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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. John

    What did you expect for TLC? This is the channel that brought us (Jon &) Kate Plus 8. And of course there are a myriad of shows that constantly depict white male christians as the oppressor, the aggressor, the destroyer, etc. Like I'm sure you'll find that in every American household... not. Talk about stereotypes!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  2. the author should learn to laugh

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

    November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  3. Sal

    Dude its TLC, not PBS or Discovery channel. Get over it. They only care about ratings. Why would you drag the football team in your judgmental piece? Pathetic.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  4. skinsrock

    Propaganda... I'm not watching this... All reality shows that don't include a million dollar prize... gotta go!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  5. Michael

    Seriously, you whine about TLC lack of insight and then use the term midget? I had high hopes for the show and was disappointed (except that two of the women are hot – the business woman and the pregnant one in the headscarf!) But geez Aman, you need to have some respect for others before you demand it for yourself.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Shane

      Good point.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  6. SconnieGuz

    You know what would make people interested in muslims....never ever hearing about them....ever again.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  7. Carl J

    as many have stated over the last decade.....I know all i need to know about islam and muslims after 9/11!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Shane

      I've heard enough about Catholic priests who molest children; I've heard enough about Christians who steal from their flock; I've heard enough about Jews who disrespect and abuse non-Jews; I've heard enough about ALL religions. You fools who follow and believe in these ancient books that were all written by men not some god, are ruining the world.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  8. ME

    It's "Reality" TV. It's designed to look like a train wreck until the producers decide there should be some manufactured "life lesson."

    Your expectations are absurdly high.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • AppleSeed

      Please! Get over yourself....one Muslim-American group at a time....Think the point is to focus on Muslim-Muslim-Americans first, then they can do African-Muslim-American, then White-Muslim-American, etc. Each group presents unique view points toward Muslim-America.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  9. Cameron

    You DO realize that this is a tv show right? And that it needs to be entertaining right? Nobody thinks all Italians are like the Jersey Shore cast; nobody thinks housewives in Beverly Hills are like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, nobody thinks all teens are moms, etc. Just relax & flip the channel if you don't like the show. Sheesh.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • SAM FROST

      i agree, dude needs to relax.... did he think that they were going to make it so bland.... can't wait for the season finally, it will be DA BOMB! get it!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  10. Here2DayGone2mrw

    So, let's see. You're complaining that a show, a reality show at that, shows a family who is different and a minority within a minority? And this worries you? You're right. Let's outcast a family who doesn't fit the stereotype that will speak for a majority. Don't be a hypocrite. These are unique people with unique lives. Don't get worried because it is different than your family who is itself different than the other Muslims around the world.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • John

      These are caricatures of real people as all reality TV characters are. The fact that you think they're "unique" shows how out of touch you are. Of course, some people here have a point that the writer is criticizing a genre completely based on taking caricatures of groups of people and profiting off them. Good luck standing up for that genre. I'm sure its given you plenty of life lessons.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  11. Sharky

    This guy is funny. I'd like to see more articles by him.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  12. Kay

    I like the show is some ways. It shows that all Muslims are not religious freeks, just normal people, living normal lives. The one who wants to open a bar, goes against everything Islam stands for. Dressing a little too skimpy is one thing, but to go against the religion in just about every way, is not a good example of even a liberal Muslim. They did show a few of the women who chose to wear the Islamic dress, so I hope that up coming episodes, they show more of how these ladies are living their daily lives and a little less of the bar lover woman. I want to see more of the 'people next door' type of Americans rather than people (especially women) who dress and behave even worse than your average non-Muslim American person.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  13. berucem

    way to play the race card homie

    November 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  14. Matthew

    So the women on the show are too extreme and the guys are too normal... gtfo of here. It's a tv series, whether reality or not it's only tv. You don't see me saying 'hey, I'm not like those jersey shore people... they don't tell how a white man really is!".

    November 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  15. JT

    If you are getting riled up about any "reality" tv then perhaps you have a problem yourself.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  16. JM

    My own 2 cents: I refused to watch this show simply because I KNEW it was going to focus on Arabs (I'm a white, Catholic, Italian-descent, third generation American) and that's not what American Muslims are made of...............they are all colors and all descents. Very bad, TLC.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  17. Shane

    Religion is the cause of most problems in the world today. Just look at all the disagreements here! This is just a microcosm of what's going on in the world today. Religion is the solace of the ignorant.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Capercorn

      The same could be said about politics.

      The problem isn't religion. The problem is human emotions.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Here2DayGone2mrw

      I'm with Shane. Imagine taking religion out of politics? Sure would change the game a bit!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Shane

      No, the problem IS religion. Political strife and radical emotions stem from putrid religious beliefs passed down for centuries. It needs to end-religion needs to end. Period.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • BK

      People who are ignorant of religion is whats wrong with religion, not religion itself.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • nate

      Solace of the ignorant? What are religious people ignorant of? What would you suggest could fill the void if religion ended, human decency? Anything you suggest right now I can find taught and practiced by religions thousands of years before any of us. The problem is not religion, it is human nature skewing the right and good things in life for wealth and for power. For all the good you might suggest would come from not having religion, how do you combat the greed, tyranny that can come from non religious leaders and people? Religion is not the problem, it is when any of us, religious or not choose to do nothing when evil men take decency and throw it out the window. The world would NOT be a better place without religion.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • JRonin

      I thought most of the world's problems today were due to politics and economics, religion's a nice scapegoat and we can keep blaming it while we all fall into the abyss.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Shane

      Organized religion is the root of most evils today: Abuse of children and women, wars over religious territories, terrorists with radical religious beliefs, denial of a women's right to choose, denial of gay rights, oppression of differing cultures, corruption in churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. Fools--all of you who follow and subscribe to any religion. You contribute to the ills of the world by giving credence to such dangerous lock-step beliefs.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  18. BK

    10% is 100 million people right? Thats equivilant to 1/3 the US population right? Well thats a lot of crazy out there, I wanna know about it.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  19. Jose M. Pulido

    Badly says: "/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)."
    Yeah right, do you think you are going to impress us of frighten us with your alleged numbers of Muslims and Arabs?

    You should know we feel sorry for all those millions of people whose ancestors were forced by the sword to "pervert" to Islam. Islam did not grow by personal choice. Christianity flourished by God's Word while
    Islam grew by Mohammed's Sword 600 years after Jesus Christ.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Here2DayGone2mrw

      Both were forced "by the sword". God is a political tool, religion is the thread that binds it, and when necessary the "reason" to fight for it. Yet, none of it is real.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • lwkite

      So the crusades and inquisition did not really happen?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  20. mike hunt

    he also confuses the "nation of islam" that most african americans follow with real islam.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:24 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.