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. Mustafa

    What a great article. I find this was the worst representation of Muslims since 911 showing old coverage (of another event) of Muslims cheering after the terrorist attack the World Trade Center. TLC is just another media machine attacking Islam from another angle.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  2. Eileen

    One of the key points to this post is the fact the author invested time and money no doubt in his own "downhome" muslim project. Did it get any airtime? Sell it to a network? How about TLC – did they pick it up? Or did they go this route instead. Maybe the show is one dimensional but I'm not sure your opinion doesn't reflect the fact that your own project is having trouble being recognized.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  3. Erin

    On seeing the ads for this show, it literally made my stomach churn. As a long time resident of the city of Detroit and an even longer time resident of the near suburbs before my move into the city, this show does nothing but make the city/region look even worse and create further racial/ethnic lines between "them" and "us" that already plagues the general US public opinion. For an area and state experiencing a severe economic depression with huge fiscal cut backs and a major city that's lost it's population and is circling the toilet bowl, this is exactly what Michigan did not need. I'm disappointed in TLC's judgment to go forth with this project.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  4. No History

    I despise all these shows, they are all junk and I am embarrassed Americans are watching them. History channel is a total joke now, pawn show, picker show, restoration show, whiney trucker show, swamp people but no history. As one who grew up near a swamp I reject the stereo type that I am toothless bearded long hair who eats all manner of swamp creature never needing to go to a grocery store.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • flashtrum

      SPOT ON. The History channel is a shell of it's former self. And I can't for the life of me figure out why people think the cr@p you mention is entertaining. It certainly isn't history.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  5. Missy

    Mr. Aman Ali,

    Thank you so much. Well said and you're cute!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  6. Paul

    The largest population statistic is per capita, moron

    November 16, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  7. Richard

    Wow, he's mad because they didn't show the muslims he wanted. If you want a show about "black" muslims, then shop one around. This is the show these folks wanted to put on, about these families. They must feel bad they didn't ask you first to see if you were happy with the casting. There is a show about American/Muslims on American TV, that is a huge jump in this country. Shouldn't you be happy that some progress has been made.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Fred

      Right on Richard. No comment (s) is/are better than what you said and I thought.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  8. Chatoyance

    "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."

    Are you really OK with stating that football should be equal in value in a person's life as their religion? Isn't that sort of the same misguided values as they share @ Penn State?

    Your article is fodder at best. ...and guess what? 99.99999999% of the reality TV out there is portraying white guys are not a damn bit like me at all !

    Yes, all American Muslim is boring TV, but to criticize it because the characters are not like you is a bit ridiculous. They ARE Muslim, they ARE on reality TV, therefore it IS an accurate depiction of a Muslim family in America.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  9. Me

    Well, instead of pointing out the shows flaws, why not produce a program of your own to show your point of view? That's the problem with everyone. Everyone complains about stuff but don't actually take action to change things for the better.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Kay

    That reference to the "rebel child" who wants to marry the Irish Catholic came off as thinly veiled contempt for Irish Catholics.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  11. Angel

    All any religion does is give people the excuse to manipulate, judge, hate and even kill other human beings!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Shareef Beane

      Wow! Thats a sophisticated understanding of religion. Aren't we the scholar.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  12. Kay

    That reference to the "rebel child" who wants to marry the Irish Catholic came off as thinly veiled contempt for Irish Catholics. You could have easily said a non-Muslim, or to be more to the point someone of a different faith. But specifying denotes a negativity about the faith they would marry into. Even if this wasn't your intention, this could be inferred on by the reader and they would assume this is your belief. I would choose my words more carefully if I were you.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  13. Aja

    Interesting that the author used the offensive term "midgets" in his article.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Shareef Beane

      He's a comedian. Is political incorrectness only allowed for Bill Mahr?

      November 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • tallulah13

      Was this opinion piece supposed to be funny? If it was, this guy shouldn't quit his day job. Offensive words work in comedic context, not in serious dialogue.

      November 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • J.W

      Seems more like he is angry to me

      November 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  14. J-Teezy

    I prefer the locked in the kitchen style women a lot more.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  15. Jacque

    I think TLC may be trying to ease America into the whole muslim world. With so much prejudice in this country, people need to get this in little doses. Their little brains can't handle the influx of real information. I haven't watched it yet, but I feel it's a good start. Maybe in the next few years you'll get a show about black muslims. I hope you do because I would like to see it. Most Americans can't handle the fact that there are millions of citizens in this country that are from all different cultures and religions. The most beautiful thing about this country is the fact that it is the melting pot of the world.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  16. NorCalMojo

    Just what America needs, another whiny minority group.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  17. Jacob H

    What he fails to realize is that while not completely representative, this show isn't for Muslims. It's for non-Muslims and its subjects are presented in a way that middle America can relate.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  18. SnazzyGirl

    I agree the show has its flaws. However, your suggestions are narrow minded. I am a Muslim American mother of 20 something old children. I do not look for doctors and lawyers to marry my children. I am as American as they come. I have all the woes and happy times. I am elated one got through high school with great plans and with the other I met counselors weekly. I am watching them struggle to find jobs and get upset when they play video games all day and night., or that they stay out till wee hours of the morning. I don't go to the Mosque regularly, nor my children do, however we know the rules we abide by. We shop, we love nice things, designer clothes and electronic gadgets. I agree TLC found the extremes of the American Muslim woman. I do not know anyone that has body art as shown on the show, nor do I know any Muslim woman who'd want to open a lounge/bar. I do know Muslim women and men who have affairs, those who have 9-5 jobs and struggle with baby sitting vs stay at home. Women and men who deal with the same issues as an All American family, kids coming home from college with no jobs, drugs, dead beat dads, boyfriends, girlfriends and sometimes baby mamas...yes we have it all, just like you do,

    November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  19. notnow

    I wouldn't worry too much about it. It's been a long time since T.V. or the news media been taken seriously anyway.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • seamus

      nice i hate it

      November 16, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  20. Farrow

    This is typical for reality TV and for networks like TLC, the History Channel, and Discovery, who attracted not to "reality" but to the fringe. Ever notice that all these reality shows are about pawn shop owners, biker dudes, repo men, bounty hunters, tattoo artists, and their ilk? Never a reality show about astronauts or archaeologists or any number of other interesting people. Why? because the network execs think the average viewer is trash and thus programming must be aimed at the lowest common denominator. On top of that, the producers, directors, screenwriters, and others who make these programs generally know nothing about the topic at hand, but somehow believe that they are "experts" merely because they're making a reality show. OK, that's my rant.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:13 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.