My brief take on “All-American Muslim,” which premiered on TLC this past Sunday is that the show will do more positive than negative for American Muslims both externally and internally.
First of all, anyone that expected TLC to be doing da’wah directly for Muslims by picking all model Muslim families was somewhat naïve. Reality shows are designed to show tension and controversy; we should be thankful that “All-American Muslim” is not over the top like “Jersey Shore.” Moreover, Muslims such as Nina Bazzy, who wouldn’t mind opening a night club are not on the community fringe as some propose. Heck, there is a strip club in Metro Detroit owned by an Arab-American Muslim, BT’s Gentleman Club off of Michigan Avenue announced a few years ago that they sell Halal chicken wings for their Muslim trick daddy customers and Muslim kids are smoking weed and popping Vicodin and Adderall at Fordson High School like other teens, who are Christians.
Second of all, though “All-American Muslim” focuses strictly on Dearborn within Metro Detroit’s large Muslim population and all five families are Southern Lebanese Shi’ah Muslims, which definitely does not properly reflect who American Muslims are especially in history rich Detroit, I get why the producers didn’t break their necks to expand the demographical scope. They intentionally are weaving in families that have interwoven relationships such as in the wedding scene, plus it was just simpler for them to stay in one central location for logistical purposes. I would have loved to have seen an African-American family from Westside Detroit, and perhaps that may happen next season. At the end of the day, TLC does what it does to make maximum profit, which means cutting down on logistical expenses and marketing the exotic or what is perceived to be foreign to interest the American public, which is 98% non-Muslim.
From the perspective of external benefit, the show is humanizing Muslims. Showing a passionate football coach and Muslim football players on the gridiron is all American, and showing a newlywed couple negotiating the challenges of having their first child is all American. At the least, “All-American Muslim” knocks the brains out of the myth propagated by Islamophobes and xenophobes that Dearborn is governed by shari’ah!
The internal benefit for the Muslim community, I hope, is that this show will inspire us to create safe spaces to have difficult conversations about our community. “All-American Muslim” is embarrassing to many Muslims especially Arab-Americans because it is exposing to the world our faults and perhaps religious ignorance. Moreover, many non-Arab Muslims, especially African-Americans, feel that the show not only projects the tired conflation of Arab with Muslim, but also speaks to a contentious issue of some Arabs passively and actively claiming to be the authority for speaking on or representing Islam and Muslims to the broader society. Then, there is also the issue of the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi’is that has been imported to America by immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia.
I didn’t like the first episode of “All-American Muslim” that much, but that’s just my sentiment. At the end of the day, something beneficial has already come from it though, and that is conversation. Let us put our emotions to the side, and keep the discussions candid yet respectful.