Tuned In: 'All-American Muslim' shows Islam's many faces
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Perhaps putting on a pro-social program like "All-American Muslim" is TLC's effort to atone for saddling the nation with the drama of "Jon & Kate Plus 8."
Or maybe it's just a show that fits the network's theme of depicting American families from all walks of life. Whatever the reason, "All-American Muslim" (10 tonight) may be an eye-opener for some viewers.
Filmed in Dearborn, Mich., which viewers are told is "the No. 1 most concentrated community of Muslims outside the Middle East," this docu-series follows six extended families who practice their faith in different ways. That might be the most important thing about this first episode: It debunks the notion some viewers might have that followers of Islam are a monolith.
The first person viewers meet, Shadia Amen, is a self-described rebel in her family with plenty of tattoos to prove it.
"I've read the Koran three times," she says. "Do I choose to follow all of that? Not so much."
Her Irish-Catholic fiance Jeff McDermott chooses to convert to Islam before their wedding and much of the first episode centers around that decision and the impact it has on Shadia's family and Jeff's mom, who worries about the break in continuity of family tradition. Credit the show for allowing her to express her fears and worries; "All-American Muslim" does not shy away from the notion that accepting change -- in a family but it could just as well be in American society -- can be difficult at first.
The entire wedding is handled by those involved with the utmost respect and dignity, a far cry from so many similar "reality" series that devolve into shoutfests among family members. That may make "All-American Muslim" a bit dull for viewers conditioned to expect ginned-up drama but given the potential sensitivities of the subject matter, it seems appropriate.
Between scenes of the families in their daily lives, the show cuts back to studio-taped conversations among the show's participants as they sit on couches. Sometimes they argue about what their faith proscribes, proving that sometimes ignorance of one's faith tradition can transcend religions.
By focusing on multiple families, "All-American Muslim" shows the diversity among people who share the same faith. Shadia's brother, Bilal, says he's mistaken for Hispanic with people approaching him speaking Spanish. Nawal Aoude wears a hijab head scarf; Nina Bazzy, a blond event planner who wants to open a club, does not.
"Another Muslim might say I'm not Muslim enough," Nina says, bringing to mind the tendency of some Christians to castigate others who they deem to be insufficiently Christian. "I don't think I need to express my religion through the way I dress."
Other characters introduced include a high school football coach whose team members say they often endure religious and ethnic slurs, including "terrorist," when playing teams from outside Dearborn. And there's a deputy chief sheriff whose Christian partner observes, "We have more in common than not."
And that's sort of the overriding theme of the first episode: American Muslims live in recognizable ways that are not foreign or exotic compared to most people in this country. They just practice a religion that many of us have a limited understanding about.
How the show evolves remains to be seen. Previews for coming episodes do show tempers flaring; the seeming good intentions of "All-American Muslim" producers could be short-lived.
First Published November 13, 2011 12:00 am