Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All-American Muslim - Ep 1

So the plan is to do a sort of running commentary on this show as it airs. This first post is a bit late since I didn't decide to do this until Monday morning.

First things first: this is a show on TLC following five Muslim families living in Dearborn, MI. I didn't realize it on my first watching but all of the families featured are Shi'a which is not the 'most common' branch of Islam. When people think of Islam, if they're aware that there are sects within it at all they think of Sunni.

it starts with some of the people sitting talking on couches. They're arguing about whether or not a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman. The two men say that they can but one of the women, who is the judgy one, says that 'for the actual ritual of marriage both parties have to be Muslim'.

I like Shadia (Amen). She's very much herself, if that makes any sense. She's engaged to an Irish Catholic man (Jeff) who converts to Islam during this show. And she has a 10 year old son from her previous marriage.

Her parents were less than thrilled with her dating since that's typically frowned on in Islam.

The thing I like about Shadia and Jeff is that they seem to be willing to do whatever to be together. It's not about Catholic or Muslim but being with one another.

Okay. Then we get Nader & Nawal Aoude. They've been married for 10 months and she's getting ready to have their first child. And his sense of humor is adorable, I think. Like in the first meeting she says that she wants to have the baby at 38 weeks and he's laughing, asking if she's going to be sending the baby an email to tell it it's time.

Shadia has one brother and two sisters, none of whom appear to be married. I read a review that said that Shadia's father came off as a hidebound old Muslim who couldn't bend from the need to see his daughter only marrying a Muslim. I can see it, but I don't think he came off as crazy harsh. Shadia herself said that she wanted to only marry a Muslim. So it's not just something coming from her father.

It is important to him, but it's not unreasonable. If you're truly dedicated to your religion and it says that it is only proper to marry another member of that religion then it wouldn't sit easily if one of your children married out of the faith. It's no different from Catholics only marrying Catholics, etc. Christianity has (for the most part) drifted from that hard line but it's still there, trust me. I had that mentality myself, back in the day.

'There's been death and wars. People kill because of women.'

'No- Not- It wasn't because of the woman, it was because of the moron who started the war, which was a guy.'

Right, Nina Bazzy. I kind of like her personality, but I have to be honest that I can't stand the way she dresses. It reminds me of the kids on Jersey Shore. But that's a personal issue that doesn't really reflect on her personality, religion, etc. I just don't like her clothes! She's married and has a young son who is adorable! She works as a party planner and wants to open up a club. Her business partner doesn't think it's a good idea because she's a woman and clubs and women (running them) don't go together.

He keeps mentioning that 'you're a girl' and that she has other responsibilities. Like her family. *rolls eyes* But I do like Nina - because she keeps being told that she shouldn't do something it makes her want to do it more.

Another couch session: they're talking about converting to Islam. Now, all of the people on this show with the exception of Jeff are born Muslims. There's a whole thing about converting and people not understanding that Islam is a religion and that you have to follow it and not 'adapt it to fit your life' which I think is bull. Yes, you have to adapt to the religion, but if Islam isn't adaptable to modern life then it's sort of pointless, isn't it? There's a middle ground somewhere in there.

Anyway. Nina makes this comment about how if you're going to convert then 'you have to do it right' and Judgy Woman (who is one of Shadia's sisters, actually) says, 'How do you expect people to convert and expect them, because they're converts to be perfect, to try and be perfect-'

And then Nina interjects and says there's no such thing and one of the other women says they should at least know what they're getting into.

Then Judgy Woman says: 'Like Nina just said, if you're going to convert, you have to do it right, but what about the people who were born into it, they don't have to do it right?'

And I actually get her point, maybe. Nina is not a 'proper' Muslimah, is such a thing exists. She doesn't wear hijab, she works with men, she wants to run a club, etc. Things that, from the looks that were passed around in that couch session were indicative of her not living the kind of Islamic life that she would expect from a convert.

Then there's a little scene with Jeff and Shadia's father (Mohsen) about whether or not Jeff's really thought about what he's doing, converting to Islam. And that Mohsen doesn't want Jeff to feel pressured to have to convert. 'You do it from yourself'. See, that's part of why I can't see what that article was talking about. He seems like such a sweet guy! He even practiced the shahada with Jeff to help him get the pronunciation right!

Fouad and Zaynab Zaban have been married for 12 years. See, when I first watched this I somehow got the impression that the parents required their daughters to start wearing hijab at 9, which I had a problem with. On the second watching Fouad is just saying that they started wearing it around 9 which leaves it more open to it being the daughters' desire. You could argue that the daughters were influenced, but what children aren't influenced by their parents and their peers?

Fouad is the high school football coach and he has the mouth of a sailor on the field, fyi. It's interesting to hear him having to work out the problem of how to train and play football during Ramadan since all the players will be fasting.

Jeff's family - his mother has a problem with him converting to Islam. Not enough to not attend the wedding or anything, but you can see that it hurts her. She starts out trying to play it off as it being okay, but she breaks down and cries about it later on and winds up not attending the conversion.

Angela and Mike Jaafar may be my favorite couple. They were high school sweethearts who've been married for 11 years. They have four kids, 2 girls and 2 boys. Mike is a Deputy Chief for the sheriff department. And their kids are so cute it hurts! Angela also works as a liaison for an auto manufacturer.

I don't like how TLC cuts their teasers before the commercial break. For instance, they make it look like Jeff has cold feet right at the moment of saying his shahada. However, having seen the show I know that that's not what happens at all. Very misleading.

Shadia's brother: 'I've got an announcement to make. Me and Jeff were outside talking. Jeff's decided that we're converting to Judaism. But I brought him back to Buddhism and then we worked on Islam. I had to pay him a couple hundred, so he's going to covert.' *lol*

One thing Shadia says is that you can convert by saying the shahada by yourself. I was always under the impression that you needed Muslim witnesses to make it 'official'.

The Imam's little flub using the wrong sisters name is funny. Suehaila is, I think, older than Shadia and there's apparently a running thing about trying to find her a husband.

I did find it interesting that, from what part of the ceremony they showed the same questions are asked of both the female and the male.

I'm liking more and more the tradition of the woman keeping her name when she marries, fyi. I know that most of the couples on this show have the same last name, but that's just an aside. Of course I'd still take my husband's name because I hate my own - it's the name of my asshat adoptive father. And I'm not going back to my bio dad's name because he was also an asshat. Men. *sigh*

I love the hijabs on this show. How come the hijab never looked as lovely on me when I wore it?

Oh! Oh, crap. I just realized that Judgy Woman is Nawal. Crap. I think it's because she's pregnant during the show but not pregnant in the couch sessions. So they must have been filmed later. I *thought* Nawal and Judgy Woman looked a lot alike! Ooops!

The reception for Jeff and Shadia is very pretty and it's an interesting mix of Jeff's Catholic family and the Lebanese Muslim family of Shadia. Jeff's cousin does a traditional Irish dance which is always neat to watch and then Shadia's family hired a belly dancer.

Judgy-Nawal likens belly dancers to strippers, which I think is rude and excessive. And not at all accurate. The dancer they had wasn't wearing the traditional 'harem girl' kind of outfit, but something loose and flowing. Also, some of the Muslim side of the wedding were making fun of Jeff's male family members for getting too into the belly dancer routine. I didn't see the leering that they saw, but we only get bits and pieces, so maybe it happened off camera for us.


  1. I'm watching this Thursday and I do not know how I feel yet especially with them being Shia and all the Muslims I knew were Shia. BTW its the biggest Shia and Muslim population in the country which is why they did the show in Deerborne. How they ended up being mostly Shia I will never know. Even my Shia girlfriends did not have an answer!

  2. The website for the show says Shadia's little sister is married and trying to have a baby, they just don't seem to show her and her husband much in the first episode. The website also says Shadia has a kid, which I did not realize at all. (Also, for anyone who missed it and wants to see pretty pretty pictures, there is an album of Jeff and Shadia's wedding at the website too!)

    I will confess my favorite thing about the show so far is the hijab styles. I miss wearing them SO MUCH. And my second favorite thing is all the pretty names. But then after the shallow pretty things, I really do enjoy the actual informative parts of it. :)

    I was really angry at Jeff's mom for a minute, but I do realize that it's hard to see your kids seem to reject your faith and lifestyle. It's frustrating for me, and I wish I could find a way to magically make all parents everywhere understand their children and be ok with religious and other differences. Especially my own. But at the same time, seeing Jeff's family at the wedding and the way everyone managed to get along for at least a day gives me hope.

    I find the argument about marriage interesting. It makes some sense. Part of me wanted to jump in and be all "no! I know it's ok because Muhammad married a Christian!" but I think from this that maybe there's a difference in the "actual ritual of marriage" part of it. They can marry someone else, but it wouldn't be an Islamic marriage, because a non-Muslim can't make the same promises in the same way? Like how my mom really wants me to get married in a church in a Christian wedding, but it's not going to happen because neither of us is going to promise anything in God's name or whatever. It would only superficially look like the type of marriage she wants, none of the religious meaning.

    (Sorry, I ramble. I think you know that, though. :D But yeah, that served very little purpose except to work it out in my head.)

    I think there is probably some give and take, and obviously they've all adapted Islam a little to change with the times. But I think the core of the faith is submission, and at the point where it's not just reinterpreting it for the times but changing what you don't like to suit your convenience, it's no longer Islam. (And the same goes for a lot of other faiths as well.) I don't think you were saying anything different, I'm just assuming that this is also what the people in the documentary mean. But I could be wrong.

  3. LK,

    You'll have to let us know what you think once you've seen it.

  4. sanil,

    Ah, okay. I was wondering who the woman trying to get pregnant from the preview for next week belonged to. So she's the second sister. Got it.

    You didn't notice Adam when they introduced Shadia? He was trying on his tux for the wedding.

    Oh, I know. The hijab's all look so lovely. I especially like the blue striped one that Nawal wears during the couch interviews. I like the way she drapes it so the front is flared out and loose.

    I liked seeing the hijab stylist too, that Suehaila used for the wedding.

    You're not alone at being irritated with Jeff's mother. On the one hand, I get that it must be hard to be seeing your son walk away from what is clearly a very important part of your life. On the other, he's a grown man. Of course I can't say that I wouldn't react the same if I had a child who seemed to be rejecting part of the way he'd been raised. Like Shadia's mother said when Suehaila asked her, she'd feel like a failure if her daughter decided to convert to another faith.

    Okay, the marriage thing. I really think, from what I recall that it is an Islamic marriage even if the wife is Christian or Jewish. There are some differences, I think, but it's no less valid for that. However, I asked Zuhura if she knew what the wording of the vows/ceremony was because maybe there's something in that that would make it different. She's going to get back to me sometime next week so we'll see what she says. I'm sure she can shed light on this for us!

    Even in Christianity there're provisions made for marrying someone outside of the Christian faith. I'm not sure how it works in other denominations but in Catholicism you can marry someone who isn't Catholic in the Catholic church and it's a valid Catholic marriage. The only caveat, as I recall, is that the non-Catholic spouse has to promise to raise any children Catholic. You also have to get permission, etc, etc. I don't mean to make it sound like it's *easy*, they really do want it to be a same-faith marriage, but it can be done.

    Your situation is a bit different since neither you nor Mr. Sanil are Christian. It wouldn't make any sense for you two to get married in a Christian ceremony since it's not what you believe in.

    I guess for the 'doing it right' question we'd need to know exactly what they were thinking of as 'right'. Did they just mean the submission to Allah, five daily prayers, fasting, zakaat? Or did they mean a very specific interpretation of the faith? I think there is a core where it's indisputable that *this* is the faith of Islam. Submission to God and belief in Mohammed as His prophet. I think it's inarguable that Mohammed is central to Islam since without him it would not exist. If you don't believe Mohammed was a prophet, the final one, then Islam doesn't really work, imo.

    I agree that everyone changes the faith a little to suit them. Yes, you're saying what I was saying, basically. I just don't know if that's what *they* were saying! I believe that Nawal clearly sees Nina (and probably Angela and definitely Sadia) as not practicing Islam 'correctly'. None of them wear hijab. Sadia is all tatted and pierced. Nina...well, you've seen Nina. Angela is different from both of them in that while she doesn't wear hijab she does dress more conservatively. Of course none of this necessarily reflects on their practice of their religion. Angela stated that she doesn't believe hijab (as in the scarf and specific clothing that goes to your wrists, etc) is mandatory. That it's something every Muslimah must decide for herself. I tend to agree with her, for whatever that's worth.

    /end rambling comment

  5. Your situation is a bit different since neither you nor Mr. Sanil are Christian. It wouldn't make any sense for you two to get married in a Christian ceremony since it's not what you believe in.

    I think that was my point, actually. I just didn't phrase it well. I guess at minimum both parties would have to want an Islamic marriage, it would have to be something important to them. If there is one Christian (or Muslim, or Pagan, or Jew, or Hindu, or whatever) and one with no interest in that faith, can they both really take part in a religion-specific (and one religion only) ceremony with any degree of honesty?

    I'm very curious about Nina. I didn't pay much attention to her because I was all about the wedding. I'm pretty sure Shadia actually said she's not really very observant of the faith, and that was my impression of Nina as well. If I'm wrong about that, I would love to hear more because, like Nawal, it seems to me that she's not following it. I know I'm placing way too much importance on appearance, but I also realize that's because I've never met a Muslim who didn't take modesty very seriously. I want to know more about why Nina and Shadia don't agree or don't see it the same way, because I haven't seen that perspective before.

    I'll just say "ditto" to everything else. :) I liked reading what you had to say and I think I have a better understanding of what you meant now. Thanks!

  6. So happy to read your review and the comments especially since I didn't watch the show. Thanks for sharing!

  7. That's a good question, really. I was looking at it as, say Mr. Sanil was a deeply devoted Christian and he really had his heart set on a Christian ceremony. Would you be willing to go through that ceremony even though it doesn't mean anything to you because it meant something to him? Or flip it around, would he be willing to go through a pagan ceremony if that was something that held deep meaning for you?

    With Shadia it obviously meant something for her to marry a Muslim man and that meant the nikah and Jeff taking his shahadah. Now whether or not Jeff knew what he was getting into, really, is something we don't know. We don't know how much study he put into Islam. We don't know if he did it for the sole purpose of marrying Shadia, though I think that might be the case. But then I waffle back and forth on that point. We must wait and see!

    *nods* Shadia did say that she's not very observant. Nina said something about not feeling that she had to wear her faith on the outside. *shrug* I admit to judging her on her appearance as well and having my doubts as to her practice, but I'm trying to not do that. I don't know. I'm not in her house. I'm not even in the same city.

    I think you can look at a muslimah like Angela who, while she doesn't wear hijab still clearly takes the concept of modesty to heart and then look at Nina (or Shadia) and see the difference. Angela looks respectable, well put together and lovely. Nina looks like she could be downing drinks next to Snooki, or keeping up with the Kardashians *hawkspit*. Shadia seems more punk than anything else, with a healthy dash of redneck. But again, that's just appearance and we hardly get to see all of their lives with the show. So there's plenty we're missing, I'm sure.

  8. Susanne,

    We're here to entertain! :)

  9. Amber,

    It's not necessary for a person to say shahada in front of witnesses, or even to say shahada at all. If you believe in one God, the existence of angels, the Qur'an as the final revelation of God, the Last Day, and all of the prophets (not just Muhammad), then you're Muslim. I don't like the shahada because I don't like the way it singles out Muhammad from all the prophets (which Muslims aren't supposed to do -- no prophet is greater than another) and attaches his name with that of God. : )

  10. Heather,

    Is the lack of the necessity of the shahada a widespread, 'main stream' Islamic belief or is it something that is solely Quranist thinking?

    I've since performed great google-foo and discovered that it is not required to have witnesses, but preferred. I guess so you have an immediate sense of community? Or maybe they're there just to help celebrate the big change, like if they were the friend that you bugged for years and years with all your Islam questions...

    I understand the singling out of Mohammed for the shahada, though. If he's the last prophet and the only one whose revelation is *guaranteed* to be preserved and protected, intact, by God, then that makes him a little special. And honestly, without Mohammed, there is no Islam.

    I don't, using my grasp of the English translation of the line, see it as encouraging worship of pairing of God and Mohammed. It seems more like a logical statement, a declaration of why one is choosing to following the path laid out by Mohammed. That you truly believe that he was a prophet of God.


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