TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ Addresses the Tragedy of 9/11

As American Muslims, along with the rest of the country, prepared for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last fall, the one sentiment that seemed to reverberate most was this: We need to tell our own narratives. This Sunday (Jan. 1), TLC’s “All-American Muslim” embraces this idea by focusing on how each cast member commemorates (or not) the tragedy and wrestles with what the American Muslim response should be ten years later – no more apologies, more interfaith dialogue, a continuing emphasis on showing that Muslims aren’t terrorists or something entirely else.

Recently, emphasis was drawn away from the show itself and to the larger troubling issue of persisting Islamophobia and bigotry in this country — with Lowes pulling advertisements from the program after pressure from the Florida Family Association and various anti-Muslim groups. But this Sunday’s episode reaches out its hand and brings back the attention to the cast members and the quintessential theme of the show: What is it like to be an American Muslim? And, this question is framed against one of the biggest turning points in the American Muslim narrative – the demise of the World Trade Center Towers.

By devoting the entire episode to how cast members commemorate 9/11 and what their thoughts are on the American Muslims response a decade later, the program provides a unique insight into the varied American Muslim emotions on this tragic event.

I find it interesting that, after initial complaints from the American Muslim community that “All-American Muslim” was too narrow (among other things) in its focus on five Lebanese-American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan and not representative of the true mosaic that is American Muslims, the varying responses from cast members to 9/11 ten years later becomes an apt microcosm for the vast and mixed feelings of American Muslims.

Deputy Sherriff Mike Jaafar reveals his raw emotions has he talks about how he relates to the first responders, police officers and fire fighters who responded to the call for help on 9/11 in New York. “You think about your guys who work for you, going into a building, and not coming out,” he said, fighting back tears.

Lila Amen, mother to Shadia, Bilal, Suehaila and Samira, asks Shadia and Bilal to accompany her to an interfaith ceremony. They decline, saying they don’t feel the need to apologize any more or prove anything else. Lila disagrees, saying it’s not about apologizing; it’s about continuing to strengthen interfaith bonds.

And perhaps the most interesting response comes from Nader Aoude, who during one of the group discussions when other cast members also say they are done with the apologies and trying to prove they are not terrorists and that they are as American as anyone else, says Muslims need to stop worrying about what non-Muslims think and figure out ways to rid their faith of the extremists who are causing all the problems.

The comments and thoughts expressed during the discussion sessions are some of the most revealing moments of this episode, and gives viewers a real idea of what American Muslims struggle with, what angers us, what upsets us, what hurts us, and what makes us part of this country.

It really is an episode that everyone should watch. Even the trip taken by Shadia and Bilal to New York to visit Ground Zero and get tattoos from famed tattoo artist Ami James (of TLC’s “NY Ink”) teaches some valuable lessons. I had my doubts about the segment, initially thinking that it was another classic TLC tactic of having cast members from one show visit cast members from another show. But one of the best lines of the episode, a line that really begs for some deep thinking about a sad global problem, comes from this segment.

“All-American Muslims,” in focusing on non-sensationalistic storylines and featuring cast members who are only exotic in their Muslimness (instead of the usual outrageous behavior that people need to propel reality programming), has been mired in a catch-22: The premise is to show how American Muslims, in all the regular things they do in addition to practicing (or not) their faith, are as American as anyone else.

But is this too boring or uninteresting for the American public, who seem to prefer a little table flipping, or back-stabbing or multiples of children in their reality stars? With the decline in ratings, it would seem so. But I would argue that “All-American Muslim” has its place; that it is worth watching for purposes of infotainment. This Sunday’s episode’s is a time for redemption.

“All-American Muslim” airs on TLC on Sunday at 10 p.m. EST. Please check your local listings.

About Dilshad Ali

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