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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. Doc

    "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 watched all of about ten minutes of the show and learned enough. It's not about Faith. It's about religion and rules. There's a huge difference. One of the guys said he HAD to pray five times a day. Not that he wanted to.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  2. James

    Dude.. does ANY reality show not suck?

    November 16, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  3. It's tv, moron

    Ummmmm, TLC is a channel owned by a corporation whose goal it is to make money. They're not a non-profit trying to do good in the world, they're an entertainment channel. So, when choosing characters for their shows, why would they pick an ordinary muslim who "awkwardly spends months mustering up the courage to tell a girl he likes her"? Wow, that would be so exciting to watch. They pick the extremes, just as EVERY other show picks characters they know will stand out and get people talking. See any non-scripted show on television. You're ridiculous. TLC isn't PBS.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  4. ZamZam

    vetter200,
    why not do a show why American families want to move to "Muslim" countries for jobs there on expat package? Better lifestyle, tax-free salary ....

    November 16, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Pirate Station

      Americans are up for ANYthing even more so when it come to watching TV – We have freedom of choice, the choice of freedom – the same cant be said in many other countries esp those censored by extremist

      November 16, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  5. Pirate Station

    To PRIMEWONK – These scriptures are from the Bible, true enough however the difference is that you wont find Christians still enforcing these laws/rules etc – Unlike Islam where up until this you can & will be put to death literally – Also most Christians draw from the New Testament as a model to live their lives – The Old Testament, much of which was under Moses hence the Old Testament Mosaic Law aka the Old Covenant which ended upon Christ death – On a side note Muslims considered Moses a holy man of which those same quoted Bible scriptures you listed –

    November 16, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  6. jimbob

    not surprising that a show about muslims would start another war

    November 16, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  7. MrCarlson

    uh oh, he used the word midget. thought crime.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • leason101

      Laughs, this dude is a jack-leg.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  8. Nate

    Muslims are not bad people at all. I have Muslim friends who adhere to their strict Shariah code, have big beards, wear loose clothing, eat halal food, pray 5 times a day. They've become stronger because in their faith because of all the hate and lies being spread against them in the media. They've taught me a lot of things that the 99% of Muslims believe and practice, but we only see the extreme minority views in the media. Media is not going to make money unless they show things that are extreme, hateful, contrevercial, false etc. and this pretty much goes with anything. Its sad but true that we are infesting lies and falsehood into ourselves and our children by watching a lot of TV and internet.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Pirate Station

      with all due respect there are no lies to tell – facts are facts that religion is pretty cut & dry – for example The Bible has some things that are extreme as in the Old Testiment HOWEVER we are not going to go stone someone because they dont convert but in Islam this is not only a belief but a practice that MUST be carried out – Now thats not to say that every muslem practices those requirements but at the same time if they were in their own countries it could be something punishable by beatings & even death – You should know that the scriptural goal of the Islam to conver the WHOLE world, kicking, screaming & by death if necessary LIBERAL OR EXTREMIST muslim those are the rules

      November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  9. kualo

    This show should be called All American Arab instead of All American Muslim.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  10. BobZemko

    Just another one of TLC's crappy reality shows.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  11. well duh

    It's TLC, did we expect anything different? Anyone who watches TLC is a complete idiot.

    TLC: THE LOSER CHANNEL.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  12. OMG

    We are not midgets. We are little people if you most lable us. Please don't call us midgets, as that is like calling a blackman the N word. We are not carnival freaks, we are people who are just little.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  13. Wendy

    Once again, if it isnt all about "African Americans" then it is poorly done. Instead of criticizing, why dont you go and make your own show! And guess what, this country was not founded SOLEY on the backs of African American Slaves. Quit trying to re-write history!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • missy

      check your history book. it was

      November 16, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Papa Kilo 15er

      Hate to break it to you Wendy, but the IRISH did more to build this country then the Africans did. The railroads, the mines, the major cities, they did most of the 'dirty' work, and were treated like garbage along the way, even after serving in EVERY war we engaged in. Now that's not to say the Africans didn't contribute, they surely did, but to say this country was SOLEY founded on the back of Blacks is a gross misinterpretation of history.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Wendy

      Papakilo....re read my post...I agree with you, I am IRISH, very much IRISH and it offends me that history is being re-written to exclude my race. And MISSY, you are completely wrong! The American Revolution was fought by all, this country was founded by ALL, not blacks, not slaves, built by all. If you want to claim the south, so be it, but this entire country was not founded just by African American Slaves....who built the railroads? Who built the factories in the north? That part is excluded from your history books...ask yourself why?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  14. Rabia

    I couldn't agree more with this article. If you're going to produce a show centered around the Islamic faith, at least take the time to represent the majority of Muslims. The show takes VERY liberal Muslims, people who aren't even practicing Muslims, and tries to show the viewing public that this is what their faith is like. TLC is a disappointment with the shows it comes up with. There isn't anything on that channel that could be considered slightly intelligent.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  15. carol

    Even though what you said is correct and the show suck, do not put down Arabs. First, 90% of Arabs are Suni not Shi following the correct teaching of the Koran instead of following Iran. Second, it is true that the majority of Muslims are Asians, this is only because, no matter what your crazy brain thinks, "most" Arabs are small in numbers and do not have many kids. Finally, and MOST importantly the Koran came own in the Arabic language, or have you forgotten that. God even tells you the reason in the Koran.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • KB

      I think you should go back and read the article again...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  16. delsa

    go back to your own country

    November 16, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • SEMN

      They were born and raised, many in the Dearborn area are 3-5th generation american muslims

      November 16, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • ZamZam

      has anybody noticed how American media blatantly jumps to criticize anything Obama does or say?
      The same American media hardly criticized that moron Bush or Rumsfeld when they led US to a dangerous war path with almost all mideastern countries. US media is the most racist.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • missy

      go back to your own country this country belongs to the indians and it was taken away from them this country isn't yours

      November 16, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  17. mary

    thanks for the wonderful article – very informative and insightful!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  18. derp

    "stop the nuckular madness"

    Nuckular?

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  19. hmmmm

    That is way cool that he was able to drive to Hawaii

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. Vulpes

    I don't really ... people are people ... I don't know why other posters don't see that.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:24 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.