In a preview post, I published a video of Shereen El Feki speaking in a TED conference, video that I translated into French a couple of months ago. In this conference, Shereen was talking about the Ninety Nine, a group of superheroes inspired by islamic values.
Now, it is Dr Naif Al-Mutawa himself who is the invited speaker of a new TED talk about his own creation.
In this funny and fascinating conference, Dr Al-Mutawa shows how American superheroes were inspired by biblical myths and values, christian archtypes that resonated with the American society positive values.
He created the 99 with the same kind of idea in mind. In fact, the superheroes embody the 99 attributes of God, Allah : mercy, generosity and so on. For instance, Jabbar, The Powerful; Noora, The Light; Darr, The Afflicter; Jami, The Assembler; Widad, The Loving; Fattah, The Opener, etc. So far, not all of the 99 characters have been unveiled. Each of the 99 is living in a different country which makes the series a kind of universal story.
Another link with Western culture is the recruits Dr Al-Mutawa brought in his project : these are all aknowledged artists in the comic books industry. There is Fabian Nicieza, writer of the X-Men and Power Rangers ; Dan Panosian, characters creator for the X-Men ; Stuart Moore, best known as the writer for Iron Man; June Brigman, illustrator for StarWars and Supergirl; Ron Wagner, illustrator for Batman and DareDevil; and, last but not least, John Mc Crea, who was an inker for the late Spiderman… No wonder if the drawing looks so familiar to the superheroes series readers !
What is fascinating in this series, is the combination of different cultural elements : the characters are Allah’s attribute, but the Noor Stones (the “Light” Stones, in Arabic) are the ones which chose you and not the opposite, and that’s what Dr Al-Mutawa calls the “King Arthur element of the story line”. The medium itself, the comic book, is a Western form of art and the chosen artists are mainly of Western origin or background. If the values conveyed in this series are inspired by Islam, they are actually universal : generosity, knowledge, tolerance, freedom. Who on earth would deny such a set of values ? (Perhaps some extremists, who are likely to be found everywhere, in whichever society…).
Amazingly, Dr Al-Mutawa’s the 99 readers include President Obama who praised the the importance of these characters in spreading tolerance and open-mindedness. He said about the 99 , as a response of his Cairo Speech to the Muslim World : “I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, from Kuwait. […] His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes that embodied the teaching of tolerance of Islam.”
The 99 are now a 26 episode animated TV series and Kuwait built a theme park called The 99 Village Theme Park.
But for Dr Al-Mutawa, the importance doesn’t lay in publishing success. Being responsible of a training program for the survivors of political torture in Bellevue Hospital (New York), he knows what intolerance means. And for him, it is the spreading of positive elements about Islam and the understanding between cultures that matters.
You can download your free copy of the first episode, THE 99 Origins, just by cliking here.