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My Take: 'All-American Muslim' doesn't speak for this Muslim
One of the families in TLC's new show.
November 15th, 2011
04:20 PM ET

My Take: 'All-American Muslim' doesn't speak for this Muslim

Editor’s note: Aman Ali is a New York-based writer, stand-up comedian and the co-creator of 30 Mosques in 30 Days, a Ramadan road trip across America.

By Aman Ali, Special to CNN

Anytime I hear about a TV show coming out that features Muslims, my initial reaction is almost always “Oh man, please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.”

Unfortunately with TLC’s new reality show, it does.

“All-American Muslim” is the network’s new series about a group of Muslim families living in the Arab-rich city of Dearborn, Michigan.

Brilliant! What better way to show the mainstream public an insight into how multicultural and intellectually diverse Islam’s followers are… with a show focusing on just Arabs (20 percent of the world’s Muslim population) who follow the Shia sect of Islam (about 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population).

The show, which premiered over the weekend, presents itself as a glimpse into the American Muslim community but ignores an overwhelming majority of the cultures that comprise it. South Asians like my parents, who came from India, make up one of the largest group of Muslim immigrants in the United States.

That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that the show makes no reference to African-American Muslims, another huge American Muslim group. Many of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim.

And Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dave Chappelle and Lupe Fiasco are all American Muslims, too. Hell, Detroit is right next to Dearborn. All the producers had to do was turn around and they’d find one of the most active African-American Muslim communities in the country.

The first episode said Dearborn has the largest population of Arabs in the United States – a statistic I’ve heard echoed time and time again. But I just checked the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and learned that the Arab population in New York City is more than twice that of Dearborn. Seems like TLC can’t even stereotype correctly.

A bigger issue I have is with the show’s characters.

One woman is a boozing, tattoo-laden rebel child who wants to marry an Irish Catholic. Another is a scantily-clad and confrontational business shark who dreams about opening her own nightclub.

While I appreciate that the show is implying that Muslim women are more than just devout, headscarf-wearing housewives locked in the kitchen all day, why do the “liberal” characters represent an opposite extreme? Most Muslim women in this country don’t fit neatly into the ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal categories. They’re in the gray area.

The men on the show, meanwhile, are just plain boring. There’s a Muslim cop who insecurely reiterates his patriotism every 10 seconds. I’m surprised he doesn’t sleep in American flag pajamas and that his cell phone ringtone isn’t a Toby Keith song.

My favorite part of the show’s first episode is the spotlight it throws on the predominantly Muslim football team at Dearborn Fordson High School. “All-American Muslim” spends significant time on the team but leaves out that they’re 6-5 this season and scoreless in the first game losing by more than 40 points.

While its great that faith means so much to these players, it would be nice if scoring touchdowns meant just as much to them, too.

I recently co-created a project with called 30 Mosques in 30 Days, in which my friend Bassam Tariq and I drove over 25,000 miles to each of the 50 states to tell unfiltered stories about Muslim Americans. “All-American Muslim” doesn’t speak for them, nor does it speak for me.

These stories bear little resemblance to the narratives of my own or the ones I’ve stumbled across in my community.

You want to do an authentic story about an American Muslim? Do a story about a scrawny 20-something guy who awkwardly spends months mustering up the courage to tell a girl he likes her. Or girls that blabber about another girl they see talking to a guy for more than 11 seconds.

Best yet, passive aggressive parents that try to segue anything that comes out of your mouth into a lecture about why you should have been a doctor or why you’re going to die alone if you don’t get married by age 23.

That’s Muslim America. They’re stories of people no different than any one else in this country.

TLC has disappointed me. But maybe that’s not saying much, considering the network airs two shows exploiting the lives of little people and one called “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aman Ali

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Opinion • TV

soundoff (1,669 Responses)
  1. adam

    Wait wait stop the presses ... you mean to tell me that a reality tv show doesn't portray a group of people in a honest way & that some of the antics on the show dare I say it are " staged "? What has reality TV come to.. I guess gone are the days of hard hitting question that were once asked on " the real world" or the suspenseful & honest drama of the " girls next door"... For shame TLC for damaging the reality tv genre and for being the FIRST to portray a reality tv show in such a way.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  2. Tingy

    Just the fact that you are following an ideology shows that you don't use your own brain. That for me is enough to despise you.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • MAVVV

      Can U say JEEEEE HAADDD ! Does anybody know how to disarm the bombs these frea akin people are making with all $$$ they get on TV ? Say it again all together now...........ALALALAHAAA wants us to all JEEEEEEE HAAADDD !
      BOOOM !

      November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • John

      I'm not religious in the slightest, but to "despise" anyone who is - just because he is - suggests you've got some serious personal issues for which you probably should seek help before you hurt someone with something other than your words.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  3. guozhi

    Ironically, Ali's own stereotypes about Muslims are just as ridiculous as TLC's stereotypes.

    In fact, every post this guy writes sounds like some bitter tirade over insignificant things. Oh no, a show about 1 Muslim family doesn't reflect every Muslim in America? TV plays on tropes and isn't realistic? Holy cow. Somebody call Ripley's.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Jimmy Jingles

      Hahahahahahahahaha.........Spot on !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Chuggerman

      Perfect guozhi! Was going to say the same thing but you said it right on!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  4. george

    So, you actually expected to learn something on The Learning Channel? Where have you been for the last decade? It's all just exploiting people for their disabilities, illnesses, lifestyles, religion or employment. Although I do hear they are launching an awesome new show called Addicted Muslim Midget Ice Trucking Octuplet Hoarders with Eating Disorders.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • LisaD

      rotflmao!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • DudeIsTooFunny

      LOL...that is too funny!

      November 16, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  5. Andrea M

    It's true. It's been ages since I met a cabbie who wasn't Muslim, and they've all been African guys except for one white guy who was super cool and had great stories of traveling in Egypt. Even he was Muslim. Of all the Muslims I've met including the countless cabbies I've chatted with, a small handful have been Arabs. Not surprising from TLC, a total bottom feeder network. Muslims are everywhere, and they have a tendency to be normal people.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  6. MisterPL

    "Hell, Detroit?" I might have guessed they were near each other but I didn't realize Hell was a suburb of Detroit. You learn something new every day.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Derrick

    The author of the piece missed the point TLC is (attempting) to make with shows like these, and that is to open a dialogue between disparate groups who are often marginalized. The Dave Chapelle's aren't nearly as marginalized in America as the "Arab" muslim is, hence the show focuses on that subgroup. Oh... and did you seriously just use the term "midget?" Uhm... perhaps if you actually watched the shows you reference in your last line, you would be aware that the term is offensive.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Ed

      I agree he missed TLC's point their point is ratings ratings ratings

      November 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Farez

    Seriously Aman...Have you seen that non-Muslims are actually appreciating the show? To each his own, but for those who don't watch PBS (which is a lot in this country) this has huge reach. Even the cast and crew say that they don't represent all Muslims or being a perfect Muslim. While you plug in your project which I am sure is very good, think about the entry point. Did you read Dawud Walid's blog? He's also from Michigan, my brother.

    http://dawudwalid.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/all-american-muslim-designed-to-make-profits-but-promotes-conversations/

    November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  9. truth

    American muslims..isn't that an oxymoron?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Finch

      Based on your grasp of what that word means I'd say we can leave off the oxy to describe you.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  10. Sarah

    I disagree that any representation of Muslims must necessarily represent the majority of Muslims. That's an unrealistic expectation that Muslims can't seem to let go of...no show in the world can do that. My hope for this show is that it will humanize Muslims, and in order to do that it must tell a strong story. A strong story zooms in on a few lives and fully fleshes them out, it doesn't zoom out to try and represent everyone and please everyone.

    We don't need to take it so personally if we ourselves, whether we're South Asian, Sunni, Black, etc, are not represented on this show. The point is that this show is a first step. Sure it's not yet Emmy worthy, but without the first step, there's no progress or hope in future shows that can represent greater diversity. The Cosby show paved the way for more shows about Black families.

    We Muslims just need to chill out and be grateful that TLC is even airing this show amid so much Islamophobia, and that it actually seems to have good intentions behind it. It's a good thing we should support and work to improve upon. Insulting it and then still expecting something better to come along is pathetic. We need to be more mature than that.

    As for your criticism of the "extreme" characters...they're not really that extreme, and even so, all reality TV is at least a little sensationalist, that comes with the territory. This show could have done a lot worse in that regard.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  11. John Richardson

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aman Ali." Yep!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  12. hippypoet

    i would like to see the show before i verbally abuse them.... unlike the majority of you posters here.. tisk tisk.. half of you are so called christians..,. judge not, ring any bells....

    November 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Alfonzo Muchanzo

      And do you make unfounded assumptions about unseen people on a daily basis? I haven't seen one comment where the poster referenced himself as Christian, just reality spouting his garbage as usual.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • catty

      u sayin aman verbally abusin?

      November 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Alfonzo Muchanzo

      Also, it's comical how you verbally abuse Christians on these boards all day, and then try to tell them the "Judge not...." verse from the Bible. Gotta love when atheists quote the Bible to try and prop themselves up.

      Hypocricy.....ring any bells?

      November 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • hippypoet

      wow, the hate i inspire is truly inspiring....

      first – Alfonzo Muchanzo – i can quote whatever i choose from the bible, and i don't have to live a life by it because i understand it to be a work of fiction. So yes... you should judge not...while i can if i so chose, judge all day long without worry for any reprisal from a fictional god figure.

      second – Billy Mays Here – you think because i don't respond i am a little whatever, your a moron. i was driving home from work. And aren't you dead? Oh and what exactly am i scared of.. i in the article What terrifies an atheist... i definity don't fear you or your fictonal god....what might happen, i'll fictional smoted...LOL please!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Teacher

      Before you write anything. Maybe you should learn how to capitalize. You could also learn how to articulate yourself better. I guess I should not judge you on those areas?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  13. Ak

    Aman, its tofunny how your the first writer after reading hundreds of articles to say it sucks. You are clearly a muslim that diffrenciates with the sects.as your article articulates. I know of One Quran, one religion, and Mohamed is his messenger. Its clear that the majority of the little criticism is from Muslims like your self, that really do hate the other sect. The tatooed chick is muslim and your going to have to deal with it, she may not practice but she is Muslim and thats reality. Individuals like yourself become critical when it not your way. Have some respect for the Quaran and stop segregating, TLC is doing a good job in attempting to humanize muslims in America, how will we achieve the goal when the critics are Sunni Muslims from the same religion. Talk about hipocracy! I am sunni that beleives in one book. Kudos to TLC for giving my religion a chance on the National spot light

    November 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Jimmy Jingles

      You no speaky good english

      November 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  14. Reality

    A PowerPoint note for posting on all the refrigerators in Dearborn, Michigan:

    SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:

    THERE NEVER WERE AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR LIKE 9/11.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jimmy Jingles

      I'm not Muslim, but your views are anything but reality. Let's have a debate if you're so confident SHlTHEAD.

      November 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Hooah

      While I have some small issues with a small point or two in Reality's agenda, he is correct about there being no angels, etc.
      There is no god, no "Allah", and no real reason for Muslims to act like such prlcks in so many ways to so many people in the world. There is no excuse for religion-based violence.

      You want to debate real reality with an atheist, come at me bro! I can kick your ass back to yo mamma with the whole damn universe and all the scientific facts in the world.
      Internet tough guys like you don't have nothin to bring to the fight. I do.
      You will lose regardless of your personal interpretation of your "magical" bs point of view.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mcillroy

      @hoah – hahahahahahahhahaha. Internet tough guy and then you threaten him? Hahahahahahahah what a DlCKFACE you are!!!!!!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  15. Jimmy Jingles

    This guy just doesn't get it.........like most of "them"

    November 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Alfonzo Muchanzo

    Boohoo, quit your crying. BTW that stat that you corrected I imagine is largest Arab population per capita. I'm sure there are many other cities that have a larger Arab (gross) population than Dearborne clown.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  17. whambam

    This is what you get when the Kardashians become a household name

    One woman is a boozing, tattoo-laden rebel child who wants to marry an Irish Catholic. Another is a scantily-clad and confrontational business shark who dreams about opening her own nightclub.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • serious

      Aman did you seriously think that guys were gonna watch the show if scantily clad chicks weren't rompin around?

      November 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  18. Zipgun the Punhead

    Gosh! Whut a funny feller~! Gawrsh!

    November 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Reality

    An easy solution for Mr. Ali's concerns: (make sure you read the last line of the commentary)

    (developed by yours truly based on 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..

    November 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • LoveIsReal

      Prove to me that god does not exist and I will prove to you God does exist.:)

      November 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • lolwut

      Prove to me that our universe wasn't created by a magical gnome named Cecile and I will prove to you that the universe was created by a magical gnome named Cecile. 🙂

      November 16, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  20. Brent B

    and another lame article by Aman Ali, the lame Muslim comedian who still doesn't get it.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:25 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.