An Islamic comic


Ninety-nine superheroes make up the characters of the The 99, a comic book created by Kuwaiti psychologist and CEO of Teshkeel Media Group, Dr. Naif Al- Mutawa. These superheroes remain transcendent of cultural barriers and have no direct affiliation to any particular country in the Middle East. Several, however, do bear strong ties to other nations. Widad-The Loving comes from the Philippines, Darr-The Afflicter is from the United States, Noora-The Light comes from the United Arab Emirates and the rest are from countries such as Ghana, Indonesia, South Africa, Portugal and Saudi Arabia. Al-Mutawa describes his characters as “an amalgam of east-meets-west, an appropriate compromise given the foundations of Islam and the geography of the Middle East.”
The female and male characters bear powers representative of the 99 attributes of the Muslim God, Allah. Attributes such as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, the healer, the listener, the loving, the everlasting and many more are featured in the comic book as powers endowed to various characters. The first issue, Origins, was published on September 2006 and is available free of charge in the comic book’s official website. Al-Mutawa works with Marvel and DC Comics writers and inkers, including Stuart Moore, John McCrea and Fabian Nicieza, to produce The 99.
In the first issue, the story starts in Baghdad in the year 1258 A.D, where Hulagu Khan’s Mongol army is set to conquer the city. The realistic drawings take the reader through the dark streets of Baghdad as the Mongolian army heads to Baghdad’s greatest library, Dar-il-hikma, to destroy the Abbasid’s caliphates greatest weapon, knowledge.
Al-Mutawa mixes images and text to relay Islamic history to young comic enthusiasts in the Middle East. The comic is written in Arabic and English, ensuring a wider fan base outside of the Middle East. Al-Mutawa explains that “[his] superheroes—inspired by the Qu’ran and known as The 99—were designed to take back Islam from militants who had taken it hostage.” The comic becomes a medium utilized by Al-Mutawa to re-educate the masses about the rich history behind Islam.
Naturally, The 99 comic book series fuels common discussion in the Muslim world surrounding art and religion. Should Allah’s attributes be linked to finite human characters? How much of an influence will these characters have on shaping children’s understanding of Allah? Would the ability of humans to possess such powers degrade or enhance their conception of Allah’s powers? Al-Mutawa’s comic book series also begs the question: Are popular texts mere entertainment or can they shape and shift cultural narratives?