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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. wakenshake

    This show doesn't offend me. I get where this guy is coming from, obviously they are only showing a small little slice of how some Muslims live in America, but I think only positive things will come from this show. If you read the comments to articles on CNN.com, you see that there are still wayyyyy too many hateful, racist, stereotyping people who think Obama is a Muslim terrorist, etc etc. So, my point is, what's the harm in this show? Hopefully it'll show those idiots that Muslims aren't any different and don't deserve negative stereotypes. It's unfortunate that people in our country still need to have that proven to them, but this show could do the trick.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  2. Jim

    I'm sure the show is far from perfect, but the author's rant seems to reek of whining that THEIR show made it bigger than his study

    November 16, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  3. norasusan

    I didn't watch the program, nor do I intend to because I don't want to see a sanitized reality program that tries to show that Muslims are just like the rest of us. As a culture, they are different. As a culture I don't like them and I don't trust them. That said, I don't wish them any harm, but I do wish they and their forebearers had just stayed in their respective countries.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • LawCat72

      Their forebears should have stayed home, but yours were perfectly welcome to come take this country away from the people who originally lived here?

      It must be difficult going through life as a stupid person.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • norasusan

      @LAWCAT72....I am under no illusions. I know that my forebearers stole this country from the Indians and in the process of doing so, committed genocide. Given the vastness and natural wealth contained in North America, along with the Indians stone-age culture, it was bound to happen. However, my forebearers managed to construct a way of life that is still envied by the majority of the globe. This country is based on Judeo-Christian culture. I am not stupid. I am realistic. I don't trust the Muslim culture because it threatens my own culture. I don't care how or who they worship, but I do not want my grandchildren and great grandchildren living under Sharia law.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  4. candycane

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aman Ali.....(LAUGHING)

    November 16, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  5. Rob

    TLC = Hillbilly TV

    November 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  6. S c

    TLC took the "learning" out of the learning channel years ago. It's a circus.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  7. shosho

    I totally agree with you Ali.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  8. Boscoe

    What's really sad is that we have programs like this at all. We are Americans. Why not do a show on how Americans go from sun up to sun down and how 99% of us couldnt care less what your religion or race is? Corporate money takes priority over common sense once again. Personally, I could care less. I will treat others as they treat me.

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

    "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."

    This speaks volumes... So what is more important to the muslim? Faith or scoring touchdowns? They are equivalent.... sad...

    November 16, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • LawCat72

      Are you really so dull, you couldn't see the humor in that comment?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • gatorman

      Scott...couldn't agree with you more. The "author" of this article is a pretender, at best. Touchdowns? Seriously? This guy is a joke.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  10. Tom

    midget... really? That says a lot about you.
    BTW, please don't put your picture up – Besides sounding like one, you also look like a troll

    November 16, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  11. nobull4u

    GOOD ARTICLE. LEARNED SOME NEW THINGS ABOUT MUSLIMS IN AMERICA.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  12. Jose PR

    Are we at all surprised. This is the watered down Cultural content we get in this country. I'm Puerto Rican and will NEVER watch spanish TV, they still have slave-owners and Black Servants in Soap Operas!! Television is nothing more than watered down commercialized garbage. These TV shows cater to folks with $$ who will buy their advertisement. Except for Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and How to make it in America... all else is trash : )

    November 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  13. Scowl

    @OMG You might find the midget offensive but don't equate it with n*gger because "little people" were never enslaved and forcibly brought here. What you really need to do is relax and not take it to heart. Put away your PC badge.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • hippypoet

      if midgets were brought here as slaves.. i bet the saying of i think we need a bigger boat wouldn't be said! infact they would have been able to fit so much more.. and if they happened to die during the trip, the toss over is much easier as well... i wonder why we didn't use midgets, it seems a much better choice!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • last hope

      Scowl, you should probably do some research on little people and see just how they use to live and were treated before you make another comment. just a little fyi for you...

      November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  14. LawCat72

    What is sad, is that some network executive took a look at our culture and felt there was a need for this sort of show in the first place. What is sad, is that this police officer feels the need to demonstrate his loyalty repeatedly. Of course these folks are Americans. They were born here and educated here. They are raising their families here and contributing to their communities just like their Irish-American, Italian-American, African-American and Asian-American neighbors. This nation has prided itself on be a melting pot that accepts outsiders and folds the best aspects of their cultures and their beliefs into its own. For those few shrill and ignorant people who shout "go home!" to fellow citizens who are already there, we as a society need to stand up, face them and shout them down. It's time we started fighting ignorance instead of tolerating it and it's time to teach the ignorant how ashamed of themselves they should be.

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

      During the summer of 1997, I had a flash-bulb moment. I stopped at rest area along I-71 in Ohio. It was sunset. As I was walking to the building, I saw a man wearing a thawb standing on the lawn. He took out a prayer rug, kneeled on it, and began praying. The scene stopped me in my tracks. The man, his garb, the prayer rug, and his devotion playing out in front of a glorious sunset. For me the image was strange, but stunning in its simplicity and pure beauty. It was the first time I'd seen a Muslim praying...ever. Watching him left me with a sense of calm, peace, and serenity. This is why I say it was a flash-bulb moment. It's still burned in my mind. Then came 9/11 and the image of calm, peace, and serenity shattered in shreds like the million bits of paper that drifted from the burning towers. I learned hate that day. I know it's wrong to hate an entire culture for the actions of some. Believe me, I've come a long way since 9/11. I no longer hate, but I still can't like or trust.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  15. Samuel

    When will we have an All American Whte show ? And I am an middle class African American.....
    Let give it a break ! TLC is attempting to influnce Americans......

    Take the show to the Middle East ! First.....

    November 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  16. Tom

    “Oh man, please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.”
    U suck!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  17. Lynda

    Wendy.............Uh Duh....he is not African American....he is Indian (East).....and if African Americans haden't picked the cotton that spun into clothing and who knows what else where in the world would you all be. If African Americans haden't cleaned your houses and RAISED YOUR CHILDREN....where in the world would you be???? Stop trying to read what YOU want to read into this article and read what the guy is trying to impart. Sooooooooooo typical. You have issues that no one can fix but you.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Boscoe

      Sorry Lynda, no one raised my kids and no one worked for me or my last 3 generations. So you'll need to peddle that BS someplace else. Next thing you know you'll say ole whitie is responsible for the illegals ?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • chicagok

      SHUT UP LYNDA!!!!

      November 16, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Wendy

      Yes, and if the Irish had not built the factories and the chinese not built the railroads then where would be be? We wear more than cotton by the way. You want people to look globally and past skin color, but you dont seem to be able to get past your own. The minute anyone of Irish descent shows a little pride in being Irish, you brand us racists. Get over YOURself.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Wendy

      ...andy you think I have issues. You live over 100 years in the past....

      November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • last hope

      Yes Linda one of your relatives cleaned my great great grandys house. But that relative of yours had help because the blackman who sold that relative to him was having a three for one sale that day.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  18. CJ-49

    To PaulC and RtG. I am classed as muslim by birth. But get this: I try to tell as many people as possible that being muslim is a bad idea and just avoid anyone who claims to be muslim – because there is no such thing. Almost all self professed muslims are individuals misguided by self appointed mullahs who have no clue on what they are talking about.
    I will not convert out cos having read the Quran fairly carefully I see it respects Christians, Jews, does not instruct women to wear funny clothes and states THERE IS NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION nor is jihad (whatever that means) mentioned anywhere.
    As for doing a reality show on muslims – try this – do a reality show on Christians and Jews. This will give you an idea on how much of a lost cause it is.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  19. Alex in NJ

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't. People try and portray Muslims in a positive light, and it's still not good enough. Look at least they aren't portraying Muslims as crazy zealots who have 20 kids because God told them too. Could be worse, you could be Christians in the media.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  20. rdon

    Flash alert, although Africian Americans contributed to building the 'foundation' of this country, they were far from being the sole builders of the country as implied

    November 16, 2011 at 9:37 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.