It’s been a decade since the September 11 attacks and many Americans still don’t know quite what to make of their 2.75 million Muslim compatriots. Could a reality TV series help?
“All-American Muslim,” which premieres Sunday on the TLC cable channel, lifts the veil on five Arab American families in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan and finds their lives are, in many ways, not so un-American at all.
There’s the Amen family, whose outspoken tattooed daughter Shadia is engaged to an Irish American from Chicago who accepts her family’s request to convert to Islam on the eve of their wedding – and upsets his Catholic mother.
Newlywed twenty-somethings Nader and Nawal Aoude embrace teamwork like a new-age couple as they prepare for the birth of their first child, even as they adhere to a devout Islamic lifestyle.
Nina Bazzy is a glamorous blond party planner on a collision course with both her traditional-minded parents and the wider community over her bold plan to open her own trendy nightclub.
Mike Jaafar upholds the law as Dearborn’s deputy chief sheriff, while his wife Angela tries to keep their four high-strung children in line in one of those big suburban houses that signifies the American dream.
And the patriarch of the Zaban family, Fouad “Haj Walker” Zaban, is as passionate about his religious obligations as he is about leading the high school football team he coaches to the Michigan state championship.
“It seemed like a really, really good opportunity to dispel some of these misconceptions that we’ve been dealing with all our lives,” Shadia Amen told AFP on Thursday, explaining why she agreed to do the show.
“We’re not here to represent Islam. We’re just five American families who happen to be Muslim.”
All five families live in Dearborn, an industrial city of 100,000 that may be better known for North America’s biggest mosque than for being the home of the Ford Motor Company.
Three-quarters of Dearborn’s residents are of Arab heritage. Many trace their roots to Lebanon – the Amens hail from the Bekaa Valley – and all felt the chill of suspicion after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
That chill lingers. Earlier this year, a Public Religion Research Institute survey indicated that nearly one in two Americans felt uncomfortable at the sight of women in burqas or a group of men praying to Allah in an airport.
Sixty-eight per cent said they seldom or never interacted with Muslims, and 47 per cent thought Islamic values don’t jibe with American ones.
On the other hand, a concurrent Pew Research Center poll revealed that 48 per cent of Muslim Americans think other Americans are generally friendly to them. Muslims were also more satisfied with the way the United States is going.
“All-American Muslim” includes eight episodes, with part one on Sunday seeing bridegroom Jim McDermott converting to Islam before his future in-laws as his bride-to-be Shadia Amen looks on, wearing a “not a terrorist” T-shirt.
Shadia then dons a hijab for a religious marriage ceremony led by a witty imam, before a full-on reception – apparently modest by Dearborn standards, with just 400 guests – that features both belly dancing and an Irish jig.
Hard-driving coach Zaban meanwhile wonders how to prepare the teenagers on his mainly Muslim team for a crucial game during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when even a sip of water is prohibited before sundown.
The solution: training after dark, right up to 4:00 am.
Future episodes will find deputy chief Jaafar addressing prejudice and discrimination among his fellow law enforcement agents while his wife juggles her career in the automotive industry with the demands of raising a family.
“It’s not like you can lump us all together,” Amen told AFP, referring not only to her fellow cast members, but also the wider Arab American community.
“We are so diverse.”