FEATURE VOLUME. 7 ISSUE. 2
ALL AMERICAN MUSLIMAH
A Multitude of Identities
by Kelly Crosby, Slma Shelbayah and Tayyibah Taylor
A passionate country music listener and a “hillbilly at heart” with 20 body piercings and nearly 50 percent of her body covered in tattoos, Shadia Amen is a 32 year-old American Muslim. Her older sister, 33 year-old Suehaila Amen, is also American and Muslim. A community activist and public speaker who travels the country representing Arab-American Muslim women, she wears the traditional headscarf. Featured on TLC’s former reality show, “All-American Muslim,” these two sisters gave viewers a glimpse of the diversity of Muslims in America.
The show was to fill in the void of Muslim representation in media, and while each American Muslim expected the show to represent them, it was an unfair expectation; reality shows rarely depict reality. The “All-American Muslim” series was no exception.
While Shadia and Suehaila were raised in the same family and social environment and share American and Arab cultures embedded with Islamic ideological values, both are strong-minded and outspoken; both have chosen Islam as their guide. However, each has separate aspirations, experiences and personalities – separate identities, while identifying with the same culture, ethnicity and faith.
When you consider our community’s diversity, suggesting an all-American Muslim should look, behave and think a certain way is naive. That is evident by the lives of the other women profiled in this article.
While Americans of other faiths were surprised not to see the stereotypical misrepresentation of a Muslim in the reality show and instead found average Americans living their day-to-day life as Muslims, a number of American Muslims were frustrated with the narrow representation of Muslims who lived in Detroit and shared an Arab heritage. Still it managed to, in the words of Suehaila, “capture the essence of the moderate Muslim by having a fair representation of every voice…from the ultra-conservative to the liberal perspective.”
The reality show did present all-American Muslims, just not all of them. To represent all American Muslims, TLC would have had to showcase a variety of African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasian Americans, Hispanic Americans and many others who are Muslim – almost an impossible task. No one person can accurately represent an entire group with such diversity. According to a 2009 Gallup report, American Muslims are the most racially diverse group in the United States.
Suheila Amen represents young confident, capable, educated, active females in the community – a significant group among American Muslim women – her persona dispelling numerous misperceptions about American Muslim women.
She says she was excited for the opportunity to “show the global community the real faces of Muslim-Americans, when she learned about the show through a family friend who had proposed the idea to TLC. “There is no right or wrong way to be ‘All-American,’” she says.