By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Around the country, Dearborn is known for visits from controversial pastors, its proximity to Detroit, and its heavily-Muslim population, about which misconceptions outnumber accurate facts.
A new reality-TV series seeks change all that by delving into the lives of several Muslim Dearborn-area residents.
TLC’s “All American Muslim” premiers Nov. 13. The eight-part series, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m., documents the large and diverse Muslim community balancing faith and ethnicity in the post 9/11 era.
The network says the program follows five local extended American Muslim families as they celebrate special events and day-to-day challenges and balance work and family life.
Individuals featured in the show also engage in friendly debate about what it means to fulfill the expectations of their faith.
Local actor and producer Mike Mosallam, who is the co-executive producer of the series, came up with the idea for the show.
“The idea has always been in my head, I just didn’t know how it would take form,” Mosallam said. “Then I had the privilege of working on a project earlier this year and meeting somebody who told me that TLC was interested for quite some time in looking for families for a reality show … in all sorts of communities throughout the country … and the rest is history.”
“All-American Muslim is a perfect fit for TLC, inviting viewers into a world they might not otherwise experience,” Amy Winter, the general manager of TLC said in an Oct. 17 press release. “Through these families and their diverse experiences, we will explore how they blend their values and traditions with everyday life in America.”
The series follows six local Muslim families who share a common religion but lead distinctly different lifestyles. The families featured include:
• The Aoude family: newlyweds Nader, 31, a federal government employee, Nawal, 24, a pediatric respiratory therapist, and their newborn son Naseem;
• The Amen family: Mohsen and Lila and their four adult children Suehaila, Shadia, Bilal (Billy) and Samira;
• The Jaffar family: Mike, 37, a deputy chief sheriff, and his wife Angela, 34, a consultant to a major automotive manufacturer, and their four children: Jenna, 10, Julia, 8, Jad, 4 and Ryan, 3;
• The Bazzy family, with Nina, who is married and an ambitious businesswoman, and her son Andre, 6;
• The Zaban family: Fouad, the head Fordson football coach, his wife Zaynab, and their children Jamilah, 11, Ayah, 10, Mohamed, 7 and Fatima, 3.
Nawal Aoude said it was not difficult for her family to be themselves while being filmed for the show’s initial eight episodes.
Fordson football players Kassem Makki (52 above), Hussein El-haj (19) and William Bazzi (61) lead the team in prayer before a game against Detroit Catholic Central. Below, Bilal Amen (left), his sister Suehaila Amen, Alan Berry, Nader Aoude and Ali Abdullah spend time at Arabica Bistro after a home football game between their alma mater, Fordson High School, and rival Detroit Catholic Central.
“Having a camera follow you around in general is kind of tiring, but Nadder and I live our lives very comfortably and we’re very content with the way we live our lives and so we were basically just living and it was being recorded and it really wasn’t a problem at all.”
“We didn’t feel like we had anything to hide,” Nader Aoude added. “And we are very confident in who we are as individuals as well as partners.”
Nader Aoude said he hopes the show helps break down some misconceptions about Muslims.
“I think for us the most important thing is that after they watch the show … they will be able to see that yes, they do practice a different faith but that ideally they are Americans and they’re a father and a mother – parents – and a working family and they have a lot of characteristics that are relatable to Americans,” Nader Aoude said.
Nawal Aoude said she hopes the show helps better explain her culture to non-Muslims.
“Even though they live in Dearborn they still don’t know us, they don’t know … about our struggles balancing our lives between Muslim and American culture,” she said. “This will hopefully open up their eyes to our lives as well.”
Mosallam, who said he has personal ties to many of the people featured in the show, said it was a learning experience and he was surprised by the things he discovered about people he thought he knew.
“I think the show will provide a good platform for dialogue,” Mosallam said. “If it promotes any kind of dialogue it will be worth my personal role and (make my) mission successful because that’s really what I’m trying to do here – my personal goal is to humanize this community, to create a bridge, for people to be able to ask questions and get answers.”
TLC is currently in the promotion phase for the show, and it has been featured on the Today Show and Anderson Cooper’s talk show.