By Elana Golden
An anti-Muslim fringe group in Florida claims All American Muslim reality TV series wrongly portrays Muslims in America as normal people and not as Jihadi Islamist terrorists who are plotting to kill us. As a result, the home improvement chain Lowe’s pulled their ads from the show.
In Romania, where I was born, Jews were believed by some to have tails and drink the blood of Jesus on the Passover holiday. On a Christmas Day at a Bucharest hospital where I was born, nurses rejoiced with my mother that she would name me Christina and she was afraid to tell them she was a Jew (thus will not call me Christina.) In Israel, where I grew up, Romanians were said to be thieves. Yes, thieves. I am sensitive to racism, prejudice and generalization. I am interested in the personal story and amazed to see again and again how alike people from all races, religions, ethnicities and cultures are when it comes to the important things in life. I made it my profession to teach creative writing and inspire people to write authentically about their lives. And this is what All American Muslim, set in Dearborn, Michigan which is primarily an Arab Muslim community, so generously and intimately does. It opens a window on issues such as family, marriage, motherhood, friendship, religion and career within the Muslim community in the US.
Suheila, an unwed professional Muslim woman in her 30s, intellectual and beautiful, has a hard time dating. Men tell her: “I am intimidated by you.” She tells them: “You are not man enough.” Familiar? Oh, yes! I know many such women including myself. That she wears a hijab – colorful, coquettish, hip – makes no difference.
Shadia, a Muslim woman in her 20s, adorned with tattoos and wearing shorts and tank tops, marries a Catholic Irishman who converts for her to Islam. Both sets of parents oppose then accept it. Often in this reality show participants meet and discuss issues. In this instance they discuss his conversion. One of them asks something like: “Is it okay that Jeff converted to Islam for the love of a woman, and not for the love of God?”
Or, in regard to Samira, a young married woman who cannot conceive a child, and after being a non practicing Muslim all her life returns to Islam; she puts on the hijab, commits to her daily prayers and changes dresses that show arms and legs to a more conservative attire. In one scene she gives her old clothes to her sister and you can see regret on Samira’s face as she says “goodbye” to her old self. In another scene Samira looks in the mirror as she puts on her hijab and says: “I hope and I pray that He gives me a child.” Again someone in the discussion group challenges her return to Allah for personal gain—to have a baby. But isn’t it human? Didn’t I start to meditate after my boyfriend left me and I was devastated? Didn’t I open up to a more spiritual way of life when I was heartbroken?
Good stories, be it TV or film or books, create empathy in the viewer or reader: “I too am like that…” or “Her mother is just like my mother,” as the next case will illuminate:
Nina, a successful event planner in her late 20s, blonde hair down to her waist, very tight mini dress emphasizing a voluptuous figure and long legs – her dream is to open a nightclub in Dearborn, Michigan with alcohol and dancing. How will she tell her mother? What will the neighbors say? What about her honor and the family reputation? So much like my own mother, a secular Jew, when I, in my teens in the late 60s, wore tiny miniskirts and did all kind of things that “good girls don’t…”
I spoke mostly about Muslim women, here are some men stories: It’s Ramadan and Fouad, a high school football coach rehearses the team at night so the boys will be able to drink and eat during practice. Fouad is invited to an Iftar dinner at the White House with President Barack Obama. He has a huge conflict to go or not to go because in the seventeen years of being a football coach he’s never missed one practice session. After much contemplation he goes. What does he do after the Iftar? He calls his team, who is practicing, to see how players are doing and to tell them he just spoke with the President who is sending them his best wishes. Humanity. Choices. Being a dedicated teacher and writing coach myself, I gave up going to many social events, choosing to give a writing class instead, for example, to a young woman in Gaza today via Skype. Though I am sure I would have gone to the White House for dinner had I been invited…
Last but not least, Nader and Nawal awaiting their first newborn, a baby boy. This lovely man, like many men, has been scared to hold a baby in his arms. He goes with his wife to Lamaze classes. They, and the other couples in the room, are invited to hold each other in an embrace…and are even taught the “orgasmic breath” (whatever that means, they didn’t show.) In preparation for the birth, the new father-to-be is instructed by his own father, in a ritual to be performed with the newborn according to Muslim tradition. It is deeply moving to see the new father who’s been afraid to hold an infant, now carrying his son Nasseem close to his heart and whispering first in one ear then in the other The Call to Prayer: “La- ilaha-ill-al-lah.” (There is no god but the God.)
Muslims are just like you and me — obviously. “All American Muslim” is as entertaining as it is an invitation to enter the stories of a community; the anti-Muslim hate groups are not getting away with trying to shut it down. Rumors have it that Muslim organizations have come up with new sponsors for the TLC series…and thank God…thank Allah… thank the good Lord…for that.
– Elana Golden is a screenwriter, director, writing teacher and founder of the Writing Studio. She lives in Los Angeles and is a peace activist and proponent for Palestinian Rights. One of her passions is to support young people in Gaza through the art of creative writing. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.