How an Islam-themed cartoon is redefining children’s entertainment

Omar and Hana infuse Quranic mentors with colorful animation.

Alizeh Ali often wonders if she is doing enough to teach him 3 young children about Islam as they grow up in a residential area of ​​Melbourne, Australia, where the nearby mosque is a 20-minute drive away.

A practicing Muslim who covers her head with a headscarf, she and her husband went to send their seven-year-old daughter to a fully Islamic school, but then chose against her.

“We’ve heard stories of how kids in these schools grow up in a bubble and then they face problems when they go to college,” she explains to TRT World .

“Either way, I think spiritual education starts at home and Islam is generally a way of life. It’s not like you’re looking at a few books and you’re done. It guides us in what we do in our daily regimen. ”

Part of this program involves integrating standard Arabic expressions and prayers into daily life. As a Muslim mom and dad, she wants her children to greet others using the traditional Assalamualaikum , saying Bismillah before having a bite to eat and saying Inshallah when you are dedicated to a task.

Much of this happens naturally, especially as many Muslims choose to socialize with other Muslim households who share similar customs and culture, Alizeh says.

Children in their preschool years invest many hours in front of a TV or iPad, selecting everything from reading, counting, and other practices. “There’s a lot of nonsense on Youtube these days,” says Alizeh.

When it was time for her children to have inevitable contact with the world of Youtube, she chose to see Omar and Hana , a cartoon series that largely revolves around Islamic themes.

“Whenever a new episode is submitted, I motivate my kids to sit down and watch it. It’s really interactive. Like they’re using tunes to get the point across. Even my 2 year old son who watches nursery rhymes is connected to it. ”

The animation about 2 Muslim siblings was developed by Malaysian company Digital Durian. In total, it has actually garnered over 3.2 billion views across the globe and is seen in over 50 countries.

Famous Zimbabwe-based Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk, who has 7 million Twitter fans, actually looked like an animation with Omar and Hana . They have also collaborated with other big names such as Zain Bhikha and are now working with famous American scholar Omar Suleiman.

The concept of using Muslim characters and styles in cartoons is nothing new, especially in countries like Egypt, which have a decades-long history of using Arabic animation for educate children. But it’s only in recent years that quality animation material targeting an English-speaking audience has started to come out. There is the beautiful melody of Ramadan by the English singer Feline Stevens, there is Zaky and Pals , the cartoons of animals exploring the jungle, socializing outdoor treks with an Islamic subtext, and there’s Omar Esa with his eye-catching Jumma Mubarak air.

The stars are born

Omar and Hana was originally launched for the Malaysian market in 2017, but the creators of the program are constantly aimed at going global, says Senan Ismail, CEO and co-founder of Digital Durian.

“It took us six months of research just to look at the names. ”

While Omar is certainly a Muslim name, the creators of the program used Hana for Women to give him universal appeal.

Digital Durian had experience with cartoons before releasing Omar and Hana .

It’s in Malay Didi and Friends , the colorful chicken, who sings rhymes, roamed the web in 2014. The show ended up being hugely popular.

Senan states that some moms and dads have suggested using Didi and Pals to teach Islam to children. “But the reality is, we can’t show chickens performing (daily) prayers. We needed authentic characters for that. ”

A final push to enter the Islam-themed animation market followed Fadilah Rahman, who had experience promoting brands, signed up at Durian as a manufacturer, in 2017.

“Before in Durian, I worked for a broadcasting company, which researched Islamic entertainment for children, but there wasn’t much there. It was despite the huge demand, ”she says.

Whatever animation was offered in Malaysia and surrounding Indonesia, it was more aimed at annihilating an Islamic mentor than at attracting the attention of the children.

“If the kids don’t think about seeing your characters then it doesn’t matter what instruction you put into the program. Something that was really missing was material that could grab a child’s attention. ”

The artists and others behind the show spent months trying to figure out what Omar and Hana should look like. Ultimately, the two siblings, ages 4-6, were designed in such a way that they can quickly run into Asian kids as much as they look European.

“We know children as round eyes and big heads. So Hana is this delicate and charming woman and Omar is wearing a sweater and a hat. We had to make them so that children in all countries could relate to them, ”says Rahman.

The show’s creators have regularly sought advice from Sharia (spiritual) scholars for their suggestions on issues such as whether Hana should wear a headscarf.

“We have chosen that Hana does not wear a headscarf and is like any other child enjoying her childhood. At the same time, when she goes to the mosque or to Koran classes, she wears a headscarf. So it’s a process for her, ”says Rahman. The show, which has been running for several seasons, revolves mainly around Omar, Hana and their moms and dads. In some episodes, the father is represented and appreciated for his role as breadwinner. even if he has to cancel a picnic at the last minute because of his job. At other times, Mum comes across as a hero who needs some time off, letting Dad take care of the kids – just to understand how difficult the task is.

One particular episode that sparked controversy and millions of views involved Sufi, the orphaned boyfriend of Omar and Hana . parents are deceased, he is alone, crying and singing a miserable tune:

How much i miss you

My dear mom and dad

You were constantly so good

And nice to me …

Oh Allah please send them my dua

I wish them all I can do m>

“Some people have expressed concern about this episode. Our educational expert told us that it was great to show a child’s cry because it is a human emotion, “Senan, the CEO.

The program, which is already available in Malay, English and Arabic, can be viewed in Urdu this Ramadan. Digital Durian is also raising funds for a Turkish variant.

Globally, Omar and Hana’s largest market is the UK, followed by the US, Pakistan, and India.

Parents are constantly worried, especially during a pandemic, that children are spending too much time in front of TV – no matter what they are watching.

“I have no answer for how many hours or minutes should be activated. What I personally do is control devices and set timers for my kids – for a state of thirty minutes at a time, ”Sinan says.

Islam teaches us to take the middle path. Too much of anything is not good. ”

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