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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. Ron B.

    Who cares about anyone's religious denomination?A reality show is either good or bad. 90% are bad.no matter what religion.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  2. government cheese

    Is there a terrorist plot?

    November 16, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • Sam K.

      Of course there is, silly!

      November 16, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  3. Persian Guy

    Dear writer, I believe that the show means to focus on Arab people, since they are the ones that are typically stigmatized in America; You sound pretty ridiculous, ridiculing an effort to bring some sort of understanding to this group of people. When a select group of Indians blow up a few buildings in a day, and everyone thinks that you're a terrorist for the actions of others...........then it may be appropriate to scoff when your group isn't casted as the next door neighbors; you kind of come off as a hater – just saying.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Sam K.

      I think it is fair to say that a great many people do not hate Arabs for being Arabs. That would be like hating people with freckles because they have freckles.
      It is what each individual does that makes the difference.
      How far would you go in doing bad things to other people if you thought your religion and your god commanded you to do such things?
      Secular Muslims, of whom there are many, have taken the culture and the traditions to some extent and are too busy living from day-to-day to think much about it.
      In the race to live peacefully with others, the more secular you are and more tolerant of others you are is how you win.
      Fundamentalists are extremists by definition, as taking anything written by another human being as being the voice of some god is a very extreme and ridiculous position to take.
      That's how murderers finally find the extra push to commit the crime of suicide bombings. Most of them are just kids who obviously don't know any better, being brainwashed as they are. They are more adventurous and can be drawn into doing the most insane things if they also think their god is going to help them afterwards.
      But Arabs? Meh. Who cares about Arabs being Arabs? Each one is an individual. You are guilty of making a blanket stereotype yourself, Persian Guy. Don't you just love the irony?

      November 16, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  4. Mitt Romney 2012

    Joseph Smith was the last Prophet.In My BEST MOST FAKE AND PHONY NICE VOICE. while Wearing My white shirt that says I'm pure Like Jesus baptizing.Please accept the prophet Joseph Smith into your heart ...he he he

    November 16, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  5. sonofeire

    Islam . . . . . The religion of piece(s). If you don't agree with Muslims, when they actually GET military or political power, they will make piece(s) of you. The "peace" of the grave.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  6. slayerwulfe

    I do not believe in or follow any religion but I suspect that if I did I would never be as shallow as you are in it. If we are all individual as it appears we are,is not your personal relationship to your faith the only thing that matters, yet all you talk about is the person to person aspect. For your information while you critique TLC the majority of African decent in the Americas may actually have practiced Voodoo rituals, they are about ancestors, visit Haiti. This is to help you, every time a person dies they are replaced by at least one child that will never think or believe the same way. As you reach the end of your life you will be the one that doesn't know what Muslim is.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Megan

      For as much as you really would like it to matter, you make little sense. I'm not sure if it's age or illness, but that is rather racist to say that most African-American people have done Voodo. I am Pagan, so I think I would've been prive to that by now. LOL. Mostly misunderstood white, I'm thinking ex's of yours? might have traveled down that path!

      November 16, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • slayerwulfeisdumb

      I couldn't believe I read what you just wrote, but this is exactly why a show about ALL Muslims is needed. This type of misinformation needs to be addressed. It has already been pointed out that many Africans that came over here on the slave ships were in fact Muslims and were made into Christians by force, the second Terrorism on American soil. The first Terrorism was done to the Native Americans who already lived here and were being exterminated.

      slayerwulfe if you are interested in not being so dumb, read this: http://www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Articles/politics/muslims_in_the_americas_before_columbus.htm

      or this: http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm/study_res/usa/muslim_presence/before_columbus.htm

      or this: http://islam.about.com/od/history/a/afammuslims.htm

      Furthermore, Aman Ali speaks for this Muslim woman.

      November 16, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • slayerwulfe

      I am slayerwulfe And to Catholic official: (what ever in hell(or heaven)that means)Church,after the Penn State scandal, where were you before it.

      November 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  7. The Jew King

    We Hebrews started it. This Whole Monotheistic Mess now we wish we could go back in time and close Pandora's Box. Idea For A Television Show: WHO'S GOD IS IT ANY WAY'S

    November 16, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • PICUser

      Actually, monotheistic religions started back in Russia called Zoroastrianism Mr. Jew King. Great name by the way. Are you really Jewish? Or are you just registered under that name so you can go around spouting off propaganda on the site?

      Just wondering because I see you wrote the same thing a few comments ago.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Persian Guy

      Zoroastrians*

      November 16, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • Persian Guy

      Persia (but included some of Present day Russia) so you may be correct..

      November 16, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • Thunderbird

      Yes, Zoroastrianism ~6000 B.C. - one monotheistic branch of a henotheistic belief system that originated in Central Asia, another being Hinduism (which is no one type of -theistic).

      November 16, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  8. Marc

    Are they going to show the intolerant Muslim? The stories of "Honor Killings"? While not exactly typical, not exceptional either.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • John

      Thats like asking if they were doing a show about Catholics would they have a family with a kid that was molested. The instances are so few and far between (really Priests molesting kids in this country is FAR more common then "honor killings") that you are forcing an extreme out of a religion when every single one has one.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  9. PICUser

    This article starts out by saying he has a problem with the show because they aren't African American Muslims. How do you turn a religion focused show in to a racial agenda?

    Oh, and don't forget about the roving gangs of Muslims who like to harass and abuse others around them.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • William Shelton

      What gangs, PICUser? If you are going to make an accusation, at least tells us what you are talking about. Otherwise, you're spouting off useless garbage, which I actually suspect is the case.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  10. Megan

    Mr. Ali,

    Nice article! 🙂 Yours is a constructive and interesting perspective exposed. Your article touched on sensitive topics while being fun and interesting...truly all that is needed to bring attention and credibility to an important issue. Well done!! It really made me ponder..

    -Megan, Huntsville, AL (yeah, you should raise an eyebrow at the AL! Not a bigot and from AL!? What's YOUR excuse?!!)

    P.S. We love diversity in Huntsville. Muslims!! You are always welcome in our community!! We believe diversity breeds joy and creativity! Conservative or devout, we appreciate your participation in our community and thank you for it!

    November 16, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  11. Mitt Romney 2012

    Joseph Smith was the last Prophet.In My BEST most FAKE and PHONY NICE VOICE. while Wearing My white shirt that says I'm pure Like Jesus baptizing.You should All know My Crook Of A Prophet. he he he he he You should all know about The Church of Jesus Chris And Latter day saint's an Joseph Smith Because Come 2012 he will be SAVIOR

    November 16, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  12. simpleton

    Many American TV shows through the years have been produced reflecting a demographic peer group with the intent to plant the seed of direction. My three sons, Mayberry RFD, The Brady Bunch, All in the family, all these shows had an underlying objective by the writers who thought through television (along with governing oversight panels) they could steer the direction of this demographic. Muslims who drive, night clubs, I get it, but still does not make it right, is truly propaganda.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  13. justlook502

    look beyond race and religon and you will find your way

    November 16, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  14. Drew

    I don't believe "midget" is the correct term just as Muslim's don't like the word "towel head" - An apology is in order from the author.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  15. theo crisell

    what a bunch of garbage

    November 16, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  16. Khnyatta1

    Peace
    Without bashing TLC
    The show was very lame
    And Muslim in America
    Need be aware of the
    Wolf in sheep clothing media
    Masha Allah

    November 16, 2011 at 1:44 am |
    • The Jew King

      What the hell are you talking about?.Now you sound like some one I shouldn't trust. Their is nothing for them to hide. ever watch Jerry springer?

      November 16, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  17. opvs

    Isn;t that little boy (in the above pic) ever cute...

    November 16, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • The Jew King

      are you a girl! Cause If Not .......................That's What Sandusky Said

      November 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  18. The Jew King

    Jesus Never Existed You Guys Are All Easily Duped Idiots

    November 16, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Moob

      When you capitalize like that, the abbreviation should spell something.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • nondescript

      Surprise!!!

      November 16, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  19. Kazan

    Religions are man made, so let's not waste time to analyze them, Human behavior is more interesting to consider.
    Just as an observation to international standard ( in this respect I mean the international mind set) is that the white ( Anglo Saxon and German) race is more civilized, more tolerant , more intelligent and some time more beautiful than other races. This generally accepted international mind set is the result of decades exposures to films , music, technology, sport ,politics and business in general, in all mentioned disciplines white people ( in general) were friendlier than others,whether this was manipulated or genuine is irrelevant, it created an international mind set. As opposite to this positive mind set we have the ugly, untrustworthy,stupid and bloodthirsty Arab Muslim. Here also whether manipulated or genuine is irrelevant.
    Of course there are white people who are ugly, untrustworthy, stupid and bloodthirsty ,there are as many civilized ,intelligent and beautiful Arab Muslims; but the real question is what makes the difference that the majority in one is equal to the minority in the other? may be one important reason :" prosperity"; this we witnessed throughout history that civilization traveled through all continents .

    November 16, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • theo crisell

      everyone who has any brain knows greeks are the most beautiful.........we are the color of gold

      have you ever met a greek that was not a greek god...........i am a gold greek and proud of it.......all that are not greek want to be greeek

      November 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • The Jew King

      Hear! Hear! We Hebrews started it all baby now we wish we could go back in time and close Pandora's Box

      November 16, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  20. Happy Hanukkah

    When you read the article you learn something. Instead of just spying on ,Muslim Religious extremist in New York it's time to expand spying and infiltrating Muslim groups in all 50 States

    November 16, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • John

      Ummm or we can force Israel to stop killing Palestinians......double standard dude..

      November 16, 2011 at 2:29 am |
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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.