This fall a reality series entitled “All American Muslim” will premiere on TLC. The series will follow five Muslim families living in one of the country’s largest Muslim communities, Dearborn, Mich. The town is also home to the largest mosque in the United States.
The show intends to allow “viewers into a world they might not otherwise experience,” said Amy Winter, TLC’s general manager.
"Through these families and their diverse experiences, we will explore how they blend their values and traditions with everyday life in America," stated Winter, "providing insight into their culture with care and compassion."
The show will air in November and viewers will have the opportunity to see very diverse lives that challenge the stereotypical Muslim image.
Two of the characters are sisters who have a good relationship with one another despite having drastically different interpretations of their own religion. One sister wears a traditional Islamic headscarf; the other has piercings and tattoos and has an Irish Catholic husband.
Nadar and Nawal are featured as a recently married couple that has just had their first baby. The show follows the couple in their struggles to find a balance between their Muslim religion and American culture.
Although the numbers fluctuate, there is believed to be between 6 and 8 million Muslims living in the United States. Islamophobia, the fear of Muslims, has increased in the United States following the September 11th attacks.
A recent Gallup poll found 43 percent of Americans nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims. It is hoped by many that the opportunity to glance into the lives of everyday Muslim Americans will help ease the prejudice.
This show follows another reality series about Arab Americans. Bravo’s “The Shahs of Sunset” is about a group of wealthy Persian Americans living in Los Angeles.
However, not all Muslims are thrilled.
"On the one hand, it's great a network is coming to shed light on who Muslim Americans are; I hope that Dearborn is portrayed in a fair light," said Rana Abbas, 32, according to OnIslam.com, an Islamic news source.
"On the other hand, you have to take into consideration it's reality TV, and reality TV is about sensationalism. ... I haven't completely bought into it."
Considering the sensationalism of past TLC reality shows, it’s easy to see where Abbas’ leeriness comes from. The network has featured many “abnormal” families such as “Sister Wives,” a polygamist Mormon family, “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” a show about pack-rats, and “Little People, Big World,” featuring midgets. It is feared among some in the Muslim community that if the show is done poorly, it will make Muslims look abnormal or freakish.
Professor Read Schuchardt of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., shares in the concern.
"I fear that such a show is really misnamed, and is in fact more properly understood as ‘All American Arab-American’ – only 0.6 percent of America is Muslim, whereas 1.5 percent are Arab-Americans. The common American misconception is that Arab equals Muslim, when in this country only 24 percent of Arab Americans are Muslim,” said Schuchardt.
“So I think the show will be good in addressing that perceptual disparity, but I’m worry that it may simply repeat some of the cliches that Sex and the City 2 created, which is that underneath the head dress and strange cultural habits, Muslims really want to be as shallow, sexual, and trivial as consumer America is when represented on prime-time television and advertising. "
Schuchardt continues, "If they want Snooki to wear a hijab, well that would be an interesting show; but I suspect they’ll much more likely lean in the direction of suggesting that all Muslims, once Americanized, are really all potential Snookis."
This wouldn’t be the first time Dearborn was featured in the media. During the 2010 election cycle, four Christians were banned from handing out copies of the Gospel of John, in Arabic and English, on a public street outside an annual Arab-American Festival.
Following this incident, conservative congressional hopeful Sharon Angle described Dearborn as “militant” and conservative figures such as Newt Gingrich denounced the town as extremist.
It is hoped by many Muslim Americans that this series can shed positive light on the Muslim community.