Assassin’s Creed Cultural Consultant on Depicting the Athan: “Not Just Authentic but Also Respectful”

Supporting the game's rich portrayal of Islamic culture are Muslim protagonist Basim Ibn Ishaq and various members of his society, as well as the Masjids, architecture and art rife throughout the game’s backdrop of 9th Century Abbasid Baghdad.

Assassin’s Creed Cultural Consultant on Depicting the Athan: “Not Just Authentic but Also Respectful”
Localization and Cultural Consultant Mohammed Alemam said that since the Arab world and specifically Iraq have always been multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic, Baghdad ended up being the game's perfect setting.

Since its release two months ago, the Ubisoft video game “Assassin's Creed: Mirage” (2023) has set a noteworthy example of inclusive Muslim representation, and more broadly, Arab, Persian and SWANA cultures. The game skillfully integrates Islam into its narrative, avoiding tokenism by portraying an entire Islamic civilization. Supporting this rich portrayal are Muslim protagonist Basim Ibn Ishaq and various members of society, as well as the Masjids, architecture and art rife throughout the game’s backdrop of 9th Century Abbasid Baghdad. While Islam takes center stage, the game also acknowledges religious diversity, including minorities such as Christians in the cosmopolitan Baghdad.

This positive representation is groundbreaking in many ways, especially since “Mirage” is the 13th major installment in the Assassin's Creed video game series, a franchise that has traditionally struggled with positive SWANA representation in previous installments.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking accomplishment of “Assassin's Creed: Mirage” is its accurate portrayal of the Athan, possibly for the first time in Western media. The call to prayer can be heard several times throughout the day as the player traverses the city. The game’s art director, Jean-Luc Sala, put importance on the Athan being a focal part of the setting, saying it needed “to be a real one, not like a kind of distant sound.” And video game developer Rami Ismail suggests that this could be the first time the Athan has been depicted fully and accurately in a Western entertainment franchise. 

In order to better understand the intention that went into depicting Islam in “Assassin’s Creed: Mirage,” Game Developer recently spoke with Mohammed Alemam, Ubisoft's localization and cultural consultant for the game. In the conversation, Alemam delved into the meticulous process behind “Mirage's” cultural accuracy, addressing aspects like the game’s inclusion of the Athan as well as the way the game’s science fiction elements do and don’t intersect with its depiction of Islam.

Alemam also spoke about a unique feature of the game’s sound design — when the Athan occurs within the world of “Mirage,” the game’s soundtrack completely stops. “[With] authenticity being part of Assassin's Creed DNA, the team really wanted to ensure to the best of their abilities that the game is not just authentic but also respectful,” said Alemam. “We've seen representation of Muslims or Arabs in games before, and it's not always accurate … The team put their trust and confidence in us to ensure that it's respectful and authentic. When they wanted to include [the Athan] in the game, they didn't just want to add it as just some flavor in the background. They wanted to because it's part of the city's identity.”

He continued by explaining how the game’s developers asked about guidelines, which is when they found out that they should avoid music playing while the Athan is being recited. Alemam explained that the developers found out late in development that in some small cases, the music and Athan can overlap, so a fix was deployed in a recent update so players can ensure that music never plays during the daytime if they so wish.

“There are animations of people washing up to get ready for prayer, and some animations of prayers as well,” Alemam continued.” All of which [the developers have] taken really good care in doing it accurately, finding Muslims to do the animations and checking them with us as well to ensure that everything's right.”

Alemam went on to emphasize the game’s historical accuracy regarding Islamic contributions to science during the Golden Age, as well as touching on the ways the game's science fiction elements don’t contradict the beliefs of Muslim players. You can read his full conversation with Game Developer at the link below.

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