New to Reality TV: ‘All-American Muslim’

If TLC has any connection whatsoever to its original initials – The Learning Channel – it might be to let us learn about unusual people.

Part of its approach echoes sideshow attractions: See the lady with 20 children! See the tiniest married couple! See the surprised new mother who didn’t know she was pregnant! See the troubled people about to be buried in their own junk!

At the same time, the shows are (sometimes) meant to humanize these people, to make viewers understand. That’s more the point to the new “All-American Muslim” (TLC, 10 p.m.), which begins tonight.

On the surface, many will see five families depicted from Dearborn, Mich., with some fascination (and maybe, initial trepidation). But the point of the new show, maybe even more than the others, is to show how like us they really are.

They have families, they fall in love, they eat dinner, they play football and a couple of times of day they also pray on a rug.

“This isn’t about politics,” says one of the participants, Suehalia Amen, pictured. “This is about emotion. This is about joys and celebrating a wedding, celebrating a birth of a child, celebrating these momentous occasions in a person’s life that I think any American can relate to.

“And it’s sad if there are people that can’t relate to the fact that we share experiences in life just as any other person would. That’s what, really, this is all about. This is about the heart. This is about families who come together, have a strong bond, love one another, friendships that are created or have been created, and how we move forward in our lives.

“In the show, people will see that. It’s not about addressing people who wish to perpetuate their ignorance or their hate. This isn’t about that. This is about showing real life experiences on television of people, like we said, who just happen to be of the Muslim faith but who are just as American as anyone else.”

There will be some doubt, her sister Shadia Amen McDermott says, but “it’s a fear of the unknown. They are going to have comments and opinions, but until you see, and when you do see us, you will see we are just like you.”

“It’s going to change some perception,” says Angela Jaafar.

TLC General Manager Amy Winter says in “All-American Muslim,” “each episode offers a unique look at how their beliefs and traditions blend with everyday American life.”

Still, she describes it as “a raw and honest look at a culture that remains a bit of a mystery despite an estimated population of several million in the U.S. today.”

And yet, even in that tight knit community of Dearborn, one of the largest Muslim American communities in the nation, there are variations seen.

“We’re five different families, and we have five different sides of an American lifestyle. You will see differences in all of our families,” McDermott says. “I would say we would like to represent a spectrum of the Muslim community.”

“This show will actually showcase how people embrace their faith across the spectrum,” Amen says, offering the example of she and her sister. “You have a Muslim who practices the faith much more than my sister would, by embracing the hijab, by wearing the scarf as opposed to my sister not wearing it, as well as my younger sister Samara. This is showing, as in each faith, we embrace religion the way that we see it fit to conducive to our own lifestyle.”

Some participants, such as Mike Jaafar, hesitated at first about participation.

“There were some reservations,” he says. “And as my wife and I sat down and talked about it, analyzed it, talked to family members, talked to close confidants and individuals that work with me, we felt that it would we are sincerely in this to send a positive message to the world that we are proud to be an American family.”

“All-American Muslim” is scheduled to run eight episodes on TLC.

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