Is New Reality Series ‘Cosby Show’ for Muslims?


Written by Suzanne Manneh & Zaineb Mohammed, New America Media

Has a Bill Cosby show equivalent finally arrived for Muslim Americans with the TLC network’s reality series, “All American Muslim?”

The series, which premiered last Sunday,  could be that first step of offering an alternative image to common stereotypes for American Muslims. It centers around five Shi’ite Muslim American families who all have roots in southern Lebanon, living in the Detroit, Michigan suburb of Dearborn.

“We really hope that we’re able to give viewers that sort of rare chance to kind of get immersed and enjoy the ride with this community that they have previously been completely unexposed to, said Alon Orstein, an executive producer for the series.

According to a TLC press release, the series, “shows how these individuals negotiate universal family issues while remaining faithful to the traditions and beliefs of their faith.”

A year before its debut, CBS news anchor Katie Couric declared that “bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country was one of the most disturbing stories to surface,” in 2010. Couric was referring to the proposed New York “Park 51” Islamic Center that generated national media attention and criticisms. “Maybe we need a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show,’” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but “The Cosby Show” did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

Media experts, organizers, and advocates in the Arab and Muslim community agree with Couric, but believe that while “All American Muslim,” may not have the same immediate impact on mainstream America that “The Cosby Show” did, this new reality series is a much needed small step in the right direction.

Normalizing Muslims

Amina Sharif, communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) office in Chicago, said she is hopeful for the new series, because it will offer “a more mainstream image of American Muslims.”

“They are often stereotyped and misunderstood because of negative portrayals in media and pop culture. [This program] is normalizing Muslims,” said Sharif. “That’s the way [of] American culture – we needed ‘The Cosby Show’ to help normalize African American families. In this society public opinion is shaped mainly by media and pop culture,” she said.

Zahra Billoo, executive director for CAIR, Northern California, echoed Sharif’s hopes for the program, adding that the program may be especially helpful because “over 60 percent of Americans have never met a Muslim,” she said citing a 2010 poll by TIME Magazine.

Another poll by Washington Post-ABC News, conducted in 2010, found that “roughly half the country (49 percent) holds an unfavorable view of Islam, compared with 37 percent who have a favorable view.” In October 2002, 47 percent said they had a favorable view of Islam and 39 percent said they had an unfavorable view.

In September of 2011, the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, a CBS Poll found that one in three Americans think Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans.

Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said he hopes this series reaches these audiences and hopes they see beyond the stereotypes. “There are many people who don’t watch public or educational programming, but do watch TLC,” he said.

Hopeful, But With Some Reservations

While Muslim and Arab community leaders and media are generally optimistic about the positive impact the show could have on American Muslims, some did express reservations.

Many stressed the importance of not using the show as a way to teach the American public about Islam. Citing the various ways that different Muslims practice Islam, community members were concerned that the religious practices of these five families would become the face of Islam.

“I hope audiences understand that much of what they’re seeing isn’t Islam, it’s the person’s culture,” said Sharif of CAIR, Chicago.

Others questioned the choice to place the show in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the highest concentration of Arabs in America.

According to a Gallup poll, 35 percent of Muslims in America are African American and 18 percent are Asian. Additionally, the majority of Arab Americans are Christian, and according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, only approximately 20 percent of Muslims are Arab. The gap between the reality of the American Muslim landscape and the show’s portrayal of the Muslim community frustrated many Muslim Americans.

After the premiere, #AllAmericanMuslim was a popular trending topic in social media, and several viewers sounded off angrily about the lack of ethnic diversity.

On Facebook, Ola Said commented, “This is a group of Lebanese American families in a localized spot in a city in MI. These examples do not portray an All American Muslim at all.”  HussamA tweeted: “The risk with shows like #AllAmericanMuslim is that as existing stereotypes are challenged, new ones are perpetuated. Oh well.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR Michigan, expressed the danger behind conflating the terms Arab and Muslim, “When nothing but Arabs are depicted it shifts people’s minds to the Middle East. There’s a lot of negative stigma attached in the minds of Americans with the Middle East.”

The national spotlight on Dearborn within the past couple of years offers a potential rationale for choosing that city as a setting. In May 2010, Rima Fakih, from Dearborn, became the first Muslim and Arab American to win Miss USA. Nevada politician Sharron Angle  proclaimed that Dearborn was operating under sharia law during her campaign for US Senate. And in June this year, Pastor Terry Jones, known for burning a Qu’ran, went to Dearborn for the second time to protest Islam.

However, Alon Orstein, one of the executive producers of the series, offered a different explanation for the choice of Michigan and Dearborn in particular.

“We found this group of families that we just fell in love with …the natural drama we look for in our shows, they had it going on in spades,” said Orstein.

And for Orstein, diversity with respect to characters’ religiosity was important, “we did achieve a level of diversity with respect to how our different characters experience their faith.”

Other criticisms of the show came from anti-Muslim groups, who created a “Boycott TLC for New Program ‘All-American Muslim’” Facebook page.

However, according to Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York who helped with the show’s social media campaign, those Islamophobic criticisms were drowned out online by discussions (and disagreements) amongst Muslims about the show.

Some disapproved of the characters’ actions, in particular Shadia Amen, who described herself as the black sheep of her family. Imani Bsj, commented on Facebook, “If she was born Muslim I just can’t understand how she has all those tattoos.” But others related to her choices. Feda FeFe Saleh posted, “I’m a Muslim who prays 5 times a day but doesn’t wear hijab. Do I think Shadia exposed a little too much about her lifestyle, yes, but this is not for me to judge.”

Some community members expressed hope that more diversity will be featured as the show progresses. But they are generally pleased that the show exists. “Right now, we’ll take what we can get,” said Sarsour.

This post was originally published by New America Media.


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Photo from New America Media


Deb S.
Deb Swenson6 years ago

I watched this show HOPING it was like the Cosby Show however facts are revealed that leave me quite concerned. I really wanted this to work but as the shows progress I learn more and more disturbing things. 1. the hijab is for women to honor God? I was and continue to be under the impression it is to prevent the tantalizing of men who apparently can't control themselves yet they themselves can wear anything they want even if it reveals a very less than attractive body. 2. Dogs are unclean? Seems to me the men are unclean in their minds if they can't look at a womans hair, neck, legs ETC without being turned on. Sadly I knew a Muslim woman who owned dogs and after putting up with her husband's physical and emotional abuse and her children were grown she finally left and sadly left her 2 dogs who were killed by her husband. I've only seen 3 shows I may have more to comment on. The point is they may have had reason for some of these habits in the PAST but times have changed!!!!! Doesn't mean a woman AND MAN cannot be modest and honor their religion. As a dog owner and non Muslim woman will I have to endure dirty looks from Muslims because I don't cover myself completely and walk my dogs near them? THEY HAVE TO MODERNIZE. And BTW this applies to any extreme or fundamentalist religion. I'm all for integration but women should never be subjagated and dogs should not be treated with disgust because of outdated religious 'laws'!!!!!

bob m.
bob m6 years ago

Abdul and several others; long standing defenders of the intents of the cherub and his fashion brigade no doubt thinking they operate in cloaked ships ; regulatly delight in mocking the long research done by R& J who it would seem have very real concerns and a penchant for the kinds of revelation which make pulling the goat skins over our eyes difficult.

Sharon Balloch
Sharon Balloch6 years ago

Here in Canada we have a show that called Little Mosque on the Prairie...its funny and it shows us that Muslims want the same things as other folks... and has the same up tight over the top folks as any other religion or group and the same down to earth types.. and everyone in between... this show is now in its six season... it is very well loved here..hope your show does as well..

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran6 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago


Will Rogers
Will Rogers6 years ago

Tiffany t. It's called Sarcasm, and if anyone in the world believes that a tv show can stop bigotry they are naive. And as for calling America a melting pot, that implies that everyone is together, but from what I've seen, America is the most segregated place I have ever been to. You have Italian, Black and Jewish areas! People of different races do not mix outside of work or school. Socially the place is backward and it is the reason why I would never dream of living there. Holidays yes! But living there! Are you mad. I live in london where anyone can go into any pub and put down their money and play a game of pool, there are no black or Indian or Irish areas where no one lives but them. We call an area a black or an Indian area when more than 1 in 20 people living there are black or Indian, there are no areas where even more than 20% immigrants live. It is Policy to integrate. We have modern laws, not laws over 200 years old based on slavemasters opinions in barbaric times. We also have our problems like how we helped to radicalise Pakistan by an act called Paki Bashing. (similar to beaner bashing) and various human rights violations against Black youths. But the integration here is real, warts and all.     
Not just to get votes, or to satisfy an ignorant cross section. But to be involved in a truly integrated world. Which lets face it, is inevitable.

bob m.
bob m6 years ago

There there Abdul;...old chap.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A6 years ago

Rob and J several others are purely there to criticise and demonise anything Muslim or Islamic and it has become boring to see the same regurgitated rubbish being copied and pasted yet again. These chaps lack originality and have nothing new to offer and are known Islamophobes and bigots.
Remember if there is a chance of seeing and understanding some one you don't like then at least see what they have to offer and then you can make your remarks. If you have a single agenda as the Zionists, supremists and extremists then you can expect nothing other than their normal rhetoric - which stinks

Mara C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Glad I don't watch TV and can come to my own conclusions!

tiffany t.
tiffany t6 years ago