My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints
Samira Amen, who's featured in "All-American Muslim."
November 28th, 2011
02:38 PM ET

My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints

Editor's Note: Khurram Dara is the author of "The Crescent Directive: An essay on improving the image of Islam in America," coming this winter (Tensile). He tweets @KhurramDara.

By Khurram Dara, Special to CNN.com

For the last decade, Islam has been under a lot of scrutiny, and understandably so. When you’ve got terrorists all over the world declaring war on America and the West in the name of Islam, it’s only natural that people will have questions.

But this reasonable concern has rapidly turned into irrational suspicion, with anti-Muslim groups seizing on the opportunity to paint all Muslims in America as radical-loving, violence-approving foreigners.

The problem is that the response from American Muslims has been about as effective as Herman Cain’s PR strategy in the face of sexual harassment allegations. Instead of pooling our resources to combat radicalism, or taking a more active role in our communities so that other Americans better understand us, we’ve resorted to defense tactics.

We tell people that the Quran is being taken out of context. We focus on efforts to try to “educate” the American public. And we desperately cling to the idea that if people just had a better grasp of the facts on Islam, they wouldn’t buy into anti-Muslim propaganda.

Unsurprisingly, none of that has changed Americans' view of Islam.

So when I heard that TLC was doing a reality show about several American Muslim families, I was intrigued. The show wasn’t going to feature scholars refuting the (ridiculous) claims made about Islam. It was going to show regular Muslim families living in America. It was going to show, rather than simply tell, people about Muslims and Islam.

After three weeks of airing, “All-American Muslim” has done just that. Whether it was Mr. Aoude prepping his pregnant wife for that hectic hospital trip, or newlyweds Jeff and Shadia worrying about how their families will get along, it has shown viewers the single most important truth that will change the perceptions of Muslims: We are just like everyone else.

There has been widespread praise from TV critics, calling the show "intimate and heartfelt" and "as good as it gets" and praising TLC for how it has "upended the conventions of reality television."

The show’s premiere had 1.7 million viewers, making it the No. 2 program in its time slot among key demographics and scoring TLC's best Sunday prime time performance in more than a year.

Predictably, the show was also met with harsh and unfair criticism. Anti-Muslim groups wasted no time citing this as another example of Muslims trying to “take over” America.

This was expected. What wasn’t expected was the reaction from some other American Muslims.

“The families aren’t Muslim enough.”

“They aren’t good role models.”

"They don't represent all American Muslims."

Is the show a perfect cross-section of the American Muslim demographic? Are they the most religious families? Is it full of people you aspire to be one day?

No, of course not. It’s reality TV. It’s entertainment. We American Muslims ought to look at it in the grand scheme of things instead of just criticizing the show by saying it “doesn’t represent me.”

You’re right. It doesn’t represent you.

That’s because no TV show, no organization, no movement is ever going to represent you better than you can represent yourself.

“All-American Muslim” is not going to change the image of Muslims on its own. But it’s got the right idea. It’s premised on the fact that people judge a group not just on its beliefs, but also on their interactions with members of that group.

So if you don’t think “All-American Muslim” represents you, then go out into your community and show people what being Muslim is all about, from your perspective. Whether it’s a book club or a basketball league, we can all have our own “All-American Muslim” moments.

The most important take-away from a show like “All-American Muslim” is that we Muslims should focus our efforts on showing average Americans that we share far more in common with them than some would like them to believe.

And you don’t need a TV show to do that, you just have to have the courage to break out of your shell and share in those experiences with your American brethren.

Don’t treat TLC’s reality show as the only hope for changing our image, or as our one shot at showing America what Islam is all about. Don’t treat it as needing to be a flawless, immaculate portrayal of Muslims in America.

Treat it as a first step. Consider it a new approach. Look at it as the beginning of the long journey we have ahead, in changing the negative stereotypes about Muslims in America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khurram Dara.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion • TV

soundoff (2,050 Responses)
  1. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Iqbal Khan

      Watch both parts...


      December 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  2. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  3. Josie

    I have a few issues with shows like these. First many times the people on them are willing and therefore normally outside the norm for whatever group they are representing. Second who is ever completely normal with a camera following them ALL the time. I guess you would get use to it, but privacy to me is a good thing. Third I agree with the author of the blog, Muslims in America want people to get to know them, then go out and get involved more. I'm sure there are places in the U.S. that has never met a Muslim in their life and only go by what they are shown on t.v. and on the news. I'm Pagan and trust me, first impressions are everything. I know in our community the best thing and advice we give new Pagans is this, be your best, dress for the situation, and make yourself proud and us. Why, the people you are interacting with might only run into you in their life and since many of us wear a pentacle, we are what will represent Pagans in that person mind. It doesn't work to fight against them about their belief, to make them wonder if we are safe (and considering several of us have kids in schools now) or if we are going to do something against them. Muslims in America are not the only religion out there that gets attacked, they will not be the only religion. I'm sick and tired of this. Oh and a word of advice to some of the Muslims I do meet...I do understand you have your own laws and codes of conduct, but when I get a person who won't look me in the eyes because I am female, won't allow me to serve them (I work in a resturant) for the same reason, who wants us to be like whereever they came from...um if you want that then go back. Your in America, and therefore should have respect for our culture and the way we do things, especially if you want respect for your own culture and beliefs. Now I know not all are like that, and I have had Muslim friends.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  4. just thoughts


    November 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • jack

      Unfortunately these radicals follow the modertes like this sensible man. The probelm lies with the teachings of the religion itself

      November 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  5. Iqbal khan


    November 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  6. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Iqbal khan


      November 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  7. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Iqbal Khan


      December 1, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  8. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  9. JamalJZ


    November 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  10. blobo

    Saw the episode where the wife decied to get the Hijab.

    I noticed some of the men talking about the Hijab, I see they are sporting tatoos and one woman has peircings.

    I thought Tats and Piercings where against Islam, am I wrong?

    November 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Michelle

      No you're rightt. In islam it is wrong to change your body because you are changing the creation of Allah. You are trying to change yourself. Also in islam men cannot look like women and women cannot look like men. so that is why piercings are also not allowed. But then there are always those in a religion who are more moderate.

      But in the case of a convert who had a tattoo or piercing or any other thing before they turned to islam then it is alright because Allah erases any sins that came before you turned to islam. it's like you're a new person. Hope this helped

      November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Michelle

      Oh i am sorry i didn't see that you wrote a woman had piercings. As far as I know woman are allowed to get piercings only in their ears and nose. I'm assuming you know that in islam muslims believe in the afterlife and we are buried when we die. The hole in your ear will eventually close up when you are in the grave and so you return to your god in the way that he sent you, but a tattoo will remain.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  11. End Islam Now

    Where did they find the the people featured in the show? It must be hard when they represent maybe 1% of Muslim's. Why not expose the real Muslim's of the world? 99% hate America and only sometimes pretend to be our friend. Why not show some of the other 99% at home in Detroit praying for "death to America"?

    November 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mitch

      Dumb asz .. it is not muslims who hate you. Look at what your christian brothers did to you


      Follow the series and u will know who hates u more and what a fukin dumb moron people like u r

      November 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • just thoughts


      November 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • vw

      end islam now? that's adorable. it's the fastest growing religion in the world and in 300 years will the last example of monotheism. not because it's "wiped" everyone else out but because of pure lack of interest in main stream Christianity and Judaism, minus the hard core Coptics and hasidics Islam will be the last standing worshiper of GOD,Yahweh, or Allah as you know him. which as you all know is the same God.
      not why i'm writing though.
      i don't know just a whole ton of Muslims, but i know a few. and i'd be surprised if you knew any. some were born here in the US, one that lives in tunisia and another, who i'm romantically involved with from Indonesia. as a little girl all she wanted to do was come to the US and live and work and raise a family. she loves this country like few born here could. she walks in constant appreciation of her freedoms and opportunities as a woman... and Indonesia is fairly progressive.
      the one born here is from the deep south and speaks with a southern accent, votes republican and loves American as well.

      assuming that youre a christian, and i understand it is quite an assumption, what have you done to combat christian racists? or combat the impressions left by the IRA or UVF, etc? nothing, you've done nothing accept live and work and go on with your life. just like the VAST majority of Muslims in America. they don't hate it here. many were born here and still others fought and saved and studied to come to be a part of this nation. 99% hate the US is laughable. more so it's laden with fear and ignorance.

      as for the rest of you, it's hard for me to see how you are blind to your hypocrisy. you complain of their close mindedness and counter it with your own. i'm sorry but this is the USA!!!! we, AMERICANS, believe in religious freedom, freedom of speech and tolerance of other cultures. WE AMERICANS are the culmination of the whole planet. that's why WE are the best nation on the planet.

      if you don't like it you're free to leave.

      God Bless

      November 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  12. Iqbal khan


    November 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  13. Joseph Haba


    November 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  14. Iqbal khan


    November 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  15. Joseph Haba

    American JIHAD – terrorist cells TRAINING CAMPS in USA – YouTubewww.youtube.com/watch?v=TXOLGLkUhhM

    November 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  16. Iqbal khan

    Call for prayer...


    November 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Iqbal khan


    November 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  18. Wendy

    Everyone has the right to create their own church and their own religion. Imagine for a second that A Church/Religion was created next week and its sole purpose was to praise god. But in order to do that, you needed to convert. Then, if you dont convert, the new church would "war with you". Then the new church decided that those who followed Islam were apes and deserved to die. No matter how much good the religion of Islam claims to uphold, there are some very dark chapters that MANY people follow. We do not tolerate hatred and violence just because it has been around for a while do we? So why are we now?

    November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  19. Sean

    So let me get this straight. There is a show that is supposed to prove that “American” Muslims are just like us. Then Muslims criticize said show because it doesn’t accurately represent an American Muslim. (Not Muslim enough) In the light of this you still expect us to believe your original message. I ask you.. who as the misguided view here? You can WANT Muslims to be American (in spirit) all you like. The ideologies however are in contrast. Muslims themselves have told you this.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  20. raggmopp

    The bloodiest and most corrupt religion in world history is ... (wait for it...) christianity!

    And, christianity continues to deceive you and take from you.

    Organized religion is organized crime

    November 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Wendy

      LOL....wait for it......Christianity is a peaceful religion. Any true follower knows this....now where have you heard that before!!!

      Oh and BTW....Islam is only about 600 years old.....give it a few more centuries and I am sure at they rate they are going, they will bypass everyone else.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Joan

      Religion may deceive you, BUT Christianty and the true belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to the true GOD.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • lee

      Wendy Islam was founder in the 800's it's over 1200 years old if ur going to be bigoted at least know the historical facts.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • The Truth

      Since Adam, all the prophets have been submitting to the Will of their Creator (Islam). Jesus didn't teach Christianity. In fact he never heard the word. His native tongue was Aramaic. Christianity has no divinity, its man's concoction.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • raggmopp

      Joan – see they got you hook, line and sinker.
      The true belief of christianity is no different, spill blood. And the christians have spilled a lot more blood (in the name of religion).

      November 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • The Truth

      @Wendy, true-follower is an oxymoron regarding a man-made religion.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • AB

      It is obvious that you don't know a thing about a true Christian, the one who worship the true God, Jesus Christ.

      They are many people who claim to be Christian but have no idea what is Christianity. Catholic claims to be Christians, yet they have no idea what it is. They are countless religions that claim to be Christ follower, yet have no idea what a true Christ like Church should be. The teaching of the Lord is that, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your sole, with all your mind and to love everyone as yourself. How many people are able to do that? Only the ones who really know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior other than that, as simple as it is sound, it is as impossible to do. How can you forgive and love someone who wants to kill you? Only if you know the Lord Jesus you will be able to do that. So don’t believe the nonsense that you see going around because I met people who claim to know the Lord but has no idea what it is to be a true Christian. Everyone you meet said that they are Christian but have never read the Bible and have no idea of what is to come.

      November 29, 2011 at 1:36 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.