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. HRD K-9

    I am an INFIDEL and damn proud of it!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Mark

      No one cares.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  2. Martin

    Welcome to the Club: Religious people sterotyped for the profit of a TV station! Hollywood in the media so regularly portray Christians in the worst light possible, that I'm numb to it.

    It's a shocker when we hear about a Christian actually following his faith by "loving his neighbor" as Jesus said.
    The few American Muslims I have encountered in my life have been kind and pleasant, and mostly interested in pretty much the same things as everybody else..work, kids, faith...

    November 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Das Bootgras

    Who cares? All religion is bad. Arguing that it isn't being portrayed properly is meaningless. Grow up and take your life into your own hands. Fairy tales are for kids.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Martin

      If an atheist feeds a poor person because he is bored, (although it is against his doctrine of survival of the fittest) and a religious person feeds a poor person because the book says, apparently the religious person in your view gets no credit, but the atheist does...

      November 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Progressive Sledge Hammer

      You mean a fairy tale like the OWS people represent? More gimme gimme gimme people to add to the new aged immigrants legal and illegal who come here with their arms wide open for the LAND OF ALL IS FREE for ME and hardly contribute anything. They won't adopt our customs or even language in most cases and the government lays the red carpet out for them at our expense too. A Communal Utopian We are the World Part 2 Fairy Tale? lol

      Why not Americans just pay everyone's upkeep and taxes for nothing around the globe since we're already supporting half their citizens here as well as half of ours.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  4. bernie

    I havent read the comments but i'm guessing it's a bunch of non-muslims spouting off about how the author is wrong and how they have more perspective on a people and culture they have no clue about.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • getaclue

      And I'm guessing the jerk above googled the subject and is now an expert on middle eastern affairs. Out of cheetoes ehh?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  5. Occupy Belief Blog

    And all the Muslims say I'm pretty fly for a white guy!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Reese

      Oh you are! You are! We would have no flies without you!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      Don't be hatin' jealous! Some of us just have it.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:26 am |
  6. Dan

    I think the author of this article is mad they didn't do his show. If they did a show about him, I would think all Muslims are angry and full of hate. A writer who writes for a national company should know better than to use offensive and insulting language.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  7. PraiseTheLard

    So Aman Ali drove 25,000 miles in 30 days? Wow...

    Just for his info, the term "midget" is considered offensive by those with dwarfism... Perhaps a bit more sensitivity to people in general might be in order...

    November 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  8. Rob

    I wouldn't watch the show but, god this guy is full of crap. Really man? they are 6-5 which is a winning record and why does that even matter- most teams are not perfect, wouldnt that be closer to reality? Secondly- you just spewed hate- something that makes you sound like the ignorant people who hate all muslims.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • JT

      You know this guy is Muslim, right? Why would he hate Muslims?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  9. leader247

    Did the season premier end with an explosion?

    November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • buhahahaha

      No that was the A-team, wrong channel dude..

      November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      No but the the last episode will end with "don't stop belevin'

      November 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      Hold on to that feeeeeeeeliiiiiin'....

      November 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • jackmehoff

      Streetlights, Peopleeeeeeee....

      November 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  10. NODAT1

    Well thank you for your opinion I’m sure someone out their liked the show.
    I didn’t catch this weekend TLC masterpiece but I think the producers of the 80 black sitcom shows received the same remarks that this editor is pumping out (for them it was: they portrayed blacks in a negative manner, they didn’t act black, they portrayed black in an unrealistic manner bla bla bla)
    In the end you can’t please all the people all the time so sit back and enjoy the show or change the channel its your right

    November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  11. sparky

    Kuh-RYYYYY me a riverrrrrrrrr...........watch DWTS

    November 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  12. Bob

    The author is missing the point here. The current state of fearmongering as well as racial profiling is not generically directed at Muslims but rather Middle Eastern looking Muslims. I see this as a weak attempt (it IS TLC afterall) to address this and show that Muslims here are pretty much like any other American.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • John

      I'd also like to point out to the author that you can't drive to all 50 states, making the authenticity of his claims somewhat suspect

      November 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  13. PhdChemist

    Midgets? Really, Mr. Ali? The appropriate term is "little people." Even if this was supposed to be joke, it was done in poor taste. Midget is an incredibly offensive term and you should fix your article.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      Is "little midgets" ok?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • gratular

      I think little people is more offensive than midget..

      November 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Reach for the sky, Shorty! Higher!

      Vertically limited.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • ck1721

      Why is midget offensive if it's a medical term? Look it up. There is a difference between a midget and someone with dwarfism. If it wasn't a medical term, or small tootsie rolls/cars, I could understand.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      How about "Little Midget People"?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Mini Me

      'Tasty little biscuit'?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • buhahahaha

      Ok fine, how bout stumpy?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Mini Me

      Stumpy McTinypants?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  14. ck1721

    Wait, doen't he know that calling little people the M word is like calling black people the N word? I can appreciate his dislike of the show, but it's called "All-American Muslim", not "All American Muslims Look like This". If you don't like it, don't watch it. I wouldn't assume this speaks for all Muslims any more than I would think that "Jersey Shore" speaks for all New Jerseyans.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Mini Me

      There's no such thing as a mmmmigger.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  15. James

    Wow. Pretty simple answer. Black Muslims don't visually register to the average person as being Muslim, whereas, all middle-easterners do even if they aren't. So of course they went with what is recognizeable because a sitcom needs to be simple to succeed. Stop feeling left out and create your own show that we can all not watch.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • ttony21

      ...people's ignorance of other cultures isn't reason to continue to feed said ignorance.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  16. gratular

    RELIGION is the problem, not one particular sect of it.. End all Religion, and only then will the world know Peace..

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Martin

      Yea: Because Stalin the atheist brought peace to Russia...no wait.. he was the #1 murderer in the 20th century.. even killed more people than Hitler!

      Apparently packing Christians up in box cars and working them to death was not enough to bring peace and prosperity to Russia.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  17. Brian Joseph

    I am a Christian whose grandparents came from Syria and Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq & southern Turkey). They had a many trials with Muslims from that area and have a biased hatred for them. But they did not teach me that. They taught me love, respect and kindess. I grew up the states and went to school at the University of Detroit in the 1980's. I meant many Muslims and other religious people and became very good friends with those people. Now all religions have liberal sides and conservative sides, but with the right respect and kindness we can all live together. I think the show was trying to show a small variety of the different types of Muslims and not all are 'terrorists'. Many are fantastic people living an ordinary American life and trying to enjoy it.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      That was beautiful man.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • The Truth

      Well, Brian, whatever you have to do to get along, eh? Don't look now, but you've been sucked in. Watch your back.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  18. Jake

    Maybe TLC should do a show about how many African Americans convert to Islam just to fit in. Or, from what I've seen, just to further set themselves apart from white America. Gotta love reverse segregation eh?

    November 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Amen

      You just said it all....

      November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Occupy Belief Blog

      As long as there is cooking!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Stephanie

      That's so not true...have you ever been to the middle east??? There are muslims over there just a dark as the avg american muslim...get educated. And by the way we didn't ask to come to this country, we were actually kidnapped and forced into slavery. Think about the black people who are proud to be muslims and just want there religion recognized. You wouldn't want to be a white guy that was a baptized but often mistaken for a catholic would you, or would you want it to be made known who you have ultimate faith in...that is if you're proud of who you are! Get educated!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • disgusted

      Why is it that black people have to become Muslim to fit in? what type of sense does that make when majority of their ancestors were Muslims that were converted into christians by their slave masters. A trick to make black people feel inferior to whites by making them believe God was a white man. Alot of black people are Christians because of their fore fathers, but wouldn't that be considered trying to fit in. Instead of seeking ones own truth of history.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  19. Passive Aggressive

    Comment 223

    November 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      That OCD is hard to kick, isn't it?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Passive Agressive

      I'm an excellent driver. Excellent driver.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  20. Fookin' Prawn

    Next up for TLC: 'I Didn't Know I Was Muslim'.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • bologna

      Don't you mean "I didn't know I was a pregnant muslim polygamist with twenty kids"?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      @bologna...you know, I might even watch that show.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:32 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.