This seems to have been on for awhile, but I'm only just hearing of this U.S.-based entrepreneur Dr. Naif al-Matuwa who is making a book of Muslim Superheroes called The 99. From the Guardian:
[That] conviction is that nobody from the outside is going to save Islam from its more extremist elements – it's going to have to save itself. And The 99, featuring 99 characters based on the 99 attributes of Allah, is, he hopes, that means: a way of focusing on the positive aspects of the religion, of inculcating peaceful, life-giving virtues in children and of presenting a peaceful, tolerant, multicultural version of Islam to the rest of the world.
It's a conviction that has seen him so far raise in excess of $30m in three rounds of funding from private investors, fight off a ban in Saudi Arabia (he's subsequently been re-banned but he's fighting it again), and persuaded Endemol, the company behind Big Brother, to produce a multimillion-dollar, 26-part animated series, which in the new year will be shown on Hub, the US network previously known as Discovery Kids that goes into 60 million American homes.
I've always seen action heroes as a creation of myth that appeals to young boys, especially - a way of thinking of their new "superpowers" that come with their newfound maturity, maybe, or an amazement with physical ability that men are taught from an early age to prize. It's weird, then, seeing religion, especially a monotheistic religion, using such modern myths like action comics to launder it's image.
It's not like the marketing of Jesus didn't/doesn't have a comic book-like quality to it, though. The one thing that has always separated the religion from Judaism and Islam has been the Coca-Cola nature of its marketing. By accident of history, Christianity has been able to align itself with Western modernity, and has therefore excused itself of its more turbulent history and disturbing interpretations on now-touchy subjects that's no less violent, oppressive to women, discriminatory to sexual minorities and accepting of such things that we do not accept today (slavery, for example) than its monotheistic counterparts.
Unlike Coca-Cola, though, I'm not sure that growth in number of "consumers" of a religion should be the goal. There should be nothing wrong with religions maintaining a certain severity, even aloofness to mainstream culture. Judaism, for example, even goes as far as being unfriendly to the idea of new recruits, and Islam does not disguise its time-intensiveness, what with encouraging Hajj, encouraging headscarves for women, praying five times a day with ablutions each time. Were I more sternly religious, I'd worry about the omissions that inevitably happen when one puts one's religion in the make-up chair, airbrushes it for its close-up and puts it on a stand for mass consumption.
More generally, I think it's depressing that there are so many efforts these days to absolve the ignorant of the burden of their ignorance. This is where I have to remind myself that the ignorant among us are often the ones who have power. This is also where I get all the more exhausted. Yes, there is truth to the ranting against misinformation of the larger public about all minorities, religious and otherwise, but it scares me to think what it says about people who are so ready to believe such inanities about other people they, in most cases, have no experience with or idea about. And isn't that what we all we are, people?
Then, suddenly, someone thinks that putting an action hero with a Muslim name on a comic book would make Islam more relatable. Good luck with that.
(Photo: The Washington Post)