TLC’s “All American Muslim”: A Positive First Step Forward

Image: Discovery.com

TLC’s “All American Muslim”: A Positive First Step Forward

TLC’s new six-part series has taken quite a bit of heat from the Muslim community.  I wanted to wait to write this post until a few episodes had aired.  All American Muslim is not unlike many of TLC’s docu-reality series such as Sister Wives or John and Kate Plus 8.  There is family drama, intrigue, and a hook that makes the show just a little different from “everyday” life.  The show takes place in Dearborn, Michigan, a city that has one of the highest populations of Arab Muslims in the United States.  It chronicles several families, their lives, their challenges and successes.  Here is where the divergent opinions about the show come to play.

Some people feel that this show does not portray their view of an American Muslim – mostly referring to the fact that not all of the characters are pious and/or practicing Muslims.  The other side of the argument is, “hey at least it’s a start”.  The first episode had over a million viewers and was the best Sunday rating for TLC in more than a year.  I find myself camped in the middle of these opinions.  For me, the characters are not “ideal” role-models for my Muslim children however I don’t know if I could truly find someone to fit that role – anywhere. While I feel this way, I also think it’s important for non-Muslims to see that we are just like everyone else.  There are some devout followers and there are some who are not as fervent.  For the last year or so my husband and I have sighed every time a plot line in a series includes a bad-guy Muslim. I think that it is positive to see a show on television about Muslims that doesn’t have them playing that role.

There were two parts of the show that I really connected with.  The first was with Jeff.  Jeff is an American guy who is engaged to Shadia. In Islam, women are required to marry a Muslim man and so Jeff converts to Islam to marry her.  I don’t know his intentions or level of seriousness, but I could absolutely relate to the struggles he went through with his family.  His mom was really a sweetheart and I could see how hard the whole thing was for her.  The pain in her eyes was the same pain I had seen in my mothers’ eyes.  I am sure that Jeff will face many more issues related to culture and religion as their marriage goes on.

Jeff with his mother (from tlc.com)

The second aspect of the show I really enjoyed were the clips in between scenes featuring the couples talking about issues like pre-marital sex, the conversion question, etc.  This illustrated the different levels that people are at and that Islam is not a monolith.  There were as many opinions as there were people sitting together! Overall my opinion is that this show is a start.  It’s something positive in a really bleak sea of negativity regarding Islam and Muslims.  It shows us as people, as neighbors, as friends in all of our transgressions, faults and glory. I would love to see a version of this show that focuses on Muslim families who don’t live in a huge Muslim community.  It’s easy to be Muslim when you’re surrounded by other Muslims, but the issues that Muslims living in isolated communities face are much different from those in large communities.

My big takeaway from this show is that it happened.  There was a ridiculous amount of backlash that this show was even going to air.  But it did and it continues to.  As a society, we need to continue to move forward and I see shows such as this one as a positive first step.  I look forward to seeing more Muslims as normal characters in shows – as the individuals that they are and not only stereotyped as the bad guy.

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