Muslim Child Prophet? Muslim Child Actor? Midget Cleric?

One of the weird things about writing this blog is that it forces me to confront the fact that (news flash!) when it comes to religion people can be pretty crazy. The first time I saw this video, two months ago, I watched it four times in a row. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever seen. Being the obsessive blogging machine that I am, I immediately wanted it to share with you guys. But I stayed my hand, because I knew that posting it on my blog would result in all sorts of impassioned invectives about myself, Muslims, and God knows what else. And if that’s the sort of thing I desired I could just phone my dad, tell him I’m still a writer, and mention Barack Obama.

It drives me crazy, though, to have to operate under the assumption that the world is full of hostile dimwits I need to fear. I find this video pretty cotdang interesting; and so, naturally enough, want to share it with others. For one, could it be more exotic? And for poor, sheltered, Western me, it raises a whole host of questions. Is this kid a genuine mystic? Is he “just” an actor? Is he a … midget cleric? Is he a phenomenon — or are there all kinds of kids like this in Iran, or throughout the Muslim world? Do Iranian and/or Muslim kids routinely learn to passionately recite long passages of the Qur’an; is that just something they do after school, the way our kids play Little League or soccer?

And what’s with the spinning gold Arabic writing? What does that writing say? “The boy is kicking it!”? “Our Great Festival of Memory!”? “Stay Tuned for Iran’s Got Talent”? What? Anyone know??

The version of this boy’s speech with Arabic subtitles has been viewed some 6.7 million times. The one I’m showing here has English subtitles.

Yes, the child is reciting from the Qur’an. [Wait! No, he's not! Check out this informed-sounding comment from below.]

No, I’m not promoting or endorsing Islam.

Yes, I’m interested in how people around the world pray and worship and conceive of God.

Yes, I live next door to five Hindu guys I’ve basically forced into having my wife and me over for dinner.

Yes, I once lived with two Iranian guys whom I invited to move in with me because they’d just arrived in America and had nowhere to stay. (And yes, I got them jobs where I worked.)

Yes, one of my favorite singers is the unfathomably awesome Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Yes, I’m very grateful to have the caliber of readers I do.

No, I’m not promoting or endorsing Islam.

No, I’m not promoting or endorsing Islam.

No, I’m not promoting or endorsing Islam.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Old Stuff

    when it comes to religion people can be pretty wholly insane.

    True dat!

    You want crazy scary Muslim kids? …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJOkyyI4AVk

    • amelia

      Old Stuff, this does not surprise me, sadly. I totally respect your beliefs, but I must mention that Christ already foretold of this. Matthew 24 pretty much sums it up along with Mark 13, Luke 21 and especially John 16 "I have said these things to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them."

      • Old Stuff

        Don't make me start reeling out videos of Christian dominion-ism brainwashing. Watch the documentary Jesus Camp. There is little light between what you see in the Hamas videos and those of Jesus Camp. The frightening thing is that Hamas is runs the state. Steeping children in this extreme stuff is child-abuse.

        Anyone for separation of church and state?

        • amelia

          If the children in "Jesus Camp" are gun-toting proclaimers of violence for God, then they are not being told the truth, or better yet, shown the truth, of a Christ-centered, peaceful life. btw I do not advocate the Crusades incase that would be your next excuse for lumping followers of Christ in with child abusers.

          • Old Stuff

            I am not lumping anybody into anything. I know Christian Dominionists are a group of minority nuts. They are not putting guns in their hands (at least not in Jesus Camp) because they couldn't get away with it with our secular laws…but they do use a lot of war and government revolt rhetoric when whipping these kids into a frenzy.

            No question, though….

            At this juncture; state-sponsored Islam is the gold standard for religious hatred and intolerance.

            Children are too impressionable. They should be left to decide for themselves what is true and what isn't. There should be no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child…they are just plain old children. It would take no effort to get a child to believe in Scientology or John Smith or any other fiction.

            Go to Youtube.com and search of "Jesus Camp" (with quotes) for a bunch of excerpts.

        • Old Stuff

          You can watch the trailer for Jesus Camp at http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/

          I was able to watch it through Netflix streaming for those of you that have that.

          Chilling stuff.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            That's a very important documentary, all Christians should watch that.

        • http://www.gurtnerdesign.com Daniel

          you can't separate church and state or mosque and state or synagogue and state or temple and state etc. because you would have to exclude anyone who believes in anything from ever holding an office… and everyone believes in something

          • Old Stuff

            That would be a mis-reading. We merely cannot enact law with no basis beyond religious dogma. Of course believers would/could hold office, but our framers (Christians, deists and atheists) recognized how nasty things get when law is based [widely varying] interpretations of scripture. The colonies were a mess that, in a number of cases devolved into mini-theocracies. Pick up the the book Founding Faith by Steven Waldman for a very even handed review of why we are a secular nation.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            The best thing for religion is when it's separate from the state. (says the religious person).

        • Tim

          don't like religion, period. There's an old Jesus-Freak bumper sticker that says, "I'm not religious…I just love Jesus!". Lots of people don't "get" that. The problem I see with religion in general, is that it's man's formula for earning God's favor. Isaiah 64:6 says, .."our righteous acts are like filthy rags". When I become intent on winning God, I become prideful and I lose. When I consider a God who has given all He is to personally win me, a sinner, I am humbled.

          I believe religion promotes prideful boasting, comparisons, and prejudice. I believe knowing that Jesus loves me, the dirt-bag, makes me intent on finding out why. Such introspection takes me down the narrow path to RELATION…not the wide one to religion.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Mandiroze: Well, this is a good start! Thank you. (And really, who knows? As I say, most of my readers are … sane. I get a few nutjobs, for sure, but … who couldn't be interested in this extraordinary thing?)

    I did a ton of online research when I first saw this video; I ended up watching about forty kids recite parts of the Qur'an, for one (which of course isn't really "research" so much as it is watching TV). And I did all this reading about the Qur'an on Wikipedia. And I visited all these Muslim websites. Fascinating. One of my best friends is a major scholar in the field of Christian-Muslim relations, and through him I'm often struck at the vast differences between the two worlds. But this video really brought that home. I watch it, and I'm, like: Whoa. We are not in Kansas anymore.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      I can't stop watching this. This feels very different from recitation, those are the cries of a baby whose heart is breaking.

      Is he referencing Our Lady of Fatima?

      • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

        No, you idiot. That's a Catholic reference, this boy is Muslim. What were you thinking with this comment? If I were you, I'd delete it immediately.

        • elle

          Lady Fatima, daughter of the prophet.

  • vj

    "Do Iranian and/or Muslim kids routinely learn to passionately recite long passages of the Qur’an; is that just something they do after school, the way our kids play Little League or soccer?"

    Well, I don't know about the "passionately" part, but, here in Cape Town, Muslim kids (some/most, not necessarily all) DO routinely attend special after-school lessons, during which they presumably learn to recite long passages (and usually, possibly always, in Arabic) – I suppose in a similar way that Jewish children might learn to recite passages in Hebrew in preparation for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or they way Christian children might learn to recite passages from the Bible at 'Sunday School' or for 'confirmation' (not part of my experience – do you recite something when/if you get confirmed in a traditional church?)

    And I suppose a large reason for this is a sort of cultural identity thing (especially in a multi-cultural, multi-faith environment). So maybe in a less "multi" place such as Iran, this can be taken to further extremes?

    • denver

      Perhaps some other denomination might do it, but being raised Catholic we never learned to recite long bible passages, even for the special occasions like first communion. In fact, when I was a teen and explored a born-again church for a while, it blew me away how many bible passages people knew by heart. I had never known anybody that had memorized bible passages before (and they often looked down on me for not being able to off the cuff say, "well, Matthew 3:14 says… ").

      • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

        Hi denver – fellow catholic, checking in! I remember my first time at a protestant church – I remember thinking it felt like a birthday party. I still go to mass, but I resonated with this and wanted to say hello.

  • Tanager

    This just reminds me of a Bar/Bat Mitzva, though obviously the child is much younger. He's concentrating on the story of Lady Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet, and holds a very special place in Shia piety. I don't find it terribly unlikely that this boy learned this declaration in his madrasah's hifz course – they spend a LOT of time memorizing the Qu'ran.

    My son memorized the immortal book "The Little House" before he was three years old, and could recite not only the entire book, but he put in all the emotional emphases I used when I read it to him. This kid had to practice, I'm sure, but it's not unreasonable that he gives such an impassioned declaration. He would have heard this story many times. Which kid gets picked to read scripture/the poem/the whatever at your church/school/etc.? The one who's good at it!

    Frankly, it's kind of nice to see a kids who's been paying attention and is capable of more than quoting Spongebob.

    No, I'm not advocating Islam.

    • http://jfaraday.wordpress.com jfaraday

      Tanager– WORD.

      John: I have to ask, are you promoting or endorsing Islam? =)

    • Elizabeth

      @Tanager: Great insight.

      I was certainly no prodigy like your son, but I was quite a mimic by 5 or 6. In my case, it was whatever my parents were listening to or doing. Even now, at 36, I can give horribly accurate renditions of the cast recording complete book and score of The Fantastics, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, and Once Upon a Mattress. Also complete albums by Tom Lehrer and the Kingston Trio. And this was alone, with no particular encouragement. I have no problem thinking that a bright child with feedback and attention could do this.

      I shudder to think what I might have accomplished if it had been surrounded by recordings of equations or the periodic table instead of show tunes.

      • Scott Spencer-Wolff

        @Elizabeth – Ooooo – I can't tell you how many Tom Lehrer songs I've memorized the words too. And a bunch from Oh Coward (Noel Coward) too. Totally agree that a bright child could easily pull this off – and I've seen it in several different religious traditions. Not quite sure what the big deal is?

        • Elizabeth

          Well, if you don't come from a Bible-memorizing church, I could see the initial shock. A child spouting this! But, yeah, not when you think of it in the theatre tradition. When was the last time anyone was surprised by a child memorizing a part for a two-hour play?

          Do they have Tom Lehrer karaoke? If so, I might have to hunt you down.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      Oh thank you for clarifying that, I googled the name and got Our Lady of Fatima which is a Catholic reference for Mary.

      Give your son a high five for me. When I was young, my mom made me a bonnet and I wore it to school for three years so I could be just like Laura. And by "young", I mean freshman in high school. (kidding. I'm kidding. Though I am advocating Islam. OK no, I'm kidding about that too).

  • http://www.gurtnerdesign.com Daniel

    Are you promoting or endorsing Islam?

  • Don Whitt

    Remember Marjoe Gortner? Absolutely stunning. He was an "ordained preacher" at 4 yrs old. We found out later that was all a con job, but damn he was good. And now we have the smoking baby – Aldi Suganda – one of the creepiest things I've ever seen.

    Child performers are pretty much the most wrecked creatures on the planet. You can hammer just about anything into a kid if you try. it's not magic. it's just hard to get them their childhood back once you do it.

    And @Tanager did we have to drag my precious little Spongebob into the discussion? really? Did we?

  • http://www.gurtnerdesign.com Daniel

    John, when will you finally get a "real" website?

    • Elizabeth

      Yeah?

      • Don Whitt

        Gratuitous pimping of your web development business…how …cute.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    If it were Qur’anic recitation, it would be chanted, not dramatized.

    The boy is reading a lecture; he's delivering a sermon.

    Islamic culture, from my limited experience with it, does encourage boys to learn skills in dramatic recitation, and this boy does appear to be particularly good at it. It's not a particularly extra-ordinary feat though; it's only a few minutes long, and lots of child actors have to memorize far more than that; perhaps it's even easier for them than for adults, as a child's brain seems rather more absorbent.

    I'm not sure to what extent this is memorized word for word, nor am I sure to what extend his quotation of Scripture is word for word, because, as vj points out below, the Holy Qur'an is memorized in Arabic, but the boy is preaching in Farsi here.

    • amelia

      Birth to three is the most "absorbant" stage of a child's development, you would be AMAZED at what children can do when provided with an environent that engages their innate determination to explore everything they can get their hands on (I'm a Montessori educator). :)

    • Matthew Tweedell

      oops… “below”? I meant “above”: “vj points out ABOVE”

  • http://soiledwings.com Sherry Meneley

    My goodness, let me get that little boy a popsicle – that shouting is wrecking his voice; that little cough – oh my! (ps: freaking wierd and hypnotic – like Children of the Corn)

  • http://www.facebook.com/unholyblackdeath William Ely

    This is a disgusting display. Scary and sad at the same time. I have always thought that people should choose their religion after they grow up. They really don't know what they believe at this age, they are just doing what they are told.

    • berkshire

      Disgusting? Scary? Strong words. Sounds a but knee-jerk to me.

      He's not preaching hate. He's reciting an emotional story that is part of his culture and religion. He's carrying on a tradition that is part of his identity, and the identity of the community to which he belongs. He's a child for whom there is a way for him to be a full participant in the life of his mosque, rather than sitting on the sidelines.

      When I was a child, I could recite the apostles creed, as I was instructed to do by my family and the church, and as we did every Sunday. I could also recite the Lord's Prayer, and others. I could sing religious Christmas songs. What's so scary about that, or about this boy? It didn't preclude my growing up and choosing anything (I chose a different religion when I grew up). I doubt it will preclude him from doing the same–it may, in fact, help him to consciously choose, rather than being given no direction and then trying to figure it all out for himself, blindly.

      Perhaps his ability–and his being singled-out to display it–gives him a sense of pride, and builds his self-esteem, and his sense of belonging to something bigger than himself. When my niece takes part in her church plays and such, I know that's what it does for her.

      Nothing disgusting or scary about it. To characterize this in such terms is what is really sad.

      Sorry if this posts twice. I had entered my email incorrectly the first time I tried to post it, and then my computer seemed to stall.

  • Elizabeth

    @William: I feel you. But if someone's faith matters to them then, of course, they want to pass it on. Like their national identity and their hobbies. I was raised in a very low-key Presbyterian church, but it was more of a social thing: choir, camp-outs, cookie time. In a small town in Michigan, if your mom was a teacher and your dad owned the local newspaper, there was an expectation that you'd participate in one of the acceptable churches. It wasn't something we talked about.

    So, you could say that I was left alone to address these issues until I got serious for my own reasons during college. Whether someone considers me a positive or negative outcome is your guess. I wouldn't want to put it to a vote.

  • mandiroze

    I also find this interesting! He looks to be about five years old… those verbal and memory skills seem to be far beyond average… maybe he is a “midget cleric”!? Definitely a phenomenon.

    I did a little googling, and saw some stupidities such as “How can somebody manipulate a child like this?” Ugh.

    This video makes me want to know more about Iranian culture, too.

    Maybe you won’t get any ignorant comments accusing you of promoting Islam! :)

    M

  • Rainne

    Yeah, the Muslim kids aren't the only ones that do this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF6NrQuup80

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Wow. Now THAT is what I call disturbing.

      Thanks for posting this, Rainne!

      • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

        x2

        • Andrew

          Why do you both consider this so disturbing?

    • http://Facebook Monika Greene

      Even more disturbing still are the vast masses of people who blindly follow this line of "reasoning".

  • Jeannie

    I have seen children this young passionately quote looong portions of the Bible. I have also seen children this young “prophesy”. The children I am talking about were homeschooled and submerged in a culture where that was just expected of them and “ordinary”. They didn’t have TV or a lot of other distractions and the families were very involved in doing the same thing. I expect that is the case with this kiddo.

  • youtah

    I agree with those that compare it to Jewish children who learn to recite long passages before their Bar-Mitzva, In the same way Muslim children learn Qur'anic passages by heart.

    BUT they don't usually recite them in fronts of adults, especially not so many. So my guess would be, either that it is a kind of competition, or that this boy has been recognized with an unusual gifting.

    No, he is not reciting the Qur'an! This is a story after the death of the prophet Muhammad. (online sources http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Saqifa, http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Fatima-Zahra). Probably the story is a hadîth (tradition), possibly recited at the celebration of Fatimah's feast day.

    As for the display of emotion, a lot of it is related to the beating of the beloved and highly esteemed Lady Fatimah, daughter of the prophet, which led to a miscarriage of a son. It is part of the founding story of Shi'a Islam. So, there is a lot of identification with her and her pain. But there are other parts, like the coughing away from the microphone, that seem rather trained or learned by imitation.

    The boy does seem to lead the adults into a proper prayer responses, so maybe he is accepted as "child imam." He definitely has a gift for story telling, an art that is more common in traditional societies,

  • Jill

    My husband says that the spinning gold writing says "Al Jazeerah", which of course is the middle east's main (only?) tv station. Hubby also says that they have a LOT of symbols, writing, advertising, telephone numbers which appear on the screen. I said, "Like our news?"

    "No, more," he said, "it's weird."

    • Matthew Tweedell

      The gold spinning writing certainly does not say Al Jezeera! What it does say however is hard to read because the resolution of the uploaded video is too low. (Anyway, Al Jezeera is an Arabic station. This broadcast is in Farsi.)

  • http://none Don Rappe

    Children love to imitate what they see their elders do. The gift of linguistic learning is very strong in the first years. I personally believe it is the gift of language more than the gift of intellect that distinguishes us from the other large primates.

    • http://Facebook Monika Greene

      Ah. So you do endorse Islam…

  • http://Facebook Monika Greene

    jk

  • Tim

    Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise (Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:16)

    Whether authentic or rehearsed, small children singing, speaking, or crying to, or about God is not a new thing…as even the Bibile states. If it saddens or scares people, I suppose that's THEIR deal. That goop about letting kids pick their beliefs when they grow up isn't realistic or rational. People (especially small people) are not raised in bubbles. They are, like the Montessori person said, like sponges. They take in and process EVERYTHING. As a parent, it's my prerogative (if not my duty) to teach my child in the ways which I believe to be true and faithful. I do this regardless of what any other person, religion or government says.

  • http://asad123.wordpress.com asad123

    To me, this is beautiful. I think what a lot of people are missing here is that it's not just that the boy memorized a speech. That's a trivial achievement. What's astonishing here is that the boy understands the emotional depth of the speech, feels it himself and makes a group of other people feel it as well. It has some similarities to acting, but it is different because rather than reciting a fictional script, he is recalling an actual event from history – the assassination of Ali bin Abi Talib, May Allah be pleased with him, Fourth Caliph of Islam.

    A couple points of information. This is not from the Quran or the Hadith. This is recounting an event that took place twenty-nine years after Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had died. The revelation of the Quran ended when the Prophet died. The Hadith, being traditions of the Prophet, ended at the same time. Also, it is incorrect and borderline offensive to call this boy a "Muslim child prophet." Muslims, by definition, consider Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the last prophet. This is a boy who is very talented and deserving of praise, but he is not a prophet, scholar, or imam. Also, since the subject of his speech is history, he is more of a re-enactor than an actor. He is not assuming a role, rather he is narrating what happened from a third person view.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      For what it's worth–and I don't even know if you're talking to me on this—I didn't call the boy a Muslim child prophet. I asked if that's what he was.

  • Andrew

    John,

    You have have already viewed it before but there is a classic expose on child super-star evangelist Marjoe Gortner in which child super star evangelist Marjoe Bortner exposes himself as a con artist. My first impression of this kid is that he the Marjoe of the Muslims.

    • Robert Meek

      This all reminds me of the Mike Warnke scandal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Warnke which I am ashamed to say that in the early 1970s I belonged to a church that had him over and believed every word that he said, at the time. I was a teenager, granted. Our mother chose to take us there, but still, we were all suckered in. I shan't say the city but I will say it was an Assembly of God church.


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