Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A website on Islam and Science Fiction

One of my all time favorite sci-fi books is Frank Herbert's Dune. When I read it, I remember that it made some subtle connections to Arabs/Muslims in the future (some of these vague references appear in names and customs of the dune inhabitants. You can find short details in the notes at the end of the book). So it is interesting to see an impressive website on Islam and Science Fiction (tip from Amina Steinfels) collecting on the depiction of Muslims in science fiction. The website is run by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, who is a doctoral student at University of Minnesota. In fact, he is also responsible for an anthology of sci-fi depicting Muslims/Islam called, A Mosque Among the Stars. As an example from his website, here is a brief entry on Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. In addition, if you are interested in the topic, here is a literary review on Islam in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

While on the topic, also check out this Guardian article on the popular Muslim superhero series called The 99. Of course, a cape can easily turn into a burqa:
Even if you deliberately set out to try to dream up the least probable superhero ever, it's unlikely that you'd manage to come up with a character as far-fetched as Batina the Hidden. Forget Wonder Worm, or a man born with the powers of a newt, Batina is a superhero of a kind the world hasn't until now seen. It's not just that she's a Muslim woman, from a country best known for harbouring al-Qaida operatives – Yemen – but that she wears an altogether new kind of super-person costume: a burqa.
She, along with her fellow crime-fighters, a vast team of characters from around the world, including Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia and Hadya the Guide from London, collectively known as "The 99", are the world's first Islam-inspired superheroes. And this week, in what is perhaps the ultimate comic-book accolade, they will join forces with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics, the US publishing giant, will publish the first of six special crossover issues in which The 99 will be fighting crime alongside the Justice League of America, the fictional superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.
What's even more remarkable is that The 99 only came into being in 2007 with some remarkable firsts: the first comic book superheroes to have Muslim names and be directed at an international audience and the first to come out of the Middle East. Crossovers don't happen often and even less often with characters that are just three years old. Even The 99's creator and mastermind, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated psychologist and entrepreneur called Naif al-Mutawa, seems to be having some trouble believing the Superman link-up.
And here is the thing about superheroes and religion:
It was only much later that he realised there were certain parallels between his creation and that of Superman and Batman. They were dreamed up by Jewish young men in the 1930s as fascism threatened to engulf the world: super-beings who were sent to save the world from evil. And they, too, seemingly drew their inspiration, whether consciously or not, from certain religious archetypes. Superman, for example, was sent to Earth in a pod, a device that academics and fans for years have argued echoes Moses in a basket.
But like Superman and Batman, there's no overt religion in The 99. Characters never pray. No one's religion is ever mentioned. And although Batina wears the burqa, as most women in Yemen do, and a couple of the other female characters wear headscarves, it's planned that the majority won't (half the characters will eventually be female, but only a handful have so far been introduced).
Read the full article here. You can also read an interview with the creator of The 99, Naif Mutawa at the Islam and Science Fiction website. Oh and if you would like to read a fantastic book about comic book creations, check out Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The book is fiction but not fantasy, but it will take you into the world that created some of the 20th century superheroes. If you have some time, do read it (if it is an incentive, this book also won a Pulitzer Prize).


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