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. marc

    9 out of 10 this show is written by white writers that's why it comes across like that. Whites don't write on facts when it comes to other races, but stereotypes that they have made up between themselves over the years. Just read some of the comments on here left by white people all of them are stereotypes one person put (If they show the real muslim community everyone would be sleeping.) This is a classic white person stereotype to say, it's really all they know. Hopefully one day they will evolve....

    November 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  2. Jeff

    It was the Irish slaves that built the country...the Black slaves worked the fields!

    November 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  3. Me again

    "Many of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim." Umm.. no they weren't. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/religion/history.html

    November 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  4. Jeff

    I hate reality TV. How about a nice old-fashioned sit-com...Like Assim and Harriet, or something!

    November 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |

    There you go creating something trying to show a good light on muslims in americaas normal americans into a racial thing first of all Islam teaches unity in islam...well Its supposed to. As a muslim it shouldnt matter besides islam came from the arab world why not show an arab muslim family...When you think of muslims you think of arabs the middle east not african americans or east indians jeez just show unity thats its a muslim family on tv!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  6. Dana

    Astute observations, Aman. The show focuses on Arab American Muslims because that's what most Americans think of when they think of Muslims. To show them as an African American, Indonesian, or Indian (whom they might think are Arab anyway) would be jarring and confusing which might, of course, cause the viewer to flip to the next channel.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |

    U JEW

    November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  8. CAB

    It is apparent Mr. Ali understands “Free Speech” – Now for a little schooling in capitalism! Start your own show and make it what you feel it should be! Certainly the network did not get where they are today because of a poor lineup or poorly produced shows… Mr. Ali was enamored by it and will probably watch it again!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |


    November 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |


    November 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |


    November 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  12. Kool Aid

    I think I hear what he is saying, but I am hesitant to agree with his argument that the show does not adequately represent American Muslims. One show could not accomplish that any better than a show could fully represent every flavor of Christian or Jew in this country.

    I have a better idea. Do it MTV-Real World-style. Grab a member of EVERY religion (including some of the freakier ones, like Scientology and the Seventh Day Adventists) and put them all in one dorm room. The season finale will end with half of the cast murdering the other half.

    Religions do not get along because it is inherent to the programming of religion–either deal with it or find a way to teach your kids to think critically. There is no middle-ground to be found here...sorry.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  13. trenton benson

    why is the internet turning into russia

    November 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |


    November 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  15. trenton benson

    i like big buts and i cant lie

    November 16, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  16. 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 10:44 am |
    • Jes Sayin

      Well, if so-called 'reality TV were actually real, you MIGHT be able to say that it accurately portrays one small sample of one group of Muslims.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:50 am |

    i like pie

    November 16, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  18. BOOM

    go fly ur plain somewere else

    November 16, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  19. BOOM

    ur moma

    November 16, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  20. BOOM

    u suck ur pencil

    November 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Jes Sayin

      Very thoughtful and intelligent comment. Did you have to work on it for long? You must be very proud of yourself!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:47 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.