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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. Mikej

    It is a religion that has a good potential for killing. For some reason as the taking over of the british embassy shows there is not much respect for rules. Muslims want to take over the world. If you change to Muslim ok but you could die if you don't. With each country they go to they bring their world view with them. The only reason they haven't started more trouble is they are outnumbered. Give it time then we can do harm to Christians. I am so surprised as I pass a mosque near my home as to how unbothered it is. No rocks thru the windows oh so peaceful. Unfortunate to say pastors are killed, being christian is a danger to your life and job, churches are bombed yet without outcry from Muslims, why. I would be rich if had a dollar for every time Jesus has been mocked or trashed. Why is it Muslims can't understand freedom of the press. After the world is all Muslim then the different sects can be intolerant of each other. The never ending spiral. Democracy-phobes unite your paradise is near.

    November 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      As if christians and christianity and most other cults don't have a good potential for killing...

      December 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Rose

    I have seen the show and I like it give you some in site in to their life but they are still true their faith not much on that just that some of them were born here, Yes there may be good one who do want peace but then you have the one who just don't
    They are the ones who make it bad for the ones who want peace, I do have to say it is very eye opening on how we to treat them.To just not sure yet. I still no teaching on Islam ? do you ??

    November 29, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  3. Yousuf

    I used to be a religious Muslim, now just a cultural Muslim, and I can tell right away that Aman is mad because All-American Muslim has a Shia presence, because it shows Muslims who actually like America, and it portrays Muslims who are not that religious. As a Muslim familiar with all of our pathologies I can tell readily that Aman harbors some very disturbing beliefs against Americans and Non-Muslims. He certainly does not represent Muslims as a whole but he does echo the voice of the more fanatical wing of the Muslim community who finds fault in anything that doesn't prop up the fasad Islam wants propped up to motivate conversion. I am of mixed heritage, including Arab and South Asian heritage, and I can tell you that All-American Muslim portrays what the Arab Muslim community is like throughout the USA. It could probably use a literalist Muslim in the show, causing a sort of inner dialogue but that's all. Arabs are the heart of the Muslim community, Islam is an Arab religion despite how some Muslims would like to frame it. TLC made a great show and I enjoy their other shows, which Aman implied where garbage. Aman has some real problems, get rid of this guy and find someone more objective to write on the Muslim community.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Talkaboutbeing"objective"

      "Arabs are the heart of the Muslim community" & "Islam is an Arab religion" What in the world are you talking about???

      Talk about being objective! I'm not going to waste too much words replying to your baseless complain against the writer, but I think you really just destroyed your whole argument with those claims. Excuse me Mr. Expert on the Muslim "pathologies", but have you looked around you recently?? Muslims in America are not only representative of every part of the world in a demographic sense, but their contributions to Muslim communities all across North America have been enormous!! Don't ask someone else to be unbiased (which I think the writer is), while your completely basing your argument on biased, unreal, claims!

      Please, for the love of all things objective, open your eyes!!!

      November 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  4. Getyourstorystraight

    I don't mind that the author disagrees with the show; however, the facts he presents about the show are false, leading to a huge lack of credibility on his part. "One woman is a boozing, tattoo-laden rebel child who wants to marry an Irish Catholic." In the show, the lady he speaks of specifically says she does not drink, and actually turns down alcohol when some "Frat Boys" try to get her to do a beer bong. If you're going to speak out against something, at least get your facts straight before you make a fool of yourself on CNN. Fool.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Zaid H

      Sorry. but looking at this woman appearance and the way she carries herself, you don't have to say much. I don't care if she's muslim or any other religion. I tend to agree with the author on that one

      November 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  5. maraim

    and your idea of a "REAL american muslium story" is that of the sterotype. not the truth. – excuse me I thought you were muslim and saying this, – regardless, your the definition of why muslims need a TV SHOW to somewhat change the perception and clear cookie cut version of them, that people expect are true all around the world, which its not there are different types all over teh world in different places in their lives, just like every human being in the world, they have a different story to tell. this show is a new step, new approach, and something no ones done before.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  6. just thoughts

    Any Religion that promotes Genocide, should NEVER BE PROMOTED OR GLORIFIED INTO A TV SHOW...

    November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • imurfavorite

      any religion that promotes crusading other nations, should never be glorified or promoted to a tv show! so what you saying!
      this tv show is trying to show transparency, and educate people, and that we all americans first!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • MOJarry

      I don't trust ANYONE who has a hyphenated American name: African-American, Arab-American, Mexican-American, Jewish-American, etc. If you want to list your ethnic background, say American-Jew, American-Arab, etc. Otherwise, go back to your "homeland" that you love so much, and spare us "AMERICANS" from your hatred and bigotry. I am foremost an American Citizen, regardless of my heritage, religion, politics, ethnecity, color, and culture. This division and hatred must stop NOW!

      November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • just thoughts

      Muslims are extremely Hypocrytical..why would a person that is muslim live in america? And if Modern Muslims appreciate the america that stands for freedom, then why do they not STRONGLY VOICE IT PUBLICLY???? IF BEING AMERICAN MEANS A TOLERANCE FOR ALL RELIGIONS THEN WHY WOULD YOU SUPPORT A RELIGION THAT IS SO EXTREMELY OPPOSITE? MUSLIMS ARE NOT TOLERANT OF OTHER RELIGIONS. WHY WOULD YOU SUPPORT A CULT THAT PROMOTES HATRID OF AMERICANS? I DO NOT HATE MUSLIMS and believe they have a right to practice but There is stupidicy in PROMOTING HATRID...Making a tv show that promotes a community that is extremely ANTI AMERICAN...and extremely Hypocrytical... THere is no hatrid or bigatry in common sense.. I refuse to promote a cult that promotes killing, violence, and hatrid of AMERICANS ... Perhaps if there were a huge modern day revolution of muslims and the community changed SIGNIFICATLY It would be different..but the muslim community has a LONG way to go and it still has not yet stepped up and talked down extremeist views and I have yet to hear a Muslim say they LOVE AMERICAN AND PROMOTE THE AMERICAN STANCE

      November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  7. maraim

    its so sad that you are a muslim who like many around the world feels repressed by sterotyping and judgements, and reading your commonts really upset me, you talk about the charectors, how one has tattoos and wants to marry a irish catholic man, its showing that there are ALL types of muslims not just what YOU are, its suppose to relate to all different kinds, to show a different side, and as far as your making rude and senseless remarks about the football team not caring about scoring but praise their faith, i think your ciritism of a high school football team of boys is stupid and immature. Also saying that the cop recites his patriotism every 10 seconds, and might as well have a toby keith song as his rington are you saying that all americans are red necks and thats what YOU think because thats what you are implying, who cares if he loves his country and recites it, hes PROUD, just how muslims pray so many times a day because they are proud of who they are, where they came from , and their beliefs your opinion is rude, ignorant, and so sad to see that YOU are doing what you hate, sterotyping and judging....

    November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. Wendy

    Every Show cannot speak for every facet of that particular society. Shows can only speak to one small part. It is not possible to please everyone! Imagine having show about catholics....or Baptists....you cannot represent an entire culture in one show. If that is what you are expecting, then you should also expect to be disappointed.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  9. Chris Honry

    So the author falls into the Shia/Sunni hate war and calls the show sucky for that? You suck, author.
    You're BLACK and most of the world's Muslims are NOT BLACK.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • You're an idiot

      You're an idiot. And/or illiterate. He clearly states in his article that his parents are Indian (from India) which would make him Indian, not black.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Zaid H

      The author is not falling into the Shia/Sunni hate war. He simply states the fact that Shia is a small precentage of muslim population in the world and US in particular.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  10. just thoughts

    wow. Next we will see a tv series on satanism... It is as much as a cult as being a Muslims – Muslims have the youngest cult system in the world..when they preach beheading anyone that is not muslim..which is IN THEIR BIBLE...why would we try to understand that? What is t here to understand? It is a cult seeded with violence..and as much as they have a right to practice what they choose, anyone that is NOT MUSLIM HAS A RIGHT TO LIVE AND PRACTICE THERE RELIGION FREELY..WITH OUT THREAT..any religion that preaches genocide should NEVER BE PROMOTED

    November 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Howard

      You obviously haven't read the Old Testament. Now, that was some violence! Of course, it's just the Jewish Book of Fairy Tales.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • just thoughts

      RIGHT NOW PRESENT DAY.....Christians do not promote Genocide...medieval christians had some modern day muslims tendancies... current day christians speak against genocide...Its a FACT that the Muslim religion is in its infantcy and people should take this seriously, the muslim religion is in its medieval period...and Modern day Muslims promote non comformist and non tolerance of other religions..and the extreme ones promote genocide..that is fact..and The Muslim religion should be looked down upon just as people looked down upon medieval christians..

      November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  11. Arlene

    First, I watched the show (because nothing else was on). TLC – Your show sucks! – Dump it as soon as possible.

    Also, The show is not representative of "everyday muslims" at all. They did not have a single suicide bomber on the show at all

    November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • maraim

      a single suicide bomber? wow. please seek some education before you sprout your ignorance.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  12. mary

    All American Moslem be a moslem by acting like one. Go back to Islam study your religion and practice what is preached in the Holy Quran. Would you have a show called All American Christian with what would be non- practicing christian on it to represent christians, no you wouldn't. Same with All American Jews. It just would not happen. But why is it easy for moslem to put yourself in that situation be stronger than what society labels you....Islam means peace promotes love, honor and respect of ones self and others. I encourage you to reflect and see if you are promoting a show about moslem and islam.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • pjpeter

      Where is Islam peaceful?
      Iran? Iraq?Afghanistan?Syria, Libya, Egypt,Somalia, North Sudan?
      Where is Islam tolerant?
      The answer is simple..Islam is NOT peaceful or tolerant.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Conrad Shull

    Virtually no (correction: none) African-American Muslims are Muslim because their slave ancestors were (a very dubious fact anyway). Beyond that, it seems this guy is unhappy because the show isn't about him specifically.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Jenny

      I so agree with you. I think what this translates to is "Show more black folks!" Fine, we have Muslims that have differently lifestyles...One that is a Parapsychologist/Ghost hunter (ahem...me), several I know that are in metal bands, SEVERAL farmers in my small community....and though I can agree the spectrum should have been a bit more broad...at least they aren't showing us as barefoot, pregnant, subservient/egotistical wife beating drones.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Zaid H

      Author is not African American BTW

      November 29, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  14. mike

    Muslims are like put bulls. A breed where you don't know which one you can trust. One that can turn at any time.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Jenny

      Yeah, like some Christians...or people from any religion who are fanatical. Not just Muslims.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  15. Patriot

    I don't have a problem with the show or the people potrayed in it. I'd like to see a show featuring Hasidic Jews following it so people could see and understand how similar Muslims and Jews are as to diligence of faith and behavioral expections, specifically of women.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Zaid H

      Agree.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  16. Steve

    Uhhh...I live here in Detroit and black Detroiters are overwhelmingly Christian – baptist followed by non-denominational who are extremely influential and very powerful in city government.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  17. Michele

    Arab Muslims are the ones everyone is afraid of. This show is important because it shows that they are normal people like everyone else and can be patriotic and not all Arab Muslims are terrorists out to get America. I think that was probably the point of creating the show. I think it does a good job. I'm not Muslim or Arab and was not afraid of Muslims before this show but when I watch it I always think "I hope some of those idiots who think people in scarves are going to blow us up are watching this."

    November 29, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Leona

      That's exactly what I thought when watching it. Living in New York City, I've met, worked with and even roomed with Muslim women from various backgrounds. Coming from an interracial background, I also have many black family members who are Muslim, including my father. None of my friends/co-workers in NYC have had a more difficult time with being stereotyped as terrorists as those in the Arab sect. Most of my Muslim Indian friends, as soon as they say they are from India, people assume they are buddhist or hindu, no matter how they are dressed. Even after mentioning they are Muslim, people react differently and say things like "but you aren't from the Middle East, right?". As for black Muslims, no one I have ever met considers them to be in the same category as those who are Middle Eastern and no one in my famiily has ever had an issue with being treated differently because they were Muslim. It would be impossible to cover them all or to even expect them to try to follow families from every sect and part of the country every week. Besides, only a couple of episodes have aired and for all we know, if the show continues, maybe they will include more people in the future or bring that up. Besides, Aman Ali is more worried that the mostly Muslim member football team's strength in their faith is not as strong as their dedication to a SPORT. That doesn't say much for his sincerity in truly capturing the various American Muslims across the country.

      November 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  18. DAISHI

    So this is just one big advertisement for your own work?

    November 28, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Kay

      What a disappointing "review". Did you seriously expect a TV show to represent *your* personal view and *your* personal experiences??? Never mind that it's a TV show. The fact is that *YOU* are not representative of all American Muslims any more than you are representative of all men or all writers or all bald guys. Don't you understand that?

      And, while maybe *you* had passive-aggressive parents whose jibes made you insecure enough to take months to work up enough nerve to ask a girl out...but that doesn't mean *every* American Muslim has passive-aggressive parents and was diminished by them as a teen.

      Like it or not, a 6-5 record for a football team is a winning record...and is something to build on...not something to go "that's nice, dear, but..." about. Just because *you* had parents who diminished your accomplishments doesn't mean you should continue the habit. After all, it's a very destructive habit, and nothing to be proud of.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Zaid H

      30 mosques in 30 days project was created last year and got lof of exposure already. the author doesn't need to promote his project here. he was using it as an example on how the muslim community in US is so diverse and to reduce the entire community to couple of families pretty much from the same background didn't do the show any justice. you could've at least taken a very small effort to look up his project before you comment

      November 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  19. d

    the show should be called all american arab or all american shia. most muslims in american are sunni why arent there any on the show?

    November 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Kay

      For crying out loud, the show isn't about educated Americans on the finer points of Islam.

      November 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. trxsuspension

    Hello. everyone.
    would like to make new friends with you guys.

    November 28, 2011 at 11:57 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.