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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. John Geheran

    True. Muslim does not equal terrorist. But over 90% of terrorist acts are committed by Muslims....usually in the name of Islam.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Mac

      Actually, according to the FBI, only 6% of the terrorist acts in the US is committed by Muslims.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Jason

      Where did you get that stat? 90%? Probably out of your...well you know. The largest amount of terrorism today exists in Bangledesh and some poor African nations, neither of which are sources of Islamic extremism. You are ignorant in this regard because the US doesn't have economic or strategic interest in these countries and therefore it is rarely covered or talked about.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  2. MsMohammad

    I commend TLC and the families that allowed themselves to be portrayed. However, I wished that TLC would have had people who also converted to Islam; not just those who were born in Islamic countries. Yes, they showed the gentleman converting for the sake of his wife but to show someone who was born and raised in America, not growing up, as I mentioned before, in an Islamic country; being raised Christian who is also a minority. This is what Americans need to see as well; to show that not all black men convert to Islam when they're in prison; to show that not all black women convert to Islam because our husbands or our intended forced us to. My husband and I are proud American Muslims living here on the east coast in a predominantly Christian/Jewish area; we respect and are fond of our neighbors and they are of us.The only thing that I found truly disappointing about the show is the way the men and women were not covered completely.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Jack

      You're sick and naive. This religion will be outlawed

      November 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Actually

      "This religion will be outlawed"

      No, ALL religion should be outlawed, especially Christianity!

      November 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  3. DNS - Austin, TX

    I have watched the show, enjoyed it and learned a lot. It seems to show me that down deep we are all alike.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Jack

      You're sick and naive. This religion will be outlawed

      November 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Actually

      "This religion will be outlawed"

      ALL religion should be outlawed, especially Christianity!

      November 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  4. Marissa Amos

    Despite all the negative comments left here, I will still post a positive one. Great article Khurramm! I am not a Muslim, I was raised Catholic. I do know however, that Islam translates to peace–obviously something most of you know nothing about. Muslims are not terrorists, individuals are. Muslim's did not destroy the Towers, individuals did. But I guess we forget about McVeigh, and other terrorists because they have the all American honor of being white and "christian" Hatred...is a curved blade.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • FFFF

      Ugh more apologists. FYi the Terrorists that destroyed the towers did this inthe name of their invisible god. Mcveigh had no religious motivation. Sorry, typical lib playing the race card and not calling things as they are.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  5. dan

    wow...people commenting on this psot are absolutley pig-headed. "When your leaders start condemning terrorist acts maybe I'll start trusting you a bit more. But then again your whole religion is about killing the infidel and classifies women as 2nd class ciitizens it makes it hard to trust you. No thanks." ian, do you honestly believe this? Christianity traditionally has given men the position of authority in marriage, society and government. This position places women in submissive roles, and usually excludes women from church leadership, especially from formal positions requiring any form of ordination. So you see, it's not just Islam. If I were you, stop listening to the media and go meet a Muslim and decide for yourself.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Indira

      Couldn't agree more Dan, its sad to read some comments on these CNNN articles. Half to time you have to shake your head and come to the sad realization that Americans (and I am sure humans in general) no longer seek out knowledge, they just agree with what they hear.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  6. Wayne Witcher

    Kuhrram has written a thoughtful and balanced commentary. The comments above unfortunatey are rather emmotional and not in any way thoughtful.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  7. MISTY51274

    I AM A CATHOLIC NEW YORKER AND I AM ENJOYING WATCHING THE SHOW...IT HELPS US THAT ARE NON-MUSLIM TO GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELIGION...

    November 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Jack

      It's showing what they want you to see. google The Truth About Islam In America

      November 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  8. Jack

    Thank you CNN for posting these videos.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  9. CommonSense

    How about we as a species move beyond beliefs in folklore and legends finally? No religion won't stop violence, but it will stop violence in the name of some being that even if they do exist certainly don't give a rat's backside about anything going on here on Earth.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  10. Andyst

    Coming to a country is like joining a club, if you join a club and try to change all the rules to support your ideals (subservient women, sharia law)you are not only going to get a backlash, people are going to fight it. If this country is so great to join why are you trying to change it? On the other side, if this countries ideals are not the same as yours why would you want to come here? I dont get it.

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

    I think it's important to note (I haven't seen the show) that these are Detroit-area families, living in and around Dearborn. My personal experience with folks in that particular community is that they LOVE this country, they are so happy to be here, and most of them raise their kids to be pretty Americanized. I'm sure that Muslim communities in places like NY find Dearborn Muslims to be pretty moderate and middle class. That's Michigan for you. Nice people.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  12. hawkman2k7

    Ignorant people don't know that Arab Americans are dominantly Christian. You are buffoons. Muslims is a religion not an ethnic background. Whites, blacks, spanish, asians, and other backgrounds can be part of the Islam faith like Christianity. Terrorism isn't Islam, it's the extremist that make the islam nations look bad.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  13. FFFF

    You can't be All American and Muslim. This is a farce and a complete contradiction. CNN stop shoving this apologist muslim agenda down the throats of Americans.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Indira

      So what is "All American"? Is it White? Is It Black? What religion is 'All American'? America was founded on different cultures, races, and religions coming to a country for the pursuit of freedom. Don't forget that the New Colossus which is on our our beautiful Statue of Liberty, was written by a Jewish American, does she fit into your "All American" category? Does Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, or Dr. Martin Luther King fall into your "All American" Category. The New Colossus (below) which is on what is considered on the entryway of the Americas doesn't seem to include your description of "All American" so if you could please clarify that would be great.

      Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
      With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
      Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
      A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
      Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
      Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
      Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
      The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
      "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
      With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
      Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
      The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
      Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
      I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

      November 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Caitlin

    I can't believe the ignorance in these comments. Maybe do just the tiniest bit of research before spewing racial hate from your small-minded brains. This is ridiculous, this show is putting faces to a people that some Americans refuse to let into their lives. Look at your own history before condemning another people for theirs. Just as not every white person went out and lynched African Americans, not every Muslim man and woman plants bombs or promotes acts of terrorism. I'm ashamed to even read these comments.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  15. NNR

    thanks khurram. i have to say that when i first watched the show, i was one of those that said the show did not represent me. i quickly realized that we can't expect reality tv to please everyone's interpretation of how american muslims should act. can't say that i'm a huge fan but it certainly is getting the job done in terms of bringing awareness to those that really have little or no contact with "real" american muslims, thus the show is giving them a little insight into how we are all humans, facing similar struggles. take care!

    November 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  16. uniond

    I watched the show,and am a American caucasin female from a very rural,but not southern area.I found the show interesting and thought provoking.Just as in our own Judio-Christian religions, women are expected to be somewhat subserviant and makes our American Islam citizens seem pretty much like any other citizens.I found this to be a good and humanizing feature.If you love U.S.A.,and are a citizen you are the same as anyone else.Just encourage each other and us,too.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  17. S

    There is no such thing as an American Muslim.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  18. alyse

    wow, some people are just not educated...my friends and i, ( white, born in the USA), attend a University in NC. Last year we had 18 Muslims come to our school and we decided to help them out, show them around, help them with English and to make friends. We even started an organization to help the Muslim students as well as the students from the area to better understand each other. The school (located in the mountains with mostly a white population) has excepted the Muslim students very well as well, there has not been any conflicts from either side. I find the Muslim students very sweet and for the most part shy. I am a 23 year old women and i have no problem being around the Muslim students (all male). My friends and i from the area and the Muslim students often cook with each other and hang out. They fit right in with everyone else.....Everyone has their own beliefs and who is to hate against anyone? My friends and i go to a christian church and some of the Muslim students have gone with us just to see and learn for them selves what it is like instead of going off rumors and here say...Unless you have experiences something on your own you have no right to talk smack about it...The reason the world is the way it is is because people are to stuck up THEIR butts and THEIR way, to even try and become educated about anything else....im not saying convert or change your ways....But be educated about something before you talk because if your not you really look like a fool......ever religion, race, culture,....they have their good people and they have their bad people and you CAN NOT judge a whole race, religion, culture... off one group...that just being single minded!!! If you want to bring Christianity and God into it....Jesus walked with the sick and sinners.... he loved EVERYONE and through his LOVE he gained believers! Why would Jesus hang with the believers all the time??? They Already believe..........So why surround your self with people like minded as you....you will never learn anything....oo and BTW most of your are getting your information from the news and T.V...... media lies....so really thing twice before you go and believe everything you see and hear and read.......

    November 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • FFFF

      You my dear are a naive fool....

      November 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • John Geheran

      Alyse....there is only one cure for what you have ....read the Qur'an, ahadith and other credible literature about Islam.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Indira

      I am sorry she is not a naive fool, on the contrary she has decided to take it upon herself to learn about something that was unknown to her. That, FFFF makes he FAR better than most of the individuals who are posting comments on here here. I do applaud you Alyse for taking initiative to better yourself with knowledge and experiences. People like you make the world in general a better place. It is the closed minded individuals who refuse to think and learn who hold the human race back...

      November 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  19. detroitdds

    I am completely shocked by the ignorance of these comments. After living next to the largest Arab community outside of the Middle East my entire life, I have no reason to place any judgement on people that follow Islam. No matter what religion you follow or what you believe in (or not), you will ALWAYS have good and bad people. It is just a simple fact of life. I am glad that TLC put a show like this on TV so people can realize that all people are more alike than we are different.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  20. ian

    When your leaders start condemning terrorist acts maybe I'll start trusting you a bit more. But then again your whole religion is about killing the infidel and classifies women as 2nd class ciitizens it makes it hard to trust you. No thanks.

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

      Can you please be more specific are you comparing a muslim who lives in the US to a Muslim that lives in the middle east and what leader are you talking about? If your world view is of Muslims in the middle east then do me a favor and google Muslims from other parts of the world because not every muslim in the region is different or are you just looking at Rush for info.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • CommonSense

      Yeah, because Christianity is so kind to women...How about reading that book you base your faith on before spouting off crap. Religions, all religions, are the enemy of Liberty.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:05 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.