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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. Shaik Wali Hasib

    Muslims should have united on the inception of that show and let the producers knwo that Americans neeeded to see the divdrsity of Islam in America. They could easily have found 3 different ethnic muslim families to focus on and given a much clearer and honest picture of ALL American muslims, not just a handful of light-skinned Shias who hardly represent the vast majority of Muslims in America! You know, I know it and all muslims in America know it.

    December 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  2. K

    It is the same thing as the way Christians are portrayed in the media. Either they are brainless rednecks, or they are scholarly types who don't really believe in what they are saying. TV likes to draw attention to the extremes, the caricatures of what people truly are like.

    December 12, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  3. Dandy

    Geez guys, it is a reality show ... repeat ... it is a show.. they had to be suni or shiites or something Muslim.. as it is called American Muslim. Get over it. I'm very unhappy that Lowes pulled advertising from the show – I used to be a Lowes shopper – but no longer. I'm glad that something Muslim got on the airwaves! How many Christian shows do you get 24×7 on your cable or dish subscription. I must have 10 or more dedicated Right Wing Christian channels on my Dish network subscription – it make me want to hurl. I can't believe I pay for that! So now Muslims are complaining that one show is on TLC that may not be what they like ????? Geez guys, just be happy that any Muslim made it on the air in some non-terrorist, non bad-guy role.

    December 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  4. Sam

    I don't like your article , you suck at reporting , they do states that they do not represent all Muslim , it 's a reality show about people who happen to be Muslim. What do you expect , a sharia teaching course ? These people are as real as they can be , if you don't like it, tune out

    December 10, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Amy

      i dont like your comment! pretty soon all Muslims are going to tune it out and no one will watch that retarded show. The show does not portray the true life of an american muslim.

      December 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  5. Rev Deborah Lipsitz

    I watched the show for the first time last night. I'm not exactly a huge fan of "reality TV," but I did find this particular show educational and entertaining. I do not automatically assume those portrayed in the show represent all Muslims any more than I would assume that "Jon and Kate" represents the typical European-American family (I forced myself to sit through two episodes of that one, ugh).

    I agree that TLC's brand of "reality TV" tends to sensationalise and fall into portraying societal stereotypes rather than realities. But, given how Muslims are currently portrayed in fiction (most of it), the news (see fiction), and other genres, not to mention on CSPAN by extremist politicians who pander to fringe religious extremists for campaign contributions, I thought TLC did okay with All American Muslim.

    The fact that the show has triggered an angry response from certain fringe groups here in the US tells me that, perhaps, this is the closest to the reality of life as an American Muslim the media has ever come.

    December 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Sam

      Well said

      December 10, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  6. Hiernonymous

    Dear Lord – next you'll be telling me that the Real Housewives of New Jersey don't really represent the real housewives of New Jersey, or thatSister Wives isn't typical of Mormons?! Who knew that reality TV wasn't? (Nice jab at the Shi'a, btw, wouldn't have wanted to miss that opportunity...)

    December 7, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  7. julie

    I have seen this show three times. I would take away from my experience, perhaps it is just the people who have agreed to be on the show, that they are incesant whiners. Perhaps it would be better to show a group of people with a more positve outlook on life, or maybe negativity is a common trait in the Arab/muslim culture.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  8. jamillah faust

    I'm a muslim, retired military and a woman, I hate the show and wish it would go away. I also live in Michigan and the folks in Dearborn are not as nice and friendly as this show makes them out to be.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  9. AMIUS

    I think Aman Ali is insane, if you followed the journey that him and his friend did for 30 Mosques in 30 Days, a Ramadan road trip across America., they also portrayed the same thing. If I recall correctly, they visited a mosque which was common among a certain section of youth with Tatoo culture They are drinking alcohol in one room and praying salat in another room.. Anyways, neither "All American Muslim" nor "30 Mosques in 30 Days" portrayed the true picture. In short, both shows SUCK!!!!

    December 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  10. Stacey

    I think the point of the article is that this is not your average Muslim. These people are firstly from the minority sect of shiism then furthermore most of them are not too much involved with the religion at all so you might as well be watching an atheist or watching for culture specific to the Lebanese people because that is the extent of the depth.

    A mixture of families from different backgrounds would have been more informative/interesting.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Danielle

      I dont think the point of the show is to show you the muslims in the mainland. it's to show that muslims are part of the norm. They dont necessarally have to be covered from head to toe and be locked in a kitchen all day. They're allowing America into their homes to see that they too are entreprenuers and teachers, doctors and lawyers. They're also showing the diversity of familie households and living styles of muslims. Regardless of whether the families were shiaa or suni, they are muslims. There should be no difference. they are breaking steryo types and showing us the muslims of AMERICA and thats the point. I think Aman should get his facts straight, i have recently checked the statistics of Muslim-Americans in America and it shows that Dearborn, MI has the largest concentration of Arabs in one City. Not all of New York.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  11. Antoinette

    I am Muslim, I am a Christian but have been around people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs, and Lebanese people (both Christian and Muslim) most of my life. I love this show! It is NOT trying stipulate that ALL Muslims act this way or are this way. The show is just following a group of individuals who live in Deerborn. If I were watching the Real Housewives of... I would not sit here and say that the small subset of people on those shows are representative or reflect the entire population of that region let alone all of the US. Take it for what it is – stories about family, love, life, fears, marriage, siblings, generational differences, and meeting and fitting into different cultures – because WE ARE ALL UNIQUE! I love it! Let's face it, what Souheila is going through is something that I went through when I turned 30. I remember sitting with friends feeling miserable as I had not accomplished all that I had hoped. Bravo TLC!

    December 4, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Antoinette

      Sorry, I am not Muslim, I am Christian

      December 4, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  12. mrk

    The show isn't about "Every American Muslim in America and Their problems". Its about real muslim families living in a particular city. They are real, and they are Muslim. Its a chance for other people who are not muslim a glimpse into their lives. If they had done a show on an Indian muslim family, the non-indian muslims would be unhappy claiming that "they don't represent all the muslims out there." You ain't gonna be able to please everyone. Any why you gotta bag on the football team?

    December 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  13. Dontbow

    LOL welcome to American TV where they will do anything and everything to get ratings. Dont take it too seriously though because if you do then your egging them on.

    December 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  14. talezspin

    Media's Islam Deception – don't trust everything you are fed by the media! Go read about Islam yourself. Read the Quran, the Hadiths and the Sirat!
    Don't also trust the whitewashed English translations of the Quran provided by Muslims. Get 'An Abridged Koran' or 'A Simple Koran'.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNL8xugDNZQ&w=640&h=360]

    December 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  15. talezspin

    Islamic Paradise described by a Muslim Cleric

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdzusekB8cg&w=640&h=360]

    December 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  16. Classy girl

    As an agnostic American woman interested in learning what draws and keeps people following a religion, I have found the show quite interesting. This article was helpful in explaining that the show represents a small sect of the Muslim religion. I think it is painting a positive picture for the diversity of Muslims, yet highlighting commonality between Muslims and myself. I have learned from the show and hope they choose different Muslim families soon to capture even more of the diversity in this fascinating religion. One big piece of informationed I garnered was that the women CHOOSE to cover themselves, which I respect. I had erroneous,y thought that it was required by the men in an attempt to keep the women subservient.

    December 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  17. Poli

    seems like this guys is jealous since he has not gotten his own shown syndicated on TV . Get over it body, this shows shows one point of view. It does not have time to show all the aspects of Muslim life in America... Just chill !

    December 4, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  18. Sam

    Dearborn is the most *concentrated* city of Arabs in the US. (Yes, it's often misquoted as most populated.) Also, the Dearborn Fordson football team played Catholic Central their first game ... CC went on to make it to the state play-offs... so I guess it's understandable Fordson lost badly.
    With these types of shows you aren't going to please everybody. But at the least, one would hope for the average ignorant American watching the show, it shows people are people.

    December 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  19. Nyla

    Seriously, that needed to be said.

    December 3, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  20. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn8jNdnGqYQ&w=640&h=360]

    November 29, 2011 at 9:22 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.