Islam and Science Fiction

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My novel An Unproductive Woman can be categorized as literary or contemporary fiction.  Some might even call it religious fiction, though personally I would reject that term.  Over the past couple of years my reading and writing tastes and have changed.  I am currently on my own little Heinlein odyssey book tour.  I’m reading some of his earliest works and re-enjoying some of his stories that I’ve already read.  I’ve always loved SFF, but as a spectator.  I’ve developed an even greater interest and love for SFF and now, I am actively writing in this genre.  As such, naturally, I’m interested in finding other authors who, like me, are Muslim and who write SFF.  Guess how many there are?  No.  Don’t guess.  Just know that there are few.  Very few.

I know this because I’ve done some research.  While doing my research, I stumbled upon an interesting website, Islam and Science Fiction.

Muhammad Ahmad, the editor of Islam and Science Fiction was good enough to agree to an interview.  See what he says:

1.  Is there a specific term that you would use for science fiction by Muslims?  What I mean to ask actually is this: Is Islamic Science Fiction a valid term?  If so, how exactly is this defined and how is it unique?  Is it exclusive to a Muslim audience?

One should distinguish between Science Fiction produced by Muslims and Science Fiction with Islamic themes. The content of the former may or may not be religious and the later may have been produced by non-Muslims. The analogy that I like to use is that of Islamic Science in the classical age of Islam. Many of the scientists who worked and produced breakthroughs in the Islamic world were not even Muslims and yet their works are considered to be part of Islamic Science because of they were part of the Islamic cultural milieu. Thus any piece of Science Fiction literature which has some Islamic influence (not necessarily religious but cultural) is considered to fall under this category. A more appropriate term which is used in the academia is Islamicate which refers to the cultural output of the Muslim majority world.

2.  As a Muslim author, a woman, and a POC, it is important to me that I create fiction that is representative.  My argument being that I am the best person to write these representations as they are my experiences.  What are your thoughts about this?  How important do you believe it is to create representations of Muslims or work by Muslims in not only sci-fi, but other types of fiction.

I think there is some truth to this statement since the person embedded in a certain cultural context may be best positioned to do so. However I would add that a person who is not necessarily part of the group that he or she is writing about may still do a great job if he/she does their homework properly and gains an internal understanding of that culture.

A Mosque Among the Stars

3.  Tell me about your website Islam and Science Fiction and what you hope to achieve through this medium?  What made you develop this website?  Did you feel there was a particular need or is science fiction a special love of yours?

I have always been fascinated by Science Fiction as far back as I can remember. I especially like the aspects of Science Fiction which can be used to illuminate the human condition. I have been running the website since 2005 and it has its origin in my initial curiosity in trying to explore intersections of religion and Science Fiction. I was familiar with some excellent pieces of Science Fiction which rely heavily on Buddhist themes and I was looking for something similar with respect to Islam. After searching online and in libraries I realized that there was literally no material on this subject and thus this was a glaring omission that had to be fixed. This is how the idea for the website was born and it has greatly expanded since then.

4.  As a religion, Islam is one of few that clearly supports science even in its modern forms and understandings.  Do you think that there is something special about Islam that lends itself to science fiction?

Science and religion represent different ways of looking at phenomenon of the world. Philosophers of Science have described Science as an empirical system to understand the world. Thus given more evidence of some phenomenon Scientists will not ideally hesitate to change their minds with respect to an earlier theory. On the other hand religious claims are usually universal and timeless in nature. Thus the question of support is mute with respect to comparing two different systems of looking at the world. That said Islam can provide a source of inspiration to people, Muslims or even Muslims, with respect to themes that may inform their fiction. The rich tradition of fantasy in many Muslim cultures is a testament to this fact. In fact the largest fantasy book ever written (Tilsm-Hoshruba) actually comes from a Muslim culture.

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Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

(As borrowed from his webaite): Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad is a Computer Science researcher at the Data Mining Lab in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Minnesota as well as Senior Scientist at Ninja Metrics. His research is primarily focused on analysis of clandestine behaviors and networks, application of social science theories to generative models of social phenomenon and models of human behavior in Massively Mutliplayer Online Games (MMOs). He has authored or co-authored around 30 research papers related to these subjects including two best paper awards. Currently he is working on a book on the Analysis of Clandestine Networks and Behaviors with Brian Keegan which builds upon their extensive collaboration in this area.

Muhammad Aurangzeb received bachelors in Computer Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and master and PhD in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota (UMN). He is also part of the Virtual Worlds Observatory (VWO) project, the leading project on the analysis of human behavior and socialization patterns in online virtual environments. Previously he was also a research assistant at the Minnesota Population Center where he worked on the IPUMS project on the application of machine learning to population studies. During his undergraduate years at the Rochester Institute of Technology he was also research assistant at the Center for Advancing the Study of Cyberinfrastructure and received honorable mention for the best research by an undergraduate at the national level by the Computing Research Association (CRA).

Muhammad Aurangzeb’s source of inspiration are the Renaissance men and he aspires to be one in the at least the domains that he is interested in. His motivation in life is to understand how the world works and the recognition that one needs multiple perspectives to understand how the world work. He is also an artist who has exhibited his work. He works in a variety of mediums including calligraphy, graphic arts and photography. He also invented a new form of Calligraphy, Kordu, based on the Hangul and the Arabic script.

He is also the founder and editor of Islam and Science Fiction, which is the most comprehensive resource on this subject and has been widely cited in the relevant media. He has presented his work on this subject at various conferences and avenues. Muhammad co-edited the first anthology of short Science Fiction stories with Muslim characters called A Mosque Amongst the Stars.

Muhammad is also fascinated with the theological, anthropological, societal and naturalistic aspects of religion. He is also the editor of the website Islam in China and its companion blog of the same name. The later is a multi-award winning blog which has garnered more than half a million web hits. He has worked on two projects related to the oral history of Muslims in Minnesota.

  • Cool interview! Always interested to read your posts about Islam & SF. Have you seen the EH special Muslim/Arab author interviews issue? It’s kind of old so you might’ve missed it – we made it in response to Elizabeth Moon’s Islamophobic comments, to showcase authors we’ve previously published before (unfortunately not everyone was available for an interview). Dash made the interviews, not me, I just formatted and uploaded them.

    As a Mus­lim author, a woman, and a POC, it is impor­tant to me that I cre­ate fic­tion that is rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

    Yes this!!! Thank you for saying this.

    Here is what I see in my own ethnic/religious group (I hope this is not a huge tangent) – I am a religious Jewish woman living in Eastern Europe and the overwhelming majority of Jewish SF (…the little there is, anyway) is very tightly focused on American secular Jewish men. I’ve just read More Wandering Stars and it made me feel really eh 🙁 Like it’s even more distant from me culturally than SF in general (which these days has lots of women authors writing women protagonists, etc).

    One should dis­tin­guish between Sci­ence Fic­tion pro­duced by Mus­lims and Sci­ence Fic­tion with Islamic themes […] Thus any piece of Sci­ence Fic­tion lit­er­a­ture which has some Islamic
    influ­ence (not nec­es­sar­ily reli­gious but cul­tural) is
    con­sid­ered to fall under this cat­e­gory.

    I think this is a really interesting distinction. This has come up in my own writing. I wonder if I should make a separate post about it… maybe a bit later (G-d willing) because I expect it to get long and rambling.

    •  authors we’ve previously published before

      Umm I’m JUST A WEE BIT redundant… *sweatdrops*

    • khaalidah

      Thanks so much for stopping by my site and I am pleased that you are finding something here enjoyable.
      Indeed, I believe it so important for us ALL to write in a way that is representative of ourselves, while not being exclusive.  In fact, to write diversity in a way that is meant to be INCLUSIVE.  Our world is simultaneously small and large.  Small in that the internet and social media brings us ever closer than before.  Large in that despite our global community we are still such strangers on all but the  surface levels.
      You should definitely write that post.  I’d love to read it!

  •  The anal­ogy that I like to use is that of Islamic Sci­ence in the clas­si­cal age of Islam.Good work, it’s pleasure to read your interesting articles. Waiting for more

    • khaalidah

      Thanks.  Glad you stopped by.