However, while All American Muslim is an improvement to current national dialogue over American Muslims, the show still offers up a smorgasbord of predictable and familiar themes when attempting to understand Islam. For example, there is apparently still confusion over whether there’s a difference between an Arab and a Muslim. (There is.)
In an effort to debunk stereotypes, All American confirms the old one that has Muslims across the board being represented by people of Arab origin. The choice to follow families of one particular origin in the single location of Dearborne, Michigan, a city with the highest concentration, not population, of Arabs in America, neglects the culturally and ethnically diverse community that makes up the American Muslim population, and by extension the eclectic melting pot that is indeed America.
The result of this choice provides yet another example, albeit a more positive one, of America’s modern day fixation on Islam being a byproduct of an age-old political relationship with the Middle East. Had the early 1900s seen the discovery of an endless supply of oil beneath Tibet, and its surrounding region, history would have taken a different course, and this would be a piece about TLC’s show on Buddhist Americans who also love Kenny Chesney. But there wasn’t, and here we are trying our very best to understand Arabs. I mean Muslims. Whichever.
The habit of confusing all Arabs with Muslims, and vice versa, overlooks Arabs who are of other faith-backgrounds including Christianity and Judaism. Still, the show is not about Arabs, but about Muslims. In reality, African Americans along with South and East Asians make up the largest percentage of Muslims in America. Not a single one of which are represented on the show.
The families of the Amen’s, Aoude’s, Jaafar’s, Zaban’s, and Nina Bazzy, whose dream is to open a night club, do provide a glimpse into some issues Muslims may face, and might be a nice welcome wagon particularly for that percentage of Americans who claim never to have met a Muslim in their life. But TLC is the learning channel. So if a budget exists to follow five different families, perhaps they can actually be different families.
Consideration could have been made to include a Pakistani-, Bosnian-, Indonesian- or African-American family that identify as Muslim across various cities in the U.S. The largest American Muslim population exists in California, a location in which one would think the camera feels at home. How about New York? It would have made for some entertaining irony to film in the city that became the hub of last year’s Park 51 brouhaha, the same city with a Halal (Muslim Kosher) food cart every second block of Manhattan.
Admittedly, it's easier to be the critic rather than show creator, but lack of criticism has only ever produced a beggars can’t be choosers attitude when it comes to Muslims, Arabs, or really any other minority group in media and entertainment. Fair or equal representation has always been a hurdle for TV show creators who, once called out on their foibles, I like to think are fairly responsive (give or take a few decades.)
A show is after all is dependent on ratings, which require an audience that can identify with some familiar imagery. What’s nice about All American Muslim is its effort to redefine that imagery from negative or misinformed into a positive one.
The show has also provoked a larger and long overdue discussion within Muslim communities on acceptance, and people who are loyal to the faith without necessarily practicing in a way that fears cultural taboos. That this conversation is taking place should be celebrated, proving that “American Muslim” is indeed an identity that can be viewed independent from international politics.
The families of Dearborn, Michigan include some endearing characters that deserve to be represented as part of the fabric of Americans and American Muslims. However it’s a misnomer to call the show All American when it is hardly all-inclusive. After all, Islam is a monotheistic religion, not a monolithic one. The diverse cultures and environments in which Muslim families are born, or convert into make for varying degrees of practice and interpretation, a picture that should help us as Americans get closer to the realization that one group of people can’t be pegged or profiled into one box.
Lana Daoud is a freelance writer for FEN magazine, and a 2010 Fellow of "NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for