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. jimmy

    Good job, your article got 30 pages of comments. Sounding like an idiot must be working for you.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  2. PaulC

    If feel your outrage. I would not blame you if you immigrated to Saudi Arabia or Iran where you would feel more appreciated and comfortable. Write when you get work.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  3. Milynn

    I watched the show because of the one statement the rebel child said in the advertisement regarding she was born here, where was she supposed to go (in reference to the Muslims go home graffiti). She had a good point, one of which seems to escape most people who dislike someone because of their religion. In my local area, Muslims are not as well known and many people here still act ignorant about religions that are not "Christian", something I dislike immensely about my area. I wanted to learn more about the religion so that hopefully I wouldn't be one of those folks who opens my mouth and inserts my foot. It might be limited to a secular sect, and it might not reflect exactly how the majority of Muslims live but it does give insight into some of the culture and religious background, something the majority of non-Muslims have never experienced. Perhaps this show will ease some of the tension and ignorance of the religion and folks will stop lumping all Muslims in the same cup of tea. Although, if I am honest I truly don't expect that to happen because other religions are still experiencing the hate. I will continue to watch and decide after a few episodes if it is just another TLC reality show developed to show drama. (I truly hate the ones that do that).

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  4. anonymous

    Aman, I'm glad you realized that the network is infamous for really bad television (that is assuming that any television shows are really "good"). This one takes the gold medal in trailer trash television. I mean does anyone remember "John and Kate +8"? That show was terrible!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  5. vetter200

    How about a show about an American family moving to a Muslim country? Think it would be as light hearted? I think not.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  6. Jennifer

    Why I hate white people when I myself am white, because of Fox news....

    November 16, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Chris

      Thats the same as saying I am ____ and I hate ____. Regardless of what labels you fill in. Racism against your own race is just as bad as racism against another. Your comment indicates "white think" and not all white people think the same.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Chris

      The article was about religion not race. Why race and politics always come in... I can see we already have the Obama commentaries.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  7. Return To God

    The Prophet Muhamad (peace be upon him) said " I was only sent to perfect manners". So being loud, fighting, putting tatoos on your body, being fake, dancing men and women together (like they did on the show), belly dancing... has nothing to do with Islam and far being one...
    The show does not represents all muslims or the mainstream Muslims. It lacks the truely devoted muslims how pray regularly (5 times a day) , walking up at 5:30 am to pray at the Mosque, fasting, paying charity, helping your neighbors, how they cleanse themselves before praying, eating Kosher/HALAL food, etc.... so it lacks many elements and components, it is only a TV reality show, not more and not less. It sucks up too much....,
    A true believer/ Muslim should be honest, sincer, hummble, caring, with manners, and someone who prays 5 times a day.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Jennifer

      Of course you left out the most important one which is Charity, god could careless about how times you pray.... But taking care of his creations such as the earth or those on it, that he cares about...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  8. Chris

    Why is the term kuffar being allowed? It is being used like the "n" word.

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

      Lets not over look the word Midgets. It's little people! This guy is wrong on so many levels.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Chris

      @littleone, educate me and please pardon my ignorance. Maybe you can educate one of the masses on that topic while the others are trying to kill each other. I was formerly aware of dwarfism and midget[?] being two different things where a midget had "normal" body proportion and someone with dwarfism had shorter arms and legs but 'normal" trunk of body. I also formerly would have thought "little people" would be an insult. I just found little people of america on the internet and looks like "little people" is ok [although I would think one wouldnt like it], that midget is a term coined from a circus and highly inflammatory, and that both proportionate and disproportionate restricted growth are now subtypes of a general classification of restricted growth? Am I on the right path here? Sorry, I am trying to learn about something I know nothing about very quickly but I *am* trying. I also saw some pretty horribly cruel things in google such as on urban dictionary plus some things little people of america were fighting against. It seems the human race can be quite cruel. I will try to educate myself and pass this on to my children. Which joins the two topics. Everyone is free to sling insults around but how is anyone to learn unless we talk to each other? If comments are made and noone counters it not only is the comment deemed acceptable but others might leave with the impression everyone feels this way.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Chris

      I think intent is important. I do not think he intended to insult there. He mentioned exploitation which tells me his heart was in the right place. I believe many, myself included, would have made a similar mistake out of ignorance and not desiring to hurt. You helped by speaking up so more people are aware.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • littleone

      Chris, thanks for doing research and yes you are correct. When we hear the word midget it makes us feel like we are being viewed as a carnival attraction.

      The writter here starts off negative and continues this role to the end of the artical. I think he may not have ment it in a way that was negative, but the affect it has on little people is still the same regaurdless of how it was said or in what content.

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

    Yeah. Anyone who thinks they can peacefully co-exist with muslims is delusional. Every religion, and islam is the most radical and violent, wants to control and convert you. Once they gain a majority, guess what, they will pass laws imposing islamic language, laws and customs. You have been warned.

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

    Please remove the word 'midget' from this piece. It is a derogatory and just mean spirited term. As the parent of three children with dwarfism I find it sad someone berating that they are not fairly protrayed uses such a word in their article. Talk about not understanding or being open to the feelings of others. If you want understanding for yourself start understanding others.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Roger in Florida

      Oh please. Midget, dwarf, small person get over it. PS: YOU are the one that kept having kids even after knowing the outcome.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Traci Hart

      Roger – my children are adopted. And they don't like being called midget or teased and I think that should be their right.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  11. dan evans

    Yes the show is not accurate. as with many of tlc's shows. it is about viewer ship and money. most families just want whats best for their children and it reallly is very boreing to watch parents work at this. so they pick the most rediculess stuff, because that is entertainment.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  12. j.smith

    Leave it to a story on Muslims to get people to blow up a thread. If these bigots spent as much time hating Muslims as they do on the economy, then maybe we would be somewhere in this country...

    November 16, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  13. Matt

    This is one of those articles that if the author was not Muslim then they would be chastised for writing it.

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

      I agree! I'm going to go back and re-read it in the hopes of finding a single group he didn't stereotype about. Girls "blabbing" on other girls because they talk to a guy? I have no idea what Muslims he's hung out but I have yet to come across that happening. What a moron. Sloppiness shouldn't be allowed by anyone writing for anyone, much less CNN!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  14. WHAT????

    DID HE SAY "MIDGETS"? DID HE REALLY?????? OH. MY. WORD. Credibility now = 0. Over and out.

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

      James Merkle – Learn how to spell. Thank you.

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

      Get over it. I am sick to death of the extreme political correctness going on in the United States. All PC does is allow resentments to smolder inside people instead of venting them, thereby eliminating them.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  15. Quit Whining

    Sheesh! Who said the show had to represent every single branch of the Muslim population? Your article seems quite self centered. They didn't claim to represent every Muslim. They set out to show that all Muslims are not uber religious and that many are just like the rest of us. They probably chose the cop that's always trying to prove that he's a patriot as there are many Muslims out there that still feel they have to prove it, even ten years after 9/11. The show is not about you. It's about the characters they felt would show that Muslims are different than we think they are, and who could provide some entertainment at the same time.

    Oh, and by the way... Before you (a professional journalist) publish an article on a national news site, criticizing the work of another medi outlet, you may want to proofread your own material as there are several glaring mistakes in the writing. Thanks.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  16. Adam

    If you were as wise as your glasses and carefully manicured beard would suggest, you'd just turn the TV off for good. 99% of it is garbage.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  17. TOMG


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

      um.. huh??

      November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  18. aginghippy

    What a surprise that a network that brings us such quality entertainment as "Toddlers and Tiaras", "Cake Boss", "Sister Wives", "Long Island Medium" and "Say Yes to the Dress", would disappoint anyone looking for anything other than garbage.
    Television, in general, has been on a downward spiral for years, and TLC is the sludge UNDER the barrel. Let us not forget that TLC stands for The Learning Channel! hahahahahahaha

    November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  19. Remember...

    Well Aman, we white folks would prefer to not have shows like the Real Housewives of whereever or many other shows that dribble out the rear of TLC (I don't watch their stuff). However, it's capitalism and what sells. You might get lucky and no one will watch it. Like the National Enquirer, there's plenty that I leave on the shelf or never show on my T.V. If you want quality programming, checking out what's on TLC at the moment will not meet your needs.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  20. james merkle

    raceisim is a sickness,are u sick! its time for the world to unite and live in peace.stop the nuckular madness before its too late.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Meh

      Sorry, it's too late. Go sell it to the Iranians who want to annihilate Israel.

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

      Muslim isn't a race, idiot.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:29 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.