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. Charles Beale

    This series is a take off of the highly successful Canadian series, 'Little Mosque on the Prairies'. I haven't seen this one yet, but as in all things, it does and does not represent reality.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  2. Lalo

    Wow- listen to all the ignorant liberals.
    Christan persecution from the left is rampant in America, the left wing media simply ignores it

    November 16, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Medardus

      Ah, yes, Christianity. The World's most persecuted majority.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • John

      If you make up the majority of America, you don't get to claim persecution. And not allowing you to discriminate against gays or blow up abortion clinics isn't persecution. For a lot of people in this country, anything besides total Christian dominance is considered persecution. To me, persecution is seeing scientists tortured and murdered by the Church, or even today when Muslims or Christians or other fanatics seem to think its ok to murder and destroy if they shout a prayer while they do it.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  3. Andrew

    Does the Feast of Eid have a kid's table?

    November 16, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • BOB

      I just hate muslims period. dont care about any tv show, i can just turn it off, its not like i can just turn off the muslims, god that would be great.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  4. Steve

    Ok, NYC has a larger *number* of Muslims, but that number is out of 8 million. Dearborn has half the *number* of Muslims, but that's out of 100,000 people. HUGE difference.

    Carry on with your rant, though. Showing people in a positive light? That's downright unAmerican. If we want to see a reality show, we can watch Jersey Shore, Real World, or many other shows that make us hate humanity.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  5. Terry

    Have you noticed that all religions center on men telling women what to do? Every religion depicts their "god" as a male. So women only serve one purpose, according to the teachings of these "gods" and the men assigned to carry the message to the folks down below.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Sanely Insane

      Terry, not all religions depict the main deity as male. Wicca, for example, depicts its main deity as female. But I can agree that nearly all religions depict a male deity figure.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  6. dirose

    Aman they're just a group of Muslims. No one said they were realistically suppose to represent ALL Muslims. We have common sense; it's obvious. Maybe TLC is going to feature different families each season. They'll make their rounds to other groups like Indian Muslims in us. Big deal. Muslims are everywhere. It's not like the show Duggards or Kate+8 or midgets where you can get mad if there are fake characters. Midgets are pretty unique. Also, did you freak out on real world that some of those goofy characters didn't seem to be 'in the real world'? How dare them represent the real world. lol Just relax. All American Muslims is interesting...I hope it stays on air and features various families throughout the years.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  7. SamQuentin

    A "new" muslim TV show, eh? Where have you been?

    See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Mosque_on_the_Prairie

    November 16, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • dirose

      I love Little Mosque on the Prairie! Isn't it a Canadian show? I've never seen it on TV in the US.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Amom

      I had never heard of that show. Just visited youtube for a sample. Really, really funny. Thanks.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  8. MJ

    OK Aman, You are right, this show is not a true representation of all Muslims around the world. However, this is a show that would seem to be directed at a minority of Americans, mostly Right Wing Christians, Whom have a problem with Arab Muslims. Arab Muslims= "The War on Terror" Arab Muslims= the enemy. Just that simple.

    Arab Muslims are the focus of anti-intellectual hate in this country and the average anti-intellectual can not get enough of reality TV. these people certainly are not learning about Muslims from books or through formal education. The only thing they see is "Breaking News" Q the hot blond ,Here is the latest information on the most recent (Daily) bombing that killed 100s of innocent people. IN AN ARAB COUNTRY LIKE 99.9% OF THE TIME.

    I have not and probably will not see this show, but if the families on the show are even close to as screwed up as your average American Christian family is, it may actually help. I guess it depends on what makes it to your TV screen and what ends up on cutting floor.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Amom

      Perhaps you would prefer a reality show filmed inside an Arab country where Christians are beheaded?

      November 16, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Sal

      If you want to see people beheaded.....you don't have to go to an Arab country. Just go down to Texas and walk 15 feet over the border in to Mexico. But oh yeah......Arab Muslims are the only ones using beheadings for political purposes in your narrow world view.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • MJ

      Yes, Yes Amon! Of course, that is what I would "Prefer" Can you see me shaking my head and laughing at you? No, you can't, but that is what everyone in your life does as soon as you stop talking and turn to walk away.

      Thank you Amon, Thank you representing the anti-intellectual's among us!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Amom

      Sal, people get beheaded in Mexico because of the drug cartels. Suggest that if you go there you keep your nose clean.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Sal

      Yes Amom. That is how politics works in those countries. If someone gets in the way of your quest for more money, power, and women, you kill them......in a horrific way as a warning to others that may get in your way. At the heart of it it has nothing to do with drugs or religion. It is all about gaining more money, power, and women.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  9. Amom

    So you are upset about the way Muslims are depicted? I am a Christian so welcome to the club. It is interesting that you named Malcolm X as a well known Muslim. One of the major points he made in his book after his pilgrimage to the middle east was that the Black American version of Islam is nothing like the "true" Islamic faith. What does that mean? I don't know. He never got much of a chance to educate others because he was assassinated by his fellow Muslim brothers.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • MJ

      Seriously? "Welcome to the club" Only an American Christian could convince themselves that they are persecuted in a country that is 80% Christian and has NEVER elected a President that was not a Christian.....

      Except Obama, everyone knows that he is a Muslim-Socialist-Kenyan......I would consider you people funny if I did not see you as a Clear and Present Danger to this country and our way of life.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • iamanordinaryguy

      American Christianity is kind of the top of the religion food chain around here. Even those who don't share your views are expected to hold them sacrosanct, and be fine with it when your religion influences every aspect of our daily lives. I'm an atheist, and like most of the atheists I choose to associate with, I respect and admire the message behind your faith. Just don't act like you're persecuted. It's offensive to people who actually are. You don't get to run the country and still claim to be a victim.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  10. Joe

    I think they should cancel the show. Why should I trust Muslims when I'm constantly hearing how are killing people. Sorry you can try to make it ok with the shows and whatever you want, but the truth is America does not like Muslims and never will. They kill thousands of people and then want to build a victory mosque beside it. And it’s not the people that is not liked it’s the religion. Don't attack my country and expect me to be ok with it.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • JF

      What I like – is that they always wait until after morning prayer to do their killings.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Sal

      Ya because our bombs aren't killing thousands of their people every day. And of course when the our European Ancestors conquered and settled this land (the U.S.A), they didn't build any "victory" churches at all. All of the buildings with the steeples and bell towers that you see dotting the landscape are just figments of our imagination.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • J.

      You and JF are the reason they should not cancel this show. Your closed-minded idea that all Muslims will attack anyone who is not Muslim is ridiculous. Yes, many Arab and South Asian Muslims distrust Christians (and, by extension, Westerners), but that is a distrust that goes back hundreds of years to the Crusades when Christian rulers in Europe decided they needed to "liberate" the "Holy Land" from the "non-believers." Strangely enough, the Jewish God, the Christian God, and Allah are one and the same, and true Islam actually regards Jesus as a high prophet, possibly second only to Muhammad himself.

      Educate yourself, and you might be surprised at what you learn.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • sparticle

      The ignorance in this comment acts as a vacuum that sucks the intelligence out of me until I'm a bumbling idiot drooling and twitching on the floor.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  11. shauna

    well then make a show about black muslims! IMO quit complaining and go pose the idea of a show about your idea... To be honest no one tells your type of muslims to 'go home' or 'back to where you came from'. That is really what the show is focused on from what the ads showed. what a pointless article!

    November 16, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  12. Scott

    You hate the show for not giving the football teams record? You hate the cop for being patriotic about the country he is a citizen of? I don't hate you but I don't really think much of your self indulgent rant about what real muslims are. Maybe you are a racist too? hmmm. CNN this was another akward and pointless story.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  13. Thenextstep

    I NEVER even gave it a thought to watch..........

    November 16, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • Amom

      I am right there with you, not watching it. I won't watch the polygamist reality show either. Now the Duggers? That's a whole different ballgame. Or should I say ball team?

      November 16, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  14. Adam

    I'll never understand how anyone, especially women, can choose to follow this male dominated, tribal 7th century religion in the western world.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Michael

      This article is about Islam, not Christianity. Oh wait.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Nellie

      FYI, Christianity is older than Islam and also very male dominiated.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  15. Hockeyn109

    Looks like the media continues so hard to show these are Americans like everyone else. Since this religion has such a gross relationship to violence, most Americans will never be convinced to accept muslims as true Americans. The various leaders of this religion that continue to espouse violence and martyrdom must be silenced by leaders that preach peace and love. Two things I rarely hear from any imam.The show will fade away, that's for sure.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Sal

      Perhaps you should go to a local Mosque and ask an imam how he feels about violence and martyrdom, rather than believing everything you read on message boards about the Islamic faith.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  16. Immigrant

    What has become of this country, how come that we get a thousand and more replies to a single persons opinion concerning a TV-SHOW. Lets face it, this is TV, it has nothing to do with real life. Also as far as I am concerned with Aman's story I consider it his opinion, he is exercising the First Amendment. His story is neat to read but completely meaning less. I personally find is scary what concerns folks living in this country, what is the next big uproar. TLC is releasing a show on how fast the grass grows in an ethnic neighborhood and there will be a public outcry that they didn't show the grass growing in a different ethnic neighborhood. Has the American Public become so mindless that they are getting concerned about BS. Just so you know I hate stupid and IGNANT people, I don't care if you are Muslin, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Black, White, Yellow, Brown, Green or Checkered. But if you mess with me, my family or my country I will become irate and will fight back. So this is my opinion and I know that I upset a lot of the simple minded folks that are reading this, so go ahead and curse at me, your words can not hurt me, since they are your opinion.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  17. Trina

    Gee.... and Jersey Shore is representative of Italians from New Jersey? Reality TV isn't Reality. Wecome to the real world!!

    November 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Hockeyn109

      What, those jersey shore bimbos are not the typical Italian-American princesses? I sure met many that are exactly like them.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  18. Tripp

    How about a reality show on--REALITY? That would be a first! Why have a reality show about a group of people who have an imaginary freind and live their lives accordingly? Thats not reality, thats delusional.

    I would rather see a reality show based on reality in that their is no god, no afterlife and no fear.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  19. Derek

    Name one reality show that is even close to reality? Real housewives? Lizzard towing? Auction Wars where they find a diamond in every unit?

    November 16, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  20. Luke

    Seriously? Finally a show about Muslim Americans that isn't portraying them as a national security threat, and this guy isn't satisfied. Take break brother from your high horse pal.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:58 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.