TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ Series Premiere: A Fascinating Look At An Often-Maligned People

by Mo Fathelbab on November 14, 2011 · 148 comments

in Reality TV, TLC, TV Recaps / Review

Before I begin my review of TLC‘s new reality series, All-American Muslim, let me say upfront that I was raised born in Brooklyn, New York to Sunni Muslim parents who had immigrated from Egypt. They raised me and my younger siblings in the traditional Sunni Muslim way (praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, donating money/time to charity) with a little Sufi Muslim mysticism sprinkled in (we believed in “paying it forward” way before that stupid Kevin Spacey movie came out). In addition to that upbringing, we also lived an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and attended a nearby private Roman Catholic school from K-8th Grades. There were some controversies along the way, as there tends to be when you’re the only one of your kind in a sea of people who look at you with suspicion, but we always considered ourselves to be patriotic Americans.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and Republican/Conservative/TeaParty bigotry (before and after 9/11) have made it harder for the average Muslim-American and people like me (being exposed to three religions simultaneously made me agnostic but I still proudly have a Muslim name) to get by in this country without fear of becoming a victim of a hate crime. We now know what African-Americans, Latinos, and members of the GLBT go through every single day of their lives. It fracking sucks. It is why All-American Muslim is extremely important television. It shows non-Muslim Americans who may be on the fence regarding their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim — because Fox News, right wing radio, and every Republican running for President keeps telling them to hate their living guts — that these people are just as boring as them. And I mean boring in a good, suburban way.

Now, for those of you who had the pleasure to catch the first episode of All-American Muslim, you already know how relieved I am that the show also didn’t turn out to be a Real Housewives or Jersey Shore clone, which it could have easily done with the wrong kind of casting. With that I say: “Bravo, TLC!” (Err, maybe Bravo isn’t the right word in this case. Let’s say “Congrats!”) For those who haven’t yet caught the show and/or have been hesitant: don’t fret. The five families the show follows are as Muslim as halal food and are also as American as Coca-Cola (or in this case, Faygo, since they live in the Dearborn, Michigan):

-The Amen Family: led by traditional patriarch Mohsen and wife Lila, they prepare for the wedding of their “rebel” daughter Shadia (who is unveiled, has tattoos, and a 10-year-old son from a previous marriage) to Jeff, an Irish-American who was raised Roman Catholic but is converting to Shia Islam.

-The Aoude Family: newlyweds Nader and Nawal prepare for the arrival of their first child. They live a traditional lifestyle, with Nawal wearing the veil, but they are still a young, modern couple. Nader is expected — and yes, eager — to be involved in raising their child.

-The Bazzy-Aliahmad Family: Nina is the central focus of this family, which also consists of husband Ali and son Andre. She is modern-day woman who runs her own party planning business but is now eager to open the first nightclub in Dearborn. She is also a very flashy dresser (big earrings, leopard prints, short skirts) which shock some in her community but it doesn’t feel out of place in reality show. (Nina is the person who comes closest to a Real Housewife.)

-The Jaafar Family: another average, modern family, wife Angela works as an automotive marketing consultant while husband Mike works as a deputy chief sheriff, all while raising four kids.

-The Zaban Family: my favorite family of the bunch only because husband/father Fouad is the hot-headed head coach of the Fordson High School football team. Even though he’s a very religious man, football comes first, which means that his majority-Muslim players have to suit up while fasting during Ramadan.

In terms of personalities, and the importance of faith in each of their hearts, we do get a wide variety. My only complaint is that because the show focuses on the residents of Dearborn, which is made up of mostly Shia Muslims with ties to South Lebanon, we only get to see their version of Islam. We don’t get to focus on Sunnis, Sufis, non-Lebanese, nor non-Arabs — with Jeff being the notable exception. The hope is, if the show is successful enough, it would then move across America and showcase other cities with a large Muslim populations. Until then, we will have to stay with these five families who are all fascinating and all average.

All-American Muslim is still a very entertaining and informative series. There are some pretty amusing moments, like when Nader playfully admits to having pre-martial sex with Nawal (which, like in any religion, is a “sin”) then she playfully slaps him on the chest as a retort, and when Shadia’s gi-normous and imposing brother Bilal (who may or may not be a Juggalo, I still haven’t figured him out) helps the lanky Jeff with his conversion.

But let’s give credit to the show for doing one thing that is far more important than changing the dialogue regarding Muslim-Americans: putting the role of Muslim women in the spotlight. Every woman on All-American Muslim has a different opinion on what her role in society at large is. Some may be 100% traditional, like Lila. Some may be 180 degrees of Lila, like Shadia and Nina. Others are in between, like Nawal, who wears the veil like a badge of honor but speaks with the ferocity of an Emma Goldman (look her up, kids).

Again, I urge everyone to check out All-American Muslim. You may not get the whole picture regarding Islam in the United States but at least it won’t be the distorted, bigoted version you’ve been bombarded with.

  • Samira

    Nina Bazzi is not a muslim. She shows her boobs and her body. Its nothing but a free show. None of the girls on this show are “real muslims”. I live in dearborn, michigan. There are many educated people in this city who represent muslims in a great way! where are they? i guess tlc didnt let them make the cut… Maybe their lives where gona be to boring for the show. But seriously, dont sit here and call these idiots “muslims”. They are the kinds of people who put muslims like me to shame! Not one person on the show follows the religion!

  • hajar

    I was born and raised in Kansas to American white parents. I converted when I was a teenager. I am Shia and live now in Iran. This show was very dissappointing. Muslim women must cover their body and not to show their body, and if they do not and dont adhere to the teachings of the Holy Quran they cannot be called Muslims. Its a sin to not be covered, its a sin in all that they are showing on this show…. they r not Muslim…. very poor show.

  • hajar

    I was born and raised in Kansas to American white parents. I converted when I was a teenager. I am Shia and live now in Iran. This show was very dissappointing. Muslim women must cover their body and not to show their body, and if they do not and dont adhere to the teachings of the Holy Quran they cannot be called Muslims. Its a sin to not be covered, its a sin in all that they are showing on this show…. they r not Muslim…. very poor show.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXEEOTVNMT5LJW5XJL7WWZQ6AU DoW 2! DoW 2! DoW 2!

    You singlehandedly defeated the entire Islamic concept of Jizya. Good job.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXEEOTVNMT5LJW5XJL7WWZQ6AU DoW 2! DoW 2! DoW 2!

    There is historical evidence about his life. The rest is faith, yes. E.g. the New Testament was only compiled for the estimated first time of ~20 or so years after the death of Jesus, and as such can’t really provide any true historical evidence of Jesus, his resurrection, etc etc etc.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXEEOTVNMT5LJW5XJL7WWZQ6AU DoW 2! DoW 2! DoW 2!

    Yeah, my understanding of their religion is that alcohol is prohibited, and any money you get from selling alcohol is, in essence, sinful money.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXEEOTVNMT5LJW5XJL7WWZQ6AU DoW 2! DoW 2! DoW 2!

    Yes…unfortunately, unlike in Christianity, Khomeini has no actual religious authority, and as such does not represent the majority view of your every day Muslim. He isn’t a pope, he’s a politician. People have been twisting religions for thousands of years. It happens, unfortunately, and if you’re going to use that to justify stereotypes then you’re just as dumb as he is.

  • Anonymous

    From the lips of the Big Kahuna himself:

    Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

    “Those who know nothing about Islam pretend that Islam counsels
    against war. Those people are witless. Islam says: ‘Kill all the
    unbelievers just as they would kill you all!’ Does this mean that
    Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by the infidel? Islam
    says: ‘Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter them.’ Islam says:
    ‘Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword.’ The sword is the
    key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! Does
    all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging
    war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.” Ahhh!….the sweet feeling of “KUMBAYA”

     

  • shakeshackgirl

    Pb5000, hey you know what, I am bi-racial and my husband is a Muslim, we got our share of idiots here also, so I completely understand!  LOL!  We don’t have an Arabic bakery so I feel sad that I have not been able to sample some of your Arabic baked goods.  =(  One day tho!  And as for going to an Arabic school, well now, you sound like me after I went to a predominately white school…and that is ….normal.  =D  Thank you for your comment!

  • shakeshackgirl

    I totally agree with you Modern.  As a Christian with a Muslim husband, I feel that as women, we should be modest because we have the next generation of young sisters and daughters looking up to us watching our every move.  Their minds are absorbing so much and when someone young looks up to me for answers about how they should be when they grow up, I want to make sure that I represent Allah in the best light!  Thank you for your comment!

  • shakeshackgirl

    Thank you for letting me know that!  I don’t mean that it is a bad thing that different races live there, but the way that the show was portrayed, I only thought Muslims lived there.  It sounds like you have a very diverse city!  I think diversity is good for the soul, mind and heart.  And Arab American Soldier, I personally want to say THANK YOU for your service to our country!  You make my heart sing with your service!

  • ARAB AMERICAN SOLDIER

    To be honest, To those of you really want to understand Islam as the religion and how it was created Please in english check out the messenger its a movie able Islam. You will have an understanding of the religion. This show one does show how some of us do live in Dearborn, although many muslims Shite and Sunni its a show to cover the very basics of what Modern Muslims go through everyday in America. If they are or not the best representation of Muslims in America is in the eye of the muslim watching but. There attempt to open a little window of who and what some Arab Americans go through in everyday life. People have to understand that there are conservative strict Muslims and very liberal Muslims. Either one in America is looked upon the same way based on one fact you are Muslim. People that watch the media and have little to no exposure with Muslims may have hatred. That causes many problems, I am Arabic Muslim American I am also a resident of Dearborn, in fact I am a US Soldier who had deployed oversea. During my deployment there was someone that came to Dearborn to burn a Quran. It cause problems for me religiously, and for the safety of my troops and myself overseas. Because of hate and not understanding the people that live with you in the land of the free. I am not saying that you have to agree with what is being shown. But at least open your mind for the message. Understand first then strike, go in blind and people get hurt. 

    Last thing I wanted to say, Every RELIGION wants you to be closer to god. There are Phases in each our books that if we followed Gods words to the tea can correct and put fear in to a person not to do wrong. IF WE FOLLOWED WE WOULD ALL BE GOD FEARING PEOPLE. BUT IN AMERICA OUR PRACTICES ARE DIFFERENT. BUT AS HUMANS LET OUR MINDS GET IN THE WAY OF WHAT WE WANT AND NOT WHAT GOD WANTS. Thank You   

  • Arab American Soldier

    we have many different races here in Dearborn. Many from the arabic world but Dearborn in the past started out with Polish, Italian, then Arabs. Many black and white, Italians and Polish Families still live here.  

  • Light of the World

    And thank you for proving my point.
    This is all you’ve been saying:
    OMG!!!!!!!!!!
    shut up
    idiot
    get a life
    what the [insert profanity]
    stop being mean

    Cry me a river…

  • Light of the World

    And thank you for proving my point.
    This is all you’ve been saying:
    OMG!!!!!!!!!!
    shut up
    idiot
    get a life
    what the [insert profanity]
    stop being mean

    Cry me a river…

  • Khushy_wushy

    shut up and get a life idiot dumb head

  • Khushy_wushy

    shut up and get a life idiot dumb head

  • Khushy_wushy

    Okay fine u can be like that and ur not open minded. apparently ur not willing to understand other people religion and ur full of crap. Every religion can have a bad group or extremists. i cant make u not hate our religion so stop looking at ways to bring us down cuz it makes u seem desperate and it makes us eem like we are really important to you!

  • Khushy_wushy

    Okay fine u can be like that and ur not open minded. apparently ur not willing to understand other people religion and ur full of crap. Every religion can have a bad group or extremists. i cant make u not hate our religion so stop looking at ways to bring us down cuz it makes u seem desperate and it makes us eem like we are really important to you!

  • Bpkrj2142003

     I did not like the show as it does not show the true Islam. The women should not show off their bodies. They did not dress as muslims. Belgacem

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