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CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND CARTOONS. Children’s literature goes back centuries in the Islamic world, and is an interesting reflection of developments in Muslim societies generally. The education and entertainment of children play an important role in the socialization process of the young. For the contemporary period, this process is effected through both formal state and nongovernmental organizations-and informal mechanisms, including children’s books, cartoons, and other published materials. Because of its central place in the education of children, the genre has often been employed by the nonspecialist-well-established authors and artists who direct most of their works to an adult audience. Moreover, children’s literature provides a fascinating research tool for the social historian, as it reflects general ideological trends and participates in important cultural debates, such as those between secular and religious forces in Muslim society.

It should not be surprising, then, that someone of the stature of the great medieval polymath, Ibn al-Jawzi (d. AH 597/1200 CE), should address his Laftat al-Kabad ild Nasihat al-Walad to his son, Abu al-Qasim. This edifying work of moral guidance, like other medieval works directed at the education of the child (see, for instance, the same author’s Birr al-Walidayn), can be purchased today in a cheap edition on streets and in bookstores in the Arab world, and in Western capitals with large Muslim populations.

Initially, much children’s literature in the twentiethcentury Muslim world was translated from Western languages. The French detective, Arsene Lupin, transcended his country of birth to become the hero of children in Third World countries. The same was true of the young Belgian reporter, Tin Tin. Mickey Mouse followed a similar trajectory. Although translation from Western languages still occurs, today most children’s books and cartoons are indigenous cultural products.

Perhaps the dominant form of children’s literature is the illustrated magazine. A varied medium containing both illustrated (e.g., comic strip) and nonillustrated material, the children’s magazine may be either more or less secular or religious. The more religiously oriented magazines function almost as spiritual guides rather than sources of light entertainment. Even the secular magazines, however, contain religious material. Verses from the Qur’an and incidents from the hadith are recast and embedded in children’s literature.

Children’s magazines may be produced by a government’s dominant political party. In such cases, the magazine becomes an educational tool largely reflecting official dogma. For example, the Syrian magazine Altali i is published by the Bath party. Children’s magazines may also be published under the auspices of a governmental agency, such as a ministry or cultural bureau. This is the case, for example, of the Egyptian Zamzam, a religiously oriented magazine published by the High Council for Islamic Affairs in Cairo. Then there are, of course, independent children’s magazines, such as the Tunisian Qaws Quzah.

Although most children’s magazines are indigenous productions, they have transnational appeal, with an uncanny ability to cross borders. To take but one example, the most successful children’s magazine by all counts (years in production, distribution, quality of color printing, appeal of characters, etc.) is Majid, a weekly produced in the United Arab Emirates. Its editorial board is international, including exiled writers and artists. One can buy Mdjid in London, Paris, New York-not to mention other world capitals with major Arab and Muslim populations.

Standing alongside the magazine is the children’s book. Adventures, mysteries, stories of friendship, historical heroes, and the Prophets: all are designed to attract the child and to excite his or her religious and historical imagination. It is here that one finds contemporary rewritings of stories from the turath, the longhonored Islamic textual tradition that encompasses materials across a range of disciplines: theology, philosophy, geography, history, literature, and lexicography. In this way the philosophical and mystical allegory, Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Alive Son of Awake), by the twelfthcentury Andalusian philosopher and physician, Ibn Tufayl, has become the subject of both a large-format children’s book by the late Egyptian poet, Salah `Abd al-Sabur, and a serialized comic strip in the Tunisian children’s magazine, Al-rydd.

The Islamist movement has had a role to play here as well. One finds more and more children’s books with a clear religious orientation, such as the recently published series on the Qur’anic alphabet. Produced in Morocco, these attractive booklets are organized around a letter of the alphabet matched to a Qur’anic concept. These are then supplemented by verses from the Qur’an and other edifying stories. The international nature of the Islamist movement also means that a great deal of these children’s books and cartoons are produced in various languages, including European ones, and distributed to a linguistically restricted audience (for example, French materials designed for francophone Muslims living in France and Belgium).

The rewriting of the turdth for children involves cultural choices and priorities. What text is chosen? How is it recast not only for modern sensibilities but also for the taste of children? The priority given to political issues distinguishes this children’s literature from that designed for the Western child. Thus it is that Zakariya Tamir has penned some powerful political allegories designed for children that speak to the plight of the Palestinians. Tamir is a Syrian writer living in England, and his works transcend geographical boundaries.

The importance of the political should not obscure other prominent elements of children’s literature in the Muslim world, primarily the religious. The goal of these materials is generally moral guidance and historical education, rather than theological instruction. Both print and visual media are utilized. For instance, illustrated posters outlining a typical day in the life of a young religious boy are widely distributed.

But it is perhaps the heroes of the electronic media, more than the by now ubiquitous heroes of print media, who will have the last word in children’s literature worldwide. Children’s stories are now available on cassette, as are television programs designed specifically for the young. Whereas Ibn al-Jawzi had to resort to his famous skills as a religious orator and writer to address his son on proper behavior, contemporary parents may rely on the computer, and the child may learn the rudiments of religious duty through a computer program.

To say that the mass media influence children’s books and cartoons is to acknowledge that children’s literature has become part of a global culture. Beyond the standard contact with Western cultures, today East Asia seeks young audiences in Muslim lands. The hadith, “Seek knowledge even if it is in China,” may be updated to reflect the multicultural nature of knowledge daily consumed by children in their own homes.

[See also Book Publishing; Communications Media.]


Douglas, Allen, and Fedwa Malti-Douglas. Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture. Bloomington, 1994. Discusses the enormous production of children’s magazines and comic strip albums from Iraq through North Africa to France.

Kilani, Najib al-. Adab al-Atfal ft Paw’ al-Islam. Beirut, 1986. Committed and programmatic work on children’s literature from a Muslim perspective.

TaldT al-Bath. Adab al-Atfal wa-al-Turath. Damascus, n.d. Official publication of the Syrian government containing various studies on priorities for children’s literature, from a secular perspective.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/childrens-books-and-cartoons/

  • writerPosted On: November 4, 2012
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