In a world filled with Islamophobia, TLC thought its new tv series, “All-American Muslim,” would give its viewers a different look at how Muslims live their everyday lives. By featuring groups of Muslim families from Dearborn, Michigan, the series attempts to showcase the diversity of the Islamic community and the often-harsh realities associated with being Muslim in the United States.
Some critics, however, like Aman Ali, a writer for CNN, suggest that the series is poorly written because, first, it shows a total lack of diversity in the ethnicities represented by Islam; it ignores African-Americans and South Asians, focusing instead on Dearborn’s Arab population. “Hell,” he writes, “Detroit is right next to Dearborn. All the producers had to do was turn around and they’d find one of the most active African-American Muslim communities in the country.” Second, and most importantly, critics have berated the show for its characters. Ali writes, “One woman is a boozing, tattoo-laden rebel child who wants to marry an Irish Catholic.” He continues, “while I appreciate that the show is implying that Muslim women are more than just devout, headscarf-wearing housewives . . . why do the ‘liberal’ characters represent an opposite extreme?” There are also women in the gray area, he insists.
The obvious reality is that these critics are right to say that the show poorly represents them. As Khurram Dara writes, “no TV show, no organization, no movement is ever going to represent you better than you can represent yourself.” The question is not whether the show best represents the entirety of a Muslim population but if it does a good job representing the fraction it focuses on; it does. The purpose of the series was never to change the image of Muslims in a single motion. That said, “All-American Muslim” remains important as a contribution to acknowledging the space of Muslims in the US and also in creating space for Muslims in popular culture that is not merely conditioned negative stereotypes.