Muslims in pop-culture, featured in comic and science fiction genres

Islam and Sci-Fi are an unexpected combination, but that's not stopping comic book publishers, novels, and authors from hitting the market. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2013 — As Syfy’s hit movie Sharknado garners fans, Muslim culture is also entering the science fiction arena with surprising accolades. DC Comics introduced a Muslim Green Lantern superhero named Simon Baz last year, and had a special edition crossover series with its hit franchise The Justice League. 

Teshkeel Comics’ The 99, which featured an assortment of Muslim superheroes fighting alongside the likes of Superman and Batman against aliens.  

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The blockbuster Star Trek franchise showcased a character with an Islamic surname, Dr. Julian Bashir, famously played by Muslim actor Alexander Seddig in the hit series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Muslim writers have not shied away from the genre either, such as Indian author Izar Asarand, who wrote a variety of sci-fi novellas dating back to the 1950s, including Mashinon ki Baghaawat (Rebellion of the Machines).

Of course, Muslim authors aren’t the only one to combine Islam into the genre. Scott Adams, the creator of the well-known Dilbert comic strip, published The Religion War, a sci-fi thriller with a book description that reads “set several decades in the future when the smartest man in the world steps between international leaders to prevent a catastrophic confrontation between Christianity and Islam.”

To encourage readership, Adams has released the prequel to the book, God’s Debris, for free.

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The Mirage is a novel by Matt Ruff, in the Alternative History sub-genre of science fiction, and devotes its plotline to Muslims. The book depicts a story where American terrorist attacked Baghdad’s Twin Towers on the ninth of November (an inverse of “9/11”) in a world where Arab nations created Israel and placed it in Germany against the wishes of “Western Powers.”

While the premise is shocking to many, readers have not turned away, showing the growing interest in Islamic sci-fi storylines.

The celebrated Dune sci-fi franchise created by Frank Herbert includes plotlines involving a religion called “Buddislam” which is a fusion between the religions of Zen Buddhism and Islam. Later novels in the Dune series even feature the sects of the religion called “Zensunni,” “Zenshiite,” and “Zensufi” as an obvious homage to the real world Islamic sects comprising of Sunnis, Shiites and Sufis.

Some commentators believe that Dune’s main character, Paul Atreides, is derived from Islam’s depictions of Prophet Musa (also known as Moses) and Prophet Muhammad.

Some depictions of Islam in the genre strike a markedly negative tone, however, as demonstrated in Kerry Nietz’ novel  A Star Curiously Singing. The “Islam and Science Fiction” blog lambasts the text with an unsympathetic review:

“A Star Curiously Singing … envisions a dystopian future where Muslims are in control. Sharia law is the law of the land and slavery exists again but now in a technological form, polygamy is common and women are forced to cover from head to toe. Are there any cliche’s [sic] left to be added?”

The blog is run by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, who thoroughly researches any depiction of Islam in science fiction and any foray into the genre by a Muslim author. Ahmad has presented at the WisCon science fiction convention and hopes to hold a panel on Islam in scifi, fantasy, and related genres at the New York ComicCon, set to be held in October of this year.

Ahmad is also the compiler of A Mosque Among the Stars, an anthology of sci-fi stories that feature Muslims in a positive light. 

Ahmad notes that the presence of Muslims in the sci-fi genre has dramatically increased after 9/11, stating “The frequency of representations [of Muslims] has increased, and parallel to that more and more Muslims have also started participating in this genre. What’s fascinating is that in a sister genre of sci-fi, namely fantasy, we recently saw for the first time that a Muslim was nominated for the Hugo award and Nebula award.”

Seeking to organize and promote efforts to expand science fiction in the Muslim world, Ahmed A. Khan has created a New Manifesto for Islamic Science Fiction. Khan defines the genre in simple terms, asserting “Islamic SF would be any speculative story that is positively informed by Islamic beliefs and practices.”

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Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues.


In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.


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