A Litmus Test for the All-American Muslim Community


By Imraan Siddiqi

Talk to anyone in the Muslim-American community, and they are bound to give you a different take on TLC’s new, and now controversial show “All-American Muslim.”  Some say that the show hits the nail right on the head in its portrayal of the entire spectrum of Muslims – from ultra-liberal, to moderate to orthodox.  Conversely, many criticize the show as not being representative of the American Muslim community, as it only depicts one geographical area, and only Muslims from a narrow background, i.e. the Lebanese-American community in Dearborn, MI.  And while I certainly see both sides of the argument, I have still watched each episode – as there are still good takeaways and positive portrayals of everyday Muslims, no matter how religious, or non-religious they are.

No matter what your view on the show may be, the Muslim community now has a call to action – and this will definitely serve as a litmus test for the community.  There is no doubt that we are living in a time of great challenge and turmoil as Muslims in America.  Although we are 10 years past the attacks of 9/11, the level of Islamophobia in the U.S is at its highest and most well-established level.  The Learning Channel took a bold step by introducing a show that featured Muslims, living a normal – middle-class, well-entrenched American life.  As soon as the show launched, it was met with fierce opposition, by the usual Islamophobic cast of characters, such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, among others.  Right-wing fringe group, the “Florida Family Association” launched a protest campaign, reaching out to any and every advertiser that aired during “All-American Muslim,” asking them to drop their ads.  Shockingly, one major advertiser – Lowe’s – admittedly buckled to the pressure from FFA and other groups protesting the show.  Although FFA is puffing their chests out, claiming that most of the advertisers have not re-aired on the show, it is highly unlikely that it was due to their message of hate and intolerance, but rather business-based decisions.  In the case of Lowe’s however, we clearly see that the hardware giant has acted irrationally in the face of pressure – and has greatly damaged its standing as a corporate citizen.

So now that the facts are in front of us, what is the Muslim community going to do?  With the rise in anti-Islam sentiment, we have seen a dichotomy in the community; on one hand we have seen a great increase in activism – led by groups such as CAIR and MPAC, among others.  On the other side, there remains a disturbing amount of apathy when it comes to issues such as this.  Many think the best way to react to a hostile environment is to ride the situation out, and that this will all pass.  Will ignoring these issues help the cause of the Muslims and the entire nation in the long term?  The answer is no.  For those who think that groups like FFA are just a flash in the pan, and that Pamela Geller has used up 14 of her 15 minutes, it’s time to think again.

Racism has manifested itself in many eras and in many different ways throughout history.  There were times when racism was institutionalized, as in the case of the post-slavery and Jim Crow era toward African Americans.  There have been times where the racism or anti-religious sentiment has hovered beneath the surface –as in the case of the attitude toward Catholics, throughout much of America’s history.  As we zoom out and examine the timeline of this relatively young country’s history, there has been a relatively unbroken chain of racism or religious discrimination that has manifested in some way, shape or form.  There has always been small, yet vocal minority who have latched onto these movements and who have attempted to fear-monger against a perceived outsider group.  This has shifted at one point or another from Catholics, to blacks, to Jewish people, to Asians.  The focus is now squarely upon the Muslims.  When multi-billion dollar firms such as Lowe’s are allowed to make moves such as this, the threat of institutionalized racism becomes that much more of a reality.

Those at the Florida Family Association hide behind a false sense of morality, trying to build a connection to what they perceive as “traditional American values.”  In the course of their faulty logic, they completely ignore the rights of all religions (including specifically Muslims) to enjoy the same freedoms under the First Amendment of the Constitution, that they claim to cling to so dearly.  The reality is that the Thomas Jefferson’s, John Adams’ and Benjamin Franklin’s of the world were much more sophisticated in their worldview and more accepting of all peoples centuries before there was any television or Internet.  Past precedent shows us that these hate groups would have likely been on the side of segregation and the marginalization of the aforementioned race and religious groups, had they been present during those times.  We must ask ourselves if we are truly at a crossroads when it comes to how Islam is perceived moving forward in the U.S.

Along with the rising clout of FFA and similar groups – we also must examine the rise in acceptance of Islamophobia in the political sphere.  Look no further than the Republican Presidential Debates to highlight that the right-wing is an incubator for anti-Muslim sentiment.  The fastest rising candidate is likely the one that has the strongest Islamophobic credentials:  Newt Gingrich.  He often speaks at and panders to so-called values based voters, a genre to which the FFA belongs.  Gingrich has produced and released a fear-mongering, anti-Islam film, “America at Risk,” that has been distributed widely throughout the ultra-right wing community.  He recently referred to the Palestinian people as invented – an ugly, disturbing epithet that has become a common talking point in right-wing circles.  It is also becoming increasingly likely that this discredited, Islamophobic fraudster may just become the Republican nominee for the President of the United States of America.

To Newt’s defense, he is known to just be an opportunist – as he changes his political positions as the wind blows.  But the wind is blowing against the Muslims right now, so what happens if he becomes President, when money and influence are streaming from many Islamophobic organizations?  Will he give in to all the anti-Shariah hysteria that has overcome the American political spectrum?

The same can be said about the Lowe’s Corporation and their recent missteps.  Is this the first step in corporate America legitimizing the fear and hatred of Muslims?  With Lowe’s in their pocket, groups such as the FFA will likely gain political and monetary clout in their campaign to demonize Muslims.  We must now ask ourselves, how are we going to change this depressing, seemingly never ending tide of ill-will toward the Muslim community?

The answer is simple:  If we sit back and do nothing, we lose.  If we continue to ride this thing out, and wait for someone else to write a letter, or for someone else to call, or for someone else to boycott Lowe’s, then chances are that nobody will.  We have great organizations that work for our civil rights on a day to day basis, but they can only do so much.  Groups like CAIR have the same annual budget to handle hundreds of staff and operations as does a single anti-Islam blogger – as in the case of Bridgette Gabriel or Robert Spencer.  These people receive all kinds of funding from corporate interests and foundations in order to spread the fear of Islam – and sadly, they are successful in doing so.  All of us can do a small part to contribute to this cause – whether it is writing a letter to Lowe’s executives, calling them to express your dissatisfaction, or to just shop elsewhere in an act of conscientiousness.

Here is the contact info:

Phone:  Toll Free 1-800-445-6937

E-Mail: karen.s.cobb@lowes.com

Robert.A.Niblock@lowes.com

Thomas.J.Lamb@lowes.com

execustservice@lowes.com

We have seen an outpouring of support from all types of celebrities and media outlets.  Def Jam Founder Russell Simmons has been a vocal critic of Lowe’s and just purchased all the remaining ad spots for next week’s episode of All-American Muslims (thanks Uncle Rush).  Actor Kal Penn just said jokingly that his next movie will be “Harold and Kumar Don’t Go to Lowe’s.”

As a community, it is our duty to keep this momentum alive, and at the very least, familiarize ourselves and our networks with the nuances of this issue, and the larger Islamophobia issue that we face today.  History teaches us a wide array of lessons.  Racism didn’t end with the passing of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960’s.  Many held onto their deep-seated hatred until they realized that it was socially unacceptable to continue to espouse such views – and with time, they slowly faded away.  We have seen first-hand the emergence of the anti-Islam movement.  If we allow those who harbor hate to continue to gain traction in this cause, it not only jeopardizes the Muslim-American way of life, but it will also erode at the freedoms and values that make this a great nation.

The Petition: Repudiate Calls to Stop Advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim”

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7 Comments

  1. Assalaamu alaikum,

    I like the call to activism. But, let’s not go the shaming route by calling people ‘apathetic’ if they’re not out calling people, writing letters, etc. I think most of our muslim community gets its activism on with their wallets…as in not shopping at Lowes in the future…and by talking to colleagues, neighbors, and family about it. And, most importantly, by setting a good example of Islam to others. Simple.

    But for my brothers and sisters who are all about activism, get it on :)!

    Different strokes for different folks.

  2. Yaqub says:

    As’salaamolaikum to all.

    To the author of this article and its readers; it’s important to also point out that not only is the representation of Muslims in the show “narrow” in the sense that the participants are from one geographical area (Dearborn, MI) and are of the same ethnic-cultural-national background (Lebanese American)…but the participants on All-American Muslim are all of the Shiite sect of Islam (Shiites roughly comprise 14% of Muslims; whereas Sunni Muslims comprise 86% of Muslims).

  3. Yaqub says:

    As’salaamolaikum Connvert_chica; you’re right. Everyone can and should contribute in the best way they can. The most important point to remember is that everyone SHOULD and CAN contribute in one way/shape/manner/approach/means/form that they can.

    Whether contribution is through the wallet, words, example, education…or a mix…everyone can do their part. We can’t and shouldn’t sit idleand let others teach and dictate to others what Islam is. Just as how Muslims who call themselves Muslims but whose actions completely contrdict Islam are spoken against…so to should other individuals/corporations/groups/entities/companies/etc who are creating fear mongering and sensationalism against Islam and Muslims. Let’s all do our part to convey/live the truth of what being a Muslim and American really is!

  4. Kareemah says:

    As salaamu alaykum. Thank you for this timely essay. I respectfully disagree with the statement “Many held onto their deep-seated hatred until they realized that it was socially unacceptable to continue to espouse such views – and with time, they slowly faded away”. As an African American who grew up in the 60′s, I can tell you that they did not fade away, they went underground in some cases and at times changed their tactics. They may no longer wear white sheets and openly support the Klu Klux Klan but the hatred and racism is the same. They have found more “acceptable” means to spread their hatred as through radio, television, the internet and through organizations with patriotic sounding names.

    And by the way, their hatred is targeted against all Muslims and they don’t care about Shiah or Sunni. We should be smart enough to understand this and not let anyone divide us and not divide ourselves.

    Wa alaykum us salaam

    • Yaqub says:

      Walaikum’as’salaam Kareemah. I agree that racism towards African Americans has not faded away; it is rather cloaked in many ways. As far as the religion of Islam that transcends skin color, gender, race, creed, national origin, ethnicity, culture…it is becoming ever more a victim of a calculated and sensationalized smear campaign to justify thoughts and actions.

      In my first comment on this article; I simply pointed out a fact about the show that wasn’t pointed out amongst other facts that the article’s author stated about the show…the fact that they are Shia Muslims. With that said..you’re RIGHT that they don’t care whether the Muslims are Shia or Sunni.

  5. Muslima2 says:

    When it comes to corporate sponsors of commercial television, speaking with you wallet is by far the most effective method. However, if you’re going to do that, the corporate sponsor has to be aware of it, otherwise they may notice a change in sales, but not attribute that change to anything in particular.

    So, if protesting with your wallet is your preferred method, think about this: The next time you buy something that you might otherwise have bought at Lowes, photocopy the sales receipt, and mail it to Lowes, with the note: “I would have spent this money with you, if you hadn’t supported hatred and ignorance by dropping your sponsorship of ‘Muslims in America’ on TLC.” If enough kitchen remodels go to Home Depot, they will sit up and take notice.

    Shia/Sunni – speaking as a convert, who has had a hard time understanding the roots of the controversy and how much animosity there is now – most non-Muslims, if they are even aware of it, don’t know what the differences are, or why they are, or anything. Focusing on this aspect of the issue doesn’t help in terms of building any understanding with the non-Muslim community because it is just confusing to non-Muslims who already are confused about Islam. And if I may say so, it seems that those bridges are in desperate need of being built.

  6. Yaqub says:

    As’salaamolaikum Muslima2…your comments on not harping on the Shia/Sunni thing in relation to All-American Muslim is correct…as it will further confuse the majority of people that already have such a skewed interpretation/impression of Islam.

    The only reason I had mentioned the Shia aspect of the entire cast being Shia on the show; was to just state a fact about the show…just in case episodes of the show down the line may show something(s) that is as a result of Shia ideology/beliefs.

    But you’re right…that’s to digress from the main point that bigots don’t care about the Shia/Sunni thing…let alone know that such a thing even exists.

    Many Muslims are stepping up and actively being proactive to build bridges and maintain them…even in the face of an intense and calculated campaign by the media and politicians to sensationalize Islamophobia and bigotry. However of course more bridge building and maintaining can obviously be done…as we should all remember firstly that we as Muslims are walking dawah (should be rather). There will always be bigots no matter what bridge building…but that’s a reality to live with and strive on.

    May we all strive to be patrons of our beautiful deen to fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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