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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. Neil

    Its funny how the author is trying to sell his piece while bashing this show on TLC. Its a mess if you show the typical stereotypes.. this looks like its a mess even if they don't show the stereotypes!!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  2. Bill Kilpatrick

    Aman, you're being too defensive. Maybe it's a reflection of being too self-conscious and wanting Hollywood to "get it right." Don't hold your breath. When I was active as a Mormon, I had similar feelings about how inaccurately Mormons were portrayed, even when Hollywood was trying. It takes someone within the group to understand (and portray) what it's like to be within that group. But compared to the treatment you'd get from Fox News, I think TLC could use a little t-l-c. If you can produce a better program, do it. I'd enjoy watching. Till then, take a breath and move on.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  3. McGuffin

    Apparently, according to this article, race is important. I guess as long as CNN is around, we can abandon any hopes of living in a post-racial age.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • WHOOSH

      CNN hasn,t anything to do with these hate mongers that hides behind the keyboard at night and smile and shake hands in the morning with the same people they hate online. You find some of these mongers all over the news blogs spewing hate. You see the results of their hate through their bad a$$ hateful, bullying kids. (See Mississippi murdering teenagers). So don't go blaming CNN, no, no, or even FOX! They are haters of their own hate. Sad but true.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  4. msilva

    "TATTOO LADEN"....YOU LOST YOUR MIND, LOOK IN THE MIRROR ...NOT VERY BRIGHT TO JUDGE ON PEOPLE'S LOOKS WHEN YOU LOOK LIKE A GUMP. PEOPLE WOULD LOOK OUT OF PLACE IF THEY DIDN'T HAVE THEIR TATS.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  5. chucknorrislovetap

    Some advice for the writer.Dude, shave your beard.That looks crazy.Not stylish in any way.Seriously.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  6. johninmemphis

    What do the stats, of the football team, have to do with your report or the show?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Misha Gastonai

    Does CNN have a "Submit Your Sad Woe-Is-Me Story" button somewhere?

    Seems like that's what makes up half the "news" articles here.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  8. Jean-Luc Placard

    The program wouldn't be on TV if it wasn't entertaining, so that was their motive – not to show America what American Muslims are really like. There are tons of these kind of shows out there, I'm sure people from New Jersey hate "Jersey Shore", little people hate "Big World, Little People", families with multiple births hated "Jon & Kate Plus 8", Mormons hate "Sister Wives", hoarders hate "Hoarding: Buried Alive" and everybody hated "Sara Palin's Alaska".

    November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Todd Palin (aka Mr. Sara Palin)

      Hey ! I liked that show.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  9. Jessica

    Anything he said was lost on me as soon as he used the word "midget" at the end of the article. I can't stand whining about "oh we're not being portrayed accurately" by someone who will use derogatory words to describe another group of people. If you want others to sympathize with you, try giving others that same respect.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Selene Spencer

    I agree with your post. It doesn't show an accurate picture of Muslims in the U.S. But you have to understand they need shock value to sell their show. No one would want to watch a kid mustering courage to ask a girl out or housewives with a gossip girl syndrome.
    However, maybe next season they can introduce other Muslim families from different and more representative backgrounds. I wouldn't mind watching a reality show following Muslim entertainers as they try and break into Hollywood or the music industry.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  11. Andrew

    I can't belive you said midgets.... lol

    November 15, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  12. Marty in MA

    All reality shows suck, period!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  13. Denay

    I liked the show.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  14. Red Beard

    Your a loser just for writing this plain and simple. End note.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  15. beltwaypolitics

    I don't think the point of the show is to appeal to all Muslims or to say the Dearborn Muslims are representative of all Muslims. I think the show seeks to highlight the lives of the Muslims in the show. So what if the football team is 6-5? Would it make you feel better if the team was all white and 6-5? But you should feel good because you've managed to do what a lot of Americans do without knowing their subject. All American Muslim doesn't speak for you as I am sure a lot of American Muslim's don't want you speaking for them.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  16. JCCK

    His research is weak .. Blacks sold into Slavery were captured and sold by Northern African Muslims ...

    November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • D

      Uh, ok. And?
      Missing the point, myopic.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Tom

      JCCK:

      And then the good Christian white Americans bought them. So what is your point? Who kept them as slaves, good white Christian Americans. Who abused them, good white Christian Americans. Christian’s are the worst of the worst.
      PS: I’m A good white American atheist.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  17. Occupy Belief Blog

    Do they have any cooking compet itions? I will watch if they have cooking competi tions.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • tiger

      I do not understand why Aman Ali is so naive in Arab history that he is not aware that Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and other Arabs countries are not shia but sunnis/Wahabis. So overwhelming majority of Arab muslims are sunnis. Please, when making statistical claims you must verify your sources.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      And cook stuff.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  18. hippypoet

    the amount of hate for this article is simply disgusting... it shows the true depth of understanding of people.. shallow!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick

      I watched the show and enjoyed it. I didn't see a lot of super-devout muslims represented but so what? As a school teacher, I've taught girls who wore scarves and young men who were more conservative in their faith – but the results were not radically different, in terms of who and what people are. My experiences with muslims have ranged from people who were interested in arguing theology to people who had had enough of it somewhere else. In all of these experiences, all of the differences tended to boil down to very human concerns about how to make it from day to day.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • hippypoet

      thank you Bill... that is a thoughtful post.. not to many of those here. I have had similar experiences.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  19. MMallon

    I'm sure it's very frustrating for one's demographic to be represented in the media via stereotype and caricature. I am a middle class white man so while I am sympathetic to the plight of minorities for being so misunderstood, I don't really have any analog from my own life story to relate it to. Well, I guess I could count all of the silly stereotypes about Texans, but being from Texas is utterly fantastic, so it's not really the same thing. It's like making fun of someone for winning the lottery.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • sportreform

      Another insipid white fella from Texas.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick

      Mormons have an unusually strong understanding of what it means to be a minority – even when they're white and nerdy. The weirdness of faith makes Mormons feel much like a minority, even among WASPs.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  20. HOLY

    I am a muslim and I liked the show. Its a reality show, eventhough it is a reality show, if it would portray everything how it happens it will be too boring. I liked the women who had tattoos and wore revealing clothes. Islam is alway represented with burqas and head scarves and this is something different and it showes the diversity within the faith.
    These muslims are shia s but they talked about the aspects in the show that are ok for both sunni and shia islam, they did not talk about Muharram or other things that only shias do so I thought overall the show was a good effort.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:41 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.