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. Muslimah

    I agree with you Aman Ali!

    November 19, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  2. Carl


    A better written article about the show.

    November 18, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  3. Bj

    Hey, what do you have against Toby Keith?!?!?!?!

    November 18, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  4. JJ

    I would like to see them take the entire cast to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Let's see how American they act then.

    November 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan


    November 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Bj


      November 18, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  6. Iqbal Khan

    Watch this.

    November 17, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Make me.

      November 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  7. boobookitty

    Why did they highlight Arabs? Because Arabs lobby for it. Understand that there are thousands of Arabs in this country who want to co opt Islam and make it Arab, why? Because then they can make it white or at least whitish and deny the rest of Muslims as interlopers. Sad really but its the Hollywood thing, if it bleeds it leads, if its white its alright

    November 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Rasha

      Well its in Arabic after all.... I dont mind if there's an Urdu Islam , a hindi one etc just as long as they are differentiated....Arabs themselves have troubles interpreting a book that has been collected over a decade after Muhammed PBU and the un-dotted letters it was written it plus the different dialects so imagine the translations into Urdu and other languages that are all wrong ..... there should be a differentiation... not one Arab country stones women to death any more in fact not even as much inn history as it is done on annual basis in countries like Afghanistan... let's admit it , it is not the same religion

      November 18, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  8. Dee

    Thanks, good article. American muslims are just like the rest of us and unfortunately 9/11 caused a lot of people to think differently. TV always picks the weirdos and most of us realize that.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  9. abstractchatter

    With all due respect, you might want to stick with comedy. As much as you've tried to shun the idea of stereotyping, you've committed the same act. Depicting desi boys as shy and intimated by women is yet another stereotype, b/c believe you, there are some smooth operators out there.

    Remaining in your mosque-associated Muslim bubble has only limited your understanding of the diverse and pluralistic nature of our society and religion.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • NateDog

      "Many of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim." Correct me if im wrong but im pretty sure none of the slaves that built this country were muslim, thats just stupid.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Rokzane

      Actually, many African slaves WERE Muslim, as Islam had penetrated into large parts of Africa by the time the Western slave trade began. Many other African slaves practiced various combinations of Islam and their native, pagan religions. Unfortunately, this isn’t something one learns in high school U.S. history class.

      November 18, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  10. liveandjive

    every race is picked on and has their culture misconstrued, its the arabs and muslims turn to get misrepresented in the media and look like fools ...too bad.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |

    They could have at least had a token black Muslim character on the show and then killed them off halfway into the story like they do in the movies.

    November 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  12. A Fundamentalist American Muslim

    dude, its all about sensationalism and razzmatazz in media and TV. Who wants to see boring, routine life of anybody on TV, let alone them being Muslims.
    TLC like other channels want to grab anything that creates dazzle and we all know that our US loves to hate Arab Muslims.... so there u go!

    November 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  13. Jean

    Stop all the complaining! Who says people who practice the Islamic faith cannot drink and eat pork? I know plenty of Muslims that practice Islam but also drink and eat pork and they are the nicest people around. At least they can practice their faith and live the way the choose in our country without being persecuted or punished like they would be if they lived in the Middle East. They came to our country looking for FREEDOM......now they have it. 🙂

    November 17, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • Jean

      I might also add that American Muslims are FREE to live a gay lifestyle too! I know one. 🙂

      November 17, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • Rokzane

      Exactly! Many Muslims actually immigrant to America exactly for this reason: Freedom to live how they want to live. They can be whatever they want to be here and live however they want they live. It’s easy for immigrants to assimilate into our culture and life in the U.S. because of our first amendment laws and our cultural value of inclusiveness. This isn’t the case for most of Europe, where muslim immigrants are forced to live segregated from the mainstream culture; and in recent years, this has been causing a lot of strife and rebellion in Europe.

      November 18, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Ashley

      ok as Yasir Qadhi recently stt at an almaghrib course "self identification does not make you a muslim". Islam means peaceful submission to God, if you are submitting to God how can you be eating pork, drinking, wearing mini skirts and going to clubs when all these things are forbidden in Islam?? Just cuz your family is Muslim, it doesnt mean you are if you dont follow what your religion preaches. If God forbids or commands something and you disregard it, your gonna tell me that they are practicing their religion? Oh and btw Sunday Christians are not real Christians either.

      November 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  14. John

    Bunch of BS. These are not your average Muslims just like Jersey Shore does not represent all Italians. Can't believe the media is trying to brain wash us again.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. Smuz

    Religion of peace.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  16. Dee

    If you are talking about poor stereotypes on Muslim's then why would you pick the poorest of them all "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." SMH!

    November 17, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  17. Harry

    "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."

    Actually, it said "number one most concentrated community of Arabs outside the Middle East." I'm not sure that's the best wording, but it's true that Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arabs in the country. New York City has more total, but there are 10,000 times as many people in New York as there are in Dearborn, so Dearborn has a much higher percentage. Just thought it was my duty to point that out as a resident of Dearborn.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  18. seal

    Muhammad Ali used as an example in this article, what a joke, the only reason he became a muslim was to escape fighting for his country in Vietnam. He is just another coward.

    November 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • HB

      Actually, to be fair and factual, Muhammed Ali converted to Islam in 1964, three years before he was drafted. He wasn't even eligible to join at first, given the qualifying test. So to say he converted to avoid a war, isn't particularly accurate. And, as a sidenote, is is quite possible that his views about the war mirrored MANY other Americans who opposed it vehemently. I think it takes alot of courage to stand up against a government and say you wont risk your life for something you absolutely don't believe in or agree with.

      November 16, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  19. Alexis

    I'm shocked that your biggest complaints are that a 60 min. show on TV didn't represent every since Muslim American that's out there and that the football team is not undefeated, who cares, they are high school students and football is an extracurricular activity just like in any other high school. This seems really short sighted.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  20. ScottishTexanBull

    Dude, Aman is funny. This Christian American wouldn't mind hanging out with that Muslim American for some beers, kebabs, or some meal that does not seem to be ethnically insensitive when proposed by me ~ LOL –

    November 16, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Unlike the beer, which, I think, is forbidden in Islam?

      November 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
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.