Naif Al-Mutawa was a man on a mission. Everywhere he went, he saw pictures of martyrs being portrayed as heroes. He didn’t want his sons growing up with martyrs as heroes so he began to think about how ‘muslim children need new heroes.’ From this thought he got the idea to create a new series of comic books featuring super heroes. A kind of islamic version of Superman or Batman. No one is making heroes for all the muslims children and people and children need to have representations in fiction of people who look like them.
As a child, Al-Mutawa himself was a reader. He spent hours reading books and so in some ways it was only natural, that he decided to battle intolerance and fanaticism through letters – through super hero comic books – even though the message for him is more important than the idea of the comic book itself.
Of course, Al-Mutawa can’t do this on his own. To help him create these comic books, he has a team of people from DC Comics and Marvel – which means, these people know what they are doing.
The back story for The 99 is so very cool. To protect the knowledge of the great library of Dal El-Hikma, the librarians hide the knowledge in 99 stones. In 1285 these stones is smuggled out of Baghdad by the surviving librarians after the city and the library has been attacked. These so-called Noor stones are hidden until a stone is fragmented by a boy stepping on a landmine. The boy is hurt by splinters from the stone and becomes Jabbar the strong. He is the first of The 99 and the comic books is about finding the others heroes – it sounds sort of like Heroes in that way.
Al-Mutawa is a brave man. He uses the 99 names of Allah as the names for his heroes – and you’re not supposed to give these names to humans (as I recall, Rushdie gave the names of Muhammad’s wives to prostitues in his The Satanic Verses and this was part of the reason for the fatwa against Rushdie).But Al-Mutawa means you shall measure islam by values and faith – not by what you wear. Still, his superheroes are very modest dressed when compared to Western superheroes – with some of the women heroes apparently wearing burqas – and he tries to make sure the comic book follows Islamic law.
There’s an interesting documentary called Wham! Bam! Islam! about The 99 which shows the ups and downs of Al-Mutawa’s battle to get his comic books accepted and profitable. In this documentary, we also see Al-Mutawa’s reaction to the controversy with the Muhammad drawings brought by the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten back in 2005. There was a lot of demonstrations, burning of flags, attacks on Danish embassies and more as a result of these drawings. (Read more about the controversy here.) Al-Mutawa sees these drawings as an insult to all Muslims – but feels that the proper way to deal with it is to not buy the newspaper, not to act out in violent ways. Of course, this controversy is interesting for him when he tries to create a Muslim comic book and you’re not supposed to make drawings of Muhammad.
I am really fascinated by this new comic book. The idea of creating heroes for muslim children so they have someone similar to themselves to look up to, is amazing. We all need that. Islamic super heroes – what a great idea! Especially since the idea is to teach tolerance and the universal values to children, to give them someone good to look up to. I hope to pick up a couple of volumes of this comic book soon so I can see how it is with my own eyes and not just read about it and watch documentaries. So hopefully, I’ll post a review of this soon.