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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. kohanim

    Wouldn't it be great if they did a show of jewish or christian families living in Saudi Arabia? There are NONE! Yet they come here expecting to get the tolerance and acceptance that is lacking in their home countries.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  2. Muslim Woman

    First, let me put out there that I am a woman of the Muslim faith... and I am an Arab.

    I do agree with the point you made in the start of the article. Not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslims... a highly confused concept that many people do not understand. Therefore, this show should have included several types of Muslims.

    What I do not agree with is that these Muslims are still Muslims, regards the fact that they are not representing all different sections of Muslims. Secondly, the show is portraying the struggles that these Muslims face, and therefore, the cast does represent those struggles. Lastly, Shia Muslims are the minority, but as in most cases, they are most stereotyped. This show may not represent all Muslims, but you should not bash it because it does not represent your type of Muslims.

    They amount of scrutiny and hatred Dearborn faces on a daily basis in itself speaks for the ideology the show is trying to represent. No matter how smart a student is or how good they play in a sport, they will face the struggle of having to prove themselves constantly, and even when they do prove themselves, they must continuously keep it up. For the author to go to the lengths to speak negatively about the Fordson football team only shows his ignorance and arrogance to this sect of Musilms. How can he pin-point the show about not featuring all Muslims, when he himself is speaking negatively towards these teenagers and the cast, criticizing them rather than the show. If you have a problem with the show...fine. But do not speak about the cast in terms of characterization because you do not know them personally and have not got to know them within the one episode that you have watched.

    Finally, the show does speak significantly about the Fordson football team. It speaks about its Faith... not its success. As with almost every team, there are good years and bad years. Before you stick on the bad year, take a step back and look at the good. These are student players... do not speak about them as they owe you something.

    Perhaps your anger and contempt with this show come from the failure of your own show? I have not heard anything about you or your show before this condescending post...

    November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Saban

    No one Cares – get the message!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  4. Paul D.

    I have noticed that everytime there is an article pertaining to "Islam" or "Muslims," most of the commentators are quick to criticize or mock the faith and/or its believers. It is pretty sad that the majority of Americans are brainwashed by their parents or the media that Islam is such a terrible religion. What's even more ironic is that religions such as Christianity and Judaism preach tolerance of other religions, yet many of their believers do not practice the teachings. And if anyone of them had the guts to read about Islam from open-minded authors or even the Qur'an itself, you would be surprised how peaceful it is. The Qu'ran has many similiarities to the Bible, Old Testament, Torah and so forth. As long as people are ignorant, there will never be peace on this planet. I'm sure the great mentor, Jesus or whoever you follow would be proud of your pitiful actions.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Shane

      Yeah, you sound sooooooo much more tolerant than the people you're maligning right now. The fact is, any religion that incites so much hatred and destruction is not one I want to give much credence to.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • K

      Shane–have you forgotten about the Crusades? Christianity has also incited much hatred and violence throughout the years. It isn't just Islam that has inspired extremists.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Olivia

      K...and did you forget those Crusades came in response to the Muslim Crusades – which were started several centuries earlier?

      November 16, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  5. zionist nazi's

    The only people who would dislike this show are the Zionist Nazi's in Israel, that are OCCUPYING PALESTINE!! How can a land such as Israel , have over 200 U.N. Resolutions against them, but yet, still occupy Palestine?

    911= Israeli zionists job..wake up sheeple

    Time for all U.S. aid to Israel to STOP!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Shane

      I am so sick of hearing about Israel and Palestine problems. The US needs to stay out of the whole thing. Religion is general makes me sick. It's the cause of so much hate, wars and killing. When are people going to realize that all these ancient books were written by scholars and were meant to keep the masses in check and not meant to be taken so literally?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  6. Terry Brookman

    Islam is a death cult, do their actions historically or now prove that statement wrong? Any religion that uses conversion by force is a blood cult and should be exterminated, they should get what they endorse.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • zionist nazi's

      So israel should be punished the same way then...they are using conversion by blood force as well!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • why2

      Ok what about the Inquisition? The Crusades? This is in the history of Christianity too.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • TheXDude

      Ever hear of the Crusades.... dolt.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  7. Emmy

    Who cares?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Shane

      This guy sounds as superficial and ignorant as TLC's lineup of shows.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  8. TLC

    ANYTHING on "The Learning Channel" is an absolute waste of life. What did you expect.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  9. whoopie

    WOW.... it's too bad that some network might try to expose your Muslimism, to the average white, blue eyed American who knows nothing about Muslim. I for one hunger for some knowledge on the subject without reading a text book type encyclopedia website... I would suggest if Mr. Ali has the means and ability to educate the American properly according to his experience, go for it....

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • J

      "I hunger for knowledge, but god forbid I should crack a book."

      November 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  10. Ken

    I am you as you are he as you are he as we are all together. Yellow matter custard....dripping from a dead dog's eye....

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  11. Macko

    Drop the hyphens. When you say you are a something american, what you are saying is you're not really american. You are that something first and foremost. No-one goes around calling themselves jewish american or catholic american. When you hyphenate you put that something first. America needs citizens that are American first and foremost. But of course if you feel that way about yourself then keep doing it. It will also let the true Americans know who you are. When you want to call yourself African American or Irish American the Africans and the Irish laugh at you.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • appleanna

      Haha, hyphenated "no one." Funny little pun on punctuation!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  12. Oh well

    Who cares about Muslims... I have enough of hearing about them!!! ENOUGH!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  13. Paul

    The Africans built the foundations of America while everyone else sat on their buts. Our education system has gone down the toilet.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  14. Greg

    "the Arab population in New York City is more than twice that of Dearborn. Seems like TLC can’t even stereotype correctly."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the point of focusing the show on Dearborn(istan) is that, by population denisty (read: percentage of population), it has a larger Arab population that anyplace else in the US (I think the last statistic I hear was upwards of 30%?)

    November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  15. joepa

    If I put on thick rimmed glasses for my publicity shot like Aman Ali would I appear smarter than I really am too?

    By the way I am not THE Joepa. It is an unfortunate coincidence I picked this seemingly harmless pen name last year when I started posting comments on occasion. I am not even a fan of Penn State.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  16. c-dub

    What a completely odd, and ultimately meaningless, critique of this show. The author hates the show because it focuses on too small a segment of Islam. The show doesn’t purport to be a panoramic survey of worldwide Islamic culture. It’s a show about a group of Muslim families in one city, so its scope is limited by definition.

    When the show says that Dearborn has the largest population of Arabs in the US (when it’s actually NYC), that isn’t “stereotyping.” It’s an inaccuracy, sure, but it isn’t stereotyping.

    And it’s a problem that the high school football team isn’t working hard enough? Really? Is the author watching this show for the football?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  17. Dave

    Up here in Canada we have a great show called Little Mosque on the Prairie on CBC. It appears to be a little more inclusive in regards to Muslims of various backgrounds.

    http://www.cbc.ca/littlemosque/

    November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • NCOclub

      I went on-line and looked up the site for "Little Mosque on the Prairie"..too bad I couldn't watch an episode!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  18. Gwen

    I would assume that the reason TLC is concentrating on Arab-American Muslims is that they are the ones that strike fear into the hearts of racist white Americans. While most of them will cross the street to avoid an African American it is not because they think that the black man is going to bomb them or fly planes into their buildings or even try to convert them. Malcolm X was my parent's generation and I had not idea that Dave Chappelle was Muslim (I thought that was a character for Robin Hood). Most of the Muslims I know (in downstate IL) are from Bangledesh or India or the Phiillipines. And I don't really think about their religion except at Ramadan (they don't join us for lunch during that time). I hope that they don't think about my religion (Catholic) at any time except Ash Wednesday and Lent (dirty foreheads and fish dinners). As for your version of "real Muslim Americans" they sound like stereotypes of Jewish Americans or Catholic Americans. Guilt is the sign of good parenting in the major monotheistic religions!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Starr

    The best way to know an "All-American Muslim" is to get to know one, not watch a TV show about it. Not all Muslim parents want their kids married by 23 or want them to turn into doctors. This show is supposed to be sensational, so of course it will have people like this on it.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Albert

    Much like other immigrant communities, Deaborn's Arab-Muslim community is tightly knit. Family's are often quiet large and interconnected through marriage. To an audience a look into this world, it is critical that there is a group of families that had such connections–a community within the larger community. It makes such a better story!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
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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.