Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Criteria for Evaluating Muslim Children's Media

My intention with the next several blog entries is to present some children’s books. In general, North American “Muslim” children’s books should do the following:

1. Avoid contradicting any principles of Islam or promoting ethics Islam does not endorse.
2. Entertain the child.
3. Avoid alienating the child from the larger society.
4. Avoid overly rigid gendering.
5. As a bonus, and only in ways that blend naturally in the story, instruct the child in aspects of Islam or Muslim cultures.
Update 2014-Mar-17 6. Present authentic characters of diverse racial and ethnic groups.

1. Avoid contradicting any principles of Islam or promoting ethics Islam does not endorse
In other words, the story should not glorify lying, abuse of parents, mockery of religion, cheating, etc. In my reading of Muslim children’s literature, this has not been a big problem.

2. Entertain the child.
This is a practical consideration in that the book will not benefit the child unless the child is willing to read it or sit and hear it read. So things like illustrations, quality of the cover, etc. become important. It’s also very hard for me, as a 36-year old, to evaluate. Please give me feedback on how your children took to these materials.

As an aside, I had a real eye-opener when I took a trip to Orlando in December of 2004. At one of the theme parks, we did the Jimmy Neutron ride. I was blown away at the quality of the cartoon entertainment. I had earlier purchased for my nieces an Arabic cartoon called Bah Ya Bah! Part 1 and Part 2. I thought they were good, and I recommend them today. But when I went to Orlando and when I sat and watched Cartoon Network with my nieces, I realized that my standards of technical quality were still the cartoons and children’s shows I grew up with: Bugs Bunny, Magoo, Sesame Street, etc. So it’s a big question in my mind how Muslim media productions can compete with Hollywood produced entertainment.

3. Avoid alienating the child from the larger society.
I think this theme will develop in a lot of my writings. I honestly used to feel that Muslims should remain separated from the larger society. This meant, in my mind, Muslim schools, clinics, groceries, music, neighborhoods, banks and financial institutions and legal processes. While I still believe that a lot of these things are of possible benefit, I think my focus has changed to a more accepting and admiring attitude of North American life. So rather than viewing these institutions as shields protecting Muslims from the dominant North American culture, these institutions should, while practicing their activities within the guidelines of Islam, seek to compete for the general public’s support with existing institutions. And while I haven’t really formulated in my mind a strong articulation of this view, I definitely believe the children’s literature should not encourage a sub-culture mentality, an “us vs. them” tribalism or a “It’s so different/hard/depressing being a Muslim” attitude.

4. Avoid overly rigid gendering.
What I mean by this is allowing boys and girls to do a variety of things in the stories or films. Boys can cook and clean. Girls can play sports and cook barbecue. Boys can be polite. Girls don’t have to spend an hour in front of the mirror choosing clothes or hours talking on the phone gossiping.

This is really part of point 3, since overly rigid gendering makes Muslim children, especially girls, wonder if they can be Muslim and be themselves. I think that it is such a common problem in Muslim children’s literature and other media that I wanted to make it a separate criterion altogether.

5. As a bonus, and only in ways that blend naturally in the story, instruct the child in aspects of Islam or Muslim cultures.

We have plenty of textbooks and adult books to teach us these things verbatim. Children’s books should put this information in “subliminally”, so to speak. For example, one of the things I do think differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims in North America is hospitality. A good children’s book might illustrate how a Muslim host strives to make his/her guests feel comfortable and honored.

Morals should not be artificially inserted into the story. For example, several books I have read have an authoritative older figure, let’s say the Imam or an older sister, verbalize how the child should think or behave. Let’s face it, if the verbalization worked for children or us adults, why is our conduct in general lacking? In my mind, the ideal story should allow the child protagonist and the child reader to learn things for himself/herself through the unfolding of the plot.

What are your thoughts about these criteria for evaluating Muslim Children's Media?

Last updated March 17, 2014.

1 comment:

koonj said...

Excellent points.
Sadly, I realize, over a decade later, how a children's book I wrote (that is being sold in the stores) has the same problem (older sibling tells kid how to deal with issues).