All-American Muslim Reviewed

TLC’s All-American Muslim, which I previewed last week, aired last night in the United States. The show features a group of mostly Lebanese American Muslims from Dearborn, Michigan as they go about their lives. There has been a stream of reviews, mostly positive from mainstream media outlets and ones that are more questioning by Muslim writers. Regardless of the critiques, the show is the first of its kind to feature an American Muslim community to a large viewing audience.

The women portrayed in the show’s first two episodes include one woman who is marrying an Irish-Catholic man who converts, her outspoken (and unmarried) older sister, a woman struggling with infertility (the middle sister), a pregnant relatively newlywed, and an event planner who dreams of opening a nightclub. There are other women who appear as well, but whose roles were not featured to as large an extent as those mentioned here.

Marriage, childbearing, the ability to become pregnant, and one woman’s desire to open a nightclub in opposition of what is expected of her become the emphasis for women on the show. What about their relationships with non-Muslims, their career or academic aspirations, or what they value and find inspiring in life at the end of the day? What does it mean to be Muslim? What does it mean to be American?

Three sisters featured in All-American Muslim. Adam Rose for TLC.

The more time I spent considering these questions since watching the first couple of episodes, I realized that this wasn’t the show’s aim. Instead, the focus here is on presenting the “everyday” (as Porochista Khakpour reviews in The New York Times) and “ordinariness” (as The Atlantic’s Alyssa Rosenberg described) in how Muslim American experience does not differ from conventional non-Muslim American experience.

Uzma Kolsy for the American Prospect eloquently writes about the challenge of presenting American Muslims from a single community:

The show’s ambition to provide an encompassing portrayal of an entire faith community takes it into risky territory…While a segment of Islam is portrayed on the screen, a show about ethnicity or culture, along the lines of Jersey Shore, might have been a more apt premise for the series. Through its effort to normalize a community and promote tolerance, All-American Muslim could end up exoticizing Islam.

While the women on the show are diverse in their appearance (hijab/nonhijab wearing), I was curious about their actual practice.  Their faith appeared to be a reflection of their family’s faith or apparent through wearing the hijab, and there were times I noted the conflation of cultural practices with religious ones (will non-Muslim viewers notice this? Or care?).

I found myself comparing the Muslim women from the show to other American Muslim women I’ve profiled at MMW in the past: Ameena Mathews from The Interrupters, the new Americans in Maxamuud’s Nomad Diaries. The characters here were not defined by the titles of their film or book, respectively, and included long reflections of interacting with their communities (who are often non-Muslim) in addition to looking at their own personal forms of religious expression (strangely enough, I can’t recall any of the women from the film engaging in religious expression, besides a discussion on hijab).

Is it better to show Muslims in standalone series that emphasize their faith? Or include them as characters alongside non-Muslims? Which will be more effective in combatting stereotypes and negative portrayals in mainstream media? While the show will, no doubt, be an entry point for understanding and awareness of American Muslims for countless viewers, what will be the cost of presenting them through an Arab-American community and presenting American Muslim women overwhelmingly through their marital, familial, and childbearing experiences?

All-American Muslim is an eight-part series that airs weekly on TLC in the United States.

 

  • Eren Arruna Cervantes

    Great review Azra! Now I want to watch the show!

  • http://www.yasmin-raoufi.blogspot.com Yasmin

    Thank you for this thought provoking review of this series. From what I’ve read I think that there is a lot of room for improvement however, im my humble opinion I think this is a good start.

  • http://fashionablemuslimahstories.blogspot.com/ Fashionable muslimah

    I think the show had its ups and downs… I loved the married couple that’s expect a new baby, they really made me WANT to watch the show. I didn’t mind the converted story to much but I think he converted for all the wrong reasons.
    TLC Please please please if you decided to do a second season please have practicing Muslims only!!! .. Just my opinion …. http://fashionablemuslimahstories.blogspot.com/

    This comment has been modified according to MMW’s Comment Moderation Policy.

  • Kg

    There is so much hate stemming from under exposure in the world, I think every little bit helps. I think this is a good introduction for many who have no exposure to people from another culture. I hope this will be helpful. I am not Muslim, so I cannot speak to the authenticity of the experience portrayed. But, I believe, dialog has to begin somewhere.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Great post! I’m a little wary about this series turning into something like Jon & Kate + 8 (start out educational then veer into trashy tabloidy territory) since it’s on TLC and all. With that said I agree with Yasmin above that there does seem to be alot of room for improvement. If they continue making this series perhaps they can highlight other Muslim communities throughout the US based on race, ethnicity, class, immigrant/2nd gen, geographic distribution (NE U vs. the South).
    And while I have no problem with them focusing for now on the familial, marital and childbearing experiences of Muslim women, I would also like to see more examples of their intellectual pursuits as well as some more introduction to the tenets of Islam (they could show for example how much giving to charity is emphasized through the Deen by showing Muslims volunteering/donating to various causes). Finally I have a question is this show mainly about Muslim women? They shouldn’t neglect portraying Muslim men too! If TLC really intends for this to be an educational endeavor then that’s what I think they should do for future episodes.

    • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

      Just wanted to add other ways they could show different perspectives of being Muslim in America. They could also show revert Muslims, multiracial/ethnic Muslims and their families as well as Muslims who chosen to homeschool their kids or send them to an Islamic school/public school. There’s so many things they should show if their intent is to educate the mainstream populace.

  • Linda Binda

    I’m not sure how much potential this show could have on a network like TLC. Considering that the show itself was sandwiched between several episodes of 19 and Counting (I felt dirty just having to sit through a few seconds of that show just to program my DVR to record Sunday’s episode) and, eew, Sister Wives, I’m beginning to think that if this show doesn’t get trashy and sensational fast, it’s not going to last longer than its initial 8 episodes. And you have plenty of bigoted loudmouths all over the Internet grumbling about how it’s “Muslim propaganda” on one hand, and on the other, I see some Muslims online already unimpressed because they say the cast of characters is not diverse and devout enough. Its potential for staying power, based on its lack of a truly impressed, intrigued target audience, and its boring direction, is in doubt.

    Other than out of a reason just to gossip about it more with you all ( :D ), and a waning hope that it improves along the way, mainly because I don’t think the show itself is all that interesting, I’m not that eager or excited enough to keep up with this show. The premiere episode was really underwhelming.

    Aman Ali of “30 Mosques in 30 Days” was also unimpressed.

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/15/my-take-all-american-muslim-doesnt-speak-for-this-muslim/

  • RKCanada

    As a Canadian muslim woman with what mainstream society may call “moderate” views, I believe it’s important to include practicing and non-practicing Muslims in media alike. Too often, we are confronted with a stark pendulum of either very religious, traditional spokespeople, or those from the complete opposite end. The reality is that neither is representative of the majority of Muslims in the West (or East, for that matter).

    I think that it would be interesting for the show to instead veer more attention towards the parent-child dynamic. Many Western-born and raised children in Canada have very differing views than their parents, who in many ways, attempt to maintain their traditional values which are either a) a mix of cultural and religious values and b)conflict with Western norms and practices (which, to me, are equally as important for communities to integrate into society at-large).

    In response to Fashionable muslimah, I don’t think that it’s fair to ask the network to only cover “practicing” muslims. Who is to say who is practicing and who isn’t? And, is that really representative of all muslims in the West?

  • Azra

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! The show has sparked an important discussion on how Muslims are portrayed in media and life online. In response to some of your comments:

    @Fashionable Muslimah: What does it mean to be a ‘practicing Muslim’? Depending on who you ask, the response will differ. Instead of labeling others with our own definitions, we must embrace everyone who says they’re Muslim. There is strength in our diversity.

    @Kg and @Yasmin: I agree, dialogue needs to start somewhere. And if people are first exposed to Muslims through TLC, then all the more power to it. Hopefully it will encourage Muslims to engage with their non-Muslim community members more openly. This, in my experience, will have a much more profound impact than any media representation can.

    @RCHOUDH: The show focuses on both men and women. I wanted to focus my review on how the women on the show were portrayed. There have been several well written critiques of the show that you can find online.

    I don’t think the producers main aim is to educate mainstream populace about Islam. Instead, it’s on showing the ‘ordinariness’ of Muslim American life. And because of the diversity of American Muslims, it would be difficult to portray everyone on a show like All-American Muslim. It’s a starting point for understanding.

    @Linda Binda. Point taken. It will be interesting to see the trajectory of the show, especially considering the trajectory other TLC shows have taken. Thanks for sharing the link to Aman Ali’s review.

  • Azra

    @RKCanada: Thanks for your comment! I agree, I think there are a lot of intergenerational differences that the show could explore (but I wouldn’t go so far to say it does…). And also that showing Muslims with diverse views and different practices is ultimately for the better.

  • http://www.LifeStarBeauty.com Vida Starr

    I found the show pretty stupid and offensive. There were NO dark skinned families or African families. Is it because the whiter there are the less threatening they are to white culture? My assumption is yes. I found that very offensive considering most muslims around the world are dark skinned.

  • http://WTFcsusm.wordpress.com WTFcsusm

    I really want to watch the show after viewing the link and reading this post. I believe this is a positive step for America and I hope their is a possibility that the negative stereoptypes against Muslims are slowly starting to diminish. If you want to check out more on social justice, please check our our new blog!! Thanks for the read!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X