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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. Clayton

    Do you honestly think TLC is concerned about facts? They want a tv show that create controversy (like this article) which creates free advertising (like this article), which in turn gets more people to watch it and check it out. I guess they could thank you for the free advertising, even if you are right that they got it all wrong.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  2. Anwar

    I agree Iqbal khan is an idiot.
    Aman Ali is looking for 15 minutes of fame. He is Muslim "Joe the Plumber".
    He made no valid points in his article. He needs to be off CNN site. You are not an authority to speak on Muslim behalf. Stick to comedy you idiot. We have enough divide in Muslims already and you are promoting SHIA- ARAB-SUNNI and South East Asian division. There are all kind of muslins, The Good, The Dad and The Ugly like any other faith. No one is perfect.

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

      It is not like there is no divide in the community.. The author just pointed that out.. Just because you do not want to acknowledge it does not mean it is not a fact

      November 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  3. Binky

    You didn't research your facts very well. The "Metro Detroit Area" is known as having the greatest number of muslims in the USA. They have completely taken over the cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck and are working on Sterling Heights a number of other Metro Detroit cities.

    I lived in one of those cities for most of my life. I owned a house in a middle class neighborhood. I had great neighbors. Now I live in another state and city where there are NO muslims. And life is good again.

    No muslim murders, no heads being found in the dumpstesr of local restaurants; no barbaric street fighting between muslims from different countries/sects. No more wailing, every hour on the hour. No more thefts of anything around the house that is not nailed down. No "disappearing" American flags from front porches. No flags of Iran, Lebonon, Iraq, etc., being flown or hung in the front windows of muslim neighbors. No more 10-12 year old boys driving cars around the subdivision (with parents blessing). No more lawns choked with grass & weeds 2 feet high. No more unshoveled sidewalks. No more "Food Stamps accepted here" signs all over town, written in Arabic. No more standing in line at a store, behind horrible smelling women in burqas. Etc., Etc., Etc.

    I would gladly have welcomed the Shiites into MY neighborhood. And the Chaldeans, as well. If I had wanted to live with the uncivilized of Baghad, I would have moved there.

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

      @binky .. Wow, u really need a binky.. Hmmm perhaps along with a Jordanian lolly pop.. Once u grow up, then it'll make more sense to make comments.. Till then, don't bother as they all are oming across absurd as heck..

      November 15, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  4. mark

    i guess what would be more interesting than showing that muslims have the same feelings and issues as other humans (which shouldn't be surprising) is to focus on what similarities and differences occur due to the religion itself. since that's the variable the show is trying to isolate. to make the author happy they could do pie charts and surveys to show how the behaviors vary by sects. like perhaps if a christian show split things up between catholics, baptists, methodists...though some are undergoing their own splits and changes so the landscape might be too complex to accurately portray in a tv show..but i guess they could try..

    November 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Bilal

      Well said.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. ExphDK

    I know you make a mention to lack of African-American Muslims. But my thought is, good. I've worked with the public or years. The *true* Muslims I've interacted with were amazing individuals and complete polar opposite of what a lot of media portrays them. (I am a white america). However, all my interactions with the black Muslim has been rather negative. (This is mainly around the NJ/PA areas, and just my own personal experiences). Almost all of the ones I have met have been belligerent, negative, lack of decency for other people in their surroundings. While this is just my own sample, I am relieve they are not portrayed in a show to try to put Muslims in a positive light..

    November 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      What have you been offended by?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  6. C.S.

    Well, here's the thing: "reality" shows are just that: SHOWS. This one, which I've not watched, sounds as bad as the "Real Houswives (cough, cough) and that disastrous "Pioneer Woman Cooks" show on Food Network. Who watches this garbage anyway? I've never made it through one episode of any of it. Netflix, anyone?

    November 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      I love cooking shows.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Didn't you post this same exact comment months ago?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  7. John Robertson

    Built the foundation of this country?? You mean picked the crops!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Huh ?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • beth

      This country was built on the back of the unpaid labor of slaves. I'm white and I am appalled at the idiotic lack of historical reference.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • John D

      So, your disgust is worse because you're white? You're either identi ty conflicted or racist. You poor tortured soul. How much easier it would be if you weren't Caucasian.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • beth

      Oh please, John D. I put in that I was white because otherwise I'd get a comment from someone like you telling me to go back to Africa.
      I am actively antiracist in all that I do.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • John D

      Actively antiracist,eh? That'd be great except for the reference to your race, which makes it look more like self-flagellation. Personally, I try to live my life without imposing any additional persecution upon myself.

      I mean, really, what's the use? I'm not a bad person. Then again, maybe you are.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  8. joe Harriss

    wow , listening to you and reading your article tells me what a clown you are, yes the shark who wants to open a club is a mess, the lady who is planning to mary that cathloc that is her business , so you should not play GOD,
    The cop you were mentioning that he speaks so highly about this country is really appreaciating of the the oppurtinity this
    country is giving him, he is in a good position with the sherrif department , good for him, stop being a hater Mr ALI.
    THE high school team you reffered to is a team that is one of the most winning football programs in the state of Michigan.
    Also the person who is on the show seems to be a great muslim , they are not representing me or you they are representing
    them selfs, and please enough with that , why are there no black muslims on the show , you want black muslims on the show go start one, your a hater if i ever see one, (The men on the show, meanwhile, are just plain boring) ARE YOU SERIOUS . OKAY I WILL TRY TO LOCATE THEM AND TELL THEM TO MEET AT A STRIP BAR, MAYBE THEY WILL NOT BE BORING , Truley your a mess, your opinion is warped. For the record i represent my self and do not need anyone to represent me , so do me a favor and get some faygo and doritos for sunday and enjoy the show my brother from a another mother, thats what makes this country so great , you speak nonsence and i respond, great country America , Great religon Islam . sallam brother , your confused and taking things to personal .

    November 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Bad religion Islam. Why is it good? Please explain.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      LOOKS LIKE READING THE KORAN REALLY DOES MAKE PEOPLE ANGRY.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      BIBLE, turn off your Caps lock you dork.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      NO. BEING ANGRY AT THE CAPS LOCK KEY IS SO 1996 AOL. IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON AND FOCUS ON OTHER THINGS.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Bible – Caps lock stupid. You – stupid.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      PLEASE DON'T HURT MY E-FEELINGS WITH YOUR WORDS.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  9. Mr. Wizard

    There is no such term as African-Americans. We are all Americans or we are not! And if you are not then you need to live elsewhere. Continued use of such terms just promotes separatism. Look around, do we really need more of that in this country?

    November 15, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Thank you.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Rick

      Amen! This writer sounds like an angry black man that just loves to stir up trouble. Midgets? He is a mental midget.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Black Midget Muslim

      Fvck all of you.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  10. chuchingirl

    the fact that the term midget was used here says a lot about the writer of this blog.......dwarfism happens because of different medical conditions....and many people affected with dwarfism like to be called little people......midget is considered to be pejorative.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Midget is far more interesting than "little people". That sound far more offensive.

      Let's start with midget. It was formed, from the word midge "small fly" + -et, so that a midget is etymologically a "very small small fly". We first find midget in 1848 in Canada with the meaning "sand fly". Where does the word midge come from? In Old English it was mycg, and it goes back to an Indo-European root, *mu-, which also gave us mosquito and, by a circuitous route, musket. The Indo-European form is thought to be imitative of the humming sound made by such insects. By 1865, midget was being used to describe a very small person. By 1884 it referred to small people who were exhibited in shows or circuses. By 1930 we find the word being used for small vehicles or aircraft.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      IF I WERE A HEIGHT CRIPPLE I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE CALLED A LITTLE PERSON. IT SOUNDS SO STUPID. OH LOOK AT THE LITTLE PERSON! OH HE'S JUST A LITTLE PERSON! POLITICALLY CORRECT STUPIDITY IS WHAT IT IS. I'M TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY PANSIES ARE SO EASILY OFFENDED BY WORDS. IT MAKES ME WONDER HOW MUCH DIFFICULTY THEY ENCOUNTER HANDLING REAL LIFE ISSUES WHEN THEY GET OFFENDED BY A WORD.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Bilble, turn off your caps lock you complete dork.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Donnie Dwarfo

      "Height Cripple?"

      Wow. Now I'm really offended.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      NO. I'LL KEEP USING IT.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Bible – of course you will! Because you are a complete idiot.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT TO BELIEVE, OH WELL. I'M NOT HERE TO PLEASE PANSIES WHO CAN'T HANDLE THE MANNER IN WHICH WORDS ARE CONVEYED AS OPPOSED TO THE WORDS THEMSELVES.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • beth

      You are exactly right. Little people is what folks with dwarfism prefer to be called. To use the wording the author did is absolutely inexcusable in this day and time.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • John D

      And beth knows, because she's white!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  11. Chris Kw.

    Yes. New York has more Muslims. But it's a much bigger city. Dearborn has a higher concentration of Arabs (both Christian and Muslim). You know about population density don't you. How many high schools in New York have more Muslim than Christian students. How many businesses in New York advertise in Arabic first, English second. And yes, there are Muslims from every single race. My cousin, who is WHITE, is a Muslim. She's also originally from Detroit. So way to assume that all Muslims in Detroit are black. And way to feel sorry for yourself for not being represented in this show.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      What is the point you are trying to make?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Joe

    Well said, well put.. you the best.. well you are a "writer" after all.. go figure... decent Muslim like you will not interest FOX news...

    November 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      Joe, do you have some kind of point?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  13. rory

    I feel he loses all credibility when he used the word midget to close his article. Ignorant and closed-minded.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORD MIDGET? I HOPE THAT SOME DAY PANSIES WON'T BE SO EASILY OFFENDED BY WORDS.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      What is wrong with the word Midget?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • mark

      i thought midgets were short people and different from people who have dwarfism. if it has a bad connotation we probably need a replacement word..well..short people i guess?

      November 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  14. Ramo Rema

    Yeah IT SUCKS ! They pick the worst of the Muslims & Arabs(shia & Lebanese"not all")to be portrayed as representing American Muslims.They want Muslims in America to fit into American culture.Islam & American culture is like comparing night & day.Be proud you're American but be proud of your Islamic faith as well.They shoulda got REAL Arabs & REAL Muslims to be portrayed in this show & show America you can be a practicing Muslim & loyal American @ the same time.Not these "sickos" the producers picked.I think they want to embarrass Muslims/Islam as a whole by picking these disgusting Muslims for reality tv !

    November 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • TLC Producer

      " They shoulda got REAL Arabs & REAL Muslims to be portrayed in this show..."

      We tried but they wouldn't stop fighting long enough to learn the script. Then they tried to convert us by threatening to set the cameras on fire. Meh.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  15. Jerrod

    Welcome to everyone else's world. It is wrong of anyone to stereotype any group, individual, or establishment. No two persons are the same!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Snowflake

      You mean no two SNOWFLAKES are the same.

      You humans are all alike. Always stealing snowflake sayings ...

      November 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Raindrop

      You snowflakes are so fragile. But edgy, for sure. You guys are way edgy.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  16. mitil

    "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."

    Aman Ali made a good point with that statement in his article. This shouldn't be on TLC, there should be...
    'My Big Fat Muslim Wedding'

    This is more of a show so people who don't understand cultures, ethinicity, and maybe don't read intellectual books should understand people are people and there shouldn't be discrimination. I'm glad they are showing the tough, laidback, unique individuals that were not accustomed to.

    It's as if he's embarrassed that they're showing Muslim Americans drinking or playing football or having tattoos. Who cares. It's a choice. Don't like it, don't watch it.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  17. MK

    Im a muslim born and raised in cali, my great grandfather came to this country in the late 1890s and joined the army, he fought in ww1, was honorably discharged in 1917 and i hate this show

    November 15, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Manimal

      People are way too judgmental about TV shows. Who cares if it totally sucks? Just sit back and watch and buy the products in the commercials and everything will be fine!

      Yeah, I wish ...

      November 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  18. Parkerman

    Actually who really cares, I certianly have no interest in reality shows and especially one about muslims families in the US. Boring!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  19. Chaos

    Apparently this guy doesn't understand what these kind of show are about. Of course they aren't going to have all representations sorts of people. Does Dog the Bounty hunter reflect bail enforcers accurately? No. Storage wars show the usual bidders? No. Exterminators shown correctly? No. Its about a family of dumbfks just like all the other shows.

    You are seriously out of touch Aman Ali. No one watch to watch a dull dry expose on reality. This is SUPPOSED to be low brow entertainment.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Fox Lies

    As a nation we need to stop the is all theory

    November 15, 2011 at 9:59 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.