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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. Doug

    I would rather see a show that shows Muslim-Americans denouncing terrorism at every turn.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Reason & Logic

      I would rather see a show showing conservatives denouncing greed.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Pensacola Pete

      I would rather see a show about Christian Americans denouncing the terrorism that Christians inflict on gay people.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Harken

      Really? It's not "Christian America' that's constantly cross infecting promiscuous gays with deadly STD's. They're doing that to themselves.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • thatguy

      to the guy who said "i'd rather a show with muslims denouncing terrorism at every turn"

      well i'd rather see a show about wasps denouncing bigotry against muslims, gays, mexicans, liberals, conservatives, you know, people who are different and misunderstood. please don't confuse your pedestal with a throne.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • thatguy

      and Harken, you must be naive to think christian americans are straight. the church is by far more fruitful a breeding ground for gay men than any other organization i've ever seen. the church's hatred is what causes disease to spread.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  2. BigRay

    I realize the Author is trying to make a point about educating the masses about the Muslim community, but come on! Its a reality show! How great would be the ratings if they found a more "middle of the road" muslim family that lead very typical lives and did nothing controversial? That show would be off the air faster then you could say pass the remote! Looking for typical anything in reality TV is a moronic effort .... does "Jersey Shore" speak for all young people in New Jersey? Come on man, perspective!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Katie

      Absolutely agree!! They make what sells.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  3. Joe

    Someone PLEASE do an American remake of the Brazilian series "El Clon" (The Clone) ! It spans a few decades in the lives of a traditional muslim family trying to get by with their conservative belief system in western culture and the conflict that arises when one of them falls in love with a westerner despite having a muslim husband chosen for her. It shows the good and bad of both cultures, arguments on how to interpret the Koran within muslim society, and what happens when worlds collide. Plus cloning!!! Seriously, this show was hugely popular around the world, i'm surprised it hasn't been localized for american tv yet.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Nichole

      my mom used to be obsessed with el clon omg

      November 16, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  4. Katie

    Am i supposed to feel sorry for you for not understanding how "reality" TV works by now??? I'm from NJ, and every single show about people in my state paints them in disgusting ways that are not remotely representative of my beloved home. This is the first show about Muslims in America, of course they're gonna get it wrong. Stop being a cry baby.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  5. michiganmoon

    Yes NYC has twice as many Muslims than Dearborn. But NYC is also literally 100 times bigger than Dearborn. Hence Dearborn has a significantly greater percentage of its citizens of the Muslim faith.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  6. Bob

    "Most Muslim women in this country don’t fit neatly into the ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal categories. They’re in the gray area."

    I'm sure that is absolutely true. Plus, it makes me think that the larger part of the social and political problems we face in this country are because the public discussion tends to characterize things in cartoon terms, as being at one extreme or another (not just for religious groups - look at how much air time has been given to Tea Parties and Wall Street Occupiers). In reality, the vast majority of Americans are middle-of-the-road in just about everything: social issues, religion, and politics. TV networks could help improve things if they stopped pushing programs that present important issues in cartoon terms.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  7. obamahater

    i wish obama and all his muslims would go back to the land of oz

    November 16, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • rob

      Why not everyone who isn't a descendent of the American Indians jump on boats and head back to Europe and Asia?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  8. Dennis

    When will they just become "Americans"???

    November 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • skidude2000

      All reality shows suck.
      All.
      Period.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • WhatEver

      Because the first loyalty falls to islam!!!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • hippypoet

      what country are you referring to.. i know of no country by that name....and they by your standards... they are americans as they live here and pay taxes, they just believe something different – and for that people like you brand them... lets just herd them like sheep into large pens and then gas them all right! such lack of understanding, its insanely stupid!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  9. hippypoet

    i have met many muslims in my life, none of them have ever killed me... i think out of all people i would know. Now, they did talk about there faith but so did i (talk about there faith that is) . it was a good conversation.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • obamahater

      what about all the men and women killed overseas by mooselims

      November 16, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • hippypoet

      do you mean the ones that are fighting for there way of life while we invaded there land and started barking orders at them!
      If they have murderers, we do too – for they are no different then us...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • rob

      obamahater – what about the thousands more who have been killed by our weapons?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Greg s

      A moderate Muslim is just that moderate, Peaceful, friendly. Kind, When the radical Muslim moves in next door to him and starts to imply hes a apostate for being so friendly to infidels and then that radical Muslim becomes radical to you that Moderate Muslim will say nothing, do nothing ignore you ever existed.
      If Muslims in this country wanted us to believe they are true Americans they would condemn radical Muslims openly, When they murder and kill there so called countrymen. But they dont, They never do and that tells you everything you need to know about them.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • hippypoet

      greg, the so called "true Americans" are mostly christians who themselves are radical.. and therefore have no room to talk.

      However, if you wish to truly argue what a true American is, then try NATIVE AMERICANS.... does that exclude you? oh no, what to do now! Oh and there is no such place as a country names america, thats actually to places – North and South amercia... we are located in the northern half and are called the United States of amercia – did you see that word of... that means the place where its found...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  10. Fadinsky

    Stereotyping is bad either ways. in this case, the reality show is trying to show a perspective of a vertical of society and that perspective is not wrong ... it's just not the only one. I have friends from all religions and all ethnical backgrounds and guess what, they're all the same ... why? because I chose them, and I made them my friends. You'll find good and bad in every society and every culture ...

    November 16, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  11. Craig

    It represents the fact that muslims can make TV just as crappy as mainstream America. The average beer-swilling, sports-bar-dwelling alpha-male and his vacuum-headed, hair-product-soaked, spray-on-tanned girlfriend can look at the screen and go "They ARE just like us!" It may have a better effect on other American's views of Muslims than you think.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Chris

      Actually, I don't watch tv at all, but if I did yes I would want to see people going about day to day lives worrying about which coupon to clip for an oil change or kids worried about whether someone likes them then have a mental image of everyone huddled in the basement making bombs.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  12. travelinpants

    They picked the whitest example that America could handle and you are complaining. I watched this show and they are like the Italian family on the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Stop your complaining. They want people to watch the show!

    November 16, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  13. Tony Baggins

    Pesonally I don't shop with any Muslim business and I will never watch the show.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • hippypoet

      thats because you lack understanding and are hater... its ok, you are not alone, and thats the sad part!

      November 16, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Guest

      Do you put gas in your car? Do you heat your home with oil? Do you buy anything that is made from an oil derivative?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  14. Chris

    I appreciated the article. Especially since it was written with humor. I have been sheltered. Grew up being taught religious tolerance but never knowingly around anyone muslim. Not until college where I was around a lot of middle east students, had a christian friend from the middle east, and had regular runins in the cafeteria, in class, or hallways with young muslim males who were openly rude about the United States and rude with their opinions on american girls. The known muslim girls wouldnt talk to any of us. So that left me with a pretty negative impression. Even though I tried to fight it.. it was there. I have known very few muslims, who admitted they were muslim, after that who would talk to me, were nice, respectful, or tolerant themselves. After 9/11 those few were what kept me from going full swing anti-islam. When we don't talk, mingle, live together, see each others similarities it leaves the door open for serious misunderstandings and fear and anger to build. I even liked the points about Shia and Sunni. Its a reminder of how each religion has its different groups. I liked the talking about the show and differences in people. Another reminder how we can all identify each other by a "group" and have little in common with our group after that. For example, in the comments section I see all kinds of commentary from people who are supposedly "like" me that don't represent me or my friends at all. Anyway, I hope to see more articles like this and more decent people "like us" who are not afraid to say they are muslim so we can see we can get along versus the regular media that shows everyone is out to kill everyone.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  15. Chin Tu Fat

    Stupid kuffar want to show minority shia and minority Arab non-practicing (almost living lives like kuffar) so-called Muslims. What a shame. True Muslims never compramize thie religion to appease the kuffar. Islam is a beautiful religion that truly connects human beings to our Creator. The media does an excellent job showing (in their news, movies, shows, reports etc.) only the minority extremists (both liberal and conservative paid by the government). YES, believe it or not, some "conservative" look alikes are paid to say exteme things that the majority of Muslim scholars and Muslim Ummah disagree with. But at the end of the day, these kuffar will see their fate and there is nothing worse than being t o r c h e d in h e l l for eternity.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Kuffar

      Torched in hell? Just more Muslim threats. Whatever.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Abu Yusuf

      Funny how people get infested with falsehood so easily these days. All you have to do is watch the TV to become an ignorant person. Extremist vies, false rumours, slander, backbiting, hate, extreme actions etc. is what makes money in the media because this is what kuffar like to watch. And it is absolutely true that there are liberal Muslim extremists and "religious" Muslim extremists who are staged to do "expert" commentary in the media.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Metalhead

      Tu Fat...don't be hatin'. Now you're just promoting stereotype you want to avoid.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • independent

      Weight watchers may allow you to feel better about yourself, and those around you. Give it a try.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  16. kyrunner

    funny how only muslims are allowed to hate this. interesting...

    November 16, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Fatima

      What? Where'd did you get that idea? I just posted another comment underneath a very non-Muslim guy's (at least according to his name) comment agreeing with him that this was trash. If it's valid it's valid. I don't accept trash from anyone, no matter what race or creed, and no matter how well-intentioned.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  17. Louis

    Geesh, relax. The author seems to know even less about "reality" TV than he does about my ability to discern what I'm watching. You can't get everything and everybody in a 37 minute show. I think the uniqueness of Dearborn is the statistical concentration. How many football teams in New York claim to have 95% of their players as followers of Islam?

    November 16, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Curious

      Has anyone seen this show? I'm wondering if the football team says Islamic prayers allowing non-Muslim players to abstain (or have separate Christian prayers for them?)

      November 16, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Sue

      For the commenter below, what about muslims (minorities) in most school systems? They sit through Christian prayers before every football game. They do so because they are the minority. Why wouldn't it be the same the other way around?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Curious

      Traditionally locker room prayers are considered to be "generic" in content, not specifying a particular deity other than 'god,' and those that desire to abstain are allowed to do so, or direct their prayers to the deity of their choice.

      Your attempt at reversal is immaterial. I'm just questioning the practice of this school with respect to the allowance of choice.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  18. Ben

    Considering that "American Muslims" represent less then .1 percent of all muslims, take this writers words and the show with a grain of sault... All you have to do is look around the world and see what the Islam communities are doing, terrable things. I'm not just talking about terrorist.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Tiffinie

      I think you mean "salt" and "terrible". There are Muslim communities doing great things too. Be careful with your generalizations and that giant paintbrush of yours. EVERY religion has bad people in it and there are religions with a FAR worse history of morally devoid people than Muslims. Be a good person, respect others and treat them as you would like to be treated. Be what you want to see in others. Words to live by, regardless of religion or color.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  19. Alan

    First, I don't think the African-American slave built any foundational element to American society. They mostly helped their slave owners get wealthier. And I don't think they were Muslim when they arrived either. I think after they were emancipated they became Muslim (think great 1st Amendment here) and with the blood sweat and tears of the Irish, Orientals and other oppressed minorities built many of the great things we all enjoy today.

    And I agree its unfortunate the creative output of Hollywood is so severly limited. They should've used your idea and if they grow a brain and want to be all inclusive like, give me a call and we'll include 30 Cathedrals as well. That would make a great show for the country to see.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Christopher Jones

      You need to re-read your history books if you think slaves didn't help to build America into what it is today.

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

      You are so right, Alan!!! In all the books, stories and historical writings nothing has ever been shown that the African slaves were Muslim.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Michael M.

      Alan, African slaves, in America and in other America occupied countries during that time, farmed Cotton, fruit, and sugar. Some of the big fruit companies today built their wealth off African slaves, yes. Those "slave owners" who got wealthier included influential Americans, who in turn, were able to make moves politically and ecnominically, based off African slaves.

      In addition, Africans are mainly Christian or Muslim/Islamic.

      "...with the blood sweat and tears of the Irish, Orientals and other oppressed minorities built many of the great things we all enjoy today" At least this part of your first paragraph is true. And I am glad you mentioned it.

      But otherwise, I think it may do you good to read a little more widely, or perhaps a little less narrow mindedly? Not an attack, a suggestion.

      November 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • inclwyr

      Slaves contributed No foundational element to American society? How do you think the railroad was built? Chinese workers were brought in initially but replaced with slaves. Without the railroad all commerence within the US would have never occured and today those same tracks are utilized daily. Who supplied the labor which allowed the economic nature of the state in which the slaves were held in bondage to grow? Alabama (as an example) used slave labor to build its GNP and trade. What group picked the cotton which was sold to france thus allowing economic growth? To state that slave labor didn't build any foundational element to American society is blindly ignorant and clearly shows a lack of education

      November 16, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Thomas

      @Alan- you couldn't be more wrong. That's an incredibly stupid, racist, uninformed opinion to say slaves had no basis on American culture. By saying that, you completely disavow african-american culture. You also fail to see that all of popular music is based on Rythym and Blues, which is in turn based on slaves songs of the pre-civil war era. It's amazing how people so dumb and with such limited tunnel-vision can actually read. You can thank the culture built by slaves for fried chicken, barbecue, rock n' roll, hip hop, country music, and Southen Baptist churchs. Go crawl back under a rock, idiot.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • History Major

      Alan,

      You really need to study American history. Your comment, "I don't think the African-American slave built any foundational element to American society. They mostly helped their slave owners get wealthier" cannot be based on any fact, but as you aptly state, what you think. You don't think the slaves made contributions because you are ignorant of your own country's history.

      Let me help you learn a brief history of what the African American slaves built. You are correct that they did help their owners get rich, but they also helped all thjose the owners sell to inthe production chain get rich. (Basic economics, cheap labor begets cheap product begets higher profits) Slavery or free labor was unsed not only in the south on palntations but extensively in the north.

      Did you know that slaves helped build the White House and the U.S. Capitol? The lawn where the president took his oath of office used to be a tent city for slaves and workers?

      If the white house and capitol buildings are not foundational elements of our society, please tell me what is!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • TechStar71

      Alan...You think too much..the sad part is that your thoughts have no factual basis..next time try picking up a book or doing a google search before you let everyone know what you "think", then maybe then you won't sound so painfully ignorant..PS in 2011 rugs are Oriental..people are Asian.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • BigRay

      Im so tired of hearing about what the slaves did in this country. Name me a great civilization that wasn't built on the backs of slave or near-slave labor? You could make the argument by turning our backs on illegal immigration in this country we are silently condoning a form of slave labor (although its not slave labor because we pay $2.00 an hour I guess). The point is, I don't see any great civilizations in central or western africa where most American slaves came from ... early Americans purchased slaves (from other african blacks I might add) and yoked their strength to build a great civilization. Fair? No ... Morally right? Hell no ... but without the vision, drive and ambition of early white settlers, this country wouldnt be what it is today.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • RealityCheck

      Alan,
      Your statement regarding African-Americans and the Muslim religion is based solely on your lack of knowledge and opinion. If you ever took the time to study world religion or African-American history you would learn that the basis of civilization came out of the region and that the Muslim religion was practiced in Africa prior to the slave trade. In the age of technology you can use GOOGLE before you make an ignorant statement for the world to see.

      If you are going to provide comment ensure that you have your facts straight or keep your mouth shut.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • SlowGun

      Alan, before sharing with us your version of American histroy, I suggest you actually pick up a book and learn what you are talking about.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  20. Woody1150

    Oh snap. He's going to get some back lash for saying "midgets".

    November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Lynn

      I was thinking the same thing! LOL!

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

      you ever seen the movie "Willow" the whole movie is midgets... its a great movie...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:00 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.