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Americans just like us

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Esther Cepeda
November 14, 2011
— I’m breaking my “no watching reality TV shows” rule to get to know the Muslims of Michigan.

If you didn’t get to see the premiere episode of the show “All-American Muslim” Sunday night on TLC—the channel now less known for actual learning than for trashy fare such as “Strange Sex” and “Toddlers & Tiaras”—be sure to set your DVR for next week’s episode.


“All-American Muslim” aspires to demonstrate its name by showcasing the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich.—one of the largest Muslim communities in the country—in an effort to answer the question of what it is like to be Muslim in America.


“Each episode offers an intimate look at customs and celebrations, as well as misconceptions, conflicts, and differences these families face outside and within their own community,” reads TLC’s promotional website copy.


If this doesn’t sound like the sort of soapy show that will keep you on the edge of your seat, breathless for the next turn of events in an overly salacious group of people’s day-to-day dramas, you’re probably right.


Sure, there are headscarves and plenty of praying, but also plenty of garden-variety family politics, high school football and wedding-planning melodrama. Sound unremarkable? That’s the point.


Some critical reviews suggested that the show’s “freakishly normal” stars lack some of the exciting controversy necessary to liven up a program that’s supposed to raise awareness of the ordinary all-American nature of Muslims’ lives.


Are you kidding me? I’d kill for an “All-American Hispanic” show that busts the myths that we’re all illegal immigrants, poor or prone to cute verbal mishaps like Sofia Vergara’s character, Gloria, does on the hit TV show “Modern Family.”


But, much like the sort of arguments Hispanics would have if such a show featured the experience of only one nationality, spiritual tradition or social class, many Muslims viewers tweeted and blogged their concern about the show’s decision to include only affluent Arab families who practice the Shiite denomination of Islam.


That’s an important point you hope the show will address in future episodes. But even if it doesn’t do the best job of featuring the diverse spectrum of followers of Islam, for a group that is highlighted positively on prime time, this is a good start.


We can only hope that the very people who believe in their hearts that the Muslims are “out to get us” will tune in so they can get to know more about a growing part of the U.S. population that continues to reject extremism as it adopts to American norms.


As for the rest of us who already know that our Muslim friends are, more or less, just like us—or those curious to see for themselves whether that could possibly be true— watching the Zaban, Jaafar, Bazzy-Aliahmad, Aoude and Amen families traverse their own varieties of family and culture clashes should become must-see TV.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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