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. hey

    If you don't like it, don't watch.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  2. DiversityDude

    Oh, Come on! You can't possibly cover every type of everyman for a show like this. So if the show's 'stereotypes' don't exactly match YOUR stereotypes it's bad and wrong? Get over yourself. At least they are trying. The fact that the crapiness of the execution is exactly the same as the crapiness of the execution of ALL TLC's shows indicates complete equality in the treatment of the subject matter. Right on TLC, don't give up trying because of id10ts like this guy.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  3. mbele

    This is the angriest comedian I've ever seen

    November 16, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  4. Sam

    Folks...really? Read the article for it's content, don't pick out tidbits. The author is quite clear when he says that he looks forward to Muslim-based shows, hoping they will paint a picture of the Muslim-American majority. He says he is upset that that doesn't happen. That the producers focus on the "odd eggs" (which we all know is for ratings). This author is not racist, he's disgusted with the way that Muslim-Americans are portrayed in reality TV shows. The narrow-minded anger here is so discouraging...

    November 16, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  5. Bill

    Uh... who said 'All American Muslim' speak for that Muslim or for you?
    'All American Muslim' speak for 'All American Muslim'
    Why are you paranoid?

    November 16, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  6. MickeySolaris

    "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."
    You mean like the African-Muslims who enslaved Christian-Europeans and other Africans?
    Let's drag out all the non-PC skeletons.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  7. Linda

    I don't think any network can pigeon hole us into a "reality" show so they should stop trying and people should stop watching. We're too diverse a population. TLC, show programs that enrich us and here's a thought–we don't have to watch television at all! We can get to know the people in our neighborhood then our city, etc. Or we can stay home and do whatever the heck we want to do. This is the United States of America.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  8. Warranted92

    Are you really suprised? TLC is like a lot of the TV media these days, they masquerade as informative and educational. In reality they completely pander to what they think will get them the biggest audience with sensationalistic and inflammatory opinions and perspectives. I use these opportunities to teach my children that such media is nothing but "yellow journalism" and is to be given the intellectual disregard and scorn that it deserves...There's the real educational opportunity! LOL!

    November 16, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  9. Dude

    If the show was about building an ink pen, somehow it would be racist against african-amercians. When will this ever stop?

    November 16, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  10. EXJehovahs Witness

    Hey so these Muslims dont speak to him or reflect him, thats fine and southern Americans in many cases dont reflect who I am either but they are who they are and thats whats awesome about America. Be whoever the hell you want.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:20 am |
  11. woodrow

    OMG. Next we will have a Muslim Appreciation Day. Then we will forget Malcolm X was a racist, hate and violence monger who was murdered by his own radical religious zealots.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • EXJehovahs Witness

      Malcom X ws a criminal and a dangerous man. He should be forgotten, but unfortunately his racism will live on.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  12. Tia

    Wow, I've seen better articles written by 4th graders. It sounds like Mr. Ali doesn't like the show only because it doesn't feature BLACK Muslims. So sad to see CNN giving space to this hateful little man.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Person

      First, why would he be so predisposed about black muslims when he clearly stated he is descendant of an Asian Muslim culture? I thought the article was quite funny and very true. When Americans think of Muslims, who do we think of right off-the-bat? Arab Muslims. We forget there are very many different sects. And I would be angry too if my culture were stereotyped on television and not all areas were covered ... But wait! They are! He's stating his opinion over the matter. And I believe his he had a very valid argument.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  13. Mohsina R

    LOL I so agree with the Author. We aren't any different from anyone else. He definitely got the part about the parents and the gossiping girls right to the T.

    Eager to hear what else you have to say. This article was a refresher

    November 16, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  14. icydmd

    This is absurd. Why CNN allowed this, we will never know.
    1) Stop playing the race card... it's getting old.
    2) Get over yourself.
    3) You appear as bluntly racist and biased in your article. So what if someone wants to marry an Irish Catholic? I am an American Protestant (totally blonde and blue eyed) and married a Hindu man from India. BIG DEAL – there is more to life aside from religion and race. Obviously you haven't made that connection yet, which most people make as CHILDREN.

    I hope this diminishes your future job opportunities as a "writer"... if that is what you call yourself.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Reality Check

      I always know I'm in for some tired rant when a comment begins "stop playing the race card." People seem to not even care if that phrase has any meaning at all, but throw it out if there is even the slightest hint of a mention of race. Ali is not playing the victim here and he is not making any argument based on race. He is pointing out the fact that this reality show makes only a cursory attempt to portray reality and in Ali's view fails.

      And as for Malcolm X being a racist, yes he *was* a racist before turning away from the racist doctrine of the Nation of Islam which is a move that shows just as much character as Robert Byrd rejecting his racist past - both were raised in a time when racism was the norm and neither had much to gain by rejecting racism at the time they did, just look at Strom Thurmond.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  15. Passive Aggressive

    Comment 1002

    November 16, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  16. jason

    guy, sorry to break it to you, but the liberal media has dona that with the black americans also... almost like a white people's version but in different color or ethnicity

    November 16, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • Audrey

      I love it when people say, "liberal media." LOL

      November 16, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  17. Please

    Well, nobody asked you what you thought. Why don't you try writing about something meaningful... say, an actual piece of news, instead of blogging in the whining bigoted tone of a 12 year old.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • gmorning

      I agree.....

      November 16, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Reality Check

      Please. It's an opinion piece in the "Belief Blog."

      November 16, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  18. unowhoitsme

    I have no respect for this culture...many of them have their own slaves brought in from the mother country. They still live the caste system here, with absolutely no respect or integrity for these "slaves" brought here to serve them. And America MUST PROVIDE THEM with ALL their rights and privileges. Go home...we don't want you here. New York is full of these slaves and the American government does nothing about it.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • Kash

      who's gonna fund your unemployment if all immigrants go back to their home countries 😛

      November 16, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • sandrinemonique

      What the hell are you talking about?

      November 16, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Dirk Kreissig

      Go home? You must represent the stupid of America. I assume you are not native American, so I say get out of here, go home. We don't need stupid.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  19. Jessie

    This guy sounds a little racist here-
    ""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"

    Come on CNN- you can do better than to give space to a bigot.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • goldwho

      I agree!!!!!
      Being raised in an Irish Catholic family in Dearborn, MI, I am ready to vomit.
      This kind of journalism is what keeps racism alive and well.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Sam

      Jessie, I'm thinking you need to revisit the definition or racism...hell, just the concept. When someone expresses their disapproval of how THEIR race is being portrayed, that's not racism. He commented on the woman wanting to marry an Irish Catholic to prove how extreme the show was going on the Liberal side. He mentions shortly after this partial quote that the show is misrepresenting the majority of Muslims. Jessie, Fox News would be proud of you my friend.

      CNN, great article!

      November 16, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  20. Woman

    little people, not midgets

    November 16, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      wee little midget people

      November 16, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Big Person

      I take offense! Not sure at what yet, but as soon I figure that out, oooooh, will I ever be offended!

      November 16, 2011 at 7:27 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.