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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. Kara

    I'm enjoying the show. I have several friends that are Muslim and it is nice that others can see what I already do...They are humans just like everyone else. When it comes down to it, most people want the same thing. We want to share happy, healthy, productive lives with our loved ones. Everyday, there are millions of Muslims, (and Christians, Jews, Buddists, etc etc.) going about their day making a positive impact; they care for their families, they help their neighbors, they do good deeds for strangers. It is sad that we allow the actions of a few nut-jobs to determine our impressions of the many. I hope that All-American Muslim can at least open dialog to further understanding.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Kat

      shshshs, the Zionazis and fanatic Bible believers will condemn you. Your humantarian statement contradict with their agenda of hastening Armggedon, rapture, third temple, WW3, and the messiah. Their message is that we should kill Muslims before they kill us!

      November 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Garthe

      So, Kara, ask your muslim friends if they accept and obey every word in the Quran. Then ask them how they apply the following verses to you. Then maybe you'd better look for some new friends because as good, obedient muslims they can't be yours.

      “O ye who believe! Choose not disbelievers for (your) friends in place of believers. Would ye give Allah a clear warrant against you?”
      (Koran, 4.144)

      “Oh, believer, do not take the Jews or Christians as friends. They are but one another’s friends. If any one of you take them for his friends, he surely is one of them. Allah will not guide the evil doers.”
      (Koran, 5:51)

      “O ye who believe! Take not for intimates others than your own folk, who would spare no pains to ruin you; they love to hamper you. Hatred is revealed by (the utterance of) their mouths, but that which their breasts hide is greater. We have made plain for you the revelations if ye will understand.”
      (Koran, 3.118)

      November 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Kat

      Garthe, those verses do not refer to every day friends. They refer to political patrons and events that took place when those verses were revealed. The Koran says among Jews and Chrsitans are rightous and worship God alone as Muslims do, that the followers of the Torah and Gospels are the respectful people of past scripture, that among the closest to Muslim are humble Christians. Either way, get it through your thick head that majority of Muslims just as most people from other religions do not necessarily live to the letter of their holy books, that their understanding of the book vary, that they are simply more concerned about living a decent peaceful life.

      November 28, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Truth.com

      Well said.... I second it. Every religion has it's pro's and cons, but all people want the same. Happiness in their life. friendship... help one another and try to please one another. Make their childrens future as bright as they can with the best education. This is my take on all human beings living on this planet and I don't see muslims are different. It amazes me the ignorance these threads show with false info. are we saying all those 50plus muslim nations and their citizens are all cruel and barbarians as some threads depict here .....?

      November 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Jon

      I agree also. People are people. If religion helps them unite or cope with reality, I'm all for it. The problem lies though with people who take these holy scriptures seriously as fact. It's not fact. It's barely a coherent story with some morals.

      November 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  2. JUSTICETO ALL

    Taken as a whole the 55 Majority Islamic countries have eliminated 90% of their minorities over the past century. There has never been so many countries that so consistantly have been as horrible to their minorities. All the fake smills will not wash away that fact. Hence if there is a 100% chance if you are minority among Muslims that they may kill you why on earth would you trust the life of your children given to them. You indeed should fear these fascists.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Useyourbrain

      So what you are saying is we need to "fear these fascists" and eliminate the Muslims in America.................. Uhhh............. Errrrr................. Are you fascist????.... I don't get it....

      November 28, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • iac249

      Also the top 3 most populous Muslim-majority countries have elected women as their head of state...something the US has yet to do. And I'd like to call BS on this 90 percent elimination of minorities. From where do you get these figures? The Middle East still has significant historical Christian populations, and the Patriarch still sits in Constantinople, which has been under Muslim control for some 500 years now. Yet where are those historical Muslim and Jewish populations in Spain after the Reconquista?

      November 28, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  3. Ann

    You have a choice to make america , a narcissistic delusional spoilt reality show "keeping up with the kardashians" which apparently made millions out of a fake marriage and star cast who love cussing and shaving pubes, they so represent us,"the average american" and the "all american muslim" with family dinners,football coaching and a mundane middle class everyday life is polluting our culture as they are muslim/islamic or whatever.
    We need a reality check here!

    November 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  4. Elise

    I have seen a few episodes.
    The people in the show seem like nice people, some nicer than others. It does sort of irritate me how many muslims come to see the hijab as a 5th pillar of Islam. Everyone is so happy when the sister decides to wear the Hijab and she hopes it iwill make her pregnant. Culturaly it seems Islam is going through a phase where it is fixated on the hijab where in the past muslims were not so obessed with it.

    Other than that issue they seem just like any other people. I did not mind when the football coach changed the practise times because of the Ramadan fast. If most of the boys observe Ramadan then it probably makes sense.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  5. Ted Ward

    These people are either in denial , liars, or delusional. Sadly, Islam will have to be reformed and the Koran rewritten before any muslim can be truly loyal to any non-muslim nation or form of government. Until then it's just a case of al taquiya, the Islamic practice of deception by pretending to get along with the dominant culture while waiting for the day that Islam can overthrow the non islamic nation. Just sayin'. Yes, it's pretty sad, but that is in fact the nature of Islam. These people need to decide who they are and who they are not. Stop wasting our time.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • iac249

      Ah, yes, taqiyya. A term used by persons when trying to discredit Muslims or shut them out of meaningful dialog. It's not really a meaningful accusation, but rather an unfortunate logical fallacy _appeal to ignorance_ in which the Muslim is considered to be necessarily lying because he has not been proven to be telling the truth.

      Just sayin'.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  6. David Headley

    What's not to like about Islam?

    November 28, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  7. simon

    Muslims also claim that the Quran is taken out of context. As a Christian from the Muslim world i have many observations. Muslims believe that the Quran directly descended from heaven, does God make mistakes how can a book be misinterpreted that too is written by God. The reality is different the part of the Quran which was revealed in Makkah is compassionate to non muslims as that was the time once Muslims were facing problems of discrimination. The Madni Surahs are different they clearly call the others Christian , Jews and others as ememies. just imagine deaths to apostates that happens in the Muslim world which is clear in the Quran as well as Surah. Muslims in the West try to give a liberal view but in their socities in the MUslim world they are different. They dont allow other relegions to be preached and prosecute followers. the demand religion in the west but deny it in the east. earn their livelihood in the west and are also involved in terrorism. its soon that we should understand the truth.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  8. IslamSkeptic

    There always are two faces to Islam, the false peace and the inherent violence. The former simply comes before the latter. A few semi-open minded Muslims are not relevant to the violent nature of the Koran and the violent example of Mohammed. Islam has generated plenty of violent Muslim terrorists out of the "peaceful" Muslims of Minnesota. Of course, the Muslims in the series may simply be lying.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Well.. think of it this way. When a American ship is seen on the horizon or flying overhead it is either coming with good will food and material aid or a complement of weapons raining down on them.

      The two faced description can be said of many groups in society. Even the drug cartels build schools and churches in the community. We can even go into the Malcolm X view of the White community in America. Some are positive and some are negative. If a person hated Whites then your view could be applied to them as well. That the good ones are drowned out by the bad ones because the bad ones are all that you see.

      Sigh... Time to let it go.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  9. Agnostic

    I've seen the show twice and like the concept a lot; it's a very positive show. Clearly not all Muslims are alike, big surprise, all Christians aren't alike, all Jews aren't alike, da. To me the men had more in common with all men than they did with their particular religious group. To me their religious distinction didn't seem as prominent as their gender. Same with the women. Rodney King had it right along.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • David Headley

      Infidel!!

      November 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  10. Ungodly Discipline

    All religions are false, but none is more hateful and dangerous than Islam. Christians are right there though, they just have different methods.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  11. Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest

    @ Kat wroted : Yes, I am totally offended by women feeling the need to be subserviant and mask their faces in my country. When you move to another country, you assimilate to that way of life. Hmm.. If I moved to Saudi Arabia, I wonder if they would be okay with me wearing a short skirt, simply because that is my personal freedom in a Muslim nation? (oh, right....there is no such thing there!)

    November 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  12. thespectatorssport.wordpress.com/

    I've heard about this show but have yet to see it; TLC is not a channel I would normally ever go near but I better check it out! I completely agree with what you said about "the only person who can represent you is you." THis is so true! EVERYONE is different; no two people are alike. A show like this shouldn't have to exist–Muslims should just be accepted in American society with everyone else–but, that being said, I think it's good to show that gee, when you get down to it they're no different than anybody else!

    November 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  13. Funny!!

    Kat, are we allowed to be offended by the whole arranged child marriage thing that was mentioned? I know in the Quran Aisha was 9 or whatever, so Muslims say its okay, but really....are we supposed to just sit back and let you bring your anti-freedom ways to our doorstep? Seriously – will a real Muslim please comment on why your women and girls are so subjugated and brainwashed to think they are not???

    November 28, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Kat

      Aisha's age is not in the Koran. It is in biography books that were authored 300 years after the events took place. They don't al agree on her age. Some biogrphies put her age 15 and others 18. Either way, no Muslim is protesting or getting signiture to pass a bill to allow child marriage. The averge age of marriage in the Muslim community is in t he 20's for males and females.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Useyourbrain

      My Muslim wife is not subjugated. She holds a doctoral degree, earns a six figure income, comes and goes as she pleases, and does what she pleases, within American social and cultural boundaries. Please do not confuse my wife with: 1) YFZ women, 2) homeless inner citty women, 3) south-of-the-border illegal immigrant houskeepers, 4) Southern African American women of the mid 20th century, or 5) Any other nonsense irrelevant stereotype you wish to apply to your uneducated comment.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • iac249

      So what about the African American Muslim community, which is about 40 percent of the US Muslim population? They aren't bringing anything to here from anywhere....they are as American as you.

      November 28, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  14. Fat Albert

    TLC is a circus sideshow. There's a reason why they no longer refer to it as The *Learning* Channel.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  15. corntrader19

    "All American muslim" is a contradiction of terms. I find it interesting that every time there is a story about muslims the God/Christian haters come out in force and try to compare us to terrorists. That is an absolute slur and libel. BTW, no matter what you say, Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian and there is no such thing as "Christian militants" so get off your hateful soapbox. You are misinformed.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Kat

      was not ex president Bush a born again Chrsitan whose role model is Jesus and who used to get advice from his "heavenly father". He's the one who forged evidence and lied to the nation to start a brutal 10 year old illegal war that made millions homeless and orphans and widows. Guess what? He was re-elected and would be again, thanks to the fanatic fundi Bible believers terrorists like you

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

      Yes, tell that to the 24 families of the Pakistani troops that the USA, er....NATO killed. They were buried yesterday.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • BG

      " That is an absolute slur and libel."

      Then get muslims to stop shooting, slashing, and blowing people up. You know, it's not libel if it's true...

      November 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • BG

      ah, farts. Time for some music....

      November 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  16. Robert

    From what I have heard and seen those that are here already sponsor visas to bring in a new ones for marriage in. I hope we don't eventually have whats going on on in Iraq with secterian volience 20 years from now within those groups and possibly against the "infidels"

    November 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Kat

      More likely scenario is that bigots and hate mongers like you will commit a holocaust against Muslims in America. Already it is politically correct to bash Muslims and Islam. For politicians who want to win votes, especially in the uneducated fanatic Bible believing Chrisitans and Jews, the easy way to get votes is to bash Muslims.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  17. Karen

    Far out! I didn't know about this show. I'll look for it tho. Sounds interesting, informative and educational....something religions don't want their flock to know about. Glad I'm not one of them.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  18. Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest

    This represent every debates and arguments about Islam:

    Koran 5 verses 51 : Never be a friend with Jews and Christians especially Atheist because in fact they are allied one another.

    The logic was " Why they came here to force sharia implementation and occupy an occupy group IF the previous country was at good on the islamic sharia system?? Don't they run here because oppresion by sharia?? or maybe looking better water system??"

    This had to be answer by some Muslim before we open the hand to them?? Why moved to western countries if the western are not complement with sharia "your way of life" systems??

    November 28, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Kat

      Typical hate mongering of Islamphobes. Muslim Americans, their mosques, or organizations never announced they want to impose Sharia laws in America. It's only Islamphobes who allege the 1% of Americans that are Muslim control the white house (president Obama the undercover Muslims), congress, media, the feds, banks, military, and university campuses and are about to rule America with Sharia laws...It's so laughable if not so many ignorant folks like you actually believe these lies.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Pey

      Dude there are also passages in the Koran were Muhammed tells his followers that if Christians and Jews are building houses of worship, then the Muslims should help them. You can also find passages in the Bible that are violent and hateful. That's what religion is: a bunch of writings made by men at a period of time in history with both good and bad in them. It's the fundamentalists of any religion that are the enemy to peace and freedom.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Jenny

      All you're doing is pointing out the conflicting rhetoric that is also present in the bible. If the statement is true, the Quran also states that Muslims should be tolerant of "peoples of the book" meaning Jews, Christians and other Muslims. It's no worse than the bible saying an eye for an eye but then turn the other cheek. It's all rhetoric remastered and reinterpreted over and over by ruling and elite classes throughout the centuries for both the bible and the Quran.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest

      @ Kat Go to youtube search dearborn sharia europe usa and you'll find a bunch of video shows the real face of Islam.
      @Pey it proves Koran contradicting one another. Thanks Dude for your enlightening to us.

      We must divide between Islam as a politics and Islam as a religion.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest

      @ Jenny: I can't find "eye on eye" on bibles. Can you show the verses number, please??

      November 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • seriously!

      Also by reading one verse you can't really tell the context... if you read the whole chapter you will realize that it is talking about people who spread hate against Islamic religion (people like you)

      Obviously if you would have read the Quran you would have known Jews and Christians are called righteous (3:113; 3:119: 5:69) and you are even allowed to marry them (5:5)
      Honestly nobody would really marry their enemy

      November 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Caesar19

      My Brother "Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest"

      Firstly, this is the ACTUAL verse (Sura 5, Ayat 51):

      "And you see those in whose hearts there is a disease (of hypocrisy), they hurry to their friendship, saying: "We fear lest some misfortune of a disaster may befall us." Perhaps Allâh may bring a victory or a decision according to His Will. Then they will become regretful for what they have been keeping as a secret in themselves. "

      -Dr. Mohsin Translation

      If you truly believe, then do not slander without reason. Would you want your religion to be treated the way Islam is being treated? I ask this because I believe that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. Islam believes in loving all and recognizing that all people—no matter what creed, skin color, race, religion, etc.—are equal under the eyes of God. This is of paramount importance to Islam.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  19. Kat

    It's a 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 10:15 pm |
    • Vandalii

      Lots of tolerance from Kat...hmm. May want to look in the mirror for the actual reality-o-phobe

      November 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Infidels Representative ex:Muslim ex:Midest

      Say more dear Kat, nobody want to be nicknamed like you shown above. But before islamphobia, there was Christiany phobia, there was Jewsphobia, there was Atheistphobia, and there was whitephobia, usaphobia, westernphobia and the most crazy things – the Freedomphobia.

      I am infidels, do I worth in Arabia? Do I worth in Middle East?? Do occupy group attack Jews synagogue for freedom??? or for hate??

      Told every lies you got to INFLUENCING foolish a fool people to afraid being nicknamed as islamphobia. islamphobia was formed because the way Islam represent itself, a killing, a terror, a bomb, a suicide bomb.

      We don't hate Muslim, we love them, but we hate Islam teaching that already have victims – Muslim people itself. GO LOOK ON MIDDLE EAST! IS THERE HUMANITY! there??? wake up peoples!! don't get fools by Islam sympathizer. Go get the fact on the sources of Islam itself – on Middle East!!!

      November 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Doug

      Hen-pecked families parading about on camera are hardly a demonstration of reality. When you want reality, you look at what people do under pressure, you watch how they respond when nobody is looking. The few Muslim that this applies to most are those that dare to speak out in anger, usually just before they commit some atrocious act "in the name of Allah". I know peaceful Muslims, I know that at some point, the training they have will kick in and they will pick up a rifle and gleefully shoot me and any other "friend" thinking *that* is the will of Allah. They teach it so, they learn it so, but more importantly, they ACT it so.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  20. Jim in Washington

    It is frightening to think of all the bonjus out there claiming to speak for America. They don't speak for me.

    November 28, 2011 at 10:14 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.