My Attempt to Make Sense of TLC’s All American Muslim Reality Show

TLC’s All American Muslim is a show about Muslims in America. Make that, Muslims based in Dearborn, Michigan. Make that Lebanese-Arab Muslim families based in Dearborn, Michigan. Make that, camera friendly, little whacky, but normal on a good day, Lebanese-Arab Muslim families based in Dearborn, Michigan.

America has somewhere around 3.5 million Muslims, a conservative estimate, and a large proportion of them call Dearborn, Michigan home. Though the show is Arab-centric, make that Arab-culture centric; it does show a rare and never before seen image of Muslims in America, make that Arabs in America. It’s getting really confusing to write this post, I promise I won’t do that again.

The show has nothing to do with Islam, actually it’s about Muslims who decided to cherry pick certain aspects of Islam and mix it with culture. It makes for a good reality TV show and I think that’s the idea. Who the heck really wants to see a boring-practicing-Muslim family when I can watch a Muslim hillbilly single mom with tattoos and piercings?

Muslims, who I happen to know and other random strangers on Twitter, didn’t really appreciate the show. Major concerns: Why so much focus on Arab families from Lebanon? Instead of showing Islam, why did the show focus on culture? In other words, diversity and the true face of Muslims in America was lacking. But wait, what about that Muslim hillbilly single mom with tattoos and piercings who convinces her boyfriend to convert so that they can get married? I am still not over that…

On a serious note, a practicing Muslim family wouldn’t let TV crew follow them around, that’s a fact. That explains why the families in the show all happen to know each other, come from the same country, and are affluent. People who are little higher on the socioeconomic scale have a good back drop, they don’t live in an apartment complex. Have enough family members to give a different flavor, keep things interesting. Have enough money and don’t look desperately trying to make a buck. All ingredients of a reality TV show.

It’s a good thing they are not depicting Islam because that would generalize the Dearborn community at large and would leave a very bad after taste in the mouths of many Muslims living in other parts of America. Glass half full this time, things could have been worse but I guess TV executives did their homework.

Zaki Hasan, pop-culture blogger, echoed my sentiment when I posted on Facebook asking friends to chime in. He said, “…if it finds a mainstream audience whose perception of Muslims and Islam becomes a tad more shaded and nuanced as a result of watching, that’s not a bad thing.”

All American Muslim is a reality TV show and will appeal to certain kind of people and will not sit well with many Muslims hoping to see something more depictive of the issues and realities on the ground. The show is not for Muslims but it may still appeal to some non-Muslims who have always seen Muslims in negative light. There is no better way to shatter the stereotype than to show a tattooed hillbilly (Amen Family), Deputy Sheriff (Jaafar Family), woman entrepreneur hell bent on opening up a club (Bazzy-Aliahmad Family), Head Coach of the Fordson High School football team (Zaban Family) and the newlyweds (Aoude Family).

It’s the Halal version, in a peculiar way, of Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

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