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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. lalos

    Please cite where you got the info about many of Americas slaves being Muslims. I cant find anything about it anywhere.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  2. I HATE MUSLIM PRIVILEDGE

    I have no more issue with the infantilism of islam than I do the infantilism of any other religion based in the ego, but there is a particularly nauseating element to Muslims in America who wish to be put on a pedestal and treated like precious porcelain: " We need a month off for Haj! We need to have separate cooking facilities for hallal! We need to be able to shove our faith in everyone's face by praying six times a day at work". I am so freaking sick of these people. This is a free secular society, so muslims are no more special than anyone else (remmeber, as a christian, I can;t put a manger in the town square and a jew can;t put their menorah in city hall...but oh, those poor muslims, so vicitmized! what a crock!. Get a life or go back to mecca.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • tallulah13

      I hate it when christians try to use their faith to pass discriminatory laws that forbid things like gay marriage. Or when they try to force their mythology of creationism into science classes in public schools. Or when they try to rewrite school books to give themselves a greater role in the founding of our country, like they do in Texas. Poor special christians.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Sakinah Latif

      Every other religions traditions are observed what makes Islam different, and people tend to not understand Islam isnt new to the states,people have come from generations of the religion,please stop acting brand new to Islam

      November 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Lolala

      well said,best comment postet as of today.if the muslims want to pray let them do it on their own time and not interupt their co-workers or employers time.i dont believe that praying once a day or 6 to 10 times a day will get them into virgin heaven any faster.

      November 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  3. Dave

    Where is the anti-religion ACLU attacking the school for praying during a public school event? I smell a double standard.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  4. Mona Liisa Anderson

    How dare you claim that scoring a football touchdown is as important as one's faith.Tthis is what's wrong in America; you minimize the importance of faith and maximize the importance of a sport. Something is terribly wrong with your priorities. I found your reveiw interesting and factual until you got to this faith/football comparison.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  5. Jenna

    Though most do not get the point of your article, I understand where you are coming from. I am embarrassed by shows like Jersey Shores, Mob Wives, etc, but I just don't watch them because they in no way reflect who I am or represent what I surround myself with. Part and parcel of living in a free society I suppose.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  6. Cnick

    Wow...something on TLC sucks? Imagine that.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  7. Sickofitall

    If you want to get on a soapbox, TLC is a poor platform to take. Just look at their lineup. It is all a crock full of "Jerry Springer" like "entertainment". Lighten up man!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  8. show

    sweet family picture.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  9. Susan

    I have not and will not watch the show, after all "the network airs two shows exploiting the lives of midgets and one called “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.” That alone is a good indicator of how balanced this show will be.

    I was married to a Pakistani Muslim so I learned a lot from the "inside". The main thing I learned is that people are people no matter what race, religion or country of origin.

    I followed a few postings from 30 Mosques in 30 Days, which was very interesting and insightful. I'm glad Mr. Ali and his friends did that project and posted their findings.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  10. blah9999

    Wow...this guy sounds completely racist

    November 16, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  11. Jim

    HERE IS A NOVEL IDEA, TRYING HAVING A SHOW ABOUT AVERAGE AMERICANS AND FEATURE AVERAGE AMERICANS FROM ALL GROUPS AND WALKS OF LIFE!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  12. Steve Lyons

    Let's recast Archie Bunker as a Muslim. Now that would be comedy!

    "You pork chop head, get away from my harem!"

    November 16, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Zebon

      Love it, I'd watch... Hey you Fatima in there!!!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  13. James

    It's a stupid reality show. Stop whining. Why do you think you represent Muslim America any more than the people in the show? You want the show to talk about how the football team is bad? You're reinforcing my stereotype of the uptight overly sensitive, easily offend able and intolerant Muslim person who has such strong beliefs that motivate them towards self-repressing and violent behaviors.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Crispus

      My feelings exactly, thank you James!

      November 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  14. mobius640

    Anyone who follows a religion to the point that it influences the way they dress, eat, speak, etc. is a fanatic. Learn how to be a decent human being. Get the "religion" out of your life and find spirituality. There IS a difference.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  15. NOT MY CHAIR

    this guy is really upset because a reality tv show doesn't reflect reality?

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

      They DON'T reflect reality. They are probably as staged as a Shakespearean play. (Sorry, old bean).
      Bread and circuses. As Ann Landers used to say: "WAKE up and smell the coffee!"

      November 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  16. Z

    If nothing else, this gets people to talk about Muslims in the US (like this article), and show the "rest of us" that they're not all terrorists. Think of it like a Muslim version of Jersey Shores. Or any MTV program for that matter. Not all Italians act like that, but it does create dialogue, which is usually good.

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

      How does Jersey Shore inspire dialogue???? thats the dumbest thing i've heard this morning. The only result of Jersey Shore is making everyone think people from New Jersey are like that even though EVERYBODY on that show is from CLASSLESS, TRASHY, NEW YORK!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  17. Lolala

    One use to say when in Rome do as the Romans do....I believe that still holds a lot of weight in todays World.SO,if in America do as Americans do.....no special privilages in the Streets or at Work...(in your Home do as you wish)....if Muslims think otherwise they might want to kiss my Mohammed.....Have a great Day and GOD bless.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • tallulah13

      I wish christians would understand the concept of keeping their religion to themselves, but so many of them seem to think they are the only ones with civil rights.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  18. Nut on face

    T i t t y s

    November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  19. Donnie Peek

    They are not called "Midgets"....they are "little people" , you stinking rock worshiping muslim.....

    November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  20. Seanm

    Hes mad because they didnt show the right kind of muslims Black muslims. LOL for a group of people who are continually miss represented in the media You now have an ignorant moron who is mad bc of the color of their skin? does anyone else see the hypocracy here?

    November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yeah, I noticed. The guy kind of blew his credibility with the "midgets" comment, too.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:16 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.