All-American Muslim, airing on TLC Sunday, seeks in its eight episodes to marry medium with message. If Muslims are truly American, than what better way to demonstrate by using the TV on an American art form of reality television?
What a reality show can do, and do better than almost any other format, is demonstrate the diversity of what it means to be Muslim in America - while at the same time showing just how ordinary those Americans actually are.
Unfortunately, the show focuses only on the Arab Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan, which is a mere sample of the broader American Muslim community. Mike Mosallam, the television producer from Dearborn, didn't cast a wide net when he sought participants from within his close-knit community. One cast member is his cousin, another is an old schoolmate.
Nevertheless, all of the main characters were born and raised in the U.S., and their daily dramas are the stuff of scrapbooks everywhere: getting married, having a baby, opening a new business.
And even in this narrow community, you have people representing every part of American society. There are law enforcement officers, medical professionals, athletes, high school coaches, and party planners. While the integrated nature of Muslims are generally well-known to people who pay attention to these sorts of things, the impact of seeing Muslims in these jobs for the general population may be significant. It has the potential to make people realize that they may be dealing with Muslims on a daily basis without realizing it.
An important aspect of the show is the great diversity of opinion that is on display. There are questions of clothing, and not just the hijab, which does generate very rich conversations, about what is appropriate and modest on a daily basis.
There are many independent business women on the show, and it allows the series to explore their conversations as to what limits Arab culture imposes on them compared to actual religious mandates.
One challenging issue that is brought up on the show is how a couple navigates the fact that reproductive technology has outpaced ethical thinking, whether religious or otherwise. The very deep question of the role and presence of God in a believer's life is on full display.
Yet the featured characters in All-American Muslim revel in their ordinariness. In fact, it's the whole point of the series: to demystify a community foreign to many fellow Americans.
Indeed, one critic described the series as the Muslims' "inalienable right to be as dull as anybody else".
"People need to learn our stories," said Nawal Aoude, a pediatric respiratory therapist. "People need to learn who we are. The only time people see Muslims in the media, they are cast in a negative light."
Aoude is pregnant in the first episode of the series, which was filmed over the summer. Her husband, Nader, is depicted showing the support and carefully hidden exasperation that fathers-to-be everywhere can appreciate.
Cast members said they agreed to be part of the series to show the diversity of the Muslim community and, in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, illustrate that other Americans need not fear the Muslims in their midst.
"Being Muslim isn't just one way," said Nina Bazzy, a young mother who is trying to open a nightclub in Dearborn. "There are different ways to live life. We are your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. Watch the show. Love us."
Hussein Rashid, "Islam meets reality TV" Washington Post November 11, 2011
"TLC series highlights Muslim community in Michigan" CBS News November 11, 2011
Hank Stuever, " 'All-American Muslim': An inalienable right to be as dull as anybody else" Washington Post November 11, 2011
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today