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. See Novak

    The Muslim movement didn't really catch on until Muhammed Ali (ne Cassius Clay) made it "cool". Yes, there were "outposts"
    of Islam in some of the larger cities, but a black Muslim in America (the were called Moslems back then) was rare. Islam had not largely spread to south or west Africa prior to 1860, so, no, the slaves (or at least the vast majority of them) were NOT Muslims. They didn't chant the Koran in the cotton fields, my friend.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Kate65

      Thank you for writing this. To speak of all black Africans as being Muslim is a BIG mistake. The Masai, of Kenya, believed that there was one god (cattle were sacred), but were, of course, neither Christian nor Muslim. Tribes in South African/Zimbabwe believed in the concept of many gods. Islam started in the Middle East, and was not a part of African religious tradition. To believe otherwise is wear blinders.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  2. Capercorn

    Congratulations Muslim Americans! You are now considered part of the mainstream!

    Enjoy the dumb TV stereotypes!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Here2DayGone2mrw

      Best check the welcome basket is halal!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  3. Katie

    Ok really? Cry me a river. I hear you, I really do. I haven't even seen the show, but I take your word for it that it's terrible and non-representative. But have you not heard of this new thing called "reality TV"? It's been going on for quite a while now, and it's pretty clear it does NOT represent reality. Get over it! I'm from NJ, and I cannot STAND all the shows that stereotype my entire state in such sleezy, disgusting, reprehensible ways. But you don't see me whining on CNN about it (with the exception of this comment).

    November 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  4. See Novak

    The Muslim movement didn't really catch on until Muhammed Ali (ne Cassius Clay) made it "cool". Yes, there were "outposts"
    of Islam in some of the larger cities, but a black Muslim in America (the were called Moslems back then) was rare. Islam had not largely spread to south or west Africa prior to 1860, so, no, the slaves (or at least the vast majority of them) were Muslims. They didn't chant the Koran in the cotton fields.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  5. Suboptimal

    Do any of those Imams in the 30 mosques (presumably both Shia and Sunni) preach religious tolerance in their own native countries (if not born in the US) – such that Zoroastrian's and Bahai's are not evil? It seems that this is recent export from Iran, which we can all do without.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  6. Pablo

    I just realized after reading this how tired I am of hearing about faith and religion, tolerance and diversity. If you're over the age of 10 you either get it at this point or you don't. This country has the societal maturity of an infant. Grow up America.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  7. Maryam

    Diagnosis to Aman Ali – Muslim Anti-Immune Disease (MAID). Hating on other Muslims that aren't like you. Unity doesn't mean things being monochrome to you. Every person is different and has value in this world...even Shadia and Nina. Every thing has a different color and shape and if you put them together, it actually can make a beautiful picture. Your housekeeping note basically makes it easier for anti-Muslim haters to target Muslims even more. Thanks.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  8. moi

    I agree with the narrow focus on Arabs in Dearborn not representing the entire American Muslim spectrum, but I think the show is interesting and plan to watch all episodes. There has never been a show about Muslims like this and I want to watch the whole thing before forming a final judgment on it. I would also like to see shows about about other Muslim American subgroups as well as Jewish Americans, etc. I enjoy the topic of comparative religion and this show fits right into my interests.

    I went to see Fordson when it came out at the theater and my kids liked it too. It was a show you could take the whole family to.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • hippypoet

      finally a thoughtful and caring response... most of these people have only hatred in there hearts for this issue.. i feel exactly as you do concerning this article – it sounds interesting and i would like to see it before having an opinion on it.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  9. Dutch Cartoon Fan

    Dude, if you were hoping to get enlightenment from reality tv, you started out in the wrong place.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  10. Dave

    Really, Aman? reallly? you can't appreciate the intent and just go with it? your points of criticism are so incredibly frivolous and petty....you're really stretching it and desperately craving the attention. Yes we get it that you're convinced YOU are the accurate well-rounded depiction of an American muslim...with your towering intellect and insight. but please, do us all a favor, and give it a rest for a while...and be happy that for once...Muslims are on TV for something other than blowing s#&* up. Yay!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  11. Cricket

    The author has made his judgement after seeing only one episode. How does he know other cultures won't be included? Pretty premature.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  12. Roy Peters

    Gosh, what a whiner! So funny the people that persecute the most, cry the most when they feel persecuted. Still waiting to see your piece on Muslims in Egypt murdering Coptic Christians, Egypt's true inhabitants. Something tells me that's OK with you though.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Kim G.


    I agree, what a loose premise for a TV show in this time and Space.

    Check out "Little Mosque on the Prairie" on CBC television, Muslim humour mixed in with other offbeat beliefs.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  14. Jose M. Pulido

    Baldie says: "TLC has disappointed me. But maybe that’s not saying much, considering the network airs two shows exploiting the lives of midgets/."

    Do you think they are being short changed? Man, you are so short-sighted. Just because they are little, that does not mean they are getting the short end of the stick...so to speak. They ar eon TV but at least they are not planning to blow up buildings and murder 2700 people like your fellow Islamist/Muslims brothers did on 911.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  15. T3chsupport

    I thought they didn't like being called 'midgets'?
    It's a start. Stop whining, or go make your own TV show about how you think 'real' Muslims commonly are.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  16. John Geheran

    That Black Americans contributed substantially to this country's foundation is indisputable. It is likewise indisputable that Muslim slave traders were responsible for the majority of black Africans sold into slavery. As an aside, slave-holding in Saudi Arabia was only abolished in the 20th century.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  17. the thinker (homage)

    i think christians suck at life, and do so at an ever increasing rate!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  18. Rod C. Venger

    Lol. sectarian violence is right around the corner if this guy's first complaint is that the show didn't have Sunni's in it. Most noticeable though is Islam's apparent lack of a :The meek shall inherit the Earth" equivalent. This guy insists that only his travels could possibly show what "American-Muslims" are really about. An ego that size just can't go unstroked, I guess.

    Fact: "Islam" and "America" are ideas that are in opposition. There can be no coexistence so long as the one seeks to suppress the other. Islam seek to suppress all in favor of itself. I hope the show highlights that.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  19. Cindy

    I'm not sure if you're angry because the show didn't focus on African-American Muslims or if you're angry because the show didn't focus on your project 30 Mosques in 30 days. Oh, and by the way, to be called "midget" is considered very derogatory and hurtful by people with dwarfism. Who's stereotyping now Mr. Ali?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Bill

      Agreed. Also, perhaps the show is interested in ratings? They may not have your full interests in mind, as they are likely trying to appeal to as vast an audience as possible to make money.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Hypocrite Hunter

      There is a difference between a Midget and a person with Dwarfism...check your facts next time you feel like being a self-righteous kunt 🙂

      November 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  20. Jose M. Pulido

    "30 Mosques in 30 Days" that is also how fast Islamists are building those eerie-looking Islamic-terrorist sleeeper-cell mosques in the USA.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Chris

      congrats Jose, you are 1 of the large population of ignorant islamophobes in this country, because they are the only religion which has had a small number (a fraction of a percent) who misinterpreted a peaceful religion and commited acts of terror in its name. But i guess if all muslims are terrorists, then you should fry for the acts of the Crusaders, or Adolf Hitler cause if we are gonna stereotype 1 religion might as well make it a trend I see no reason for a statutory limit on the when the events happened, Bottom line is, it isnt right to stereotype people based on the actions of others, and as a vet of the current wars, I have seen how peaceful and beautiful Islam is.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
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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.