The99 – Muslim Comic

Being a teenager in the nineties, I grew up in a generation where comic characters and cartoons had an influence on the teenager ‘gang’. Teenage life is the age when one’s dad stops meeting the criteria of being a hero in the teenager’s life. Ofcourse, pre-teenage years are dominated by the childen patronizing their fathers who are their role models exclusively. The infleunce is strong and immediate However, teenage life comes with an inner juvenile tendency to separate from pre-existing concepts especially of choosing the role model. Its a confusing age, one which swings between childhood and a prospective adulthood and these swings of self-actualization, teenagers need role models the most. For my community and time, cartoons were the talk of the day among peers. From the latest episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Captain Majid (arabic version of Captain Tsubasa), boys used to revolve their day around their favorite programs, collecting merchandise and living their fairy tales. Girls had similar interests with a different program offers, for them the likes of Care bares were fancier. Nevertheless, from the Riyadhian community I grew up in, cartoons were one of the few rare windows we had to art and literature in general.

There are several cognitive theories backing the thesis that such early age programs influnce the characters of teenagers. Although I hardly believe that was the case in our community, afterall, our culture, heavily guarded by a traditional setup never ever allowed teens to be influenced a lot by tv. But todays’s children are different, with access to cell phones, the internet and a far larger tv channels list, the traditional family setup has lost its grip on the development of the teenage character and results have shown various negative trends among teenagers in such places.

There is a huge implicit debate going on in the Muslim world, at one end are the modernists (not liberals) who believe that Muslim Media should flourish and adopt the different media channels (print, video, audio, sitcoms, talk shows, comics, sports, news etc) which the developed world has patronized in recent times while on the other hand are the traditionalists (not conservatives) who believe that the media outlets should be restricted to the conventional Islaimc propagation centers, the Mosque, the Maddrassah and the home.

Both groups have their strengths and weaknesses, the traditionalists, like to see a stronger community bonding which is best achieved by a physical community center like the Masjid where nowadays not just worship takes place but at times, a Madrassah is associated too, imparting Islamic education, a library, community service centers like free kitchens etc. The modernists however, point out that it is difficult (infact baseless) to isolate the Muslim community from the rest of the world especially from television and radio. Since the tv and radio revolution, there hasnt been significant contribution by the Muslims to cater to the entertainment demands of Muslims which in some communities still is considerd a dead-end topic.

In this regard, several recent media figures have emerged among the Muslim world which manage an international following as well. Among journalists, people like Riz Khan (former CNN, now AlJazeerah)and Rageh Omer(former BBC, now AlJAzeera) on the international level have a huge credibiilty and following. It was Riz Khan who brought world’s eye to the Hajj pilgrimage by documenting on it on CNN. Rageh Omer’s documentaries on Islam and Muslims societies have also been worth watching. However, for me, the greatest service has come in the most unlikely form I could imagine, a British born, Pakistani Muslim writer/director Zarqa Nawaz with her highly entertaining and informative sitcom, “A Little Mosque on the Prairie” which has captured audiences from all faiths and have introduced the life of Muslims in a realistic, progressive way. She broke not just the west’s but the east’s stereotypes of a practicing muslim woman who can do comedy too. There are several characters which people are relating to and implicit role models are emerging, especially the character of ‘Rayan’ has become a symbol of female modesty.

However, for teenagers, gone are the days when we Pakistani teenagers used to read the likes of Naseem Hijazi and related to our real historical heroes and heritage. Its an electronic culture and recently this got my attention: The99.

The99 seems to be a very good idea since it brings a product in the comic book market in the Muslim world. Its a comic about 99 characters, each one having one quality of Allah but at a lesser scale, bringing a moral lesson the table which conforms to the Muslim life. (according to the creator). However, introducing change inthe Muslim world is difficult issue as this comic has spurred a debate of whether the message portrayed in it is consistent to the teachings of Islam or not. However, nothing ever remains free of controversy but at large, such projects are surely a way forward.

Written by: Atif-Abdul Rahman

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