It didn’t take long for Eryn to become a video whiz on my smart phone. Before she was two years old she knew exactly which buttons to push to watch her favourite YouTube songs and stories.
It took even less time for me to realize that I had to monitor everything she was watching. Everything.
I taught her that when she was allowed to watch videos, she could only view the ones listed under our “favourites” — which included home videos, a few Islamic songs and one or two Sesame Street stories. But eventually she learned that watching one favourite could bring up a whole list of new, exciting and unfiltered videos. At best I’d catch her watching Winnie the Pooh in Italian and at worst, the Trololo guy.
But I never thought I’d have to talk to her about little blue men.
Recently I caught Eryn looking at this:
And my personal favourite:
Yes, you’re looking at a picture of a little boy surrounded by deamon-like creatures forcibly holding him down by chains to keep him from waking up for the morning prayer.
Now, this is not the sort of thing I want my three year old exposed to. Nor something I expected from Islamic instructional songs.
Eryn found them listed as related videos to her favourite Upsy-Daisy Masjid song. Geared specifically to children, they’re incredibly sweet, catchy, simple to sing and memorize — and teach the importance of prayer and other Islamic activities. They’re illustrated anasheed by the great Yusuf Islam and show pictures of good little Muslim girls and boys honouring their parents and performing muslim-ey actions.
The first time I heard the new songs coming from my phone, I took a quick glance and off-handedly approved them. And why not? I’m supposed to be able to trust my daughter with Islamic videos. I don’t really expect to see pictures of little blue men surrounded by hellfire when listening to a song espousing the importance of saying, “Bismillah” before eating.
When I finally saw the pictures, these videos went on my inappropriate content list.
So here’s what I don’t like about the little blue men. I don’t know where these pictures come from, but I can’t help but thinking they’re negative depictions of Jinn. Maybe it’s my cultural upbringing misreading a character that’s supposed to be a deamon — but deamons are traditionally red or black — even in 15th Century Persian art. While Jinn are traditionally blue — in Western, Eastern and Islamic sources.
Call me an advocate for Jinn rights, but I’m not a fan of negative portrayals of Jinn. I don’t buy into the popular belief that Jinn should be feared because they are all tricksters, pray on your prayer rugs (or urinate on them depending on who you talk to), mislead the innocent from doing what’s right, and that for all intents and purposes, are Islamic boogeymen. How can I when the Qur’an speaks so highly of them?
Jinn are honourned among King Solomon’s ranks, have a Qur’anic verse dedicated to them, stood in the presence of the Prophet, and above all, are sentient creatures living in a higher dimension than humans. I recognize that there are traditions and personal experiences of how Jinn mislead humans and account for much of the mythology, fantasmagoria and supernatural that humans have recorded for centuries — everything from dragons to spirit possession. But why not instead use their positive Qur’anic stories to inspire fantasy and imagination — instead of trying to scare little children into being good Muslims.
You might say, isn’t fear at least part of the equation? People are motivated to be religious because of faith, devotion, culture, tradition, habit, love, and perhaps out of a slight fear that it’ll bring salvation. Every khutbah I’ve ever heard has mentioned the importance of being good to get to heaven. There’s even a points system (10 hasanat just for praying on time!). We’re just travellers in this world. Since the real life is the world to come, it’s probably ideal if we make the best of this life so we can have the best when it’s over. So be good and hope for Divine intervention from the Most Merciful.
All you need is a mustard seed’s worth of faith.
But that’s not the discussion being had when Jinn or deamons are randomly inserted into religious videos. From my perspective it’s almost underhanded, subliminal messaging. It’s creating fear of the unknown. And no child needs to fear the dark — or that deamons will chain them to the bed.
Check out this video from the fantastic Zaky and Friends — an Islamic cartoon series from Australia. The Ramadan song went viral last month. It’s good, wholesome, sweet, simple, lovely, diverse, colourful, and fun. I love it. Mostly.
A sweet chorus sing about Ramadan, fasting and good deeds while cartoon children act out the song. Then randomly at the 1:50 mark, zombie/deamon groans are paired up with an illustration of Hellfire while the song explains that, “the devils are chained and Jahannam is locked for all of Ramadan.”
Okay, maybe it’s the sound of the gates closing — but after repeated viewing I still feel like I’m hearing The Walking Dead. I mean, yes! Closing the gates of Hell is one of my favourite blessings of Ramadan. And when the time is right I’ll explain this to Eryn — and make the additional point to say that if she ends up doing something wrong, it’s the perfect opportunity for her to take inventory of her own Self. There’s no blaming the whisperings of shaitaan during Ramadan — it’s all on you babe.
But really. Random deamon groans? In a video geared to 3-7 year olds? Why?
So now I am wary of the fact that an Islamic song can be a gateway video to inappropriate content. And I thought I only had to worry about The Annoying Orange. I still allow her to watch our “favourites” and gently explore the billions of videos available to her little fingertips. But only under the strict rule that she has to ask my permission before watching anything new.
I need to be there to experience and talk about all media with Eryn. She needs to learn not only to become a critical and active viewer, but also that I will always be there to help her identify and work through visuals that make her uncomfortable, sad or scared. And I need to be there to help point out inconsistencies with our family values.
Guess it’s a good thing she drowned my phone in the pool.