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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. ironage

    If the author is waiting for Americans at large to "recognize" members of the "Nation of Islam"...then he is smoking crack! The "Nation of Islam" is an insult to true Islam....and is nothing more than a cult with a series of wackos for leadership over the years. Besides....don't they have a "space plane" to catch?

    November 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Malika

      Where did you get the Nation of Islam from, ah there are many MANY African American Muslims who do not belong to the Nation

      November 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  2. breed11

    I've got a friend who's little person, not midget, what's wrong with you curryman.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • just sayin

      Aman is a BALD man

      November 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • to add

      he also has unkempt hair on his face.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  3. Lynn B

    Umm – I believe the correct term is little people and not "midgets"

    November 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Michael

      Just because you're a slave to 'political correctness' don't assume everyone else is or should be. Midget – midget – midget – midget – midget...

      November 15, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  4. youdisappointme

    Dear Aman Ali,

    You are very young and still have a lot to learn. Yes you did not claim to be an expert on the subject but by you voicing this blurb you are doing just that... Obviously you totally missed the whole point or the good attempt by the Network. I for one is happy that at least the someone/network is trying to shed some light into our culture to dilute the misinformation that currently exists. There is no way anyone can address all the various branches in the Muslim culture. The show is meant to be a Birdseye view. Instead you totally degraded what I believe is a good attempt to shed some light into the culture. You sabotaged the stage and missed the whole view point. I am very disappointed and you certainly do not represent or understand the Muslim culture. The sadder part is that there are many that share your view which is part of the problem. I hope you find peace but you are by no means an expert just because you are a Muslim and I really question your understanding. Remember just because you have a Muslim name, pray five times a day, preach the word of Allah or quote from the Quran means you are a Muslim. Or for that matter have the knowledge to clearly discuss it. The fact you throw celeb names to validate shows a lack of understanding.

    Like I said you have a lot to learn and you need to grow up and open your eyes a bit. Your article is actually more damaging.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  5. Terry Jones

    Ha! CNN just deleted all this – What a hoot!

    ean miller

    Let me just bring some light to a few things. Muslims worship the Moon God, "Sin". That is his name. They pray to a frikn black rock in Mecca, and are as intolerant as all get out. Maybe American Muslims are a "tad" bit more tolerant if they were raised here, but when it comes down to it... insult their false prophet muhammed, and their false god allah, and see where it takes you. This is not a peaceful religion as it touted on these shows. This is just religious politics. Like I said, stand in front of a Mosque on Friday as it is letting out and tell them allah is false, and muhammad is a dog! See what happens. I have lived in the Middle East and I can guarantee that Islam is not peacful, nor tolerant as much as the people who practice it. On the flip side, stand outside a church as it is letting out and yell out God is dead, and Jesus is gay and see what happens. Someone might come up to you and tell you that you incorrect and may try to convert you, but they sure won't beat the carp out of you. Shoot some may even invite you out to a restaraunt to get you lunch and try to love you into the ways of Christianity. All in all, this is a rediculous show in general because it just trying to get people to falsley believe something that just plain isn't true. Islam is not a peaceful, nor a tolerant religion. (Mispelling is intended due to the blog not taking my posts when spelled correctly.)
    November 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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    harbor14

    uh ok........go tell any person of any religion that their God is false and see how they react
    November 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
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    pfft

    yo, there is no god. problem solved!
    November 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
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    pfft

    oh, and idk if you knew about those crusades er salem witch hunts... but anyways i'm sure christianity is just as peaceful and accepting as islam. have fun blowing yourselves up over an imaginary construct!
    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
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    Kat_1969

    I can't imagine wanting to do such a thing! Seems a bit antagonistic to me.
    November 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
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    sean miller

    harbor14. I have. Vast difference when it comes to christians vs muslims. That was why I posted what I did. I dare you to try it. 😉
    November 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
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    pfft

    yo i just told my muslim friend Hamzah that his god doesn't exist and that the Qu'ran is nonsense. He said shut up and pass the queso.
    November 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |

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

      I understand, things just get way too provocative when discussing the illusory.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Terry Jones

      " things just get way too provocative.."

      pfft, you just said a mouthful.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Terry Jones

      Here. I wonder if CNN considers Ms. Hirsi-Ali "provocative?"

      https://www.youtube.com/v/fe_cuzsmmHU?version=3&feature=player_detailpage

      November 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • pfft

      oh darn it is, i've been clutching my crucifix for the past hour and i'm on my 53rd hail mary!!

      November 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  6. Bernard

    Frankly, the TV series Dallas did not represent the real america, most soap on TV are from god knows wich neiborhood.

    And if New-Jersey shore represent American christiannity, god help us!

    Bernard

    November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Jersey Shore doesn't even represent the Jersey Shore. "Reality" TV tends to accentuate the dreck in life and if anyone thinks that the people on these shows don't play it up for the cameras, ....

      November 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  7. Carl

    I am sure if someone did a show about your stupid 30 days drive, it wouldn't speak for many Muslims either. you're not even supposed to travel and breakfast intentionally during the month of Ramdan anyway. So right there you are going against the mainstream Muslim opinion.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  8. Abdul S.

    While everybody has freedom of religion, why is islam not allowed to be spoken badly of on CNN but Christianity shows the crazy apocalyptic pastors on CNN?

    November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  9. Fat Albert

    On this week's episode of Muslim 600 Lb Virgin With Two Transgendered Dads Who Had 47 Children Through a Gay Animal Hoarding Surrogate Mother with Tourette Syndrome...

    TLC is trash television....nothing but a circus sideshow.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Joe

    The writer sounds like he's butt hurt because the show is not about his family. So much for trying to get the rest of the population to have a trusting relationship with the Muslim community. Now he's trying to divide the minority Muslim community further into 20% this and 10% that.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  11. William D

    You also leave out a lot of details like Malcolm X, Mohammad Ali, Dave Chappelle, etc are CONVERTED MUSLIMS, they werent BORN MUSLIM. You also are leaving out that Americas obsession with Islam and Muslims dont come from Indonesia, India, or Africa, it comes from terrorist radicals who happen to come from where? SURPRISE.. MIDDLE EAST and are what...SURPRISE AGAIN..ARAB!!! So America is going to focus on the specific religion, ethnic group and background that made us aware of Islam and brought the word "Muslim" to the American Lexicon. Not to mention Deerborn isnt the ONLY large Arab population center in the USA, hell it isnt even the biggest city with large Muslim populations in it, have you heard of Chicago or Houston? Deerborn just happens to be the one thats 90% Muslim since the White Flight when white populations and even black populations left when Muslims moved on in and started taking things over....like history repeating itself in many other areas of the world by the way.

    And before we even go on about Muslims from India, vs other places, MOST of the Indians that work for Arabs in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, etc arent even Muslim, and while the working conditions arent fantastic, they are a whole hell of a lot better than working conditions than in India. Going one step further, I could see how an Indian would be upset that only Arabs are shown, since they do treat Indians as second class citizens, however, Islam started in Arabia, not India, and Arabs are by far more populous practicing Islam than Indians. With that said, America wants to focus on the "enemy" directly, not other sects of the enemy. Iran is Shia, not Sunni, as well, and most of the extremism comes from Sharia law, of the Shia sect, not so much Sunni sects, so please, before speaking, why not research as an AMERICAN, why AMERICANS want to see this kind of show, regardless if it makes us feel comfortable, or hate Muslims more.
    Ive lived with Muslims before, and the ones I lived with were awesome great fun people, however, the ONE COMMENT that stood out that made me forever distrust them was "No matter what, we must still fight and protect our brothers and sisters, even if we dont agree with them. That is our religion." And that to me meant they could turn on me and my country if they ever deemed my nation a threat to them, American or not, they were not "AMERCIAN" they were "MUSLIM" and that my friend will always remain scary and Muslims in my book are always an friend to be watched carefully more than any other.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • jchoo

      As they call 'em 'The Trojan Horse'.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  12. Jeff

    I am waiting for the gay romp on TLC. It's called " How I abused my gerbal."

    November 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  13. pfft

    darndest thing! i just told Christine, a baptist, from downstairs that god doesn't exist and she started spouting bible verses at me and told me that she would enjoy seeing me burn in hell. am i doing something wrong?

    November 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  14. Jay

    Hehe, why should this reality show be different than all the others? The word Reality in this case doesn't mean what you think buddy.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  15. sean miller

    I am sure he did pfft, I am sure he did. See you should have a god to worship and you wouldn't lie. Hahahhaha!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • pfft

      i worship Jeff, the God of Biscuits. he doesn't seem to care much.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  16. marfar

    Dude, welcome to reality TV!!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  17. Big Shaft

    There's a reason why they no longer call it "The Learning Channel." It's a real shame because years ago they used to have good quality programming. **** TLC.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  18. sean miller

    Haven't heard of too many Christians killing people lately pffft.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • pfft

      heard of the Lord's Resistance Army? haha what an uninformed jacka$$

      November 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • pfft

      but that's in Uganda, god doesn't pay much attention to those folks in Africa, huh?

      November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Matt

      Relgious people kill each other all the time... The is why religion exists...

      November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  19. pf

    this show is just another tlc drama.what next jews in the city.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  20. Michael

    I thought this article was to why he hated American Muslims in general. I did not know that there was yet another silly reality show coming out.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 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.