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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. Hamma Mirwaisi

    Is President Obama’s Administration Profiling Muslim Americans?

    Recently in the Republican National Security Debate Summary: Should we profile Muslim Americans? Who should we bomb next? Is part of media personality’s discussions in hope to attract more viewers? But what about real people like me. I am originally from Iraq as a citizen of the USA and have been suffering because of unjust practice by few Government officials. Who should I go to help me, should I go to President Obama or not? What he have been doing for over three years.
    It is election time and suddenly the politicians have some humanity to talk about unjust practice in the USA toward Muslim American.

    Here is my appeal almost two years ago, no one even care to call me. I am wondering why the US defense department put me in black list. I was in the list of Saddam Hussein to be eliminated in Iraq too. What I done wrong against the US Government?
    How I can reach President Obama? Can someone help me please?

    Please read my letter below and help me as much as you can. I am wandering how many more people like are suffering because we are coming from Middle East with Muslim religion too.

    Hamma Mirwaisi

    Comment posted January 28, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    Appealing to the US government official for Justice

    http://washingtonindependent.com/24566/obama-defense-picks-hint-at-gates-authority

    I am a naturalized citizen of the USA. I do understand that the laws are counting me equal with other citizen in the country. But individuals are not counting me as a full citizen.

    I was trying to serve my country the USA who adopted me during the hardest time of my life with wife and two children’s. While I was searching for job in the Army CI department the people interview; I made me look like Osama bin Laden on his paper work.

    I was working on the Air force Satellite communications for many years and had security clearance (Secret) and over two years serving military war effort in Iraq. Now they are damaged my security clearance.

    The US governments are accusing me to not be good citizen. I went to senator and Congress men; I am told every thing are fine but when I look for Job there are note on my interim security clearance will chase away hiring companies to consider me for the Job for over one year now.

    There are no other agencies to go too. The US governments are treating me very bad; I do need help please.

    I did write “Policy-designate Michele Flournoy” and asked her to hire me. I am originally from Iraq and lived in Iran’s too. I do understand the culture, religions, political structures inside out about both countries above and want to help her department but there are no way to reach these people in power.

    I am writing this and hope that she and others will read my comment and start counting people like me as a citizen. I am the “naturalized citizens” and want the US Government to count me as a full citizen of the USA and give me the chance to serve in this hard time.

    I hope she or her subordinate or some other people in the State department or department of defense will read this advertising of myself and will send me an email to offer me a job so I can serve my country the USA.

    Thanks for any help you might provide.

    Regards,
    Hamma Mirwaisi
    hmirwaisi@gmail.com
    Jan-28-2009

    December 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  2. DrDoITT

    Why is she wearing her towel-hear gear? wear an AMERICAN dress then we will take you seriously. c'mon.....

    December 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  3. DrDoITT

    show me a muslum and I will show you a possible terrorist. har har.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  4. xyz

    The Ku Klux Klan:

    America’s Forgotten Terrorists

    Yet the Ku Klux Klan, America’s oldest terrorist organization, has never gone away. More importantly, it has never stopped trying to create terror. With eight major groups and around 40 minor ones, comprising roughly 110 chapters or “Klaverns,” Klan groups are still the most common type of hate group in the United States. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Klan members, with greater numbers of associates, sympathizers, and those hanging on, perpetuate its history. Every year, people associated with Ku Klux Klan groups commit crimes ranging from minor acts of intimidation to major hate crimes and even terrorism. Perhaps because the Klan is universally familiar, Americans are apt to ignore or even to laugh at it, yet to underestimate the hatred inherent in the Klan’s ideology and the violent and criminal acts that this ideology so often motivates its adherents to commit, is to make a serious error.

    Klan Ideology:

    Today’s splintered Klan encompasses a range of beliefs. While the ideology is categorized here into religious, political, racial, and anti-Semitic beliefs for the sake of clarity, Klan members do not necessarily make the same categorical distinctions.

    Klan ideology, at its core, is centered on the idea that white Americans are threatened by nonwhite minorities and that most of these threats are arranged or encouraged by a sinister Jewish conspiracy. The Klan promotes itself as a way for white Americans to right these perceived wrongs, protect themselves, and strike back at their enemies. At the heart of Klan beliefs is the notion that violence is justified in order to protect white America (Chalmers, 1987).

    December 1, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Ray

      Wouldn't it be ironic if the KKK was actually started by a Jew to provide them with a scapegoat? Just sayin. And laughin.
      But seriously, how does that relate to "white" Muslims? It doesn't.
      You deliberately left out one major point: the KKK is a CHRISTIAN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!
      That's why they have burning crosses. They quote scripture and usually go to southern baptist churches because that's what they had back when the KKK was started.
      For a Christian apologist, that was a good attempt to draw away the ire against your nastiness. But it didn't get by me, did it?

      December 1, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • Jack

      Theu are so irrevalant in todays society, they have no power whatsoever. Nice try trying to find fault with this country. We are not perfect but we do allow freedom of religion but as long as it doesn't hurt others. Your religion hurts many and you think everyones wrong and your way is the only way. That's how arrogant you are.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Jack

      Islam is many times larger and more dangeous that the Klan ever was. Nice try at diversion.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  5. Reality

    THE ANSWER IS EASY:===============================>

    (from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi)

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
    alone."
    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    .........................................................................................................................................................................................

    December 1, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  6. SigNuBoys

    khurram is a badass you guys are all haters.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  7. Dee

    Yeah, I do not like the show. As a convert I struggle so much with my family about my choice in Islam and to cover. Here comes this show showing Arab born Muslims who do not cover, work in bars and even want to open them. So how can I expect my family to understand my commitment to Islam if these Arab born Muslims do not. This show maybe showing the world "Hey Muslims are like everyone else." if you are born a Muslim but if you are a convert like me and so many others it makes the choices we have made harder.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • AL- Zahraa

      Dee, I agree with you. I am an Arab born muslim and I do practice my religion. Its so hard to watch what is going on. Arab-born muslims are forgeting their religion and are attching themslevs to material things. Its so sad. Don't get me wrong I to like to have a good time, but in bounds of Islam. I am trying to raise my children with the values and morals of Islam, but when they look around them the see something else. We are very proud to be Americans. What this country has to offer no other will. I also have some convert friends, some pratice for the true reason and unfortunately some do not. Good luck with your family members.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Jack

      My suggestion is to move to a cnservative muslim country. You're traitor to America and the American way

      December 1, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!

      This is the plan of Islam.... To convert and brainwash non believers of Mohammad. They have a revised version for Americans. I am a Christian from Iraq. Look at what your new faith believes to do to people that don't believe in Islam on Jihad Watch. The true Koran says to Convert or Kill. They ofcourse have killed some in the USA, but they are starting in the Middle East. My family is from the Middle East and have actually read the true Koran. I knew an American woman who had converted for her Palestinian husband who treated her so good in the beginning and then began to control her when their son turned 3. He even used to spit in her face and call her a stupid American. Why must we convert. They would never do it for us because they believe that their religion is the only true one. Dee, Congrats! Now that your husband has converted you and I'm sure you will bear Muslim children he now has his chance in heaven to get 42 virgins!!!!

      December 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  8. TimedUp

    We ISLAM AMERICANS *The Brotherhood*

    think that "ISLAM NAME" ARE THE VICTIMS OF TERRORIST

    – ALQIDH TALIBAN WAHHABI that *using* ISLAM NAME to *honor-killing of (converted from Islam) *bomb mosque*
    *persecute* their own MUSLIM BROTHER

    and )kill*ATHEIST and (persecute*NON MUSLIMS.

    ISLAM NAME being used by TERRORIST.

    THE REAL ENEMY of ISLAM is TERRORIST that used ISLAM as killing justification wtc 9/11.

    THE VICTiM of TERRORIST BROTHERHOOD was ISLAM itself.

    period. (just learn how to brainwash texting) – Islam sympathizer.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  9. TimedUp

    I see a lot on comment:

    1. "Islam name" against Christian.
    2. "Atheist name" against Christian.
    3. "Christian name" against Islam.
    4. "Christian name" repent and convert to Islam.
    5. "Islam name" repent and convert to Christian.
    6. "Islam and Christian name" repent and convert to Atheist.

    There is systematic plot going around in this blog and addressing fight between Islam and Christian. The message is clear. To create stereotypes and memes for reader.

    I don't like this war, this blog should be comment on the news and not religion war.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • TimedUp

      Maybe this comment will gone too. or maybe CNN pooling the result for they monthly report on religion.

      P.S. this comment will soon erased by *.

      November 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  10. Craig W

    Great comentary on the show. I haven't watched the show, but now I will.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  11. AC Dettra

    The "Good Muslims" are playing CYA Duck and Cover... If they were truly condemning the Radicals, they would be out picketing and protesting their own Mosques , Temples and the C.A.I.R. offices.. That won't happen because then they would be considered as bad as "We Infidels".. When heads start to roll here in the US (and yes I mean it literally) they can jump up and say "Praise be Allah" we've been good Muslims and did not call our Brothers on their SHI-ITE.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  12. Richard

    Thanks, Khurram, for a sane, balanced defense of TLC's "All American Muslim".Not that I believe it needs a defense. The criticisms of the program just reflect on the unrealistic expectations of the critics.I think you dealt with them very compassionately. I've never met a Christian who believed 100% the way his Christian neighbor believed. I suspect it is the same with Muslims and other believers of all stripes. We all have our individual takes on our beliefs, a matter that is strictly between us and the deity to which we pray. You are a real mensch.

    November 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  13. Richard

    Re Jack: Where's the beef? "As an American our beef": Really, Jack, "OUR beef"? Who appointed you as spokesperson for ALL Americans?
    I'm an American, and I don't have a "beef" with the "indifference" of "moderates" in response to the violence of extremists. I don't because I know that many Muslim imams and organizations spoke out against the violence right after 9/11. The real "beef" you overlooked is this one: why did our media CHOOSE not to report on these brave outspoken Muslims. And why do they continue this policy while giving airtime to identified anti-Islam hate-mongers? That's my beef!

    November 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  14. TimedUp

    There is two muslims, the one that "radicals" and the one that "moderate".

    Moderate Muslim such as Indonesia, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Turks, and Pakistan.
    Radicals such as Palestine, Syria, Iran, Afghan,West Indonesia and North East Pakistan.

    Go find Muslim, ask them personally to clean this thing and they will probably say to you "we know this but we unsure what Koran said to us because we don't understand the Arabic translation at all, we relying on our imam (priest) on mosque. So when radical imam told us to kill, we will but when moderate imam told us to love, we will. We only pawn on submitting to Allah will whatever its good or bad for the world, if Allah said its good the it'll good for us but the problem we didn't know what Allah want us to do except through them (imam/priest), we only a pawn in submitting faith to Allah"

    Christians, on medieval age, had been on this way too, because what? because they didn't know the real bible because firstly they only listened to their priest on Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. This blind method can usually used (plotted) by the enemy to create division (know on network security as middle man- eves drove). But after all know the real message of Jesus Christ, they know that whatever it translate or said, the message only one, it is love, peace, and care.

    Islam is the same, soon Muslims will realize the real message of Islam. Some radicals said that all peace will come when all the world is become Islam but look at middle eastern, the Iran, is there a one piece of peace there?

    Confucius once said, "one can't govern the whole country if he can't govern his own house."

    November 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  15. Nahela

    Get the facts: http://www.whyislam.org or call 877-WHY-ISLAM

    November 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Dee

      : )

      November 30, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • WAKE UP AMERICA!!

      Come on Nahela! That is to brainwash Americans.... I am a Christian from the Middle East and know what TRUE ISLAM is...

      December 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  16. Nahela

    Masha'Allah! Awesome article, jazakAllahu khairan 🙂

    November 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  17. Foghorn

    Jack, I enjoy reading your responses.

    November 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Jack

      Thank you...I'm just mad and tired of no one doing anything while they settle here and bring extremism right behind them. It's happened in other countries and it will be no different here. The moderates really haven't done anything to put a handle on these extremists so it's up to we Americans to protect our country. I'm worrying about now and the next twenty years. that's when you will see a huge change in this country because we let them in un checked.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  18. Iqbal khan

    Check this out...

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4068.htm

    November 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  19. Seamn

    whats really sad is that we need a show like this to help people see Muslims as regular everyday Americans. We are a society of people who refuse to read,educate ourselves and think for ourselves. Were more and more becoming just a singular extension of a roving Mob just waiting on anyone to get a rant started. If you want to change things now how about you meet you're neighbors become friends and maybe just maybe you might learn the truth about other people.

    November 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Francis Balliardo

      Good point about lack of education. If people were educated, religion would be a thing of the past. Instead, we've got useless religious reality tv shows about idiots that believe in allah or whatever.

      November 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Jack

    As an American our beef is with the indifference the moderates show about the radical attacks

    November 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • vw

      jack
      what have you done to combat radical chritian influence in your own country? i'm not say they couldn't do more but the fact is there is outreach with in the muslim community and there have been cases of muslims reporting people who they suspect to be radicalized to the FBI.
      but most people just want to go to work and raise their family. what christian groups are you aware of that do outreach to youth being radicalized by by neo nazi groups?
      people are people. there's nothing any of my (3) muslim friends could do to combat radicalism with their muslim communities as i assure you they know of no one who is becoming radicalized. should they go undercover? try to find someone they think might be a radical? how should they go about such a task and still raise their children, or act in movies, or go to grad school?

      December 2, 2011 at 11:12 am |
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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.