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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. hawaiiduude

    arab show made by jewish executive producers in zionist hollywood. yeah... right, like it's going to show the real world? I don't think so. Only the stereotypes of bufoons and portraying stupid people.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  2. Sly

    Someone has a complex. The writer seems upset that this HIS vision of Muslims wasn't represented.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      only the jewish vision of muslims.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  3. *frank*

    Mr. Ali, you are an annoying idiot with annoyingly ill-considered and bigoted opinions, and annoying facial hair.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  4. bignickdigger

    Ya wow ~ I prefer the more realistic shows, er ya the ones like "b omb squad" Afghanistan, Suic ide vest making: A teachable moment and my fav " how many infidels can we take out, all because my Imam told me to do it"

    November 15, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  5. Jon

    Something that all Muslims (regardless of sect, race or geography) love to do is COMPLAIN about how they aren't being portrayed fairly.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Bad_Conduct

      Obviously. It's a religion, not a race.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Jon

      Mr. Ali made it a point of his article to show how this show does not reflect all Muslims because they come in all different shapes and colors. I was working off of that premise. I am well aware that Islam is a religion.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Ak

      Mr Ali is clearly biast and a total hypocrite. It sounds like he was up set that he was not in the show. Mr. Ali, your view is not necessarily the right view. TLC reported today that the show had the highest viewer ratings in over a year. Maybe if Mr Ali directed it, or even had a part it would have done better? Mr. Ali, how can Jews and Christians respect the religion of Islam when its muslims like you that are racisist with in.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  6. Frank

    Did he just say midgets? Isn't that pretty offensive to little people?

    November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Heather

      I guess that would only matter to Mr. Ali if the "midgets" were Muslim. Oh wait.... Muslim little people aren't being represented on the show either! LOL Give me a break!

      November 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • As a big person, ...

      ... I protest the use of the term, um, ... well, I'll get back to you on this ...

      November 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  7. Miss B

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! He said MIDGETS! 😀 Finally a breath of fresh air

    November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  8. Heather

    Quote: " “All-American Muslim” doesn’t speak for them, nor does it speak for me."

    Well, Mr. Ali, I don't think this show is supposed to "speak" for you. It is representative of those individuals on the show. It speaks on their lives, not yours.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Bad_Conduct

      I'm pretty sure it's just BS on TV. None of it is real. Anyone who thinks it's real, is an idiot.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • DSK

      Like ALL reality shows they are not about 'real life' they are just shows about the freaks of nature that co-opt their dignity for a few thousands dollars and their 30 seconds of 'fame'. Regardless of the topic of the show, they are all true losers.

      Give your feedback to the networks and don't watch that trash; especially on TLC; really 'The Learning Channel'? Hardly.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • John Richardson

      But you don't understand! Aman Ali wants to speak for all American Muslims and it's no fair for any of the rest of them to speak without his explicit permission!

      November 15, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  9. hahaha010101

    T L what? lol

    November 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  10. Plug1

    First off I don't know where TLC,found these people but they do not represent The religion of Al-Islam these people has to be some kind of actors and playing some kind of stupid joke!!! Out of all the Muslims that are in Michigan THAT'S WHAT THEY CAME UP WITH!!! To show Non Muslim people who already have all kind of crazy misconception about Islam that this is what Islam is!!! TLC HAS TO BE PLAYING SOME KIND OF JOKE!!! that is not Islam at all it's has to be a joke,they need to cancel that stupid show ASAP. I never seen a program showing the truth and the beauty of REAL, Islam those people are like clowns!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Sean

      Relax man.... I've seen so many shows about Chinese-Americans... that I've already given up TV show.... I no longer watch TV program.... I have an Ipod, android and my computer, and I watch all my shows selectively on them. Worst... not all Chinese-Americans are Jackie Chan...

      November 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Jackie Chan

      Yeah well, YOU do all YOUR own stunts for several decades and get back to me, eh?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  11. pulsars

    C'mon Mr. Ali, this show is only a start. Why not accept it for what it is: A tool to crack open the tightly shut doors of closed-minded Americans who feel all Muslims are bad. ANY Muslim portrayed on this show is better than none.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • hahaha010101

      keep it honest.... show the jihaddist's.....

      November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  12. JBB

    It's correct to say "little people" not midgets.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • eg

      slap

      November 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  13. Abed

    I think of the TV show as a building block and not a store front to show the Muslim community, build on it to show all aspects of Muslim communities with all of its colors, flavors and back grounds, never the show claims this is all of the Muslim community or the best one, I think it was picked for its mere concentration, cohesiveness and maybe age. Build on it.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  14. horsesmouth

    Mr Ali,

    You act as if this is the first reality show that does not accurately reflect reality. Give me a break. Yes, there are plenty of non-Arab Muslims. There also happens to be an Irish-Catholic on the show, should all Catholics whine about this stereotype and throw a tantrum b/c other Catholics, or even other Christians are not represented? Granted, the show is not about Catholics, but your rant is outdated and cliche. What rubs me the wrong way is how people tend to internalize these shows and take them so personally. In my view, its quite egotistical and selfish. It's as though one says "But wait I'M not represented here!" Let's say for example this show did not have any Shia Muslims. Surely if that were the case they would have the same right to complain. But they're complaining about their representation, not caring about anyone else's representation. So in the end what do we have? We have ego saying "But I'm not involved," where we could say, "hey at least there is some representation." Lest we forget, this show is for entertainment value, and nothing more.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  15. Gkingii

    Sad that Muslim-Americans have not stood up for America, if they're just like us. Where have you been? It's very A Keri an to start whining. What else you got?

    November 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Passive Agressive

      Who is "us"?

      November 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  16. jh

    sounds as if we going to see that American muslims are no different than the Jersey Shore crew, the Real Housewives of Fill in the Blank, etc, etc. Maybe Amam your life doesn't represent American muslims. Or maybe you're just not being open and honest with us or yourself.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  17. scranton

    God what a whiner.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • ArtInChicago

      No, you mean Allah, what a whiner.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  18. Steve

    Aman, you take issue that a reality show about Muslims depicted a Muslim family man who loves America. I say MTV should make a Jersey Shore reality show about Muslims and see what happens. Be happy a show like this exists. At least it is a semi-positive portrayal of Muslims in America that breaks the cycle of the U.S. media's Islamaphobia.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  19. Janehenry

    Dear Mark, your comment is disgusting and no doubt so are you...

    November 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  20. ja-coffalotte

    You had me at "why I hate all American Muslims".....

    November 15, 2011 at 9:09 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.