“The 99” Muslim Superhero Comics

From a recent report from CNN, entitled, The 99: Islamic superheroes going global:

Ten years ago a Kuwaiti graduate from an American business school took a cab ride through London. By the end of the journey he had formed an idea which would spread across the world.

It was the wake of 9/11, and Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa decided to create Islamic superheroes. Islamic religion and culture had become a global talking point and instead of complaining about the representation of his culture, Al-Mutawa decided to re-define it.

“Everytime something terrible happens in the name of my culture, my culture becomes diluted. I wanted to grab the bull by the horns and change it,” Al-Mutawa explained in an interview with CNN.

And so the CEO of Teshkeel Media Group created ‘The 99′ — a comic book series inspired by principles within his faith.

The series follows 99 superheroes whose powers are based on the Qu’ran’s 99 Virtues of Allah: strength, courage and wisdom among them.

But it was important to Al-Mutawa that his heroes possess universal values while at the same time offering fans something different from the comic books of DC and Marvel.

“It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, it can still resonate. What The 99 does is saying ‘Hey, our values, they’re the same as yours; they’re the same as the rest of the world. Let’s just focus on the positives of this.”

To be able to launch his project, Dr. Naif Al-Matawa had to call in the help of investors, eventually raising enough money. The series debuted in 2006 and its success spread quickly over the world, even turning into an animated series now showing in 70 countries.  (emphasis added)

Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, creator of “The 99”

An earlier report from 2011, also from CNN, indicated that there had been some backlash to the project:

It is the American market, and the voices of Islam’s Western critics, that have caused the most problems for “The 99,” says Al-Mutawa, who is the focus of a PBS documentary airing next week.

In 2010, President Barack Obama called the comic books, which debuted in 2006, “the most innovative response” to America’s expanding dialogue with the Muslim world, which Obama has encouraged. The series features 99 superheroes from across the globe who team up to combat villains and who embody what Al-Mutawa calls basic human values like trust and generosity.

But Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist and graduate of Columbia Business School, says a vocal minority have raised surprising questions about American tolerance of Islam.

The idea for “The 99” started during a conversation in a London cab between Al-Mutawa and his sister. It took off, although slowly, after Al-Mutawa raised $7 million from 54 investors across four continents.

The first issue was released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2006. The comic book was quickly banned in Saudi Arabia and Al-Mutawa received threats of fatwas against him and his project from clerics. But Saudi Arabia eventually lifted the ban and the television adaptation of “The 99” will be aired there this year.

Al-Mutawa and his team have now raised more than $40 million in venture capital for the project.

But when word leaked that The Hub, a Discovery Channel cable and satellite television venture, purchased the series and planned to air it in the United States, the response from conservative bloggers and authors was swift.

Pamela Geller, founder of the Atlas Shrugs blog, called the series, part of the “ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad,” and created a counter-comic strip that made the 19 hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks the superheroes.

New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, meanwhile, urged readers to “Hide your face and grab the kids. Coming soon to a TV in your child’s bedroom is a posse of righteous, Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes – including one who fights crime hidden head-to-toe by a burqa.”

Feel free to check out the website for “The 99” here. Shout out to Naif Al Mutawa for responding to the skewed post-9/11 discourse on Islam with creativity and intelligence. He’s a great example of how, by being productive, one can provide strong counterexamples (in ourselves and through our work) to prejudice. He’s also an example to look to in a time when Muslims need to take responsibility for the reclamation of their own image.


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