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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. ZamZam

    If this show was about boring "American Muslims" we wouldn't be wasting time commenting here... TLC achieved its purpose..... excellent American marketing and hype..

    November 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  2. BOOM

    ha ha ha gay bay

    November 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  3. BOOM

    i like big moms

    November 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  4. alan

    so, let me get this right. You're complaint is that a reality TV show doesn't accurately portray reality?

    When the hell have they?

    November 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  5. chuck norris

    chuck norris is the cure for cancer

    November 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  6. BOOM

    boom shaka laka boom

    November 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • chuck norris

      gigety gigety goo

      November 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. chuck norris

    when the boogy man goes to bed he check his closit for chuck norris

    November 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  8. Eesa Is Coming

    Money, power, pride, s e x, hate, controversy, slander, lies, backbiting, deception, mockery makes money in the media, news, internet, movies etc.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  9. B. Richards

    Your statement that "[m]any of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim," cannot be substantiated. It is certain that "some" were Muslim, because some slaves came from Muslim areas of Africa. But, the vast majority did not and therefore likely were not Muslim, and the evidence of Muslim cultural influence among early slaves is not strong. By saying "many" you are therefore implying a greater influence than can be substantiated. That being said, our culture has been enriched immeasurably by the amalgamation of cultural traditions from all our immigrants, including those brought here forcibly against their wills.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  10. biff

    hi

    November 16, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  11. bob

    muther effer

    November 16, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  12. ZamZam

    US love to hate Arab Muslims and thats what this show is about .... thanks, AIPAC

    November 16, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • marc

      Wrong, USA don't love to hate Muslims...the racist whites in this country do. Don't include the rest of us when it comes to your people and their hate for others.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  13. serialmom

    The word "midget," is offensive. The proper way to refer to these people is "little people," or dwarves. The writer is obviously young, certainly everything must be about him.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • cfristoe

      Serialmom: A dwarf is a person of abnormally small stature owing to a pathological condition, especially one suffering from cretinism or some other disease that produces disproportion or deformation of features and limbs. A midget is an extremely small person having normal physical proportions. You should visit the dictionary for terms you are unfamiliar with.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  14. Tim

    "Most Muslim women in this country don’t fit neatly into the ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal categories. They’re in the gray area." Just say it, Aman – they're moderates. I agree with your premise though. TLC is attempting to knock down one stereotype by creating another.

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

    I.m pretty sure the point of the show was to select people that fit an image that most uninformed people immediately associate muslims (and or terrorists AKA arab muslims) to make the point that not all arabs (or muslims) are extremists.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  16. tony

    You sound like what I think is a stereotypical muslim; someone who tells others what they should wear, how they should worship, and how they should create a comedy show. When Muslims start standing up for freedom of religion and freedom of choice, then maybe I will stand up for muslims

    November 16, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • OCSnapper

      Oh snap! The truth bell rang so loud when I read this that I couldn't help but reply with a "Oh snap!"

      November 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  17. fairy tales

    ancient alien theorist think all sky fairy believers are silly and being tricked by aliens from some far away place that uses earth as it's zoo of sorts.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  18. EGP

    20% is way too high

    November 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  19. Truth About Sharia

    There is no compulsion in religion. This verse from the Koran means that you cannot force beliefs on people. It does not apply to rules of Sharia that Muslims are supposed to follow. So there is nothing such as stoning people for not converting. The punishment of apostasy is applied in Muslim governed countries only (there is none present day) and is similar to punishment for treason. You cannot commit and testify to believing in the One True Creator and disbelief as you wish. The Bible clearly talks about apostasy as a punishable crime FYI.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  20. Bigj

    Your summary is 100% correct but you are missing the most important thing. If they show the real muslim community everyone would be sleeping. "Reality" tv is far from reality. They pick the most controversial people to be in these shows and make them out to be the norm. So anyway, you are right but TLC wants money and don't care about what real muslims are, they care about ratings.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:23 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.