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Emergency Alert System: Muslim Guide to Avoiding a Zombie Apocalypse

Photo Credit: FEMA

The FEMA alert didn’t exactly trigger a zombie apocalypse in the United States on October 4. Whether a cell phone alert that’s made to work in the event of an emergency can or can’t turn people into zombies is something to be debated, but there are various things that people do with their mobile phones everyday that certainly can trigger similar symptoms.

And if, as a Muslim in the United States, you’re doing some of these things, Islamic spirituality might or might not protect you from having those symptoms, with or without FEMA. There are things that trigger epileptic attacks that people engage in using the privacy of their own phones. These things might not necessarily be haram, or forbidden, but they still cause spiritual damage. 

Epilepsy is of two kinds, Islamically. Some seizures are caused from a physical head injury, whether that occurs from a fall or an ailment that affects the brain. That’s not under discussion here. The type of epileptic seizures under concern is the second type, the type in which there is a spiritual element at play. 

This spiritual element can be relayed through screens: video games, videos themselves and even virtual reality headsets. It’s a poltergeist-y discussion, but one that’s good to know about if you’re holding a phone or device in your hand. Sometimes it’s not what’s being done that’s damaging, but the medium that’s used to do it. This article is not meant to cause offense to those who suffer from epileptic attacks, but rather to warn those who do not. 

Television and Videos Can Cause Epileptic Attacks

There was a popular phenomenon some years ago surrounding the cartoon Pokemon. Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, writing for Psychology Today, noted how one Pokemon episode broadcast in 1997 in Japan “sent 700 children to emergency rooms suffering from seizures, nausea, and vomiting… For many of the affected children, it was the first time they had been diagnosed with any kind of seizure disorder.”  

Cytowic believes, like many, that the hospitalizations were a form of what is called photosensitive epilepsy, when flashing lights and colors cause a malfunction in the brain. His article was written in 2021, however. Since then, streaming services like Netflix and YouTube and gaming platforms like XBox have added warnings about flashing lights, colors and patterns to warn those who are already susceptible to epilepsy. 

In other words, the current view is that photosensitive epilepsy only affects those who already have epilepsy. Cytowic said that wasn’t the case in Japan.

Video Games Can Also Trigger Epilepsy 

Video Games can trigger an epileptic attack as a form of photosensitive epilepsy as well. If videos and movies have some scenes with flashing lights, video and computer games use flashing lights and colors and moving patterns as a rule. The Nintendo website flags all video games as using “flashing lights and… certain patterns. Many different types of visual stimuli-including certain television screens, flickering or rolling images, video games, computer monitors, alternating patterns of different colors, and strobe lights.”

According to Nintendo, a person may be affected by “how quickly a particular light is flashing, its brightness, the level or intensity of the background lighting, and the color of the light.” The symptoms that can affect a person playing Nintendo, Xbox or even computer video games include “convulsions, loss of awareness, involuntary movements, eye or muscle twitching, altered vision” and disorientation.

While they say that only a few people out of those prone to epileptic attacks are vulnerable, it is again the Pokemon scenario that has proved that to be questionable.

Virtual Reality Headsets and Epilepsy

Oculus [PDF], a Meta company that makes virtual reality headsets, warns users:

Some might experience “severe dizziness, seizures, epileptic seizures or blackouts triggered by light flashes or patterns, and this may occur while they are watching TV, playing video games or experiencing virtual reality, even if they have never had a seizure or blackout before or have no history of seizures or epilepsy. Such seizures are more common in children and young people under the age of 20.”

While they say the occurrence is rare, about 1/4000, no studies were included in the safety warning. Nor is it known how many youth think the risk is worth taking.

Music Can Trigger Musicogenic Seizures

There is one type of epilepsy that devices can trigger, however, which isn’t photosensitive or related to what you see. That’s music. 

In a scientific paper published on Frontiers Neurology, researchers noted a case of a young woman who had had brain surgery to pause her seizures. “Two reflex seizures were recorded within 15 s after listening to one song that she liked… During the first few seconds, she could answer and follow commands, but after that, she lost awareness and exhibited left upper limb and oral-alimentary automatisms [automatic movements].” 

The second case describes seizures that aren’t as typical in their symptoms. 

“She described her habitual diurnal [daytime] episode as a feeling that time expands (if she had a conversation, the words would expand indefinitely), then she would not understand what is said to her, she could not speak, but she could continue the activity that she was engaged in. During the seizures that lasted up to 1 min, the patient maintained eye contact and postictally she had anomia [indicates confusion] for up to 30 min. She emphasized that listening to music triggered her seizures, particularly listening to a specific musical rhythm or a peculiar pattern that has been linked to a contemporary hit radio song.”

The researchers claim that musicogenic epilepsy is rare. But each type of epilepsy trigger builds on the other, according to Cytowic from Psychology Today. So if you’re into music, music videos, movies and video games with virtual reality, there’s a higher likelihood of suffering from an attack – especially between the ages of five and 24

Seeing as how many people are addicted to their cell phones, and all the entertainment opportunities that exist on them, emergency alerts from FEMA are probably not what’s going to cause a zombie apocalypse. Cell phones and other screen-type devices might, though. And yes, for Muslims, too.

IP Correspondent