Thursday, 22 July 2010

Why Naif al-Mutawa is a superhero

Superman. Batman. Spiderman. And Noora? Sami? Mumita? There must be something wrong with this incongruous list. According to Naif Al-Mutawa, however, they flow well together; so well, that Noora, Sami, Mumita and the rest of The 99 will be joining The Justice League in a special collaborative series in the fall. Still doesn't make sense? Listen to Naif himself explain the thinking behind The 99, a new comic book rooted in elements of Muslim cultures. His spellbinding synopsis of the development of The 99 was recently profiled by TED (I have pasted it below for your viewing pleasure as well).

Naif's vision is a cast of characters that embody positive principles that are rooted in the 99 names of God (or Allah) that are known to all Muslims. Why should Muslim youth not have role models to look up to from their own cultures? That was the thinking behind the creation of this groundbreaking initiative which now includes comic books, television series, a movie, and a theme park (in Kuwait). Yet, in pursuing this project Naif has gone beyond the simple call of duty. This could very much have been a project set in a Muslim context for Muslims and by Muslims. Conversely, it is the pluralistic nature of The 99 that makes it a potentially sensational force for cross-culture encounter.

The team that was convened to develop the series includes veterans of the comic book world, from both sides of the proverbial cultural divide. Moreover, the characters while rooted in an Islamic mythology (so to speak), are from countries from around the world. They could very well be Muslim, but they could also very well be Christian, Jewish, or secular. The 99 acts as a vehicle for universal values in a very global sense, that cuts across cultural boundaries. The connection that a young child in Yemen feels with Jabbar could be the same as one in Brooklyn.

This is not new. Many American characters - Superman for example - represent such cross-cutting universal values. Yet, The 99 is replicating that, while emanating form the ideology and culture of Muslim communities. As the world converges, many Muslim youths ask if the amorphous global culture is representative, and if their values are acknowledged. Similarly, in the West, Muslim values and figures seem foreign and detached. The medium of fiction, whether it is The 99, or Khaled Hosseini's the Kite Runner, or even Kingdom Of Heaven, allows us to visualize a common humanity, and facilitates not only cross-culture encounter but even empathy, without the intrusiveness of manufactured outreach programs.

Naif is a trailblazer, but he is not the first and nor will he be the last. Ideas like The 99 are truly transformative. When others like it come along, I hope they will receive the same support.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know this idea of "the 99" is good or bad, I am not gonna decide on that but what I suggest is there are many other ways to reduce cultural barriers between all the religions. There are alot ways to memorise all the 99 attributes of ALLAH (SWT) and there are alot of websites who are doing this job and there are doing good. One of this website is www.graphicjunction.com , these people have more islamic way of representing 99 names of ALLAH (SWT).

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