Just before appearing on Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show, I ran into the cast of TLC's new show, All-American Muslim. They had just finished taping their segment and were chatting with Anderson in the makeup room.
Anderson surprised one of their relatives--who was a big fan of his--by calling them on a (Nawal's?) cell phone. That's when I snapped this picture:
After Anderson left to prep for my segment, I ended up chatting with the cast. I was especially intrigued by Jeff who had converted from Catholicism to Islam in order to marry the love of his life--Shadia. Jeff looked worn out, collapsing on a chair next to me and admitting that doing all this public stuff "isn't my personality." He struck me as rather shy--but full of heart and openness.
Jeff and Shadia told me about their wedding which they dubbed a grand celebration of "East Meets West." I found their story fascinating and have watched--with great interest--their newlywed struggles on All-American Muslim. I even cried when Jeff had to give up his beloved dog, Wrigley.
Shadia has a big, vivacious personality and I felt like we hit it off immediately. She has tattoos, brightly streaked hair and an infectious laugh. I felt like we could have talked for hours about what it's like to be non-conformist women inside our respective religions.
I was stressed about my upcoming segment with Michael Pearl and when Shadia saw me get all teary-eyed about it, she came over and wished me luck with the kindest smile.
I also had a chance to chat with Nawal and Nader--and felt that instant parent-connection. Nader and I started talking about fundamentalism and how harmful it is when an entire religion is defined by extremist groups.
Nawal's baby boy is 4 months old and she was rushing around trying to find a place to pump breastmilk. Especially after watching this latest episode where Nawal was struggling with post-partum blues, I really appreciated her openness and vulnerability on the show.
The reason I'm writing all this is because I'm embarrassed by Christians who seem to think that All-American Muslim is some kind of dangerous threat to America. A conservative, Christian group has successfully petitioned Lowe's to pull their ads on the show.
According to Business Insider, the Florida Family Association claims it's lobbied 60 companies to pull ads from the show. Why? Because they believe All-American Muslim is "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Florida Family Association President David Katon explained to NPR that:
Our concern with All American Muslim is that it does not accurately represent the term Muslim, which is a follower of Islam. And a follower of Islam believes in the radicalization, use of sharia law, which provides for honor killings, mutilation of women and numerous other atrocities to women.
Oh, yes. The ol' "You-Are-Not-A-True-Muslim!" card. I thought only Christians said that about each other (wink, wink).
If the Florida Family Association wants to be fair and honest, then not only does Osama bin Laden "truly" represent Islam, but Timothy McVeigh "truly" represents Christianity.
So maybe the Koran has a more explicit, violent command about converting infidels than the New Testament does. But that hasn't stopped Christians from killing each other.
The point is, the problem is not All-American Muslim. The problem is in defining an entire religion by its bloody, violent extremist group. The Florida Family Association is painting All-American Muslim as some sort of nefarious conspiracy plot that paves the way for Sharia Law.
But that is simply untrue. The Muslims on All-American Muslim love America. Nader is a federal agent. On Anderson's show, Nawal said that terrorists disgust her. These people love America and abide by American laws.
What I truly appreciate about All-American Muslim is that it's rescuing Islam from the clutches of Fundamentalism. It shows the human side of Islamic life in America.
This is not to say that I agree with with Islamic beliefs--I don't. In fact, some of the things I've seen on the show truly upset me. (Dogs are unclean? What?! A 9 year old girl needs to wear the hijab?! WHAT?!)
Still, this is America. America is big enough for everyone.
And if the Florida Family Association wants to exercise a little intellectual honesty, maybe it should start looking at the ways women are mistreated right here in "radical" American Christianity.