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.