Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Ali Huda TV - a review

Touted as the new “Netflix for Muslim kids,” I was quite excited when I heard about the launch of Ali Huda TV. I’m pretty thoroughly sick of Paw Patrol and random weird cut-and-paste YouTube Kids videos, and so I logged into my new Ali Huda account in anticipation of having my three-year-old son captivated by something other than bizarre remakes of children’s nursery rhymes.

Unfortunately… my three year old, a connoisseur of Netflix, PBS Kids, and YouTube Kids alike, was epically unimpressed. And so was I. While I appreciate the good intentions behind the website, I was disappointed to notice the lack of both variety and quality programming. Of the animated programs available, few were up to par in comparison to mainstream cartoons. While Christian producers have done exceedingly well in producing high-quality children’s shows and movies that impart religious values as well as engaging entertainment, Muslims sadly struggle to develop the same.

Divided into age groups (age 2-3, 4-5, and 9-12) and categories (Travel and Outdoors, Science and Craft, Songs and Nasheed, and more), Ali Huda does try to imitate the Netflix layout, which makes for easier navigation - but only on desktop. Unfortunately, trying to access it on a mobile device is nigh-impossible due to the inability to navigate it without being logged out or simply taken back to the home screen without a way to actually navigate the shows.

One thing that Ali Huda could do to improve their service is to include classic Muslim children’s shows and movies - the Adam’s World Series, Zaki, Muslim Scouts, Hurray for Baba Ali, and so many more pioneering examples of Muslim entertainment. There are entire collections of famous nasheed artists such as Native Deen, Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Talib al-Habeeb and others, and to have their work collected on one streaming service would be extremely helpful to those of us who otherwise rely on YouTube playlists that our kids can easily click out of.

Of course, I do appreciate that the first effort has been made to provide this kind of halal streaming option for Muslim children. My daughters enjoyed the “Science Made Cool” show, although they wished there was a hijabi girl also involved in the experiments, instead of being relegated to the “Kids in the Kitchen” show. While the “Saladin” and “Ibn Battuta: Prince of Explorers” cartoons try to bring famous Islamic figures to kids’ attention, unfortunately, the quality of the animation was so poor that it rather failed at its purpose.
I also appreciate that Ali Huda donates to a charity for orphans, and that there is a special discount for schools - this is quite beneficial for those who run full-time Muslim schools, or even part-time community Madrasas.

Something for people to keep in mind is that exposure has a lot to do with how well Muslim children will handle “Muslim TV” - when my daughter was quite young, I restricted her entertainment heavily and only allowed her to watch select Muslim entertainment. Since she had very few options, she enjoyed whatever it was that I let her watch. My three year old son, however, is your average toddler whose screentime indulgences include Daniel Tiger, Paw Patrol, and Pokemon - hence his much high standards.

I look forward to seeing Ali Huda develop further, and hope that the people behind it are able to fulfill its full potential by reaching out to other Muslim media and entertainment creators. I also hope that they are able to reach the level that Netflix has in being able to work with other Muslim developers to create new entertainment that is high quality, creative, and appeals to Muslim kids who already have a higher expectation of what will capture their attention.

The Muslim community is in dire need of greater media and entertainment that is not only produced by our own writers and artists, but also meets a higher standard that can compete with mainstream non-Muslim options. Ali Huda has the potential to be a great resource for Muslim kids, and I truly hope that they are able to develop themselves further to meet a major need in the Muslim community.

Rating: 2/5

1 comment:

Blah said...

I signed up for this a week ago and have watched the content with my kids and have had several instances where I did not feel comfortable about what my children were watching. My kids are 6-8 range and they watched the age appropriate content. I was surprised when an episode of the “Stories of the Prophets for Kids” related the story of Prophet Yusuf (AS) and Zulaykha. The story did not mention the specific details, but I am not even ok that this story is relayed at all to this specific age group. I was taken aback when I saw my kids watching Zulaykha relay her feelings for Yusuf (AS) to a group of women who went on to cut their hands. It’s one thing to hear the story in context of a young adult’s masjid class, but to watch a cartoon about it is a whole different story. Second, the same series has an episode about Prophet Lut (as) which explicitly mentions the acts that the people of sodom were committing. My children do not yet know about such things, and them watching this would rob them of their innocence. Alhamdulillah I became aware before they had a chance to see it. Thirdly, the Aqil Story, episode 3, I was appalled about the secondary message that episode was relating to kids. The message was that it is not good enough to seek permission from your mother, but one must seek permission from the father because he is “head of the household”. Now I understand that Muslims may have different views on this, but it is not ok to tell such young and impressionable minds such a thing. The point that a man has a degree of responsibility over a woman does not mean that his explicit approval is required at all times when a mother can do it very well herself. It is not realistic and such a mentality is extremely stifling to attaining one’s independence and ability to properly use one’s aqil. My older son gave me a confused look when hearing that on the episode and I was not happy. In my household, my husband and I are open and honest and keep communication open. He comes to me for advice and I likewise go to him. We trust each other and respectfully advise each other as to how we raise our children. Should my children come to me to seek permission to go somewhere or do something, I will use my own intellect to give permission or not because I have an understanding with my husband that does not require me to bombard him with unnecessary questions. If there is doubt of anything of course I will surely discuss with him, as he does with me as well. To hear that a mother’s permission is not good enough while the father is away and having my son give me a questionable look of confusion was very concerning, more concerning than them watching a mainstream cartoon because this is in direct context of their deen. I could relay more examples but I think I’ve provided enough. I want to support this endeavor and was willing to initially despite the low budget content knowing that supporting this will make way to adding better content in the future, iA. But finding content to what I mentioned that narrows our kids minds and does not teach themselves to fear Allah and use one’s intellect and instead keep a narrow focus is not ok, and neither is showing inappropriate stories that is not for their age group in a cartoon above all else is not ok either. Ali Huda is advertised as content that “gives piece of mind” and many reviews online have stated so. I’m concerned that parents will blindly trust this app to their kids and not see what their kids are actually watching which can cause great harm, astaghfirullah.