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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. Lloyd

    I work in Dearborn Michigan, home of the largest Muslim population in the western hemisphere and I hate to tell all you hate spewers that they are just as law abiding and well behaved as any other group in the area. Just because their culture isn't western Eupoean/Christian doesn't make them evil. SE Asian culture and African culture isn't the same as "ours" but they don't get attacked like the Muslims do. We all have more in common than we realize.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • angryblkman

      Lloyd, when you say "attacked", are you talking about the embacy bombings or the world trade center attacks?

      November 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Wayne

      Read the Quaran Boy.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Jackattack

      I'm sorry bonju, but you can't speak for anyone. Especially for somebody you've never met. Let's also take into account the fact that "Jihad" is translated as "the struggle" not "holy war". It's "the struggle" that Muslims face every day to stay true to their faith, not what you blindly seem to spout with absolutely no basis. If you actually read the Koran you'll find that the entire thing is filled with positive messages. Quit being a hateful bigot and learn to accept people, then maybe your wife will come back to you.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Dearborn is not the home of the largest Muslim population in the western hemisphere. You can't even get that right.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • S Guy

      Lloyd you are clueless. I have served in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. If you want a free trip to either of these countries I can arrange it for you. I need you to distribute some Bibles for me. Be sure and do your will before you go. By the way, I will sponsor a muslim from Dearborn to accompany you. I want you to witness first hand what wonderful people they are once they are really in their comfort zone.

      November 29, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  2. alexinwonderland

    Thanks for printing this story. The author of the last one was obviously bitter because no one bothered to see his "30 Mosques in 30 Days" doc. Couldn't believe he was making a case against Forson's entire season based on the first episode. Issues!

    November 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Robert

    Would that Convert Jeff be alive if he was born muslim and converted out??

    November 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • JD

      NOPE! He'd be dead!

      November 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  4. Klaark

    Comments like these are proof America has learned nothing and will never learn anything, ever. Not worth it.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  5. Kat

    Good show. The Islamphobes, Zionazis, fundi Christians, and hate mongers condemn the show because it shows the reality of Muslims as being peaceful, fun, and law abiding citizens who just to want to succeed and raise their kids to be good citizens. For the bigots they would rather spread nazi-like propaganda of hate, imminent muslims control of America (they are the same people who still believe Obama is an undercover Muslim), and Armageddon.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • JD

      please explain Sharia law if they are peaceful, fun loving religion!

      November 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Kat

      what's there to explain? what do you know about it? other than what you learned from hate mongers? It's funny how Islamphobes insist that Muslims are intent to impose Sharia and about to do it as if the 1% of American Muslims control the white house (oh yea Obama Muslim again), congress, media, banks, the feds, military, influential lobbies, and "think-tanks" who have made it main stream to bash Muslims/Islam. Either way, the vast majority of Muslim Americans don't care about Sharia other than how it relates to their private worship and personal rituals.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • S Guy

      Kate
      I don't believe that President Obama is a muslim, I am not a spreader of hate, I am not a fear monger, or any of the other name calling that you used. I am a Christan and an American Patriot. I am a progressive liberal. I gotta tell you, you are as far from the truth as the east is from the west. I spent many years in muslim countries in my 25 years of military service. I personally witnessed the bombing of the barracks in Beirut and the dragging of dead soldiers through the street of Mogadishu. These people are full of hate and rage. When they are killing us, they are killing each other. Believe me, this is real and all I can say, is take the trip for yourself.

      November 28, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • PhillyRN

      Kat, you must have seen the Disney version of Islam. The real one is much bloodier, even now, even recently, up until the present moment.

      Female mutilations, stonings, cutting off hands, beheadings - the glories of Islamic law in action are also what the rest of the world terms "atrocities."

      Tolerance of evil is not tolerant.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • jack

      @S Guy – Go back to the middle east and ask them about their innocent young children and brothers and sisters and wives and mothers and fathers and cousins being dragged through the streets or bombed at the hands of Americans. I assure you, the numbers are exponentially higher than whatever isolated incidents you witnessed.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  6. Mike-Bell

    This article is intent upon tagging perversions to our American culture. The promotion of religious intolerance or shaming others for the ills of those that are ill is not the answer.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      American culture is perverted. All religions should go away.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  7. mesoderm

    I like the show and I hope to see more like it. It's one of the better reality shows – better to see people getting married and engaging in family-related activites than chasing other people's spouses or conducting interventions with their drug-addicted family member. This is something we can let the kids watch. Kudos to TLC.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      My kids will be watching the History channel.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  8. Robert

    What a joke reading some fake comments of so called "none muslims" having great relationships with that community

    November 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Jeff

      "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." This statement is so ignorant and so racist. If CNN did... um... journalism, they might realize that Western imperialism and colonization has killed many times more Muslims than Muslims killing Westerners. It's not even close. Way to support imperialism, CNN.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  9. Mike-Bell

    The ad for the program was a turn off. Using vitriol to promote one's cause is a sad indicator of intent.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  10. Dan

    The show is nothing more than a Trojan horse. Once they are the majority life as we know it is over. Good Luck

    November 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Mike-Bell

      It's a phased approach to displacement and dominance. When guile is used as a tool to infiltrate, to displace others, then dominance; there is something very wrong. The track record is brimming with ill will. One easy maneuvering method has been to appeal to Christian passivity and an expectation that Christians let themselves be run over; all the while reminding Christians to turn the other cheek; love everyone at all cost. Then also claim that if Christians don't yield they're being hypocritical.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Moder

      Agree!

      November 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I agree. It reminds me of how the Christians bought the GOP and is intent on destroying our country.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • jack

      I'm more concerned with the Christian take over of the US, because it's already infringing and infiltrating my liberties and communities.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  11. bad2worse

    Here is more hate for the muslims.
    I hate this stupid show!
    It has nothing to do with muslims.
    I just hate all reality shows!

    November 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  12. Robert

    And we can all thank Ted Kennedy for enacting an imbalance of immigrants that would go democrate on the pretext that we have to balance out the immigration from the early 1900's

    November 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Foreal89

    I wish they would all go back. All they do is complain and expect everyone to have the same beliefs

    November 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I agree, I wish the Christians would go home too.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • GAW

      I'm afraid many of the atheists are getting there too.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • jack

      Go back where?

      November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  14. dinak

    How many rallies did these so-called peaceful, American-loving, Muslims did we see protesting in rallies against the terrorists? How many outcries that the violence against the West end? You could have heard a pin drop they were so quiet. So when naturally we take their silence for their being o.k. with and even supportive of the terrorism they get offended? We are the ones who are offended. The Muslim terrorists won't leave us alone. Instead of worrying about your precious feelings being hurt here in the U.S., why don't you worry about the murders your brothers are planning for your non-Muslim neighbors?

    November 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • TERRA

      You're not serious, are you? If you are, please, stop. There is already enough hatred to go around the world many times over.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Sara

      Dearest Dinak,

      I'm sorry that you have never seen Muslims stand up for the same things that you (and I) believe all Americans should stand up for. I've never missed a protest, nor would I ever entertain the thought of supporting terrorism. As a matter of fact, neither has anyone in my family. Shocker, I know. Quote all you want, I really don't care, but I just wanted you to know that you thinking that any Muslim is "o.k. with and even supportive of the terrorism" is the farthest from the truth you can get. I'm not even sure where you got that wonderful accusation. I definitely need to start reading some of your sources. Sure, I'm only a college student so I may not be as wise and experienced as I can tell you are, but something tells me that you may have skipped a few classes here and there along your educational career. People in this comment section are probably so giddy at their computers right now, as I obviously am 😛

      Come on people! 😉 As the author said, it is only a show. I'm from Dearborn, so I can definitely say that it does not represent all Muslims, but hey, who said that reality TV was ever able to do that?

      November 28, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • israel

      Sara you are something Love it. I really think he might skip more then a few educational courses perhaps years.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • jack

      A lot, it just doesn't make the news, because those stories don't generate fear and outrage. Branch out away from your tv, for a change.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  15. Robert

    I like the government to investigate what this guy on sunday's show meant when he was talking about how proud and determined he was to be a muslim to his newly converted for marriage brother in law

    November 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  16. sirlixalot1

    Cancel this show ASAP!!!

    November 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  17. Robert

    I would like to see the Islamic reaction if a Muslim man converted out of Islam opposed to Jeff converting in for marriage.

    November 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • notanapologist

      The penalty for leaving Islam is death...now that would bring a nice twist to the show.

      November 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Scott from NH

      I know a guy in Indonesia who converted from Muslim to Christianity, he still has a very close relationship with his Muslim parents and siblings, and the other Muslim people he works with. Not that there aren't horror stories all around. I know parents in America who disowned their son because he married a Muslim woman. I also know parents that disowned their Jewish son because he married a Christian woman, and I know a lesbian who was disowned by her parents for marrying a woman. Sadly, intolerance takes all forms.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Do you feel that Death and being disowned are equal?

      November 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  18. homer

    I have travelled extensively in the middle east, I love Islamic art & architecture. I loathe the place & treatment of women in Islamic cultures. I wish it existed no where in the world & find it very troubling that it is exported to non-Islamic countries. To see women in the west in hijab is sick making to me. I have been watching All American Muslim & find it troubling – the one talking about how more people will respect his sister now that she is in hijab, for instance. He is also the know-it-all lecturing the convert. Really disturbing stuff. I don't find anyone on the show likable &, no, it doesn't make me see they are unthreatening. They reinforce my feelings of how judgmental they are & how misogynist.

    November 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • israel

      you are one unhappy person very sad. get some help and peace with you and all jews you love so much.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  19. MHM

    Amazing article & I really hope this show is a true stepping stone to seeing more positive representations of Muslims in the media.

    November 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  20. Chiara

    I know all I need to know by their worldwide acts, Iwould never waste my time with this bs show.

    November 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • cindysriley

      So...according to your logic, all Christians would be just like the crazies at the Westboro Baptist Church...

      November 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Me

      I agree

      November 28, 2011 at 9:00 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.