All-American Muslim: A Preview

On Sunday, November 13th, TLC is set to premier a new 8-episode series: All-American Muslim in the United States. As this comes from the same channel that brings American viewers Sister Wives and the Kate+8 debacle, I’ll admit my immediate thoughts surrounding the show are wary, to say the least, when it comes to its ability to portray “what is it like to be Muslim in America.”

As I watched clips of video provided by TLC, I realized that the show’s entire cast hails from Dearborn, Michigan and an Arab-American Muslim background. I had a hard time trying to reconcile the image of an “All-American” Muslim as ones who have Arab backgrounds. The idea that “Dearborn is another world” from the show’s promotional video clip remained with me the entire time. (You can read some of the statistics on the diversity of backgrounds among first-generation Muslim Americans in the Pew Research Center’s 2011 report.)

I’m curious as to why the show chose this specific community as one to represent the All-American Muslim, and not individuals from a metropolitan city, or families growing up in Midwestern suburbia, or any other combination of a multitude of American locales.  

The one prevalent theme that carries through the video clips is the impending marriage of one of the characters in the show to an Irish-American man. There are clips from a wedding rehearsal, clips from visiting potential wedding sites, and a discussion about the groom’s impending conversion at a nail salon between the bride and her sister—and no groom present.

In portraying these scenes, it appears that the wedding has become the highlight for this family—a universal event for merriment and potential for cross-cultural exploration that occurs among societies irrespective of personal religious beliefs. But then where are the opinions of the bride’s other family members? Or even the bride herself? All of the opinions come from her sister in the clips. And what say does the groom have for his conversion? It’s not so clear in the brief clips—hopefully the show will reveal more itself.

Will the show really deeply ponder what it means to be an American? Especially of interest here at MMW: An American Muslim Woman? Or instead use the popular, tired scenery of wedding drama to say, “Muslims are just like us—they get married too!” The clips used to promote the show seem to promote the latter—the only way to know for sure, though, is by watching it…    

 MMW will cover the show once it airs on TLC—stay tuned!

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  • Michelle

    Just an FYI Suehelia Amen from cast of All-American Muslim will be on AJStream today @ 2:30pm for an interview. If you have questions, tweet them to #AJStream

  • Nadia

    Why do those of Arab background not qualify to be all-American?

    • Ayah

      @Nadia: I think you missed the point. The question is, why are Arabs the ONLY community shown to represent ALL Muslims when they actually make up only 15% or so of the ENTIRE population of the world’s Muslims?

  • Yasmin

    I’m looking forward to seeing this show but I don’t have TLC. Does anyone know if I can watch it some other way.

  • Azra

    @Nadia–I will echo @Ayah’s points here. Muslims in the United States come from a wide variety of backgrounds and are not only Arab. By featuring only Arab Americans on a show entitled “All-American Muslim,” the takeaway is: Arab Americans are the sole cultural representatives for all American Muslims. Which is not true.

    @Yasmin–excellent question! I’m not sure…I’ll look into it and mention its availability in my next posts.

  • dina

    I agree that arabs are not the ONLY muslim americans. you can make a documentary on a variety of backgrounds (asian arab african american and converts) and you’ll have a potpourri. or you can look at one community in particular and get in depth. i am very happy the michigan/detroit arab community is in the centre of attention because its very famous outside the us and i have heard the parallel society thought many times – from arabs. many speak of michigan as an arab enclave in america with little touching points with other american culture(s). it seems like a good interesting choice i d like to see some insight into this community even if reality tv always distorts… and sensationalizes. but this looks quite good so far to be honest

  • Sobia

    Regarding your question about why Dearborn was chosen – I’m assuming it has something to do with the fact that Dearborn has the highest concentration of Muslims in the US. They are mainly, Arab (and mainly Lebanese from what I gather), but the highest concentration, nonetheless. The issue of diversity is a great one, and seems to be coming up a lot. It came up also on that episode of The Stream Michelle mentioned, and I did like Suehelia Amen’s answer, that it would be difficult to really capture the diversity of the American Muslims because we are such an incredibly diverse group. This show may further the stereotype that Muslim = Arab and Arab = Muslim, and even though it may not show our ethnic or cultural diversity, I’m expecting it to showcase our diversity in other ways – diversity of personalities, of attitudes, of religiousness, of appearance (to a certain extent), of relationships, etc. So in that sense I’m glad it’s there and look forward to watching it.

  • Nadia

    I agree with your point completely, but you need to be more careful in how you present your opinions. That is not the impression I received at all from reading that statement, and there are many people who would not have bothered to ask for a clarification.

  • Azra

    Thanks for your feedback, Nadia.