Shadia: Thoughts on 'All-American Muslim'

When I first read about a reality TV show featuring the everyday lives and struggles of Muslim Americans, I immediately added it to my short list.

But my reaction to the first episode of "All-American Muslim" on TLC was mixed.

I liked some elements, especially the sense of humor — that Middle Eastern wittiness, the inside jokes that I know all too well.

But I also found myself criticizing some of the cast and wanting to challenge their understanding of Islamic concepts. Some were too conservative, some too liberal and others confusing.

I felt as though Jeff, born an Irish Catholic, converted to Islam just to please his bride, Shadia, and her father when Jeff himself didn't seem to fully understand Islam. I found myself asking, "Shouldn't he study a religion before converting to it?"

And while I belly dance with my friends from time to time, I found myself harshly criticizing Suehaila Amen when I saw her belly dancing at her sister's wedding and then smoking a hookah in another episode.

I thought, "How can she cover her entire body, including her hair, which is a sign of modesty, yet move her body this way in front of strange men and on national television? Isn't covering more about modesty than the actual physical act of doing it?"

But I kept watching because I realize the show represents a slice of my diverse Muslim world. These folks on TV, I found, represent some of us.

I also realize that I'm not even the target audience. I'm already familiar with Islam, Middle Eastern culture and how it intersects, good and bad, with life in the United States. The show's greatest strength is that it offers a window into our world that many Americans never see.

"All-American Muslim" humanizes Muslims and shows that we, like all people, are diverse and deal with ups and downs just like other Americans.

And that, um, "reality" is worth more than any of my nitpicking.


Lowe's advertising controversy

Then earlier this week came the news about Lowe's and its decision to pull ads from "All-American Muslim" because the Florida Family Assn. (FFA), a conservative Christian group, decided that the show "hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

Oh, and they called the show "propaganda."

Say what?

I'm not disappointed with the association; I expect that kind of behavior from them.

But I'm disappointed in Lowe's, which certainly has a good number of Muslim customers.

Yes, the company has the right to decide how to spend its money. But why would a giant, respected and diverse corporation disrespect the work of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson by making a business decision that essentially legitimizes the FFA's baseless arguments?

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the beauty of America's democracy is that you can openly, and freely, express love or hate for any group or any show.

"The FFA is fully within its right to hate Muslims, propagate anti-Muslim bigotry and promote fear of Muslims; we live in a free country," Ayloush said. "What is problematic is when Lowe's, as a large corporation that employs hundreds of thousands of people and benefits from the patronage of millions of people, including many Muslims, chooses to agree with such a hate group that this show is controversial because it's basically not depicting Muslims as terrorists."

Ayloush asked: How would Americans feel if large corporations had decided to pull ads from "The Cosby Show" or "Seinfeld" because they depicted African Americans or Jews as normal Americans?

Many non-Muslim groups and individuals, including Asians, Jews and Christians and the Los Angeles Times editorial board, have criticized Lowe's.

I think it's the FFA that is challenging American liberties, and Lowe's just fell into its trap.

I've never been to Lowe's. They don't sell fabulous shoes, clothes or handbags.

And I won't ask you not to go there.

But I'm just going to say this: If, say, Nordstrom pulled ads from a show that depicted Jews, Christians, Hindus, Hispanics, blacks or gays as ordinary Americans who rise and fall, succeed and fail, I would happily feed my huge appetite for fashion elsewhere.

But Nordstrom would never do such a thing, I hope. So I'm safe.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia

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