TLC's 'All-American Muslim': A Step in the Right Direction

Category: Americas, Featured, Life & Society Topics: American Muslims Channel: Opinion Views: 6174

Network news anchor Katie Couric once declared that "bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country was one of the most disturbing stories to surface" in the last few years. At the time, Couric was referring to the proposed Park51 Islamic Center in lower Manhattan (sinisterly referred to as the 'Ground Zero Mosque' by right-wing opponents), which generated national media attention around the country. "Maybe we need a Muslim version of 'The Cosby Show,'" Couric continued to say. "I know that sounds crazy, but 'The Cosby Show' did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they do not understand."

Anti-Muslim sentiment in this country has continued to rise since Couric's comments. A 2010 Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll found that "roughly half the country (49 percent) holds an unfavorable view of Islam, compared with 37 percent who have a favorable view." That is a 10% rise from a similar poll taken in October 2002, just a little more than a year removed from the attacks of 9/11. Just this September, a CBS News Poll found that one-in-three think American Muslims are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans.

So when TLC's new reality series "All-American Muslim" recently premiered to over 1.7 million viewers this month, many cultural observers saw it as a positive paradigm shift in our post-9/11 America. Highlighting the diverse lives of several Arab-American families in Dearborn, Michigan (a city with the highest concentration of Arab Muslims in the US), the reality series exposes and humanizes the lives of one small cross-section of the Muslim community to an American public that is largely unfamiliar with Islam. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of TLC viewers have likely never met a single Muslim in their entire life.

A recent episode featured high school football coach Fouad Zaban's trip to the White House for a Muslim holiday dinner hosted by President Obama; as well as the birth of a child to Nader and Nawal Aoude- a Muslim couple with a modern approach to gender roles and parenting- and on Nina Bazzy, a blonde-haired fashionista trying to open a local nightclub.

Earlier episodes revolved around the wedding preparations of Shadia Amen, a single mom of Lebanese descent who is a self-proclaimed tattooed 'rebel,' and her fianc, Jeff McDermott, a nice Irish Catholic guy from the south side of Chicago. Jeff converts to Islam in order to marry Shadia and the series follows his sometimes bumpy path as a recent Muslim convert.

Obviously one reality show cannot depict the diversity of the entire Muslim community; a Gallup poll found that only about 18 percent of Muslims are of Arab descent, while 35 percent are African-Americans and 18 percent are South Asian (in any case, the majority of Arab Americans are Christian). What's more, filming a reality show about Muslims in Dearborn is the cultural equivalent of filming a show about Chinese-Americans in San Francisco's Chinatown. All of this is to say that there is an obvious and necessary gap between the on-the-ground 'reality' of the American Muslim landscape and the TLC show's portrayal of the Muslim community. That has frustrated many Muslim Americans around the country, some of whom have posted their criticisms of the show on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But these views are short-sighted. With anti-Muslim sentiment at all-time highs in this country, any effort to humanize Muslims, no matter how narrow the scope, should be supported by the general public.

Let us not forget that 'The Cosby Show' was not the first television show to bring African-American life into the mainstream in the 1980s. It was James and Florida Evans from 'Good Times,' and George and Weezy from 'The Jeffersons' who first introduced into our cultural zeitgeist the African American experience (or at least one layer of it) in the 1970s, eventually paving the way for Claire and Heathcliff Huxtable to grace our television airwaves.

Similarly, TLC's 'All-American Muslim' may not be representative of the lives of all American Muslims (it would be impossible to do so), but it can be a societal stepping stone to advancing our national conversation about Islam in America today. By depicting the lives of 'regular' Muslim families, their struggles, their successes, and their unique paths toward the American Dream, the show not only dispels certain misconceptions about Muslims, it bridges the gap of ignorance that has been exacerbated by unfair portrayals of Muslims in the media for the last ten years. More importantly, as the first network television show to ever focus an entire series on our American Muslim community - one that does not simply revolve around terrorism - it will help advance our national conversation in a positive direction.

That is something that all Americans should be able to get behind. 


Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer and author of the book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.


  Category: Americas, Featured, Life & Society
  Topics: American Muslims  Channel: Opinion
Views: 6174

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Older Comments:
ASA. Thank you for a good article with a realistic perspective. Islam is diverse. Muslims are diverse. In the past, mainstream America has seen one "type" - ignorant,violent extremists. In All-American Muslim, they get to see a couple other "types" - upwardly mobile practicing moderates and barely practicing assimilationists. That's progress. By the way though, the first African American media images in the mainstream were not in the 70's. Don't forget the stereotypical Amos & Andy show of the 1950's and the more enlightened Sidney Poitier movies (To Sir with Love, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and For the Love of Ivy) of the 1960's. Patience is hard but it is one of our main Islamic virtues. Tolerance of diversity is another.

I believe this show is a step in the right direction. There is never going to be a perfect Muslim but we can always strive to be the best Muslims we can be. Being an American convert my self it is so great to see other Muslims that at least try to live the life of a Muslim every day. It is hard being from American when nothing here is for Islam. It's all westernized so I think the struggle is greater. But what better way to show others that Muslims are humans too and we have struggles. But in addition to that we work and go to school and own businesses, take our kids to the park, work out, play sports, and any other activity that families do. The only difference is were Muslims.

Insha Allah these brothers and sisters have the right intentions.

The literal meaning of a Muslim according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is one who submits to God; an adherent of Islam. Let us say TLC were to show a series on Catholic Nuns/Priests and how they live their daily lives or a Christian related series and they
show them committing acts of profanity, drinking alcohol etc,.. Would the Catholics and/or mainstream Christians not protest? Of course they would , these episodes are not trying to show Muslims in America. This show is showing that it's ok to be Westernized and "American" and still call yourself a Muslim. If they were to show the normal daily struggles Muslims face everyday, because I am well aware that noone is perfect such as one striving to adhere to their faith, that would probably make an interesting show. For those of other faiths to watch this show if ever they had any interest in turning towards Islam then this show would be detrimental. This is not the true portrayal of Muslims who have with their open minds and hearts willingly submitted themselves to Allah(subhana wa taala).

As Salaam Alaykum

this show is not a step in the right direction.

This is not the way Allah intended us to give dower. Showing ourselfs to the world this way. the women need to be covered and the profanty need to stop. i really do not approve of this show.

Insha allah this show will not make another season.