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Some reflections on “All-American Muslim” reality show

November 15, 2011
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I watched the first episode of the new TLC series “All-American Muslim”, a reality show about Lebanese-American Muslims living in Dearborn, Mich., a city with the highest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East and the largest community of Shiite Muslims in the U.S. Some thoughts:

1. The folks who are featured on the series represent a spectrum of belief and practice. Some are very devout. Some aren’t. Some women wear hijab. Some wear pretty racy outfits. One guy is a high school football coach. One lady is a glamorous party planner who wants to open a nightclub. The diversity among Muslims isn’t a shocker to me. BUT viewers who have little experience with Muslims — and especially viewers who are generally distrustful of Muslims or worse — could really benefit from glimpsing this diversity.

2. After I just praised the diverse representation of Muslims, I’m now going to argue that it’s not diverse enough. I’m sure it’s easier to film in one place, but, really, Dearborn represents a minority Muslim demographic here: Arab and Shiite. It would be nice to see Muslims of other ethnicities and to explore the differences between Shiite and the majority Sunni population. But I’m probably asking too much. This is TLC, the network that, as this Houston Chronicle blogger points out, brought us “Hoarders” and other examples of lunacy.

3. People in Dearborn sound a lot like the people I grew up with in Western Massachusetts. Wonder why those accents are so similar.

4. In the first episode, an Irish-Catholic man converts to Islam in order to get married (see the previous link for a critical take on that from a Muslim convert), and it just felt …. weird. Forced. Inauthentic.

5. This series will likely make Muslims appear more mainstream. More like typical Americans. (Whatever that means.) And on a superficial level, I suppose that’s good. But I hope we can eventually see a more sophisticated, complex portrayal of American Muslims. One that deeply explores beliefs and practices and highlights challenges Muslims face and provides more religious and cultural context. We may get some glimpses of that on on “All-American Muslim,” but I’m guessing this show will leave something to be desired.

Stay tuned.

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