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. Rob

    I haven't found a religion yet that is really what those outside of it perceive it as. Wouldn't it be nice if we all grew up and realized that zealots will ruin anything they become a part of. Understanding, self-education, and acceptance would cure a lot of what's wrong with the world.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  2. 1gadawg

    Sounds like he's more bitter that they didn't use his story for the plot line that anything else – just another whining moron.

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

    Well written article Aman. We should challenge reality shows to step up and provide accurate statistics (which their research department can get in a matter of seconds) and a well balanced portrayal of reality instead of continual garbage just for ratings.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Farez

      People want to watch engaging stuff not sit through lectures and numbers. There is a value to both. Not everyone is the PBS type. I found this post disappointing and shortsighted. I like his 30 days 30 mosques project, but now he is in the same camp as Michael Moore. Self-promoting himself as the man of the people. Has he even seen all 8-episodes.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  4. qwedie

    The way you put how you would like to see your people portrayed sounds just like a Jewish family. lol. Maybe you have something in common more than hate.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  5. LoveIsReal

    No one here can PROVE God does not exist, nor can I PROVE God does exist. Disagree with me? PROVE your case.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Adam

      Interesting statement coming from someone with the name "Love Is Real."

      November 16, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. mira

    As an American Muslim I am so thankful you wrote this article. I tried to write on the Facebook wall for American Muslim show and they removed me from the page even though my commentary was much like yours, it detailed why I didnt like the show and had no profanity in it. However, they allowed people who hate the show because its about Muslims to continue to comment.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  7. J3sus Sandals

    Headline: Why I hate 'All- American Muslim'

    Response: Why I Don't Care About "Your Opinion"

    November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Puppe

      J E R K....don't say anything if you don't have an honest dialogue

      November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • misskitty

      but yet u read and commented on this article! lol

      November 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  8. Bill Broast

    Wow, another typical Muslim...

    November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • MS oF NY

      Wow Another typical non-muslim!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  9. j

    Dear writer, You disappointed me, using the word "midgets"

    November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  10. Tricks

    Dude, remember, it's a show. They want people to watch, just like on other reality shows getting the pretty people, this one aims to get the most out there Muslims living in America without shocking their audience into not watching. Like you said, not everyone is the same. Just because that's not what you have lived doesn't mean it's not what people are doing right now. So just chill.

    And as for your last comments, "TLC has disappointed me...considering the network airs...shows exploiting the lives of midgets..." Really? Midgets? Instead of just looking into the U.S. Census Bureau you should have looked up that little people see that term as derogatory.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  11. Shaik K

    I totally disagree with your take on the show..as usual first there were complaints that Muslims were portrayed bad in the media and when a media organizations tries to do a show on Muslims we have complaints saying why isn't my ethnicity portrayed seriously its look you overlook all the positive points of the show and nitpicked the negatives part. i understand the part being non representative but someone will always be left out, i think its better that TLC went deeper into a single community than make preachy show about the different types of ethnicities. It seems like you made up your mind even before you finished seeing the episode. we should appreciate what TLC is trying to do and hopefully maybe another tv show about muslims can be made because of this. Think Long term rather than short term.

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

      I for one was excited that a show like that was made, but....fell asleep on it. With what little I know about Muslims, I could immediately tell that this was just unreal. How is that going to EDUCATE Americans? Showing us that Muslims in America can and will act just like Americans is so useless in todays anti-Muslim climate. We have to learn about the true culture to understand and tolerte and not hate. I have emersed myself into learning and can fully accept the culture although it will always be foreign to me. We bleed the same red blood.....

      November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  12. John

    Um dude. You're ranting about a program on TLC? The biggest freak show on cable? NOTHING on that network can be taken seriously... I mean this is the home of that show on British Gypsies. Really. You're letting this show get to you?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  13. sickandtired

    why do so many black leave prison claiming to be muslims..hmm doesn't sound like morals are being taught at all...or is it just a prison religion

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • qwedie

      They need something to look forward to when they return.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • hey hey

      same reason that so many people find Jesus in prison--duhhh-people need to think more...religion is always that last ditch effort for those that are clueless on how to function in a society or want to prey on society...

      November 16, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  14. Jenn

    I think it's awfully naive to believe that a television program can express all the different types of people that are part of the Muslim faith. As you mentioned this comprises of a large number of people from across the world so how would that be possible? I love the premise of this show and the fact that they are bringing this group of people that have been subjugated to so many lies by the conservative media to our living rooms and we can see how they are real people and not terrorists. They want what everyone else does, to be able to live peacefully with their families. The vast majority of Muslims don't want to hurt anyone and I hope this show sheds some light on the fact that they are just like everyone else except they happen to practice a different (and peaceful by the way) religion than most of the rest of the country.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  15. RossTrex

    How nice for him. He can pretend that Muslims across the world are just like him. Mr Ali is just a nice misunderstood Muslim guy that wants to live and let live and explain to the world that they have Islam all wrong. Sorry Mr. Ali but the issue with Islam is not that Muslims across the world are not like you. Muslims are nice, generous, good people just like everyone else... Yes I said that. The issue is Muslims also divorce themselves from the truth of Islam.

    What is the Truth?
    In EVERY Islamic state there is persecution of ALL religious minorities. Sharia law and the Forms of Government that are the Spawn of Islam are Anti – Freedom of Religion, Anti- Freedom of the Press, Anti- Gender Equality and are not peaceful, nor prosperous, nor fair to their own Muslim citizens much less Non-Muslims. Get a grip Mr. Ali…. you may be able to portray the nice guy you and other Muslims are.. But you can never change what Islam is. A violent ideology with a veneer of peace created by a 7th century pedophile-warlord so he could take over a city.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • MS oF NY

      Your little rant started nice and ended like the rants of another bigot.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  16. waycist

    Good job confirming the "stereotype" that Sunni's absolutely hate the Shia,,,

    November 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Josh

      It has nothing to do with hatred of Shi'a. The fact is Shi'a are a minority, and the show focuses exclusively on them. If you want a show that depicts what American Muslims are like, it should present a black family, an indo-pak family, and an arab family. One of them should be shi'a. A problem i've noticed shi'a have, is they keep presenting themselves as the majority, and keep trying to speak for all other Muslims. This is another example of that. If you're 10% of the global Muslim population, and make up less than 10% of the US Muslim population, focusing on you exclusively isn't accurate.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  17. Albert

    All American Muslim is the first step to showing that relationship. Between faith and family, something all of our families have across this country. I'm sorry it may not relate but in the end this show is one the most important on the airwaves,

    November 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  18. Allah

    Your article is a waste of space.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  19. Andy

    The term "midget" is considered offensive by many little people. Please take note.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  20. Wizz

    I'd like to ask the author of this article – Do you think it would be possible to have a show about some Muslim family that would represent all Muslims? Do the Duggers represent all Christians? Or, Baptists? These shows are about real people not stereotypes or idealized image. What your looking for does not exist.

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

      The show was made specifically to present a helpful image of American Muslims for Americans to relate to. That is, a need existed for people to "get to know their muslim neighbors", and this show was the response. So it SHOULD represent them. And YES, there *is* an appropriate way to represent such a diverse group. Thing of it this way: what do we need to grow accustomed to and learn to appreciate? people just like us? Or people different from us? Obviously the more beneficial path would be to present the more traditional range of Muslim families, so we could see diversity THERE. The show should avoid the two main orientalist fantasies: the bizarre inscrutable tribal stereotype, and the "liberated" ultra-left wing nominal Muslim stereotype. It fell into the latter, and that doesn't represent Muslims. The problem isn't stereotypes. Stereotypes are helpful, it's what helps us understand the strangers around us. The problem is the *wrong* stereotypes. They're just replacing one incorrect stereotype with another in this show. What does this family really tell you about all the other families? Because taht's really the point of this. Thre should have been three families. A desi, african american, and arab family, or perhaps a convert family (with their unique struggles). One of them should be shi'a, and considering shi'a are a small minority, that's generous. One of them should be very Americanized, and the other two more traditional. It's the traditional ones you'll learn something from.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:27 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.