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. Mortimer

    Not to belabor a point that is as timeless as stereotyping itself, but anytime a group of individuals is represented to show (for better or worse) a certain function of a culture it will, without a doubt, isolate and alienate. I'm sure the people of both the Jersey Shore and Italian Americans in the New York/New Jersey area feel well represented by Snooki, J-Wowww, The Situation and DJ Pauly D. I'm sure all housewives really are like the women of Real Housewives of Orange County. I travel overseas frequently and love getting lumped in with the fat, lazy, loud and obnoxious group of Americans. My point is, this is just a group. I haven't seen the show, but I can't imagine that people are looking at this as all Muslims. If they are, they are as stupid as the stereotype I believe them to be.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  2. Paul Willson

    for a lighter look see " Litt;e Mosque on the Prarrie" CBC out of Toronto I think. It is a total riot .. OK its putr fun and I can see a lot of my Christian comminity in it .Wearen't all That different.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  3. My God's Bigger Than Yours

    Dwarves or little people, not midgets. If I remember correctly, "midget" is considered to be a derogatory term.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • by well

      Your right, the word midget was mostly used as a term for circus freak or attraction to show little people. This guy I think is just talking out his butt

      November 16, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  4. Mikey Terror

    I think your problem, sir, is that you expect anything of quality from TLC: that festering freak show of desperate exhibitionism and carnivalesque raping of "American" reality (TV).

    November 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  5. Eesa Is Coming

    Non-Muslims won't be happy with Muslims until they give up their religion. Non-Muslims care about Muslims practicing their religion more than they care about themselves and their children practicing their own religion. They want Muslim women to take off their burka and wear bikinis, men to shave their beards and wear short shorts and tight pants! They don't like the fact that Muslims worship the One True Merciful Creator. Specially the yahood hate the Muslims more than anyone because of extreme jealosy since the last Prophet of God was not from the children of Israeel. The ultra orthodox scholars from the Jews know that Islam is a true and real. Peace!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      See Christians, this is what you all sound like to us atheists. Now do you understand why we get angry with you?

      November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  6. Ahmed

    As a muslim, I found the part where they tried to pressure her husband into converting particularly offensive, in so many different ways.

    First of all, they acted as if they were this super religious family that just needed him to convert so that the marriage could be considered valid. That just isn't fair. They obviously aren't that religious, and there's no reason why he should be forced to convert.

    Second of all, they insisted that all he had to do was say the Shahadah, and nothing else. As if it doesn't mean anything. If you're not going to take the shahadah seriously, then he shouldn't waste his time even saying it. Even more irritating is the fact that THEY didn't take it seriously, which is why I ask the question again. If they don't take the shahadah seriously, why are they making him do it?

    Third of all, they're making the poor guy give up his religion for no real reason. Unless you actually believe in and care about a religion, you really shouldn't waste your time converting to it.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  7. Area Man

    "Why don't they focus on the other relatively boring and grey women in Muslim society." It's called entertainment, silly.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  8. Melody

    HILARIOUS! I loved this article

    November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  9. Dolphinvet

    The program doesn't address the problem of Islamic suppremacism, the subjugation of women and non-Muslims, or the violence inherit in the teachings of the Islamic faith. It's redirection to show they are "just like us", when their religion and the values of Islam are nothing at all like us. I see it as a piece of propaganda.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  10. CJ

    Can't please everyone.

    Oh, and where is the proof most or many African slaves were Muslim? Probably many were pagan (which is NOT meant to be offensive; Europe was pagan too, before the advent of Christianity there).

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

    I can’t believe that the author of this story is so caught up in the negative attributes of these people that he overlooks the positive ones. The police officer is picked on for being patriotic? The football team needs to score more touchdowns? How about looking at the positives? Like they have assimilated into the fabric of this great country and are positive examples of American Muslims. Instead, the author just wants to pick on these people. The author would rather watch the stereotypical Muslim stories of the passive aggressive parents and awkward 20-something Muslim youths then the emerging stories of the generations that have move past that and have become Americanized just like every other culture or Religious group that has come to this country. If you’re looking for the old Muslim story, just watch the Big Bang Theory and you will see it every night played by actor Kunal Nayyar. However, be warned…he too is becoming Americanized.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  12. Wo0F

    TLC= 19 kids and counting (otherwise known as "the day my uterus fell out), Sister wives, the defunct kate+ a random guy+8, punkin chunkin, and now we get Muslim Rednecks.

    Great, all we needed, TLC manages to take diversity and turn it into fodder for toothless trailer park queens.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • gatorman

      Great point...TLC definitely sold it's intellect and soul a long time ago.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  13. Daryn

    Why are we still surprised by the media misrepresenting a person/group of people. Seriously, this happens all the time. Just about anytime you turn on the TV this is going on. I honestly don't believe that everyone that lives in Jersey is a shallow, egotistical human being, as much as "The Jersey Shore" seem to want me to believe this. IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH TELEVISION, BLOW YOURS UP OR DON"T TURN IT ON, unless there is something you deem as worth watching-like football or Southpark.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Wo0F

      It's called the learning channel. Maybe it should more appropriately be called the "I got me some lern'n channell".

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

    People need to know that muslim people are NOT a threat.. Not all of them wanna kill people or torture you. Thats like saying if one christian Kills ALL the christians kill NO that is NOT rite! And in the Koran it doesent say to kill... it says if someone attacks you n tries to kill you ... YOU fight back for example........ A robber comes into your home n tries to kidnap you are you gonna let them take your child? I bet most of you said NO ok so you will fight back if they tried to take you or your family!\
    N plus you cant JUDGE someone on there religion you judge someone on there personality!
    N i Watch Muslims In America its a great show 😀

    Im a muslim myself

    November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • MeNorski

      I am a Christian who has read the Quran. You can't tell me with a straight face that that Islam and the Quran does not condone Violence against non Muslims. I am not saying all Muslims wish to follow this by the way. This is clearly evidenced by the drinking on this show which is outlawed in the Qur'an.

      look at Suras 9:5, 8:12, 33:26 8:59, 5:51 which tells Muslims to kill the unbelievers unless they worship Allah, to strike off there heads, hands, and feet. It also tells Muslims to take the land of the Jews. It asks Muslims and muster whatever arms you can against unbelievers and take them not as your friends.

      The Qur'an calls refers specifically to Christians and Jews and Apes/Pigs, and condones the killing of all unbelievers unless they pay the Jizya(subjugation tax).

      Your glorious prophet Muhammad whom was a pedophile is responsible for a campaign of destruction and deception against non believers. This is scary to me because Muslims are supposed to try to be like Muhammad.

      In Sahih Bukhari 1:6:298 of the Sunnah Muhammad fondles his 9 year old wife Aisha in a bath whom he consummated his marriage with.

      In the Hadith Muhammad says the goal of Islam is kill every last man woman, and child until the world worships none other then Allah and believe that Muhammad is his messenger.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  15. Lauren

    What do you expect from channel that has a reality show about "Extreme Couponing"?

    November 16, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  16. Paul

    Aman Ali is completely misguided when talking about the Dearborn Fordson footbal team he says "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." What?????? This, Mr. Ali, is why Penn State is having the huge problem in the first place!!! If they had their priorities straight as does Fordson HS, most people would have never heard of that monster Jerry Sandusky. What a warped point he tried to make. Shame on CNN for this trashy/tabloid view.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  17. Krow

    Why does anyone believe in these foolish mythologies? Lead a good life ... be a decent human being ... and drop all the faerie tales. You don't need them. Oh, and they're a total crock by the way ... in case no one ever told you.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Shareef Beane

      People with Ph.Ds in subjects ranging from physics to anthropology sincerely believe in religious narratives not ferrie tales.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  18. Jessica B.

    This is a ridiculous and shallow take on the show. The show isn't here to speak for all Muslims. Take a step back, it is just a show showcasing ordinary families. Perhaps you are the one stereotyping, TLC isn't trying to define a culture. It is just de-mistifying a town in America. You should be ashamed for even wiriting a commentary as you did. If you want to write a review, trying making it a bit more objective rather than a subjective approach that is not thought out.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Nawal


      November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • leelanau

      I couldn't have stated it any better, Jessica. Well said.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • layo24

      what part of op-ed don't you understand?
      He is speaking his point of view and honestly you are not muslim so this is something you will never be able to relate to.
      It's the problem of over-empathizing in this country

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

      That's a fair point, except TLC knows that people WILL view this show as the archetypal picture of American Muslims. They're attempting to de-mystify a "foreign culture" – just like they're doing with the Quiverfulls, Little People, Roma (let's not forget "Gypsy Wedding"!). But true cultural education, like viewers will expect from these shows, doesn't fit the daytime-television-entertainment mold. TLC writes scripts and finds real people to play their characters. "Okay, so in this episode, we have to show how Muslim women can be independent. Oh, and they like booze! Go find a Muslim woman who's opening a bar."

      November 16, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  19. KevinB

    I am a native of San Diego, California born and raise, with an affinity for Mexican food. Now I live in Nashville Tennessee. I recently went to what was advertised as a Mexican restaurant. The thing is, it was a Tex-Mex restaurant, which is different from the Mexican food I was raised on. But, I didn't declare that the Restaurant sucked because it wasn't what I was expecting. Know what I mean?

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

      It must be a sort of a differnt show; what happen to the Real McCoys; and Amos and Andy...??

      November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  20. Stephen

    I liked the show. I don't know why everything has to revolve around black people. If the show was about Catholics I wouldn't expect white Americans to be featured–I'd expect Italians. Get over. Oh, and shouldn't you be called Americans of African decent??? Unless you are from Africa. My wife's family is from Ethiopia and they are very offended when blacks in America call themselves African Americans.

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

      I get your point but the thing is that focusing on just one group of muslims, is unfair. Especially since the largest percentage of muslims in a country is NOT in the middle east, but in Asia, specifically Indonesia. So if the show wants to break steryotypes than show people that instead of the usual arab muslims. Show the Asian Muslims, the African Muslims, the European Muslims, show that Muslims are more than just arabs.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • layo24

      What you said makes no sense, the author in no way suggested the show should revolve around black people and you will be foolish to fall into the group of people who insist on discounting how integral the experiences of blacks in this country are to our history.
      2nd of all- I'm African too but there is nothing to be offended by descendants of slaves referring to themselves as African-America, that is their heritage and lineage and they have as much right to it as I do.
      I think being offended is simply ignorant and condescending

      November 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • David

      Thank You!!! I am so glad to hear someone call the "African American" card for what it is. There is no place called Africa America or Asia America, etc. I get so sick of hearing that too.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:04 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.