Muslim Women in Current Literature

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I recent­ly decid­ed to research and write a post about pos­i­tive diverse Mus­lim female char­ac­ters in fic­tion.  That’s a mouth­ful and appar­ent­ly a lot to ask because there are few.  Very few.

Rienn Lar­bray by The Artist

My daugh­ter, also known as The Artist, as her moniker indi­cates, is an artist.  I remind her every chance I can to rep­re­sent us in her art.  Rep­re­sent means not just Mus­lims, but women and POC as well.  I always say, “If not you (us), then who?  Who bet­ter to tell our sto­ries?”  She didn’t always get it.  When she was younger, she thought I was over­ly con­scious, too mil­i­tant, too polit­i­cal, trou­ble mak­ing.

Maj­nun by The Artist

As a young adult, she is far more aware than she used to be. Now she ques­tions why ani­me and man­ga char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly the women, seem to be cut from the same artis­tic fab­ric, long-legged, thin, fair-skinned.  She ques­tions the mind­less flesh bar­ing women in movies today.  She can’t under­stand why the default char­ac­ters in most games are white males.  She wants to know why no one in the games, and books, and movies, and ani­ma­tion she enjoys resem­bles her.  (I know that these exam­ples aren’t set in stone, but we are talk­ing about the major­i­ty here.)  I have the same ques­tions.

Now she under­stands what I’ve been say­ing.  I wish I was wrong.

BATINA THE HIDDEN
• Bati­na can blend into any back­ground and become near­ly invis­i­ble.
• She is very qui­et, and can only be detect­ed by super-sen­si­tive hear­ing like Sami’s.

A few months ago, Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the cre­ator of The 99 comics, agreed to an inter­view with me.  Along with vet­er­ans from Mar­vel and DC Comics Dr. Al-Mutawa cre­at­ed a cast of super heroes and hero­ines whose reli­gious back­grounds, while not clear­ly expressed, it’s under­stood that many of them are Mus­lim.  They’re all from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and coun­tries and have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics.  Not one of them is cook­ie cut­ter mold­ed.  But is it real­ly enough to have a few com­ic char­ac­ters?

Not to me.

MUJIBA THE RESPONDER
• Mujiba’s mind is a liv­ing library, able to read the Noor Stones and access all the knowl­edge of the books of the Dar Al-Hik­ma. She knows the square root of 363 and the engi­neer­ing prin­ci­ples behind the Pyra­mids of Giza.

Rough­ly 25% of the 7 bil­lion peo­ple in the the world are Mus­lim, yet when we fea­ture in any medi­um, more often than not, we are either the bad guys, the vic­tims, or the mod­er­ate con­formist.  (For many prac­ti­tion­ers of Islam the term “mod­er­ate” is redun­dant and some­what insult­ing.  It is redun­dant in that many of us believe that mod­er­a­tion is already an embed­ded and essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic of Islam.  For many, the term “mod­er­ate” is insult­ing in that, by the stan­dards of the media, this is in ref­er­ence to the Mus­lim who is will­ing to com­pro­mise their faith in order to con­form.)  Our women are oppressed, une­d­u­cat­ed and require sav­ing by the benef­i­cent West­ern­er from men who force them to__(fill in the blank)__.

To be com­plete­ly hon­est, this view of us isn’t com­plete­ly with­out fuel, espe­cial­ly if you are pay­ing atten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing over­seas but since Arab is still the erro­neous default def­i­n­i­tion for Mus­lim and few peo­ple are pub­licly speak­ing out to dis­pel stereo­types, few (Mus­lims includ­ed some­times) know the dif­fer­ence between region­al cul­ture and the real­i­ties of the faith itself.  There is a dif­fer­ence, but that too is a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion alto­geth­er.

When the real­i­ty tele­vi­sion show All Amer­i­can Mus­lim first aired, a co-work­er of mine came to tell me how pleased she was about this show.  She talked about how one of the show’s par­tic­i­pants, I believe her name is Sha­dia, pur­chased a west­ern style wed­ding dress.  My co-work­er waxed elo­quent for sev­er­al min­utes about how “they’re not that dif­fer­ent from us”.  Sad­ly to me, for my co-work­er, Sha­dia was val­i­dat­ed by the fact that she dressed in a west­ern way and of course for all of the trap­pings attached to being west­ern.  This can mean many things, I sup­pose, but to me meant, West­ern, Chris­t­ian, and per­haps to a less­er degree, white. What about those of us who don’t “appear” west­ern?  I am an all Amer­i­can Mus­lim.  I was born to Amer­i­can par­ents who, if they could trace their lin­eage, have been in this coun­try as long as any oth­er set­tler.  (Unless Native Amer­i­can, we’re all set­tlers, aren’t we?)

Nev­er mind the fact that my co-work­er has been work­ing direct­ly with me for four years.  Has she all along believed cer­tain untruths about me and my faith but nev­er both­ered to ask?  Did I give the impres­sion that she could/should not ask?  Did my hijab make me seem too “oth­er”?  What?

I would have loved to see my co-work­er express that she’d real­ized that “they’re not that dif­fer­ent than us” because they too want to cre­ate lov­ing last­ing fam­i­lies, or because they too wor­ry about finances and find­ing a good job and edu­cat­ing their chil­dren.  I would have loved for my co-work­er to express how she was enlight­ened by the pro­gram or how inter­est­ing the cultural/religious dif­fer­ences are and how despite them we still have much more in com­mon.  But yet again, the super­fi­cial won the day.

Whether Mus­lim or not Mus­lim, I am des­per­ate for female char­ac­ters that I can relate to.  Women who don’t dis­solve into tears at every dif­fi­cul­ty and who don’t need a man or the West to save her.  Women who are more than their bod­ies and hot new clothes and their pret­ty made-up faces.  Women who unwit­ting­ly and often unknow­ing­ly stand against social con­ven­tion, not because they’re try­ing to buck the sys­tem but because they are what they are and for them that is good enough.  Women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to say it aloud.  Women who are brains over beau­ty.  Women who are women.  Diverse.  Real­is­tic.

Let’s be clear here, these women don’t need to be angry misan­drists.  They just need to have more depth.

There are exam­ples out there…I know it, but they are so dif­fi­cult to find.

*****

I thought this movie, Arranged was quite inter­est­ing and bal­anced.

Rochel is an Ortho­dox Jew, and Nasira a Mus­lim of Syr­i­an ori­gin. They are both young teach­ers at a pub­lic school in Brook­lyn. They also have some­thing else in common–they are going though the process of arranged mar­riages through their respec­tive reli­gions and tra­di­tion­al cus­toms. With both fam­i­ly pres­sure on the one hand, and the rejec­tion of tra­di­tion­al val­ues by the out­side world on the oth­er, Rochel and Nasira will have to rely on each oth­er and their friend­ship to pull through this dif­fi­cult time of their lives, striv­ing to be strong women in charge of their own hap­pi­ness, while keep­ing their deep reli­gious and cul­tur­al con­vic­tions.

Check out these awe­some and inter­est­ing web­sites, posts, and videos online:

Which Label Are You?

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۞ رمضــان كريـم

A♥ via Comp­fight

While research­ing for anoth­er post, I came upon a term I’d nev­er heard before and that gave me pause.

Islam­ic Fic­tion.  What is that?

Accord­ing to Wikipedia:
Islam­ic Fic­tion refers to cre­ative, imag­i­na­tive, non-preachy fic­tion books writ­ten by Mus­lims and mar­ket­ed pri­mar­i­ly to Mus­lims. Islam­ic Fic­tion may be mar­ket­ed to main­stream mar­kets, too. The con­tent of these books may incor­po­rate some reli­gious con­tent and themes, and may include non-fic­tion­al­ized his­tor­i­cal or fac­tu­al Islam­ic con­tent with or with­out direct ref­er­ence to the Qur’an or the Sun­nah of Mohammed. The sto­ries may also include mod­ern, real life sit­u­a­tions and moral dilem­mas.
Authors of Islam­ic Fic­tion intend for read­ers to learn some­thing pos­i­tive about Islam when they read Islam­ic fic­tion sto­ries.
Islam­ic Fic­tion does not include Harm­ful Con­tent: vul­gar lan­guage, sex­u­al­ly explic­it con­tent, unIs­lam­ic prac­tices that are not iden­ti­fied as unIs­lam­ic, or con­tent that por­trays Islam in a neg­a­tive way.[2]

So, I began to ques­tion.  Is this what I write?

My sto­ries do con­tain moral dilem­mas and real life sit­u­a­tions because, well…I write about peo­ple in a way that I hope seems real­is­tic.

There is cer­tain­ly the occa­sion­al ref­er­ence to reli­gion, but in all hon­esty, as most of my main char­ac­ters hap­pen to be Mus­lim this is bound to occur.

Nope, not preachy, I don’t think.

No vul­gar lan­guage.

Hmm.  UnIs­lam­ic prac­tices?  That’s dif­fi­cult to say.  I mean, not all of my char­ac­ters are Mus­lim, and some of them may do things a Mus­lim isn’t sup­posed to.  Also, as my Mus­lim char­ac­ters are real­is­tic and hence not per­fect, they may on occa­sion do some­thing they are not sup­posed to.  So, maybe.…  If, by unIs­lam­ic prac­tices, we’re talk­ing specif­i­cal­ly about reli­gious prac­tices, the answer is not yet.  Again, not every sin­gle one of my char­ac­ters will be Mus­lim because that’s not the real world, nei­ther is it the state of the imag­i­nary worlds I write.  Whether or not the read­er under­stands said prac­tices, reli­gious or oth­er­wise, as being unIs­lam­ic is, I believe more depen­dent on them than on me.  When writ­ing fic­tion, I try to relay the tale in an objec­tive way, allow­ing myself to be the con­duit through which the sto­ry arrives into this world.  I try to use a light hand, but I sup­pose the ones to judge that are my read­ers.

I wouldn’t write any­thing that por­trays Islam in a neg­a­tive way.

Sounds like I write Islam­ic Fic­tion, doesn’t it?

I want to say this, “I reject all labels.  I refuse to be pigeon­holed.  I am NOT A LABEL!”  But the fact is, I am, or at least my nov­el is.  I have to be, or else how or where will my read­ers find me.  My book isn’t exact­ly fea­tured promi­nent­ly on a table by the front door of your local chain book­store.

The poten­tial con­no­ta­tion relat­ed to the term Islam­ic Fic­tion, much like the term Chris­t­ian Fic­tion, is bound to be neg­a­tive unless that is specif­i­cal­ly what you are look­ing for.  I hate to admit that, but it is true.  Reli­gion is a touchy sub­ject for so many peo­ple.  By assign­ing cer­tain labels, the author could lose poten­tial read­ers.  That can’t be good for the author, who wants their sto­ries read, or the sto­ry, which deserves the ben­e­fit of the doubt, or the read­er who, in want of inter­est­ing and mov­ing fic­tion, may have inad­ver­tent­ly passed up a gem.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that we dupe folks into read­ing sto­ries they would be patent­ly against read­ing, but I think we should be very care­ful about how we label fic­tion.  For exam­ple, I only just learned that The Lord of the Rings is labeled, among oth­er things, a Chris­t­ian nov­el.  Had I known that pri­or to read­ing it, I may have passed it up.  I absolute­ly love LoTR as a nov­el and movie.  That would have been my loss, for cer­tain.

While I am a Mus­lim and while I strive to write char­ac­ters who are Mus­lim, I do not want this to be the only thing I am known for.  I think it’s unfair and lim­it­ing.

I hope to reach a broad spec­trum of read­ers with my words.  I believe in my nov­el and it’s deep­er mes­sages and I am cer­tain that peo­ple from all walks of life can glean some­thing mean­ing­ful from the tale.  I want my words to res­onate with peo­ple because they can sym­pa­thize with a char­ac­ter or a sit­u­a­tion, because they want to see the char­ac­ter beat the odds and over­come obsta­cles.  The faith of my char­ac­ters only makes them deep­er, more lay­ered, more relat­able, and more real.

Mo’ bet­ter.

*****

An Unpro­duc­tive Woman tells the sto­ry of fam­i­ly, faith, and mar­riage, and above all else, hope.

Get A Copy For Your Kin­dle

Adam is des­per­ate for a son, but after ten years of mar­riage he and his wife Asabe remain child­less.  Despite the obvi­ous heart­break this caus­es Asabe, Adam mar­ries a sec­ond wife, the very young and beau­ti­ful Fati­ma.  Dou­ble tragedy pre­vents the real­iza­tion of Adam’s hope and Asabe stands firm with her hus­band to gath­er the bro­ken pieces of their life.

But, Adam isn’t pre­pared to count his los­es.  He com­pounds their dif­fi­cul­ties by mar­ry­ing the cun­ning and decep­tive divorcee, Sau­da.  This choice yields anguish and con­fu­sion, and Adam los­es more than hope, but a piece of his spir­it.
Neglect­ed and liv­ing in the shad­ow of Adam’s desires, Asabe yet again proves her worth as the true bedrock in his life.  Asabe becomes the cat­a­lyst that brings Adam’s life full cir­cle.
Read An Unpro­duc­tive Woman to learn what secrets Adam has with­held that would explain his unrea­son­able long­ing and pur­suit of a son at all costs.

 

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.

*****

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.