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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. Seattle

    Why stop at Dearborn? Or even at New York City? I know there's a fairly large Muslim population in both Dallas and Houston(I lived in Dallas for five years). Many South Asian families live in these areas and since Islam and Hinduism are the two major religions in South Asia, a person might expect this. I would like to see someone from Texas on the show.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  2. RadTad

    This is the dumbest article I've ever read – do you honestly think any 1 group of people are accurately portrayed on television? You are missing the point of this show (beyond the glaring "reality tv" aspects)... it's ultimate goal seems to be to destroy the notion that all muslims are ultra-conservative, berka-wearing, obedient housewives. Get out of your box, Aman.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  3. JJ

    omg...sorry, oma...what a whiney-azz baby this writer is!!! just because his crap of "30 days on a binge tour of hummus” didn't get picked up by a major network, he goes around racially bashing TLC. grow up, baby. btw, the concentration, per capita, is much larger then NY...so, quite skewing the fact to support your childish, racist views. i laugh...out loud, at this piece of journalistic سلة المهملات. muahahahaha!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  4. hippypoet

    ok f-u-c-k you all who are hating on this article or choice of faith... you people sicken me.. i am a non believer but i can still show respect who theres nothing insulting in the first place – and there is nothing here that merrits an insult! SAD LITTLE CREATURES YOU ARE! judgemental and full of hate!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • JJ

      this writer has the maturity of a 6-year old...a racist 6-year old. "sniffle, sniffle...there weren't any African Americans in this show...sniffle, sniffle" affirmitive action is dead...welcome to a society that can showcase a religion and NOT be forced to include a particular race...

      November 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      HIPPY, PRETTY HYPOCRITICAL OF YOUR POST, DON'T YOU THINK.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • hippypoet

      think, yes, i do alot of that.... but its not hypocritcal... please show me how it is?

      November 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  5. paganguy

    If you don't like the show, change the channel, or better yet, turn off the TV.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • FreeMod

      Excellent suggestion!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  6. Mr. C

    I remember when the black community railed against the "Cosby Show". What a great show that was.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • JJ

      i think this baby is on his own...i don't see any other AA's complaining about it...he's just pee'd off his crap story about "30 days" didn't get picked up by a major network, lol

      November 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  7. i dont like it either cancel the show

    I dont like this show either go ahead and cancel it please

    November 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  8. Cindy Pattana

    Anyone who watches TLC or believes anything on TLC is an idiot. It is a network that promotes mindless breeding.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    I don't personally agree with this article namely because it smashes the premise of a friendly and compassion-oriented show that is trying to broaden people's horizons, by pointing out all the things that are wrong with it. I'm not saying that's an incorrect way of thinking, but I think a little slack needs to be given. Now, secondly, I must say that some of the replies in this article are some of the most ignorant and intolerant I have ever read. Namely, because they were at the top of the page, Cecil and Ben. You two should be fully aware that you have literally, completely shamed yourselves with your own stupidity. Firstly, the US was not built on a Christian faith, it was built by numerous different cultures acting together despite the fact that their religions may have clashed. Just to make a point, Ben Franklin, one of our country's founding fathers, was in the Hellfire Club. In case you're fuzzy on that, it's a secret society dedicated to debauchery, drug use, alcohol, and taboos in general. Ya know, pretty much all the stuff Satan is down with. Let's also not forget the Crusades and the Dark Ages. I'm pretty sure a lot of murder happened then too by the order of powerful figures. I mean in no way to aim my anger at one religion because they all have their flaws, but this happened to be the one that was mentioned. Furthermore, freezing up when you see someone in the traditional clothing of the country they hail from or wear to respect their religion, just makes you intolerant and foolish. It's called freedom of religion, and if you want them to practice it in their homes, it sure would be swell if everyone else pushing their religion like crack would do the same. I'm sorry if this reply offends anyone, I don't usually voice my opinion on such matters, but I think the level of bias some people have needs to be called out from time to time despite what the subject may be.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  10. There are no gods!

    Oh who cares! All religions are garbage any way. There are no gods! All religions are a lie!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • JJ

      people like you find God in your final minutes on earth...i see it all the time. but, they then it's too late. release the hate, man...find God and find peace.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  11. SayWhaa!!

    They should make a show of all the christians converting to Islam, its freakin raining muslims up in here. Go Islamization of America!!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  12. jakers

    Another black man complaining.... go figure. Imagine if we treated muslims how Iran treats Christians.. Theres a thought!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      Islam go away. Christians go away. Now there's a thought!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Rich

      Another idiot complaining about black people complaining.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Eman

      You idiot, he isn't black. He's Indian American. Do you know the difference between these two minorities? Just checking.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • ndlily

      Um, he's not black. His parents are basically Asians. Why don't you pay more attention. There's a thought.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Eman

      What are you Jakers, a Jew? Ha.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • jmwdc

      Great another ignorant person who apparently didn't make it past the headline of the story

      November 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Booker

      I'm assuming that you made no effort to read the article; he specifically states that his parents are from India and that he is South Asian.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  13. salad

    Worst article so far today, congrats!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Lokust

      Why in the world would the author of this article expect anything about reality TV to be authentic. This is like writing an article complaining that wrestling may, in fact, be scripted.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Lokust

      oops, was not meant to be a reply to you personally.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Eman

      You folks obviously don't know how dissapointing it is for a Muslim to be portrayed in the first place on reality TV. It's HUGELY shunned by our society to couple any of what they are doing on that show with our faith. THIS is why he's addressing, if not only 1 of the millions of reasons why this show is ludicrous!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      FUNNY THING ABOUT MUSLIMISM. BEING ON TV IS SHUNNED, BUT KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE IS EMBRACED WITH OPEN ARMS.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  14. ohdeargod

    "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." (Now you got ME interested in the show!)

    November 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  15. USAF

    You're not getting it .... The show is about being a Muslim in America, not 'Muslims in America.' It isn't about being representative of Muslims, it's entertainment about interesting people that happen to be Lebanese origin, Shia Muslim and living in Dearborn. Don't be hung up my brother.

    Semantics.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Mecca Me Crazy

      Thanks for straightening that out for us. I was really getting confused by that whole 'Muslim American, American Muslim' thing.

      But which is it? Are they Americans or Muslims? Are these things 'prioritized,' you know, like some 'American' soldiers have recently demonstrated their 'Muslim priorities?'

      Just wondering, cause you're in the military and you sure seem to know a lot...

      November 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Eman

      Youre an idiot too. You know nothing about how Muslim culture works. Get a book on Islam then rewrite your comment dude.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Mecca Me Crazy

      Here's today's oxymoron: 'Muslim Culture.'

      Ranks right up there with 'military intelligence.'

      November 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  16. Wow

    I hope those of you making prejudiced comments know you are REALLY prejudiced. Like, go march with a white hood instead of hiding behind the computer screen, freaks.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  17. BlackDynamiteNYC

    How they live has NOTHING to do with you. It's not about you! Get over yourself.
    Stop being a tool!
    Welcome to America!
    BD

    November 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • salad

      I agree, this guy seems to be jealous and hateful.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  18. labandme

    There is no such thing as an all American muslim. Just like there is no such thing as an all American moonie or all American hare krishna. There is also no such thing as an all American politician who lets these people into our once great country.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Snow

      Who let your ancestor into this once great country.. Jacka$$?

      When do people here accept that white "pilgrims" came to a country with a thriving culture and returned their hospitality with massacre..

      November 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  19. Me

    You try to sound smart and "American" yet you use the word "midgets". The same as calling you a terrorist you racist idiot

    November 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  20. steve

    I hate the term ____________ American. American or not american. muslim african american ? America gets the third spot ?

    November 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • J. Deacon

      Whoopi Goldberg said the same thing years ago. She said she didn't understand the term African American, she wasn't from Africa, had never been to Africa, so why couldn't she just be an American. Period.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • mdamone

      So why aren't people "Italian Americans" or "Irish Americans" or "Polish Americans" or "British Americans" or "Norwegian Americans" or "any-other-European Americans"? And most Americans of European descent can trace their family back to Europe in a one or two generations, yet call them themselves simply "American" with "_________" (Italian, Irish, etc) ancestry?
      When we are ready to face tough questions about why "African American" is sacred, while European Americans are comfortable not using the same phraseology, then we will be ready to start making real progress.

      November 15, 2011 at 11:10 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.