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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. sdowst

    You Muslims remind me of the republican candidates. You lie first then back-off when confronted with facts.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • jesh

      Well if you are talking about Christian conservatives then yes they are similiar

      November 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • baller23

      quite the opposite my friend. I have yet to back away from any conversation when presented facts, but rather illuminate the facts within the context as well as bring more facts to the table to see what is really being said.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Shaq

      Forget it! No Muslims!! Period! Your faith is evil and has no place in my world. Instead of trying to convince American that it is good and we should be tollerent and sensitive to Muslims, go preach to your Taliban that you denounce them, do it in public and on national news/TV. Denounce your support of their practices and their ways of belief. Denounce the Muslims that are supporting violence, murder, oppression, and terror around the world. Do this first and then you can talk to me about your idiotic Muslim ways and religion. Let's see what happens to you at the hands of your fellow brothers and sisters of Islam,I am guessing it won't end well for you! So quite trying to defend your evil murderous belief and book of toilet paper the Quran

      November 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  2. David

    If Muslims want to improve their image, I would start by stop blowing things up. Maybe stop putting bombs in your underwear. Little gestures like that.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • baller23

      muslims don't do that. Terrorists do that. You along with other seem to have bridged the two together when it comes to Muslims, but rightfully failed to do so when terrorists of other religous backgrounds commit acts of terrorism on some ill-guided views of their religion.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Leelee

      Friggin Hilarious David!!!! Nevermind Baller, he is misinformed.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Lols

      Muslim does not equal terrorist.

      Does priest equal child molester? hurr durr dat some insane logic.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  3. John Geheran

    This is a whitewash. "Committed" Muslims are unlike any other. Islam stands alone as the only religion whose sacred texts COMMAND the faithful to be intolerant -or worse – toward "non-believers". The Qur'an, ahadith, et al, are explicit in this regard. Mercifully, most Muslims are ignorant of such passages or choose to be selective in what they practice.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Mac

      I'm sure you are not tolerant of those who want to kill you and the people in your community. It's not hard to see why the Qur'an allows intolerance of those who did try to kill the Muslims within the context of the revelation. That's the key word; context.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  4. abbot

    FACT: ISLAM HAS 1.5 BILLION FOLLOWERS
    FACT: 1 + 1 = 2 and not 4
    Just because 1.5 Billion people believe in the Quran, does not mean we cannot get rid of Islam. The Quran should be ridiculed and made fun of its 7th century writings. If 1.5Billion people believe 1+1 = 4, does not necessarily make it right. Same thing with teh Quran. Brain washed 1.5 Billion leading wasted lives for an imaginary god.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • YankeePatriot

      Who said that Hitler was killed and the Nazi's were eliminated. There are millions of Hitlers in the likes of Mr.Abbott who still freely roam the face of this planet. These are the bigots who sow the seeds of hatred which eventually lead to genocide. We as a civilized society need to keep a watch on rejects of the society like Mr Abbot and stop them from advocating genocide.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • helicohunter

      Wow! I've never seen so much ignorance, hatred, and bigotry as there is in these responses. Saying islamic terrorists represent the Muslim faith is like saying that Hitler represents Christianity. They are as off base as Warren Jeffs and the guy who abducted Elizabeth Smart. I guess none of you have actually gotten to know a Muslim. Did you know that Muslims consider Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus to be prophets? The religion is almost as old as Christianity, and they worship the same God. They believe that the original words of the above prophets represented the true word of God, but that continuous traslation had changed the original words. They believe that Muhammad was the last messenger of God and that his writings represent truer versions of what Jesus and others said. Their religion requires that they help the poor, which is more than can be said of Christians. Saying islamic terrorists represent the Muslim faith is like saying that Hitler represents Christianity. They are as off base as Warren Jeffs and the guy who abducted Elizabeth Smart. And no, I am not Muslim. I'm just lucky enough to work with people of many races, nationalities, and faiths.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  5. JamalJZ

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

    November 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  6. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5xAjlLm8Bg&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  7. Shaq

    Forget it! No Muslims!! Period! Your faith is evil and has no place in my world. Instead of trying to convince American that it is good and we should be tollerent and sensitive to Muslims, go preach to your Taliban that you denounce them, do it in public and on national news/TV. Denounce your support of their practices and their ways of belief. Denounce the Muslims that are supporting violence, murder, oppression, and terror around the world. Do this first and then you can talk to me about your idiotic Muslim ways and religion.

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

    You all are evil and insane for worshipping false icons. The true finger of lucifer.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • helicohunter

      Umm... you need to check your facts. Idol worship is forbidden in the Muslim faith

      November 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  9. noel

    Take yourself, your camel, your people, and your uncooborated religion back to the hell hole from which it was propogated!!! Islam = EVIL!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  10. JamalJZ

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6EYKoScRjk&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • TLC

      Thanks for your posts evening out Iggy's posts that was getting a bit humdrum and ofttimes annoying

      November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • THE POPE

      He gets a lot of money for saying this !

      November 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  11. YankeePatriot

    Has anyone thought why the Islamic world is against the US: It's because we support the Zionist regime who have occupied Palestine and named it Isra-hell! It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

    Give back Palestine to it's rightful owners and watch the troubles of the world disappear. This whole anti-Islam charade has been created by the Jews to gain our military and economic support. And dumb as we are, we do support them and what have we got back in return from the Jews: deception, anarchy,spies and lies.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • noel

      BS... they will never have enough until they have spread their plague of a religion upon the entire world!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Big Bob

      Gee! Who was the last palastinian president, king, sultan? That's right! There aren't any! It was never a country. These people are Jordanians! What were presidents Adams and Jefferson's muslim charade during the Barbary wars, where the Sultanates sent corsairs to capture ships for tribute (jizya) and white slaves as far north as Ireland?
      This is 1400 year old menace, little fellow. And we are banking on the hopes that this time, instead of conquering, which they've done everywhere else in the world where they have a majorty, they will co-exist with us as equals? History certainly doesn't bear that out. Israel is the canary in the coal mine. If it falls, and that's looking more and more realistic every day, do you think for a moment that Hamas et al with just wipe off thier hands and go back to the olive fields? Get real!

      November 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Big Bob

      I'll bet if Israel puts a man on the moon, the muslim world would claim it belonged to them first!

      November 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Give back Palestine to it's rightful owners..."

      Who, pray tell, is that? The Ottoman Empire lost the land in WWI. Then the British gave it to the Jewish people.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  12. Steve Tassio

    I am a bit puzzled by all of this. Why would anybody move to America and not want to assimilate and become a contributing member of society? If you go to another country and want to change that culture to your culture depending on your desired rate of change to the other country it's either called War (rapid) or Subversion (slow). Either way the desired outcome is to make America a caliphate or suzerain (colony) of the Neo-Ottoman Empire. Guess what giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America is called?

    November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • noel

      BECAUSE THEY ARE HERE TO DESTROY US!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Mac

      The show highlights Muslim families of which members are policemen, a federal agent, a football coach etc. How could these people not be assimilating, and trying to subvert the American society?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Nonimus

      This country was made from immigrants that both assimilated and contributed to our American culture. Why do you expect that to stop now?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  13. denis

    I'm not a Muslim but in my 17 years of work as an English teacher in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, I was well-treated and respected. However in later years, as religious leaders gained increasing political power, I frequently was in danger and had to flee the countries. To the extent that the religion is involved in politics, Muslim followers of religious leaders become an intolerant danger to non-Muslims around them.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • helicohunter

      Clearly, religion and politics don't mix well. Our founding fathers were wise enough to know that.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6RwO6RQ7V4&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  15. Thelma Moore

    Islam more than most, but any religion where women are second class is most unacceptable.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • just thoughts

      YEP. My thoughts exactly...why any women that would choose to be muslim is beyound me lol..

      November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Mac

      There are patriarchal societies where Muslims are a majority of the population, true, but Islam does not relegate women to a second class citizen.
      There is no way that women could have been presidents of Bangladesh, or Pakistan if they were second class citizens.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • noel

      Yes, those societies which treat women as second class citizens have always been regarded as barbarians...Nothing has changed in that regard.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  16. Iqbal khan

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

    November 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  17. Pastor Evans

    There is only 1 true and living God and He is the father of the Lord Jesus Christ! The only way this can be known to any person is by the Holy Spirit! You can't know or understand God without the Holy Spirit!

    November 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Nonimus

      So my lack of belief isn't my "fault," yet I can be sent to "hell" for it.

      Thanks for nothin.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  18. just thoughts

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HTSwUig2-0&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  19. Gorgon

    My invisible man in the sky is better and more powerful than your invisible man in the sky.

    Let's attack each other based on this ridiculous notion, shall we????

    November 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Meh, let them fight it out. We'll worship whomever is left. Deal?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  20. jack

    This false religion needs to be outlawed in the us until the barbaric waya are denounced by the followers. We all know that will never happen. They are too arrogant and believe they are above others and everyone else is wrong. This is our enemiy as they have made us by their own hands and mouth. This show is a deception that even the participants don't understand.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Nonimus

      So, you are against the Consti.tution and its first amendment?

      November 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Jack

      This is the enemy not a religion. They attack us and wish our demise. Wake up

      November 29, 2011 at 1:58 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.