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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. PennStateSteeler

    I'm a Penn State grad and I don't like the way I'M being portrayed right now. WAH WAH WAH. Cry me a river, build me a bridge and get over it. Produce a show about the type of Muslims you think should be featured.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Buckeye

      Sadly, you're being portrayed correctly. Your school is morally corrupt and beholden to the financial power of your football program and the incredibly poor judgment of the coaching and administrative staff. Your county law enforcement and district attorney's offices are equally corrupt, having buried this problem for over twelve years and endangering countless other innocent youths.

      You and thousands like you will be judged unfairly by simple as.sociation. Consequently you're getting a shítty diploma from a shítty school run by shítty people. Your college makes all other programs with NCAA violations (including my beloved OSU) look like girl scouts.

      All 2011-2012 Penn State grads should sue PSU for fraud.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  2. K-M

    Here are some references from the Qur’an concerning the way the Muslims should treat all other “who do not believe”. IS THERE ANY WAY TO HAVE PEACE WITH SUCH BELIEVERS?

    Qur'an:9:88 "The Messenger and those who believe with him, strive
    hard and fight with their wealth and lives in Allah's Cause."

    Qur'an:9:5 "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them,
    take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every
    stratagem of war."

    Qur'an:9:112 "The Believers fight in Allah's Cause, they slay and
    are slain, kill and are killed."

    Qur'an:9:29 "Fight those who do not believe until they all
    surrender, paying the protective tax in submission."

    Ishaq:325 "Muslims, fight in Allah's Cause. Stand firm and you will
    prosper. Help the Prophet, obey him, give him your allegiance, and your
    religion will be victorious."

    Qur'an:8:39 "Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to
    Allah."

    Qur'an:8:39 "So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief
    [non-Muslims]) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone (in the whole
    world)."

    Ishaq:324 "He said, 'Fight them so that there is no more rebellion,
    and religion, all of it, is for Allah only. Allah must have no rivals.'"

    Qur'an:9:14 "Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands,
    lay them low, and cover them with shame. He will help you over them."

    Ishaq:300 "I am fighting in Allah's service. This is piety and a
    good deed. In Allah's war I do not fear as others should. For this fighting is
    righteous, true, and good."

    Ishaq:587 "Our onslaught will not be a weak faltering affair. We
    shall fight as long as we live. We will fight until you turn to Islam, humbly
    seeking refuge. We will fight not caring whom we meet. We will fight whether we
    destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. We have mutilated every
    opponent. We have driven them violently before us at the command of Allah and
    Islam. We will fight until our religion is established. And we will plunder
    them, for they must suffer disgrace."

    Qur'an:8:65 "O Prophet, urge the faithful to fight. If there are
    twenty among you with determination they will vanquish two hundred; if there
    are a hundred then they will slaughter a thousand unbelievers, for the infidels
    are a people devoid of understanding."

    Ishaq:326 "Prophet exhort the believers to fight. If there are
    twenty good fighters they will defeat two hundred for they are a senseless
    people. They do not fight with good intentions nor for truth."

    Bukhari:V4B52N63 "A man whose face was covered with an iron mask
    came to the Prophet and said, 'Allah's Apostle! Shall I fight or embrace Islam
    first?' The Prophet said, 'Embrace Islam first and then fight.' So he embraced
    Islam, and was martyred. Allah's Apostle said, 'A Little work, but a great
    reward.'"

    November 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Primewonk

      You forgot these:

      Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death.  Such evil must be purged from Israel.  (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

      Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed.  (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

      If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.  (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

      Oh....Wait... Those are from your bible!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  3. Michelle

    What a negative story. I stopped after you bashed the HIGH SCHOOL football team. Seems like not everything is about winning to these kids. Penn State only cared about their reputation and WINNING and look where it got them.
    I won't read any of your articles in the future. I saw the show and really enjoyed it.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  4. 14401

    My TV still has the change the channel buttons. Use them.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  5. erich2112x

    American Muslims are hustlers. They are some of the best businessmen I've ever come across. I've never once thought about terrorists when doing business with American Muslims. I'm a friend to them and that's always how it's going to be regardless of what's going on in the world.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Dennis

      Hopefully you would treat and view all others in the same fashion regardless of religion.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  6. ninedeep

    Excellent article but the answer is not difficult. The reason why they don't do a story about the majority of American Muslims is because it would be boring. The majority of Muslim Americans spend most of their day just like the rest of America and that is not interesting. It is the same reason why the real housewives of New York don't represent the majority of Housewives of New York.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Pirate Station

      exactly

      November 16, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  7. jim

    remove the garbage reality junk

    November 16, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  8. Joe

    You can tell he really is a Muslim, because he sure does hate a lot of things.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Pirate Station

      i hate to say it but he really was negative & his humor was about as bad as telling a joke at a funeral –

      November 16, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Oakspar

      Islam is a religion, not a culture or race. As such, anyone can claim to be one, but the truth isn't in skin color or DNA, but in life.

      A booze swilling, skin mutalating, freakshow of misplaced feminine esteem? She can call herself Muslim, Christain, or Buddist, and they would all be equal lies.

      Also, while I know you believe yourself to be a humorist, I could not tell if you were joking when you complained about the Dearborn statistic. Yes, there are more Muslims in New York by number, but there are also more guys who wear pink spandex and people who believe that the sun is a smile from a puppy as well. New York has more people – but Dearborn has a higher PERCENTAGE of Muslims. When you are looking for a community of likeminded people density matters. Your statement was as clueless as saying that there are more Muslims in California than in Dearborn – they should have shot in California!

      Finally, you mention Black Islam, which in the US has strong ties to the Civil Rights movement. Apart from the fact that the global Islamic traditions (Shia and Sunni) both generally ignore BI as unauthentic, you tie it back to imported Islamic slaves? Do some history research. That is like a Southern Baptist claiming ties to John the Baptist – purely myth. Most African slaves came from areas unreached by Islam and those from Islamic regions were typically purchased FROM MUSLIMS. So, while I am sure there were a few, most slaves purchased from Muslim countries were unlikely to be strong adherients to the faith and those caught south of the Sahara were completely uninfluenced by the faith.

      Also, this is a TV show. If everyone on the show was boring, no one would watch. I agree that they do not capture Islam either, but primarely because they are not focused on the Burka, Quoran, and Sharia Law. Anyone so assimilated that you cannot tell their faith by its distinguishing markers is not going to be a strong follower of that faith or a good representation of it.

      You wouldn't do a show on the Amish and show those who leave the community and drive cars, work in IT, and are on their second marriage and claim that Amish beliefs are entirely in line with modern culture. That would be a lie that would offend deeply – those cultural differences and stigmas are not hated by the faithful but rejoiced in.

      I'm sure ever true Muslim hates the show not because the Muslims are not normal enough, but because they have forsaken the faith to cultural normality.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Pirate Station

      not to mention if they were to dig deeper into every aspect of being a Muslim you would undoubtedly have also bring to light the extremism of Islam – So you can’t have it both ways – you want the positive side of Islam but at the same time blindly ignore that part of Islam that really wants to convert or kill anyone by whatever means who isn’t Muslim – that fact is that every religion has its positives & negatives, some explainable some not the difference is that Islam still wants to kill all of us who don’t or wont convert – No other religion outside of Satanism shares those views that I know of –

      November 16, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  9. sisi

    Do any woman get stoned or beaten? Do they want to murder anyone that will not convert?

    November 16, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  10. SteelCityGirl

    What's wrong with focusing on Arab Muslims? They're still Muslim.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  11. tom

    Yeah, he also says that he wishes scoring touchdowns was just as important to them as their faith. As a person of faith myself (not Muslim) this is a very foolish statement to me, and would lead me to believe that he is not much of a man of faith himself, and therefore couldn't care less what he thinks about the portrayal of Muslims on this show.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  12. MK

    "Many of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim." What revisionist history book did you pull this statement from? You have no proof of this see as how your parents are not even from here. Is this like how the President said that Muslims help build this country? Where does religion even fit in, in all these statement and what source? Also didn't Malcom X say that the way black people here practice Islam is different from the way the middle eastern countries practice? Speading lies and fabrications to support your own logic I think.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Joel

      Do a little research. There is ample proof West Africa was heavily Muslim at the height of the slave trade.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • seriously?no...seriously?

      You know…if you going to try and be a smart a s s, and degrade someone for what they say, and say it is ignorant or made up, it would help if you yourself were not so ignorant. You tried to make this person look like a fool, but it is you are the ignorant fool. YOU have had “revisionist history”, where the mention of Muslim slaves has been left out. YOU learned what you were taught, instead of doing of you own reading and research. Have you ever seen the movie Roots? I highly doubt it, as ignorant as you sound. And, if you did, you CLEARLY weren’t paying attention to the movie. Most of the slaves depicted in the beginning, from which others obviously descended were...MUSLIM. And, Roots is the seminal movie-history of slavery in this country, so you can’t blow it off as some isolated example of African Slave Muslims. You, sir or ma’am, are the ignorant, uneducated one.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Pirate Station

      i agree – i have read many history refer to Irish, Germans, Italians, Mexicans heck even Chinese but never muslims

      November 16, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  13. Norman

    You said "That’s Muslim America. They’re stories of people no different than any one else in this country." Maybe that is the point.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  14. BOB

    Why care about muslims, they just want to blow u up

    November 16, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Importedlongago

      Why do people care about Americans at all? They're just a bunch of rodeo-loving rednecks?

      November 16, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • tom

      I am not a rodeo loving redneck

      November 16, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Joel

      Yeah, and many a Muslim does not want to blow people up. Get it?

      November 16, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  15. nonPCrealist

    Coming soon to TLC: Muslim midgets who didn't know they were pregnant..

    November 16, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Ed

      I must be sick cause I would watch that one!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • nonPCrealist

      It's what TiVo was made for 🙂

      November 16, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • vetter200

      Oh that's money in the bank!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  16. Michigander

    This writer is an idiot. Following a boring non-Arab family would not sell TV. What makes him think following a boring Arab family would? Of course they're going to pick a racy (no pun intended;) family to follow!

    What's the message? That Arab families are the same (i.e. just as messed up) as non-Arab families... MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

    November 16, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  17. ja-coffalotte

    You had me at, "I hate American Muslims".

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

      Instead of sugarcoating your bigotry, just take the "American" out of your sentence and say what you really mean.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Ed

      Absolutely, never use American and muslim in the same sentence. I find it offensive.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Pirate Station

      LOL

      November 16, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • ninedeep

      @Ed You war an idiot and what is wrong with the state of religious tolerance. That is anti-American and I would find it offensive if you called yourself American.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  18. Jess

    Not sure he needed to include the derogatory term "midget" at the end of his piece. He wants to speak of tolerance and understanding, yet he puts down another group of people at the end. Left a bad taste in my mouth.

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

      Ditto to the bad taste in the mouth !!!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Ed

      What's wrong with midget? They are funny little cars to drive.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  19. Louie

    You lost me at "Reality Television." Next subject.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  20. KittyKat

    The producers of the show, I'm sure, have little interest in showing timid scrawny teenagers or an average Muslim woman going about her day. Their interest lies in selling a TV show, and ordinary does not make good TV, unfortunately.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:30 am |
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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.