The Trouble with Gulf Futurism

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Image Source: Vice Magazine

The Vice has an article on the problems with Gulf Futurism by Nathalie Olah. While this is technically not science fiction but the idea of Gulf Futurism has many of the trappings of Science Fiction so we wanted to cover it here. The aesthetics and the kind of development that accompanied the recent growth in the Persian Gulf was christened Gulf Futurism by Sophia Al-Maria. While the recent boom of various architectural and cultural projects in the Gulf represents an alternative model for how the future may be envisioned, the kind of rampant development in the Gulf has many pitfalls especially the salve labor which has made such development possible. It is not just the locals which are to be blamed but the multi-national corporations also have an important part in making the lives of the guest workers miserable. Here is a relevant except from Olah’s article.

It’s not exactly surprising that cities throughout the Middle East look like they’ve been inspired by a less-dystopian version of the Blade Runner universe. In 2005, the film’s “futurist designer” Syd Mead visited the region and met with Bahraini royal Sheik Abdullah Hamad Khalifa to discuss building projects. And despite all its patriotic function, the Kingdom Tower is itself a work of American creation. Designed by Chicago firm Smith Gill, it’s loosely based on plans for an architectural pipe-dream of the seminal Frank Lloyd Wright: a one-mile-high tower called the Illinois. Unfortunately, planners at the site in Saudi Arabia deemed the original height too tall for the relatively unstable terrain of the Red Sea Coast.

The complete article can be viewed here: Vice article on Gulf Futurism

Arabic sci-fi and other literary revolutions

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(Image Source: Al-Jazeera)

Al-Jazeera has just ran an article on the rise of Horror, Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction in the Arabic language in recent years.

But the Katara prize is untested, and this year’s Sheikh Zayed award hardly launched a tweet. Meanwhile, the IPAF sparked an avalanche of social-media zaghrutasand attendant speculation by authors and publishers.

It wasn’t just Iraqis who were delighted. This was also the first time the prize went to a work that hopped the track of literary realism. Saadawi’s compelling novel tells the story of Hadi Al-Attag, “a rag-and-bone man” who haunts the streets of Baghdad, searching for fresh human body parts to stitch together a human corpse. Once completed, the patchwork Frankenstein, or “what’s-its-name”, stumbles off on a journey of revenge.

Science fiction, horror, thrillers, and other “genre” novels have been a tiny minority in Arabic literature, and have hardly been considered part of the serious canon. But on this year’s IPAF shortlist, there was not just Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, but also Ahmed Mourad’s popular psychological thriller, Blue Elephant.

Indeed, the 2014 shortlist included a wide range of books, from magical-realist prison literature (Youssef Fadel’s A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me), to historically minded travel literature (Abdelrahim Lahbibi’s The Journeys of Abdi), to a grim literary realism (Inaam Kachachi’s Tashari and Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives).

Thanks to Hal for the pointer!

Mohsin Hamid on Global Sci-Fi

Mohsin Hamid

(Image Source: The Guardian)

Priyanka Joseph interviews Mohsin Hamid over at Cafe America in MFA and the subject of Science Fiction comes up and Hamid makes an excellent point about representation in Science Fiction:

CA: So about future themes you want to explore: I was really excited when I read the science-fiction piece you wrote for the Financial Times. Have you always been a reader of science fiction? Where did the piece come from creatively?

MH: When I was younger I was a reader of sci-fi, then in the middle for a good twenty years there was a time I didn’t read sci-fi at all, till about three years ago. But I’ve always liked watching sci-fi. I’m a big fan in that sense. The problem I’ve had with reading sci-fi is that the prose is so often clumsy. Lately I’ve been reading more, and I think that it’s interesting because we have a lot of science-fiction today that is not fully sci-fi, you know, just a little off center, and I thought what about full-blown science-fiction with aliens and action? And I was drawn to it, because I can’t remember reading any South Asian, or African or Latin American science fiction. I’m sure it’s out there, but it’s not much. I mean, why are we abandoning our collective literary imagining of futuristic scenarios to people from just a handful of countries or identities? It seems like such an odd thing to have happened. So, I’m very interested in that— I don’t know if it will work, but I’m very interested in doing a sci-fi novel that isn’t understated at all about being set in the future.

THE 99’s latest challenge: A Saudi Fatwa

Here we go again. Sigh:

A version of this article was published in The National on Sunday, April 26 2014
THE 99’s latest challenge: A Saudi Fatwa

   

View in Arabic

Seven years ago, THE 99 were granted approvals to Saudi Arabia. What began as a suspicious relationship, my not expecting approvals to begin with, and their suspicion of the subversive nature of the content we were at loggerheads. It turned out that the solution was simple. I had to first get approvals from a religious authority for my superheroes to fly in the Kingdom.

I was specifically skeptical about getting approvals in the beginning because when THE 99 was an abstract idea, I was worried I would be limited by the imagination of the person I spoke to. But by 2006, THE 99 was no longer an abstraction. It was as real as the air I breathed and I could get an opinion regarding my creation, then in comic book form. The most practical solution was to seek a round of financing from a Saudi owned Islamic Investment Bank.

The bank, Unicorn, was intrigued but the process wasn’t easy. We were scrutinized as to what was Islamic (to them) and what wasn’t. They had an illustrious Sharia board. This was a stamp of legitimacy. Media plays that are Sharia approved are few and far between. The space is coveted. The game is all about mindshare. He who gets the most adherents to his philosophy wins. And there are lots of philosophies within Islam, it’s just that some are not as well funded as others. We had to sell an asset at a loss due to its’ non-Sharia compliance. The asset in question was Cracked Magazine, and only a moron would argue that Cracked had value to Islam (or any civilization that existed outside of a boys locker room for that matter). So it came to pass that we were put under the scrutiny of a Sharia microscope and remained compliant thereafter.

The journey with THE 99 has been long and arduous, but, ultimately fulfilling and certainly impactful. Today, 11 years after THE 99 were born, we have completed our mission and created an internationally recognized award winning concept with close to 50 comic books worth of content (including a series where they work with Batman and Superman) and 52 half hour episodes (the prize number all producers seek to get to) of an animated series. Season 1, the first 26 episodes, have been airing on television in excess of 70 countries from the US to China and most places in between for over two years. Not only did we become the first media property from our region to go global, we were basing it on values that Muslims share with the rest of humanity to boot and competing with the negativity that all too often is used to reflect our culture. We were giving children alternative role models whose values were universal in nature yet rooted in Islam. We were making a difference. And, finally, the global media was taking notice and reporting on the good within Islam.

So you can imagine my surprise to wake up to a Fatwa from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia himself along with the rest of the Higher Council of Clerics calling my work evil. I couldn’t believe it. Why? And more specifically, why now? Why 6 years after THE 99 has been selling in Saudi Arabia with full support and approvals from the Saudi Ministry of Information and two years after THE 99 started airing in Saudi Arabia on television, and ironically months since the last episode aired. Why would the Grand Mufti ban a show that was no longer airing?

One of the lessons my mother taught me was that your enemy is never the person that talks about you behind your back. Your enemy is the person who brings you that information. Context is key. And the intent of the message bearer is tantamount to how the information is spun. In this case my enemy and the Grand Mufti’s enemy is one. It is the person that purposefully took misleading information to him for him to give a Fatwa based on. It might surprise you that I actually agree with the contents of the Fatwa. It is Islam 101.

The question asked of the Mufti was couched in negatives and misstatements perhaps purposefully and maliciously, perhaps out of ignorance. For example, it was alleged that I had created 99 characters all of who had one of Allah’s divine attributes to the extent that Allah had them and they were going to get together to become a deity and that this would confuse children and take them away from the unity of God. If I had done that, it would indeed be blasphemous. But there are less than 40 members of THE 99 and in the first interview I gave about THE 99 in the New York Times in 2006, I specifically said that it’s doubtful we’d get close to 99 as some of the attributes are simply not amenable. However, some of the attributes are human if not in their absolute form (like being generous or being strong). And some are human in abstraction. It was also said that MBC3 was still airing the show. This is an untruth as they stopped airing months ago due to the cyclical nature of programing. Lastly they said there was music. Of that I am guilty. I like music. A lot. So of the three parts in the question posed to the Grand Mufti the only truth was that there was music.

What is being attributed to THE 99, by the person who asked for the advice of the clerics, is simply untrue. All anyone would have to do is watch the show or read the comics to see that. But people have been judging books by their covers long before ink was created. It is truly disappointing that after years of hard work, THE 99 was judged as an abstraction, as an idea, rather that as a body of work that has made global impact. But I understand that that is the nature of the beast. When asking for a Fatwa, the seeker asks a question, and the clerics answer based on the wording of that question.

So now it is my turn to seek a Fatwa from the higher council of clerics. And here are my questions.

Your Eminences, what is your ruling on a concept that has created positive role models for children all over the world, using Islam as a base for its storytelling? What is your ruling on a concept that is based on values that are human manifestations of less than 40 of God’s 99 attributes like generosity, and mercy and others that human beings can have in lower doses and that good citizens of the world should aspire to? What is your ruling on an Islam inspired series that has gained favor in the living rooms of millions of children from China to the United States? What is your ruling on a series that has inspired major media companies to launch their own Muslim Superheroes, instead of the Muslim Super Villains that was so often the case before THE 99? What is your ruling on a series that has changed the face of how Islam is represented in global media by highlighting the tolerant, friendly sides of the faith and making (some) people more accepting of Islam?

Prophet Mohammed PBUH states in a hadith that all work is judged by its intent. My intent has been clear and consistent and public since I started. But there have always been those that have been suspicious of me. That is their right. Having a healthy dose of doubt is needed in life. But like everything else in life, moderation is important. To those that doubt the intent of THE 99 and choose to do so without watching the series or reading a comic book I leave with you with these words from the Holy Quran “Oh you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin.”

May God reward us all based upon our intentions.

_______
Naif Al-Mutawa is a Kuwait-born, U.S. educated psychologist who created “THE 99,” a comic book about a group of superheroes based on Islamic archetypes.
Follow him on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Thanks to Amir T. and Jason P. for pointing out this link.

DetCon1

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If you in Detroit Michigan or are planning to visit in July and even if neither of these are the case you should consider visiting Detroit because DetCon1, which will be the North American Science Fiction Convention, is coming to town from July 17 to July 20. Our guests of honor are as follows: Steven Barnes, John Picacio, Bernadette Bosky, Arthur D. Hlavaty, and Kevin J. Marone, Helen Greiner, Bill and Brenda Sutton, Nnedi Okorafor, Jon Davis, Roger Sims and Fred Prophet. I am also part of the program committee of DefCon1 so please spread the word with friends and foe, protagonists and antagonists and hope to see you there. Here is the description off the convention from the website.

Detcon1 will be the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC) in 2014, to be held in Detroit, MI July 17-20, 2014. The NASFiC is an all-inclusive science fiction and fantasy convention with extensive programming, many special events, and round-the-clock activities for all ages of fans and pros interested in the genre. 

DetCon1 website

Sci-Fi with Muslim Characters in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

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The current issue (Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2014) of Journal of Religion and Popular Culture has a couple of articles on Science Fiction with Muslim characters. Here are the abstracts of the relevant articles:

The Marvel of Islam: Reconciling Muslim Epistemologies through a New Islamic Origin Saga in Naif al-Mutawa’s The 99 
James Clements, Richard Gauvain
http://bit.ly/JRPC261c

Since its inception in 2006, Islam’s most popular comic strip, The 99, and its creator, Naif al-Mutawa, have both been the subject of much media scrutiny. Despite eschewing references to the most significant texts, figures, and symbols of Islam—readers of the comic find no mention of the Qur’an or the Prophet—neither its fiercest critics nor its most fervent supporters doubt the essentially Islamic nature of The 99. Drawing on the responses of students at the American University in Dubai (AUD), this paper explores how and why, within this modern Gulf setting, The 99 resonates as a profoundly Islamic publication. Attention is paid, first, to The 99’s origin saga, through which Muslim history is smoothed over, then re-spun in ways familiar to our students; and, second, to a number of special editions of The 99, through which al-Mutawa offers a new understanding of Islam’s role—with remarkable implications for political leadership—in contemporary society, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

The Islamic Framing in Donald Moffitt’s Science Fiction Series The Mechanical Sky 
Susanne Olsson
http://bit.ly/JRPC261d

American author Donald Moffitt’s science fiction (SF) series The Mechanical Sky, consisting of two books, Crescent in the Sky (1989) and A Gathering of Stars(1990), portrays a universe where various religious denominations exist, and where an Islamic caliphate is established, aiming at universal Islamic dominance. The purpose of this article is to analyze the series pertaining to its representations of Islam and Muslims, and to explain the Islamic framing in contextualizing the series in the historical situation when the series was produced. Moreover, another aim of the article concerns the methodological problems that such an analysis of the Islamic framing may entail. The article calls for the need to reflect seriously on interpretative perspectives when a scholar in the study of religions enters the field of SF, which has its own definitional problems and genre-specific traits that must be taken into consideration.

The full test of the articles are available on the website as well. Thanks Rebecca for the pointer!

Islam and Sci’s Rebecca Hankins’ Lecture in Korea!

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For the readers of Islam and Science Ficion in Korea, here is treat for you folks. Rebecca Hankins, one of the contributors at Islam and Science Fiction will be giving a lecture on the influence of Islamic themes and Muslim cultures on American Science Fiction and Fantasy Comics at the Sogang University on April 30, 2014 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. Here is the abstract of her talk at the Sogang University:

Abstract: Star WarsStar Trek, and Dune are some of the most celebrated and popular American examples of science fiction and fantasy, both in film and in comic books. They have inspired a generation of Americans, including American Muslims, to imitate, adapt, and experiment with these genres, just as Islam has inspired and influenced the production of science fiction and fantasy throughout history. This talk will engage the audience in learning more about those connections and the historical influence of Islam and Muslims on contemporary science fiction, fantasy, and comic book literature.

 

Islam and Science Fiction – 9 years later

wk09_city_v5_absorber_by_mittmac-d65gkxvImage Source: DeviantArt

The Islam and Science Fiction website started in 2005 when I was still an undergrad student, the website and turned into a larger project which resulted into an anthology A Mosque Among the Stars, numerous conference appearances, conventions including NYCC (New York Comic Con). This is something that I could not have anticipated when the project started. It is high time for Islam and Science Fiction to expand and move onto the next stage so expect many, hopefully great, changes in the near future: This year and the next expect a book text from us, new contributors and a larger presence online so stay tuned. Last but certainly not the least, one of our former contributors Sofia Samatar, has been nominated for a Hugo Award. Congratulations to Sofia!

P.S: If you not already done so, be sure to like us on Facebook.

Maula Jutt vs. Alien Invasion

Late Pakistani Actor Sultan Rahi With Muhammad Ali

Maula Jatt is a cult classic Punjabi movie from Pakistan which has gained legendary status in Pakistan since its release in 1979. The movie also has the distinction of being the only movie in Pakistani cinema’s history to be shown continuously for more than 6 years.  The movie also cemented Sultan Rahi, the main protagonist of the movie, as the seminal hero of Punjabi cinema in Pakistan in the 1980s. As for the production quality, well lets just say that it is a reflection of the times. For a Western audience Sultan Rahi may be identified by the above iconic picture with Muhammad Ali.

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Maula Jatt, the eponymous hero of the movie, personified the culture of rural Punjab and was an almost invincible hero who could do no wrong. This finally brings us to the topic at hand – Maula Jatt vs Aliens! This is the premise of a comic, part of the Kachee Goliyan comics, by Ramish Safa and Nofal Khan, who study at the Institute of Business Management (IoBM). They explain the reasoning behind creating the comic as follows: “We wanted the masses to be able to relate to the characters, We grew up reading comics which were not related to our society, hence we introduced local characters.”

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While not intended as pure sci-fi, Maula Jatt vs aliens, does qualify for a comic take on the classic Punjabi tale with a sci-fi alien invasion twist. In the comic Maula Jutt who had died many years ago is resurrected and is given the herculean task of fighting off aliens. As a result of Maula Jatt coming back to life in an unfamiliar world and the unflinching aliens, hilarity ensures in the resulting kerfuffle.

Imran Series

7 Imran Series

While Imran series is not focused on science fiction and is mainly a spy series, it does have many elements which can be considered as science fiction. Although it is never mentioned where the store is set, other than the author says that it is in a South Asian country but it is quite clear from the setting that the country is Pakistan and the main character is based in the city of Karachi. The main character of the series, the eponymous Imran, is a bright and handsome young man who has a PhD from Oxford. He is always accompanied by his two trusty associates: Sulaiman, the cook, and Joseph Mugunda, his bodyguard. Imran is also supposed to be the descendant of Genghis Khan. Many of the stories involve a scientist or a new invention and how it can be a game changeer and it is up to Imran and his team to save the day. In the last years of Ibn Safi’s life a number of other authors took the Imran Series name without official authorization. Out of these Mazhar Kaleem’s version of Imran Series became the most well known and eventually as famous as Ibne Safi’s version.

There are a number of Sci-fi elements in the Imran series plotlines e.g., in the novel Mind Blaster someone actually invents a mind-blaster that can disable a person’s brain from miles away so that the person goes into comma, in the novel Top Mission a secret agency wants to resurrect long extinct animals using their DNA for nefarious purposes, the novel  Star Blaster plot involves the desctruction of a SDI Star Wars like weapon that can intercept and destroy any missile in its path, and so on and so forth.