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. whatofit

    Great just what we need, another African-American Raceist Muslim spewing his hate speach in an artical that doesnt have anything to do with the actual show but rather his way of getting out that he thinks the show should only have been made about african american muslims. Just a wild guess here (this guy is an african american muslim)... But dont blame him, always blame the white man, because you know they are the ones really to blame here. I vote this guy for president!

    November 16, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      Did you even read the article? He comes from India, numb nuts!

      November 16, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • affected

      joxer the mighty... his parents came from India... this guy is a New York-based writer speaking about american muslims...

      November 16, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • blind sided

      Where does it say he was from India? I see it says his parents are from India, but nothing to show he was from India. Maybe you may need to reed the aritcal a little better next time. Dumb Nutts!

      November 16, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • UmWhat

      Did you read the article? (CAN you read? You clearly can't spell...) He explicitly says his parents are from India. Making him Indian-American, not African-American. Not that that has ANY bearing on anything, but I presume that's yet another point that would be lost on you.

      November 16, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • scoxx

      Read the article, the author's family is from India, last time I checked, that is not Africa.... I think the author makes some valid points about the complexities of trying to show on TV, a snapshot of a diverse group of people in a very limited light. And, before you claim I must be african, commie, or liberal. I am white from the south via the midwest, registered independent, and usually vote republican....

      November 16, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • blind sided

      ummm, you guys are stupid as hell. my folks are from India, but their ancestors are from Africa and I was born in America (Im a African American Muslim) Just like most african americans today, thier parents are from america but they call them selves African American. Damn read a book, go to school, learn a little before you make comments. You can pretty much be who the hell you want to be now a days.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  2. mike

    Don't know the show, don't care about American, or any type of muslim. To be a good muslim, you can not be patriotic toward America, Saudi, etc. It's about the ideal, not a border. Just more forced socialization.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  3. chuckmartel

    This muslim excuse for a comic is at it again. Now he is taking petty pot shots at some stupid PC tv show on the so called learning channel. Small wonder these muslims blow each other up every day in islamiland. They can't get along with each other, let alone infidels. Their excuse for comedy is also quite enlightening; trying to kill cartoonists they don't like, shuting down South Park under threat of death, driving some American cartoonist lady underground under threat of death, threatening to kill David Letterman for a joke they didn't like, .Why don't you watch tv and do comedy in islamiland ?.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  4. sipo

    Aman Ali, I am so tired of hearing his whining, this is all this buffoon does, talks of inequalities, yet sits on his arss all day complaining about America. Hey Aman do us all a favor resign from CNN, and get the hell out of America if you don't like it, or better yet write a real article, something positive and quit wasting cyber space.. The white man still holding you down from doing that!

    November 16, 2011 at 5:38 am |
  5. Danny

    Get your facts about slavery and religion correct; don't give your Spike Lee revisionist version...


    November 16, 2011 at 5:37 am |
  6. LP

    So, basically you hate the show because you aren't on it? That's kind of sick. The Muslims they portray are "real" Muslims, even if they don't look like you. Get over yourself.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • Wayne

      I just wanted to say, that all religion is garbage. A show promoting people that practice this garbage religion is no different.

      November 16, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  7. Christina

    I can't believe all the griping you made then turned around and used a derogatory slur towards little people/dwarves. Maybe if you watched either show, Little People, Big World or The Little Couple you would see the show doesn't exploit them. They own their shows. You see their failures, their triumphs, their everyday family and working lives. I can't take you seriously when you whine about All American Muslim because you have lst all credibility in my eyes.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  8. LaMartian

    I called BS after the first three lines and didn't read the rest. The writer claims 20% of the world's Muslims are Arabs, and 10% of the world's are Shia. Great. But that wasn't the issue. What are the percentage of those living in the United States? You know, the AMERICAN Muslims, as is the name of the show?

    November 16, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • ruckby

      ur an idiot for not reading more, y did u assume from those statements that the rest of the article was BS. those statements are indeed a good basis for disliking the show because to get the big picture of muslim americans you need to show the biggest group of muslims in America being South Asians and if you would have read more of the article you would have read this. YOU IDIOT

      November 16, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • Karl Blessing

      It's because you didn't read past the first three lines that you completely missed the point. Had you read further he would have mentioned the number of other "american muslims" that exist besides the variation that was the focus of TLC's program.

      November 16, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  9. Matt

    "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." – from the article

    What a bizarre thing to say. I am not a religious man. But, if I were, I'd probably think that securing eternal happiness in my afterlife was at least a little more important than high school football scores.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  10. dvclipper

    Aman...you seem fairly intelligent. This show (as nearly all scripted reality shows) has nothing to do with anything other than selling ratings to advertisers. You should know that by now. Find quirky characters..or script them...put them in everyday situations..then do creative editing. Why do people get so sucked into this stuff being "reality"?

    November 16, 2011 at 3:48 am |
  11. Karl Blessing

    Seems like the series could have been more diverse rather than concentrating on just a small percentage and then saying "this represents muslim in america". It seems like TLC basically tried to go with "whats the 'safest' and easiest way we can do a TV series about muslims?"

    November 16, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  12. Buck Futt

    Dear God... Please protect me from your followers.....

    November 16, 2011 at 3:42 am |
  13. Red

    I don't watch TV no more and neither does most of my family and friends. It's not that we're Amish, but there wasn't anything on entertaining anymore. Ya know, other countries never made fun of shows like Andy Griffith, but they do make fun of the shows we have had on in recent years like Jerry Springer and The Biggest Loser. We have a lot of shows that are in bad taste that should not be on TV. Two shows that really bothered me was a reality show about a Jewish woman marrying a black man. I have no idea why they were pushing that idea. And the second was Brothers and Sisters Show, two Gay men kissing, really disgusted me. Now people will say that I have a problem dealing with the cultural diversity that's going on in our society and that may be true, but I'm not the only one that has turned off the TV. Maybe Gays are only doing what comes natural to them, but so am I, and it is disgusting to watch them. Why should I be harrassed for finding it unnatural. So I just turn off the TV, then it don't bother me no more. If they think cultural diversity is more important than entertainment and content for the TV audience, then a TV is one less thing I need to buy. Gay books are different, they let you know right away that the book is about gays so you are not subjected to sudden suprises.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • alexia

      Gays, Jews and blacks exist in the world, so get used to it. Oh, and we all intermingle too in the real world, so get used to it. You must live a sad existence in your own little box. You are missing out on a lot bot sticking to your kind only. I'm a Jewish woman who has dated a lot of black men and oh, I have a gay brother. And by the way, my brother and I have 3 masters degrees between us from highly respected universities, have high moral standards, and a wide variety of friends. I don't understand why people judge so quickly and act like other people don't exist. And for the record, the white race (I'm assuming you are white from what "disgusts" you) was not the first race on earth. The blacks and the Jews were, so have some respect for the people responsible for the beginning on mankind!

      November 16, 2011 at 5:15 am |
  14. Onel

    The African-American Muslims aren't the ones being stereotyped. However, I agree that the show should have South Asian Muslims. Shia? Sunni? Islam is Islam, and it's people that make the distinction that disgust me. No one is different because of their religion: What an absolute ludicrous idea. Granted, some might be swayed by religion in actions and thoughts, but a person is still a person at the end of the day.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  15. John

    Blame George Bush

    November 16, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  16. chinaman

    is that so? that's the story you want to show? my friend's muslim neighbor in toronto canada is currently in custody since he ran over his 17 year old daughter 3 times, just because she defied his religion and wore make ups and tight jeans.

    oh wait, he wants to tell the american muslim stories, not the canadian ones. my bad.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Ashman

      Chinaman, I am a canadian muslim and don't run over my daughter because she was wearing make up, etc! Could that be the Canadian Muslim story too? why do people think that committing these sort of acts is actually taken from the book of Koran? If Islam equates to killing "infidels" only, then I must say Christianity's branch of catholicism equates to pedophilic and sadistic acts, judaism equates to Real Estate "purchase" with socio-economic sophocation, and on and on! but, using my logic, all I can deduce from your neighbors behavior, the rampant islamophobia, Timothy McVeigh's terrorist act, the unjust wars of the christians on the rest of the world, etc, is DUE to a FEW with inhumane non-religious practices! cheers!

      November 16, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  17. Observer

    The writer of this article comes off quite poorly in my opinion. Given that the muslim community is so diverse, how could one show be expected to represent all? And why the slam on the football team? I think the point was that muslims are regular people, playing American football, who cares if they were a winning team? A 6-5 season isn't terrible. Not noteworthy, yet the writer complains that it wasn't noted. Frankly, this guy has a logic deficiency. He doesn't want us to hear about a muslim football team because they're not winning enough and it's more important to score touchdowns than have faith? Is this article a joke?

    November 16, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  18. JamesRaynor

    relax ali, that guy from 24 is ganna start breaking into these families' homes and start shooting these people.

    it's ganna be some crazy sh it.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  19. Mogadishu boy


    You are right. The Episode is displaying muslims in the worst shape and form. I am a practising Muslim American and that episode does not speak for me neither do I think it speaks for any muslim American. After the former catholic boy took the shahada, All the women in the room who were not his mahram started hugging and kissing him in the cheek. The so called fiancee also started kissing the converted man on the mouth infront of her father. What a shame and a disgrace. I think it portrays more of an Irish Culture than a muslim culture.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • glyder

      the show was designed as a propaganda tool to tell us that muslims are not a violent culture.maybe a few honor killings or a class in caliphate would be more accurate.

      November 16, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • HarshReality

      So you're saying that in a "real" muslims house, they would have been punished\hurt in some way for showing affection towards another in public?? How tolerant. Gods be praised I'm not muslim. You make it sound like they are right out of the 7th century. . . Oh, wait – they are!!

      December 14, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  20. Deanna

    Brother, I could not agree with you more. I was furious by the 15th minute of this show. Me and my two daughters are American converts to Islam, and this does not represent anything we have witnessed from any other Muslim or anything that is taught in the Qur'an and Sunnah. My husband is an Arab Muslim, and this also does not represent him or his family that I love so much. Its ridiculous from start to finish. To Persian Guy: if a show is not properly representing the vast majority of Muslims, then the REAL understanding of this group of people will still not be brought to light. DUH. Thats what the article is getting at. Now who sounds ridiculous.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • HarshReality

      Did the male of the house say you could do this? Or did he tell you to?

      December 14, 2011 at 12:50 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.