In that way, “All-American Muslim,” which premieres Sunday night, is a much-needed primer, focused on the lives a dozen or so residents of Dearborn, Mich., which has one of the largest and most established Muslim communities in the nation. Even there it seems as though marginalization and assimilation are constant forces with which these families reckon, and it goes both ways.
Compared with typical reality fare (especially TLC’s reality fare, which has drifted in recent years toward shows about bakeries with personnel issues, dwarfism, multiple births, obesity — any combination of those will do), “All-American Muslim” is assiduously straightforward and careful.
Too careful, probably, to qualify as must-see TV. Though there will be occasional arguments and mini-crises that come along whenever you put any human beings on TV and then tell them to pretend the camera crew is invisible, “All-American Muslim” is mainly an act of public relations, going out of its way to avoid becoming “The Real Housewives of Dearborn.”
In fact, most of the show’s stars seem to have been cast for their exemplary civic and cultural pride. In their bios on TLC’s Web site, the characters’ families are called “prominent” in Dearborn, or “pillars” — old-fashioned words that seek to describe what’s at stake here. In the Jaafar family, husband and father Mike is a deputy sheriff; wife and mother Angela is a consultant; they juggle a busy life raising four young kids. Within five minutes of meeting them, you want to be them.
No one seen here has been picked because of a propensity to throw down or scream insults at one another, requisite behavior in the reality genre. The touchiest angle involves the conversion to Islam of salesman Jeff McDermott, who grew up Irish Catholic and is about to marry Shadia Amen, a single mother who comes from a well-known Lebanese family.
Jeff’s conversion vow amounts to a single sentence repeated in Arabic in front of Shadia’s parents and siblings in the Amen family living room, which is also the site of the couple’s traditional wedding ceremony officiated by the mosque’s imams, an occasion for which Shadia must cover up her hair for the first time in years. She is more the tattoos and pink-streaked-hair-dye sort.