they are just bad human beings and shouldn't be categorized as all muslims. there are plenty of bad people from every religion.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • meme

      It's impossible to judege a religion by it's founder. Did you know them all? The Old Testament has some bizarre things in it that nobody follows fortunately, as does the Koran, however it started 600 year after Christianity and it's followers come from backward lands where education was not a priority. The followers traditionally take generations to mellow and discard the 'wrath" of a religious doctrine before they focus on the good it appears. The best way to protect America is to warmly welcome law abiding citizens of any faith, such a rare and wonderful thing about us, something we can hold up as unique and special, something that doesnt provoke but binds loyalty.Being different, more accepting and loving than the ugliness found in anti-Christian cultures, is our greatest strength.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:21 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.