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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. AJ

    This commentary is very juvenile. TLC, if you reading this, thanks for doing this show.

    November 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  2. WORST Review I've Ever Read

    This is the WORST review I have EVER read. Not because you don't like the show, but because the points you makes are so ridiculously baseless. I could go point by point on everything you said, but that would just take too long. Basically you don't like the show because it doesn't represent YOUR Islam or type of Muslim. That's the point of the show, to portray lots of different types of people. Didn't you notice there are conservative, modern women on the show, as well as liberal?? Your arguement about it being just Arab is so lacking. Dearborn's population of Arabs is much, much more concentrated than that of New York's, which is clear from the community they live in. And another thing, the football team, really, you're worried about what their scores were??? Who cares! That's not even what the show is about, it's about how they live their lives! How they made it through practice during Ramadan, their rituals (i.e. prayers) before games, etc.

    My parents aren't Southeast Asian or Arab, and they are VERY different and much more understanding than what you described as the type that want you to be married by 23 and become a doctor. Did you ever think that what you described isn't representative of all Muslims, just like how you feel this show isn't?? It would really irritate me if those were the only type of Muslim's they put on the show because it would be SO stereotypical and couldn't be further from the reality of things. The show never claimed to portray different ethnic groups or even groups within Islam, just different lifestyles between Muslims. Again, you're just focusing on what YOU think of Islam and Muslims when the whole point of the show is to open up people's eyes to the different type of Muslims out there, making you part of the exact target audience, ignorant and living in a bubble.

    November 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  3. FAATIMAH

    I AGREE THAT THIS SHOW DOESNT REPRESENT MUSLIMS AT ALL. ALTHOUGH I HAVE NEVER SEEN IT BUT JUST FROM THE PICTURE OF THE FAMILY AND THE ARTICLE I CAN SURELY SAY IS IT PREDOMINATELY FALSE. EVEN THE AUTHOR DOESNT REPRESENT MUSLIMS CORRECTLY. THE MEDIA SURELY DOESNT EITHER.

    November 27, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  4. Joe

    Here he complains about focusing on Arabs and Shia, presumably instead of Indians/Pakis/Indonesians and Sunni:
    "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)."

    Here he acts like everyone is all the same, Catholics, Protestants, Sunni, Shia, Hindu...
    "That’s Muslim America. They’re stories of people no different than any one else in this country."

    So which exactly is his problem? Not enough focus on his definition of Muslim, or not enough showing how much they are just like the rest of society?

    November 27, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  5. Rob

    This author doesn't like the show because the characters are not of asian decent and aren't like him. And get this.... he's a comedian. I guess that humor is not something that Muslim comedians are familiar with.

    November 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • May

      Did you people even read his commentary?
      He's asking where are the African Muslims, not where are the East Asian Muslims. He never said it was bad to mention Shia or Arab Muslims, just that THEY DON'T REPRESENT EVERY MUSLIM IN AMERICA.
      Do the caps help you read better because clearly you people can't comprehend a simple article.

      November 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  6. Nourah

    I agree with you that the show doesn't portray most Muslims, but you have to keep in mind Muslims as in every religion and nationality are very diverse and cannot be stereotyped into one group. you never know maybe TLC will read this article and be encouraged to film a second season focusing on the African American Muslim community or a Sunni community for that matter.... looking forward to watching the rest of the show.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  7. Will C

    I can't wait until Islam becomes mainstream in North America and runs into ACLU protests prohibiting in law their beliefs and customs. Christianity has already been through this. Funny thing is, the ACLU lawyers will be put on "Death Lists" if they resist or critisize Islam. You are not allowed to question Islam! Too fun! It may be a good thing, all the ACLU lawyers will be out-dated and eliminated!

    November 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  8. gudafi

    i hate all non mulims and people from the west who think there mulims YOUR NOT MUSLIM IF YOUR NOT ARAB DESENT

    November 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • amed

      you shut your face and respect

      November 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • gudafi

      you understand these people of the west dont know the quran even if it is english it loses meaning so there a bunch of suck ups

      November 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • amed

      well at least there trying to understand on point of the religion of peace
      every religion has its own peace to understand other you must know first intead of shuning them
      your a prime example why i have seen some of my friends leave the muslim religon and convert to the shameful christianity

      November 23, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • max

      ohh, im hurt. we really cant be buds?

      muslims, chrisdtians, jews, etc – you all live in a fantasy where some supreme being actually cares about your puny life.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • anna

      Are you retarded or just plain stupid?

      November 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Provide you proof if you are truthful~

      قُلْ هَاتُواْ بُرْهَانَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
      Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him ), "Produce your proof if you are truthful." (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:111)

      You claim only Arabs are true Muslims, while there is NOTHING in the qura'an or the sunnah stating so. You have NO PROOF for your accusations, yet you accuse others of not understanding the qura'an?

      While each prophet before Muhamamd, sal Allahu alaihi wa salam, was sent to their own nation, he,sal Allahu alaihi wa salam, was sent to ALL mankind! Allah said so in the QURA'AN!

      وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا كَافَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ بَشِيرًا وَنَذِيرًا وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
      And We have not sent you (O Muhammad SAW) except as a giver of glad tidings and a warner to all mankind, but most of men know not. (Surah As-Saba' 34:28)

      قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ لا إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ يُحْيِـي وَيُمِيتُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ النَّبِيِّ الأُمِّيِّ الَّذِي يُؤْمِنُ بِاللّهِ وَكَلِمَاتِهِ وَاتَّبِعُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
      Say (O Muhammad SAW): "O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allâh – to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. Lâ ilâha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He); It is He Who gives life and causes death. So believe in Allâh and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), the Prophet who can neither read nor write (i.e. Muhammad SAW) who believes in Allâh and His Words [(this Qur'ân), the Taurât (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and also Allâh's Word: "Be!" – and he was, i.e. 'Iesa (Jesus) son of Maryam (Mary),], and follow him so that you may be guided." (Surah Al-A'raf 7:158)

      وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
      And We have sent you (O Muhammad SAW) not but as a mercy for the 'Alamîn (mankind, jinns and all that exists). (Surah Al-Anbiya 21:107)

      How dare you lie on this deen and claim being Arab makes you pious, when our beloved Prophet, sal Allahu alaihi wa salam, said in his last khutbah(sermon):

      "All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwâh)" (Musnad of Imam Ahmad)

      Your worst crime is falsely accusing millions of Muslims of Kufr(disbelief)! How dare you make takfeer on the people with NO PROOF? Since Arabs know the religion so well, did you know the following?

      The Prophet, sal Allahu alaihi wa salam said:
      "Whoever accuses his brother in faith accuses of Fusuq (by calling him 'Fasiq' i.e. a wicked person) or accuses him of Kufr(disbelief), such an accusation will revert to him (i.e. the accuser) if his companion (the accused) is innocent." ( Sahih Bukhari)

      So FEAR ALLAH, and get rid of your kibr(arrogance), indeed it is in the fire.

      The Prophet, sal Allahu alaihi wa salam, also said:
      “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of kibr(arrogance) in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allaah is beautiful and loves beauty. Kibr means denying the truth and looking down on people.” (Sahih Muslim)

      As for the Muslim HATERS falsely attributing people's foolishness, like so-called honor killings to Islam, there is no need for me or anyone to respond to them. They have made up their minds, and have NO interest in the truth. They do NOT want to be educated, and are merely trolling the internet to spread their hate and infect the rest of the world with their lies.

      "When the foolish one speaks, do not reply to him, For better than a response (to him) is silence;
      And if you speak to him you have aided him,
      And if you left him (with no reply),
      in extreme misery he dies!" (Imam Shafi'ee, rahimaullah)

      Ironically, this show & the author of this article, both have something in common with the Muslim HATERS. They are all FALSELY attributing cultural ideologies & practices to Islam. If its not in the qura'an & sunnah, then do NOT attribute it to Islam! If you are not a scholar of Islam, then do NOT assume to understand it either. The best way to learn about Islam is from REAL MUSLIM scholars, not anti-Muslim propagandists, people who can't see the difference between culture and Islam, or bigot Muslims who are BLIND to their own sins, but think they are the best Muslims just because of the country they come from!

      BTW, it is NOT only/mostly Arabs who are being discriminated against. Especially Arabs who do NOT practice Islam. I went to school with many of them who just pretended to be Hispanic, Italian or even white if they were light enough, especially after 9- 11.

      I am not an Arab nor am I American. I do have a light complexion, but I wear complete hijab, including the Niqab/veil, BY CHOICE since age 17, and I did NOT stop looking & acting Muslim out of fear of the racist jerks!

      Being a light-skinned non-Arab has never stopped coward racists from abusing me, including the filthy white racist MAN (its usually cowardly men, whose mama's never hugged them) who said he wanted to set me on fire. When I told him to repeat that statement to my husband who was in the car with my sick child, while I picked vegetables at the farmers market, the COWARD ran off in his truck. I know white american Muslims who have gotten the same filthy treatment. It has nothing to do with color or ethnicity, when you SHOW your Islam in ALL you do.

      You can NOT hide your Islam when you wear hijab. My American husband can't hide his Islam when he wears his thowb & kufi. Islam is a way of life, it is not a skin color, a nationality, nor is it merely saying "I am Muslim". Islam is not only in the hearts, it is in the speech, actions, and the dress. Those of us who show our Islam, endure a lot more discrimination, regardless of our ethnic origin.

      So please, those Arabs who foolishly think only/mostly YOU are discriminated against, have some compassion and stop the tunnel vision. Its NOT only you, its NOT even mostly you.

      November 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Dan

    'I don't like this show because it's not about me and what *I* believe. Pay attention to me!"

    Sheesh. What a childish article. You can't win for losing. If they had gone the traditional route they would have been criticised for stereotyping.

    November 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Salim

      I agree with your comment.

      Like they keep saying in these shows it is about you and God not you and everyone else.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Anfra

    To the author – I watched the show and I work with the gentleman that got married on the first episode who converted from Catholic to Muslim so that he could marry the love of his life. I am so proud of this show simply because its creating dialogue that normally is unspoken about a religion that most Americans don't understand therefore fear.

    There will only be 8 episodes of this series, therefore it can not cover or represent every aspect of the Muslim life and religious practices. However, it is very educational as well as entertaining and hopefully, it will show Americans who are Christians that we all are the same; same dreams, goals, ambitions, desires and basic human quest for love, undestanding and the right to worship, and serve God the way in which we choose. Man may never understand and respect each other's differences. But I do believe that God Almighty ( no matter what name we call God) will answer and accept our differneces and love us all the same.

    Conscious Living & Spiritually Speaking
    Anfra

    November 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  11. Kam

    Muslims are not monolithic, so of course they can't speak for you. It's the same way Cnn's Black in America always manages to miss the mark for me.

    November 21, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Hira

    I totally agree. TLC has portrayed "All-American Muslim" as if Muslims are aliens and are so different that they need a show to define who they are. The show doesn't even go into explain the aspects of Islam. They dwell too much on the fact that it is brutal and extremely hard being a Muslim in America when truly it is not. Although there are many aspects to which I disagree with the show, I extol the fact they have tried to portray Muslims other than terrorists even if it wasn't done correctly in my opinion.

    November 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • chris

      I disagree with your statement "TLC has portrayed "All-American Muslim" as if Muslims are aliens and are so different that they need a show to define who they are". I see the point of the show to show Americans some of the Muslim culture so that Americans can see Muslims in a different way than "being terrorist's". It is to help Americans whom fear Islam and Muslims or to help inform those unfamiliar with different cultures than what they are used to. 9/11 unfortunately taught many Americans to fear Muslims and their Islamic religion.

      December 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  13. nura

    I'm American born and raised. I converted to Islam. The show is surely not talking about me or anyone I know for that matter!

    November 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Ashley

      straight up girl...converts to Islam are popping up like toater struedel...minus the flakiness...we add new dimension to the ummah, not to mention reflect the beginnings of Islam when everyone was a convert. People tend to avoid talking about the white girls and latinas wearing hijab and praying in the parking lots of BigLots. I would like to see a show that accurately portrays a true practicing muslim family of people born and raised in the us. See then struggle with their Christian families at Christmas and have to explain whey they were absent from their new nephews baptism...cuz you cant tell them i didnt go cuz its shirk...I would like to see in law struggles of trying to understand your crazy desi inlaws and why they call you everyday to ask you what you ate...this is Islam in America for me.

      November 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  14. Alicia Krysiak

    I agree with the author. If TLC really wanted to develop a show that gave a good cross section of Muslims AND make it entertaining and realistic, why don't the y talk to the numerous Muslim American comedians? They were raised in the culture and could give TLC lots of great ideas that would be getting closer to the mark and we Muslims could identify with?

    November 21, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  15. Denis k

    Im Muslim and white. My heritage is from Bosnia and I feel as though the writer of this article put the nail in the coffin. TLC couldn't be any more stereotypical as the redneck down the street. Just because someone is Muslim does not make them middle eastern. This stereotypical ideology has to be acknowledge.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  16. jeddah

    i agree...with most all of this article..the reason they are only showing arab muslims is because thats the fear factor in our media now. I overhear many people ignorantly fearful of arabs...so HOPEFULLY concentrating ANY muslim group will open the doors to opening the eyes of the rest of the population that muslims are for lack of a better term relatable more than once perceived..which is also likely WHY they chose such opposite ends of the spectrum to depict differences..unfortunately gotta start somewhere and there is no way to fit the entire truth and keep it REALITY SHOW WORTHY and interesting to the people who need to see muslims american muslims as people..business women/men like them..wives..parents..cops..sisters..mothers..fathers..citizens just like them in SOME ways.

    November 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  17. zeina

    Islam is a religion its not a way of life. I'm an Egyptian Muslim and no one forces me to do by the Quraan. u cant say all Christians are bad nor u can say the same about Muslims. people are not the same! maybe Osama Bin Laden is a terrorist maybe Iran kills people who convert from Islam to any other religion but that doesn't mean that all Muslims go by these rules! we choose to believe in what we want just like Christians do. its not a package its the way u wanna live ur life.!! the quraan even says "La Ikraah fel dein" which means u cant make someone do something they don't want to do, everyone has his own beliefs and upon that god will judge them!"BESM ALLAH AL RAHMAN AL RAHEEM, kol ya ayouha al kaferoun,la aboud ma taboudoun, wa la antom abedouna ma aboud, wa la ana abed ma abadotom, wa la antom abedoun ma aboud, LAKOM DEENAKOM W LEYA DEENNI Sadaka allaho al atheem" anyone who read the Quraan or if you have a friend who reads Arabic they would tell u what i wrote and if ur still not sure, search it plus their are English Quraans!

    November 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  18. Anwar H.

    I'm a muslim from chicago TLC should change the show name to Sume American Muslims, then let them do what pleases them

    November 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  19. Thomas Klimchuk

    I wonder when theyll show a honour killing as well

    November 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • ahmad

      i was reading a report that was issued by the UN on honor killings ,,i was shocked the england was on the top of the list ,, in the top 10 countries there were one arab country ranked at no#7 ..lol

      November 21, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • RBNSN

      The honour killing in Great Britain were done by South Asian Muslim families read the report properly and do some research.

      December 10, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  20. Lisita

    after all reality show is something very new to the american muslim community... I though the article had a lot of good points but is very harsh as well. specifically talking about the football team's record...

    November 19, 2011 at 9:33 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.