London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Every mum and dad has been there—sitting in traffic, running late, noisy kids in the back of the car: “Mum! Dad! Are we nearly there yet? What’s the hold-up? I’m bored.”
These days, when it comes to bored kids, we look to technology to provide the answer. In-car entertainment was invented for journeys. Music, videos and computer games certainly help but they also raise questions. How can parents be sure that what their children are seeing and hearing is good for them? Digital gadgets might keep children quiet on the back seat but at what cost to their Muslim identity?
Thankfully, help is at hand. A pioneering husband-and-wife team based in England—Adiba Ateava and AbdulMateen Sansom—have taken a new look at the audiobook concept and given it an Islamic twist that will delight parents with busy children on their hands.
“When we started looking for good, strong Islamic audio stories for our son, Jamal,” explains Adiba. “There was nothing on the online shops. There was an endless choice of games and stories about wicked dragons and superheroes, but as Muslim parents we wanted him to learn about Islam and its superheroes.”
It’s a problem facing many Muslim customers:—iTunes, Amazon, Audible.com and many other sites offer stories of all types for children of all ages, but they are all from the mainstream of the Western media.
“No one was telling Islamic stories, based on strong religious principles, written in good English, using the most up-to-date production techniques,” says Adiba. “We did find some Islamic stories, but they were not told in an engaging way for young kids who have got all the latest modern toys. And the English often left a lot to be desired.”
Previously, Adiba had worked for many years as a radio producer for BBC World Service. Her husband, AbdulMateen, was a university lecturer specializing in sound production. Together they set about creating Miraj Audio, the first company in the world to focus exclusively on the creation of audiobooks for Muslim children.
“It took us nearly two years to put together the right team,” says AbdulMateen. “We were looking for skilled audio producers and sound designers, as well as professional writers and editors. We also recruited dedicated educationalists and religious consultants with expertise in classical Arabic, the Qur’an and hadith.”
Once Adiba and AbdulMateen had chosen their stories, they tested them from every angle with children and parents. Then they re-wrote and tested them again before going into the studio. Building on the great oral heritage of Islam, Miraj Audio uses modern techniques to help children experience its values and tradition.
“We don’t preach,” says Adiba, “but we stimulate the imagination. The aim is to engage the natural curiosity of young children with the wonder of religion and the rewards of knowledge. That’s why we named our company after the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the most significant events in his spiritual journey. Miraj audiobooks are inspired by the Prophet’s teachings and carefully checked with religious scholars. They feature strong Muslim characters who model compassion, courage and dedication in their submission to Allah.”
According to Adiba and AbdulMateen, listeners of Miraj audiobooks instantly recognize their high production standards. The writing is clear, simple and full of action. Each script is edited to conform to proper spoken English. Classically trained actors and creative sound designers collaborate to achieve crystal clear audio quality.
The Miraj catalogue includes audiobooks for children of all abilities between 4 and 12 years old. There are stories about inspirational prophets, such as Yunus and Dawood, as well as heartwarming tales told by animal characters. Additions to the catalogue are published at regular intervals. The company is committed to sustaining a long-term relationship with its listeners, which is why some stories for older children are produced in series format, such as the adventures of the great Muslim leader Salah Ad-Din.
“There are two sounds we have learned to love,” says Adiba. “One is the silence that enfolds children when they’re gripped by our stories. The other is the noisy chatter that breaks out afterwards, when the last sound fades and everyone wants another story.”
Adiba and AbdulMateen appreciate how many Muslim parents are facing the same difficulties of trying to raise active children in a world full of distractions and temptations. The globalization of the market has made it easy to find education and entertainment for growing minds but, from the religious point of view, it has actually increased the difficulty of finding something trustworthy. The enterprising couple explain that Miraj Audio’s products are specifically focused on solving this dilemma. Miraj audiobooks are approved by teachers, they are exciting for children to listen to and they’re easy to access across all digital platforms, including iTunes, Google Play and Miraj’s own outlet: MirajAudio.com. The steady growth of the company’s sales shows how many Muslim families around the world are buying in to the concept.
“A business like this,” says Adiba, “is all about relationships, and we’re now dealing with people all over the place—Egypt, the Gulf, Malaysia, Indonesia. When we went to America, some customers bought up everything we could give them. It’s hard work, but we feel blessed when we hear about the big difference Miraj stories can make in people’s lives.”