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Islam and Science Fiction by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad - 3w ago

While not exactly Science Fiction, this book by Anand Taneja would be of interest to the audience of Islam and Science Fiction. Jinns are supernatural creatures in Islamic beliefs that have sentience and free-will like human beings. Professor Taneja from Vanderbilt University explores how the living interact with the Jinns in medieval ruins in Delhi. Here is the synopsis of the book:

In the ruins of a medieval palace in Delhi, a unique phenomenon occurs: Indians of all castes and creeds meet to socialize and ask the spirits for help. The spirits they entreat are Islamic jinns, and they write out requests as if petitioning the state. At a time when a Hindu right wing government in India is committed to normalizing a view of the past that paints Muslims as oppressors, Anand Vivek Taneja’s Jinnealogy provides a fresh vision of religion, identity, and sacrality that runs counter to state-sanctioned history.

The ruin, Firoz Shah Kotla, is an unusually democratic religious space, characterized by freewheeling theological conversations, DIY rituals, and the sanctification of animals. Taneja observes the visitors, who come mainly from the Muslim and Dalit neighborhoods of Delhi, and uses their conversations and letters to the jinns as an archive of voices so often silenced. He finds that their veneration of the jinns recalls pre-modern religious traditions in which spiritual experience was inextricably tied to ecological surroundings. In this enchanted space, Taneja encounters a form of popular Islam that is not a relic of bygone days, but a vibrant form of resistance to state repression and post-colonial visions of India.

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Questions for Algeria’s Premier Fantasy Writer Djamel Fiji
Interview conducted by Emad El-Din Aysha.

SYNOPSIS

The Invaders of Dreams tells the story Jasmine, a little girl of six years old, who witnessed the horrific deaths of her father and her best friend Sara during a raid on her village in a unnamed Arab land under occupation. To escape her world Jasmine builds a holy world only for children that no adult can enter into, the realm of dreams. As the queen of her magical kingdom, she sentences War, Embargo and the Forces of Evil to death in front of all inhabitants of the kingdom.

But even in this dreamland there are enemies. The bloodthirsty King Walker decides to invade the realm of dreams, thinking his weapons of mass destruction can destroy the kingdom. For this mission he chooses his faithful commander Rams, a cunning henchman who knows that to be able to travel to the realm of dreams and return safely he needs the benediction of the great witch of King Walker’s kingdom, the sorceress Elena. Rams makes it to the realm of dreams, but while confronting the angels of truth (half bird, half human being), and in front of the spirits of the victims of children who were murdered in the last attack against the Freedom school (led by Rams himself), he cries and turns to dust. After the death of the major Rams, Elena decides to prove that she is the most powerful sorceress in the kingdom, sending the genius girl Liza, who was born on the six day of the six month of the six year. She was born with the 6/6/6 the evil mark on her left shoulder.

Will King Walker succeed in destroying the realm of dreams? And does this holly world where weapons of mass destruction have no effect on Jasmine and her best friend Sara really exist?

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: First off, tell me something about yourself. Where did you grow up in Algeria?

Djamel Fiji: My name is Boukhroufa Amar, my pen name is Djamel Jiji. I was born on 29 february 1964, I grew up in a small town called Ouenza which is in Tebessa Prefecture. My father was a taxi driver and my mother a housewife. My mother’s dream was that I become a doctor. Both my parents aren’t literate. After I finished primary school my parents moved to Annaba Prefecture where my father engaged as a bus driver for a large company. Annaba it’s a beautiful town looks like Alexandria in Egypt, which is around 600 kilometres away from Algeries the capital of Algeria. After finishing at secondary school I went to Setif University. Setif it’s the nicest town in Algeria which is around 300 kilometres from Annaba.

Annaba, it’s such a nice town, but I live in an ugly place, the worst city here, called Sidi Salem City. The houses were constructed since French colonization in Algeria and they are like hovels. Drug dealers, crime is widespread, there is no security at all and cops are corrupted. Writers are humiliated by the system. To escape this hell I create my new fantasy world and started writing fantasy stories defending the pains of innocent children and to forget all my pains.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: What first interested you in writing? When did you decide to become an author? What other careers were you looking at?

Djamel Fiji: When I was at Setif University I joined the Theatre group of the University; it was the first time I discovered my writing tendencies. I wrote and directed two or three comedy plays. In my second year I left the group and I decided to concentrate all my time to my studies. I joined the Faculty of electronic engineering at Setif University. After that I quit the engineering department and I returned to Annaba University, where I did my bachelor’s degree in international law. At the moment I teach French to kids. For a while I had to sell men’s underwear to make a living. Life is very hard in Algeria.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: You speak Arabic, French and English. Do you find this helps you with your writing?

Djamel Fiji: Certainly foreign languages help the writer and enhance his writing.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Who are your favourite authors? Who influenced you the most while growing up? Who has influenced you the most while writing?

Djamel Fiji: My favourite author is Gibran Khalil Gibran; I read all his books in Arabic ‘The Prophet’ remains the best novel I’ve ever read. I read it in Arabic, in French and also in English. George Orwell, Victor Hugo, Albert Camus, but I never read science fiction books; only Harry Potter. After I published ‘The Invaders of Dreams’ perhaps it’s seems strange to find a fiction and fantasy author who grew up reading books of literature more than fictional novels.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Did you choose your pen name, Djamel Jiji, in imitation of George Orwell?

Djamel Fiji: It’s a big dream for me to imitate a great novelist like George Orwell. Djamel is my second name, given to me since birth. As for Jiji, that was name given to me by the editor. My editor’s name is ‘LES EDITIONS JETS DENCRE’ www.jetsdencre.fr with whom I published my first book.

‘Djamel’, means beauty. Jiji means, love people and desire to get along with every one you meet.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: By writing your novella, The Invaders of Dreams, in French, were you hoping to reach a wider audience?

Djamel Fiji: I didn’t write my novella in French first, I wrote it in Arabic as a short play then I translated it from Arabic into French, and as you know in 1999 fantasy writing was a new genre in the Arab world. Perhaps it didn’t exist at all. I found it very difficult to publish my fantasy work with Arab publishing houses, that was the reason why I translated the book from Arabic into French by myself. Just follow the link bellow to visit the site and you will discover that the book was published since 2006 in Arabic. http://www.startimes.com/f.aspx?t=2623399

After I had published my first book in France with www.jetsdencre.fr in 2009, I wrote my first screenplay based on my own book in French first, then I wrote it in English, and in Arabic too. In 2011 I won my first literary prize in Lebanon. In the same year I was a semi-finalist with my first screenplay in the www.writemovies.com contest in Paris.

After the publication of my first novella, I spent six years looking for a producer. In 2015 I published the second part of ‘The Invaders of Dreams’ called ‘The Return of Jesus’ with www.edilivre.com in France. The original title was ‘Le retour de Jesus-Christ’; in this book I defended my religion – I’m a Muslim – even when the whole world became aggressive about it, as I unveiled the danger of weapons of mass destruction against innocent children. I invented a new fantasy character which doesn’t exist in first part.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Was the story influenced in any way by the political situation in the Middle East today, such as the siege of Gaza or the ‘embargo’ of Iraq following the Gulf War?

Djamel Fiji: I ask about Iraq specifically because you mention how the village is short of medical supplies and baby milk and the question is posed, why we can’t produce these medicines ourselves. That sounds like a reference to Saddam’s Iraq to me. You also talk about ‘pretexts’ for an invasion.

Iraq was my inspiration to write my first novella, the consecutive raids at that time, and the damage left behind, there were many innocent children killed coldly and without mercy. I was shocked to see the majority of victims were innocent kids, I asked myself; why innocent children are always those targeted first during all ‘adult’ conflicts?  This simple question gave me the idea to write ‘The Invaders of Dreams’ غزاة الاحلام in Arabic.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: In the story the dastardly King Walker was advised to send peace envoys to the heavenly kingdom of dreams, as ‘spies’. Was this a reference to UN weapons inspectors, and to Muhammad Al-Baradei (of the International Atomic Energy Agency) in particular?

Djamel Fiji: Oh my god! Not one of my readers asked me this question before, only you.  You haven’t only read the story; you have read my mind and the message which I wanted to send to the whole world through ‘The Invaders of Dreams’, that the peace envoys to the kingdom of dreams really refer to UN inspectors, and to Muhammad Al-Baradei.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Why is the King called Walker? Does the name signify something?

Djamel Fiji: The name of King Walker, in the story refers to the ex-president of United States of America who was behind the destruction of all traces of life and civilisation in Iraq.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Do you make allusions to other stories in the novella? For instance, when the King is told by his advisor: “In this case, you can destroy the kingdom of Dreams completely without leaving your throne, Your Highness.” Is this a reference to King Solomon in the Quran and the throne of Sheba?

Djamel Fiji: No, it’s not exactly that; I wanted to unveil the danger of weapons of mass destruction against humanity and especially against innocent children. Nowadays, the latest nuclear missile can be launched and reach its target in a few minutes.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: The ‘roses’ that make Queen Jasmine fall asleep, is this a borrowing from The Wizard of Oz – the poppies?

Djamel Fiji: I never read fantasy books before I publish my novel in France. The idea came from the bottom of my heart, I just described childhood emotions during war, and it’s my first time to hear about The Wizard of Oz – the poppies.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: You also talk about the children of the magical kingdom being turned into ‘kamikazes’ by the evil King Walker, and ‘operation 666’. Would you care to explain these references to the Western reader?

Djamel Fiji: The number 666, which some Christians have connected to Satan and see as a symbol of evil.

And in the story all the operations led by United States against Iraq, destroying such a holy city of Baghdad and killing innocent children, are connected to evil. The children of the magical kingdom being turned to ‘kamikazes’, it’s the impact of war on the mind of children. As we can see in the Syrian civil war, many children joined the rank of worried adults and became aggressive themselves.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Where do you get your inspiration from? What attracted you to fantasy especially?

Djamel Fiji: My inspiration comes from the many science fiction films I’ve seen. ‘Prince of Persia’, ‘The Death Note’, ‘Harry Potter’. I have seen all these movies after the publication of my first book. Fantasy allows us to grow our imagination and guide us to create our own fantasy characters.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Do you go over your stories with your children?

Djamel Fiji: I’m not married. I have lived all my life defending children who are the victims of war. I have no children to go over my stories with them, only my nephew who lives in France who read the story; he was 12 years old at that time, he was quite happy. He asked me some interesting questions about the characters, he liked them a lot, and he asked me also about the title, he didn’t like the end of the story. He told me that this was the favourite fantasy book he has read.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: What kind of topics do you address in your literature? Do you think writing should serve a political or moral purpose?

Djamel Fiji: Stop killing innocent children and criminals must be brought to justice.

In my sequel, I argued for the equality of religions. All advocate peace and love. In the key chapter, “The Doors of Love” (chapter 19), Muslims, Christians and Jews gather and pray as they await the coming of the resurrected Jesus. The chapter begins with messengers of peace greeted at the gates of the Kingdom of Dreams with flowers.

When the Prophet Jesus comes to the kingdom, the children ask him questions, including the Queen Jasmine. They ask why are children killed when they are no threat to the adults? The answer is that they are the future, the successors. The dictators fear for their thrones from children. They ask if terrorism is because of religion and are told that it is instead the product dictatorship and Jesus calls on mankind to be patient and wait for the day of judgement and fight evilness and promote peace and love. The Prophet Jesus also consoles the children for their losses and we are told that Jesus, Jasmine, and Sara Siwandani are all examples of sacrifices. (One boy, Joseph, meets his mother at the Kingdom on this happy occasion, and she was murdered also by the occupation forces).

The children are advised that they avoid conflicts and adopt peace and love all the time. They are told that we will have tyranny as long as hatred and envy occupy hearts of adults. Mother Theresa is also there, a character who shelters children on an island from radioactive fallout.

The sequel is even more successful than ‘The Invaders of Dreams’, and was compared to Khalil Gibrain’s ‘The Prophet’, a comparison very close to my heart.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Has the audience for fantasy and SF in Algeria changed after the Arab spring? Are readers more eager for these genres, or less, or has there been no noticeable difference?

Djamel Fiji: The majority of young people in Algeria, aren’t so interested in reading, they prefer watching SF movies than reading fantasy books. But after they have seen Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings, a new generation in Algeria seems so interested in fantasy books.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: Would you say there is any difference between Arabic literature in the Maghreb and in the Eastern part of the Arab world? Especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction?

Djamel Fiji: Frankly in the Maghreb there are no fantasy writers, perhaps I’m the first one who wrote this genre of writing. I found this information recently after my first literary meeting in Annaba. In Egypt and after the publication and the translation in Arabic of the famous books of J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), young writers started writing fantasy and science fiction. I recently read a new fantasy book called ملاذ’

Witten by Ahmed Salah El-Mehdi, it seems interesting as a fantasy story written in Arabic.

  • Emad El-Din Aysha: If you were the minister of culture or education in an Arabic country, what would you do to improve the fortunes of fantasy and sf? How would you help the authors and encourage a wider readership?

Djamel Fiji: If I was the minister of culture, in an Arabic country, the first thing I would do to improve the fortunes of fantasy, is to encourage producers to produce SF and fantasy films. When the film is well produced science fiction writers will get their opportunity in the Arab world and their books will turn into bestsellers.

Acknowledgements:

Special thanks to Ahmed Al Mahdi and Ingi Diab.

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Guest post by Jahanzeb from Hearts of Khyber on the new Star Wars movie and Islam.

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee...

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self...

~ Bulleh Shah

There is a moment in The Last Jedi that touches upon the theme of this beautiful poem by Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. Before I continue, I have to warn that MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead! Don’t read further if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet!

SPOILERS start now:

One of my major disappointments with The Last Jedi was the way Rian Johnson handled the Star Wars lore. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking, “Man, Rian really went all Order 66 on the Star Wars mythos.”

But I actually think he did some things that were more thoughtful than I initially suspected. In fact, I remember watching the scene with Yoda and thinking, “Hmm, this reminds me of a Sufi poem I once read.” I couldn’t remember which poem or story exactly, but I figured it must have involved Jalaluddin Rumi. I didn’t think about this scene later because I was too caught in processing the rest of the film.

When Yoda burns the sacred Jedi texts, he’s basically teaching Luke that the Force cannot be found in books, but rather within one’s self. The larger message is one that challenges religious dogma and rigid orthodoxy. By the way, it’s interesting to see Yoda’s own arc when we compare his anti-dogmatic stance with his rigid principles in the prequels.

But even more interesting to me is how this scene seems to carry similar themes with spiritual traditions in our own galaxy. Whether Rian Johnson is familiar with Islamic or Sufi literature, I don’t know, but it is interesting how similar the Yoda scene is with a particular story about Rumi. The following tale is about the first time Rumi met his teacher Shams-e Tabrizi:

“Rumi was sitting in his library with some books and his pupils gathered around him. Shams came along, greeted them, sat down and gesturing toward the books, asked: ‘What are these?’

Rumi replied, ‘You wouldn’t know.’

Before Rumi finished speaking, the books and the library caught on fire.

‘What’s this?’ cried Rumi.

Shams retorted, ‘You wouldn’t know either,’ and got up and left.

There is actually another version of this story, as mentioned below:

“Jami, Amin Ahmad Razi and Azar all tell a version of this mythical encounter, but substitute water for fire.

Rumi was sitting near a garden pool with a few books when Shams arrived and asked, ‘What’s this?’

Rumi replied, ‘These are called debates, but you needn’t bother with them.’

Shams touched them and threw them in the water. Rumi got upset at the ruin of these rare and precious books. Shams reached in the water and retrieved them one by one. Rumi saw that there was no trace of water damage on them.

‘What secret is this?’ he asked.

Shams replied, ‘This is spiritual inclination and entrancement, what would you know of it?’

The excerpts cited above were quoted from the book, Rumi: Past and Present, East and West – The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (p. 166).

Yoda setting fire to the Jedi texts also reminded me of this poem by Bulleh Shah:

Masjid dha de, mandir dha de,
dha de jo kucch dainda,
Par kisi da dil na dhain,
Rab dilan vich rehnda

You could tear down the Mosque and the Temple,
break all that can be broken,
but never break anyone’s heart,
because that is where God lives.

Emphasizing one’s inward relationship with self and God, and challenging the outward, dogmatic aspects of religion is a common theme in Bulleh Shah’s work. We’ve seen this throughout the Star Wars films as well. As Luke laments the fact that Kylo destroyed his Jedi Temple, Yoda reminds him that the Force lives within us all.

Here’s another poem by Bulleh Shah that carries a similar message:

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee,
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee,
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self,
You rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques
But you have never tried to enter your own heart,
Futile are all your battles with Satan
For you have never tried to fight your own desires

This is perhaps Bulleh Shah’s most quoted poem and it serves as a reminder to not only confront our own egos, but also establish a deeper and honest connection with ourselves. When Yoda tells Luke, “The greater teacher, failure is,” it makes him realize that he never really processed his failure. He avoidedit rather than confront it.

As disappointed as I am that Luke was not physically on the planet to fight Kylo Ren, I can appreciate the deeper, spiritual theme Rian Johnson seemed to be going for. Luke had entered his own heart and became at peace with himself.

He became One with the Force.

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The transcript of the panel on Science Fiction and the Civic Imagination that I was a part of earlier this year is now online. You can read the whole transcript in Part 1 and Part 2. Here is a relevant excerpt.

Mohammed: So, I guess part of reimagining the future is actually reimagining the past as well. But the way that we imagine the past is — can describe who we are with ourselves and through others. So, part of recovering, I think there is also this project for a lot of — especially people who were colonized which is basically most of the planet, is describing who they are is also part of recovering their past or pasts, I should say.

So, some of the projects that I found really fascinating is that this research on the print technologies, which are not necessarily lost but we don’t really talk about them anymore from different regions in the world, for example, in the Middle East. There’s a long history — and we were talking about this earlier — there’s a long history of automatas which a lot of people in the west, for example, don’t know about.

One of the most famous ones were done by two groups of people. So, one is the Banū Mūsā family, the Mūsā brothers are very famous. And another one is by Al-Jazari. And so, they had automatas and we’re talking about 12th, 13th century. We had drawings on multiple descriptions of this where — so the most famous one is we have this group of five musicians, automatas, different musical instruments part of an orchestra on a boat. And when the boat moves through the Euphrates River right next to Baghdad, water falls to the automata and then that’s how they play their music. That’s really fascinating.

Al-Jazari had humanoid automatas which move from one side of the room to the other side of the room. Most likely they had blinded mechanisms. So, things like that just tell us that it’s — that other cultures had important contributions to make through science and technology throughout history. And it’s not just that it’s not well-known in the west, but because of the experience of colonialism, part of that actually has been lost to them also. So, recovering the past and whilst recovering some of those things is a part the stories that we tell ourselves with respect to who we are.

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Future as the Present: Science Fiction Utopias and Dystopias from the Muslim World
Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad
Abstract: The utopias and dystopias produced by the Muslim world in the last 100 years are a good proxy of the aspirations of Muslim cultures. The themes from some representative utopian/dystopian works will be explored here. The first feminist science fiction utopia was imagined by the Bengali Muslim author Ruqqaiya Sakawat Hussain in 1905. In the 1930s, the Turkish author Raif Necdet imagined a secular Turkish utopia which had broken free from its past. Al-Bud al-Khamis (1987) by Ahmad Raif imagines a group of humans who have become disillusioned with Earth. They arrive on Mars where they find a tolerant and non-violent utopian society, run by an Islam like religion.

Around the same time, the Turkish author Ali Nar envisions a very different utopia in Uzay Ciftcileri (Space Farmers) where group of astronauts from Earth go on a journey, inspired from the Ascension journey of Prophet Muhammad, and land on a utopian planet where the society is organized according to a mystical form of Islam. Ahmad Tawfiq’s (2011) dystopian novel Utopia envisions a near future Arab society rife with deep class divisions where the rich live in Elysium like enclaves and the poor barely have enough to survive. Basma Abdel Aziz’s (2016) novel The Queue is set in a Kafkaesque world where the hopes of Arab Spring have been crushed. It is set in the aftermath of an unsuccessful uprising where the helpless citizens struggle to get by in their daily lives against an absurd sinister dictatorship.

Powerpoint | PDF
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I will be presenting a paper on Utopias and Dystopias in Islamicate Science Fiction (i.e., Science Fiction from the Islamic world) at the Mechademia International Conference in Minneapolis. I will be presenting remotely from Seattle. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Future as the Present: Science Fiction Utopias and Dystopias from the Muslim World
Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad
Abstract: The utopias and dystopias produced by the Muslim world in the last 100 years are a good proxy of the aspirations of Muslim cultures. The themes from some representative utopian/dystopian works will be explored here. The first feminist science fiction utopia was imagined by the Bengali Muslim author Ruqqaiya Sakawat Hussain in 1905. In the 1930s, the Turkish author Raif Necdet imagined a secular Turkish utopia which had broken free from its past. Al-Bud al-Khamis (1987) by Ahmad Raif imagines a group of humans who have become disillusioned with Earth. They arrive on Mars where they find a tolerant and non-violent utopian society, run by an Islam like religion.

Around the same time, the Turkish author Ali Nar envisions a very different utopia in Uzay Ciftcileri (Space Farmers) where group of astronauts from Earth go on a journey, inspired from the Ascension journey of Prophet Muhammad, and land on a utopian planet where the society is organized according to a mystical form of Islam. Ahmad Tawfiq’s (2011) dystopian novel Utopia envisions a near future Arab society rife with deep class divisions where the rich live in Elysium like enclaves and the poor barely have enough to survive. Basma Abdel Aziz’s (2016) novel The Queue is set in a Kafkaesque world where the hopes of Arab Spring have been crushed. It is set in the aftermath of an unsuccessful uprising where the helpless citizens struggle to get by in their daily lives against an absurd sinister dictatorship.

If you are around be sure to drop a line. Here is the link to the official conference website: Mechademia 2017

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The Fiqh of Marrying Mermaids (or: A Tale of the Hoori of the Sea)

By Zainab bint Younus

“Bismillaahir’Rahmaan arRaheem… Ithaa waqa’ati’l waaqi’ah…”

On a small boat in the ocean, a lone man stood in prayer, bearded and regal even in the depths of the night. His voice fell and rose with the cadence of Divine Words, echoing across the sea. “Wa hoorin ‘ayn, ka amthaalin lu’lu’…” he faltered for a moment, trying to recall the description of the heavenly handmaidens.

“Ka amthaalil lu’lu’ il-maknoon,” a husky female voice corrected him helpfully.
“Ka amthaalil lu’lu’ il-maknoon,” he intoned, and then jolted in shock, swinging around wild-eyed for the source of the Qur’anic correction.

His gaze fell upon a pair of eyes, startlingly bright in the darkness – amber, with the same reflective quality of a cat.
It was certainly no cat that stared back at him, however. Two very human (though slightly phosphorescent) arms nestled on the rails of the boat’s deck, hoisting a very human torso and – he yelped and jumped back – a very inhuman tail from the waist down, featuring darkly glimmering scales of blue-black and ending in translucent fins that draped daintily over the deck.

For a wild moment, all he could think was, “She has no seashell bra!” – for yes, the creature had a distinctly feminine face, framed by what appeared to be a swathe of silky seaweed that draped over her shoulders and body. Then he blushed, because he shouldn’t have been thinking of seashell bras (AstaghfirAllah! He repented hastily), and then he choked back another yelp and coughed out, “Who are you? What are you?”

The creature tsked disapprovingly. “You broke your salah. Not supposed to do that.” Her eyes gleamed with mischief. “I am a Hoor.”

He definitely needed to sit down for this. “A… Hoor…” he echoed faintly. She laughed, a sound that evoked high tide rushing in, and treacherous whirlpools that tugged you into the current, and promises of buried treasure.

“I am of the Hooriyat al-Bahr,” she said, still laughing at him. “Not quite the ones described in the Divine Verses, but,” she preened, the powerful muscle of her tail flexing, “not too far off, either.”

He caught himself looking at her again, and quickly lowered his gaze.
“You know the Qur’an?” He asked dazedly.

“Better than you,” she sniped back. “I am haafidhah, after all.” She tossed her head, and he caught glimpses of tarnished coin and polished seashells in the netting that covered her hair.
“So you’re… Muslim… then?”

She looked at him disdainfully. “Of course I’m Muslim,” she snapped. “The Mer, as the Faranji call us, have always been believers in the One True God – or at least, most of us are. Do you not know that Prophet Sulayman spoke the languages of all creatures? If he could speak to the ants, it is only obvious that he would speak to the Mer.”

“But how do you -” he gestured to her tail, which she deliberately slapped into the water, splashing him. “How do you pray?”

“You humans really are stupid,” she remarked. “Do you think that the Ghayb operates according to your rules? ‘Wa maa khalaqtal jinna wa’l insa illa liya’budoon.’ Do you think our Lord created us to worship Him only to leave us ignorant of how to do so?”
She snorted derisively. “Next you’ll be asking if we have to do wudhu,” she said mockingly, and he flushed in embarassment because he *was* about to ask that very question.
He knew it was a bad idea even before he blurted out the next question. “Are you halal to eat?”

“And this,” the Hoori said loudly to the dark water surrounding them, “is why my ancestresses drowned sailors so regularly. Every time these human men open their mouths, their stupidity merely increases.”

He sighed, suddenly weary. “Why are you here?” He asked her. “What do you want from me?”

Her gaze sharpened, turned hungry. “Finally,” she said with satisfaction. “An intelligent question.” She leaned forward, and her voice filled with longing. “I want – I *need* – to be a part of your world. There is so much that I need to know, so much that I need to learn, and the knowledge I seek is only on land. I cannot become the scholar I wish to be trapped within the ocean.”

“What am I supposed to do about that?” he demanded.
She fixed him with a stare. “Marry me.”
He spluttered. “What – why – why me?”
She looked insulted. “Why not?”
“I mean… why do you have to get married to do whatever it is you want to do?”

She made a noise of disgust. “Patriarchy. Fiqh of the sea. Can’t transform unless one is married to a human man. Need a mahram to travel on land.” She waved a hand dismissively. “So. Will you do it?”

He looked at her for a long while. “What is your mahr?” he asked finally.
“Freedom,” she said promptly. “And in return, you’ll be married to a mermaid.”
“We need a wali, and witnesses.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“Wait, aren’t I supposed to propose to you?”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Ever heard of Umm al-Mu’mineen Khadijah?”
He looked sheepish. “Well… yes, then.”
Her voice deepened in sudden seriousness. “This is a binding oath, across land and sea, of marriage, of freedom, of knowledge. Do you accept this vow as your own?”
He surprised himself by answering gravely. “I do.”
A smile flickered over her face, a true smile, devoid of sarcasm, and he found himself smiling back, his heart inexplicably light.
“So are we getting that wali, or what?” he asked, and she grinned.
“Stay put,” she said, uncoiling her tail from its hold on the rails. “And don’t marry any other mermaids while I’m gone.”
“I’ll try,” he said drily.

With a smooth twist of her body, the Hoori launched herself back into the ocean, the obsidian scales of her tail gleaming in the moonlight.
It was only after she disappeared completely beneath the waves, leaving behind only swiftly fading ripples, that he realized that he did not know his Hoori’s name.

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We are starting a new regular feature on Islam and Sci-Fi: Alternate History Tuesdays. Every other Wednesday we will be posting an alternate history scenario, piece of art, story etc. This is inaugural post. Please let us know what you think about this series so that we can evolve this  feature over the course of time into something bigger and better.

Alternate History: Muslim Statue of Liberty
M. Aurangzeb Ahmad

The genesis of the State of Liberty go back to Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel’s visit to Egypt in 1855. Inspired by the State of Abu Simbel Eiffel first proposed the idea for a large statue in the form of a Egyptian peasant woman to be eracted at the entrance of the Suez Canal. While the idea was bounced around in Egypt for several years, the economy of Egypt did not permit Egypt or the British Empire to take it seriously. As luck would have it Eiffel had a chance encounter with the aging American Steel magnate Albert Crawford Westmoore in a saloon in Alexandria in 1869 where he saved the older Westmoore’s life when a brawl broke out between British and American archaeologists. In 1887 when the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris and Eiffel was getting a lot of negative publicity because of it, Westmoore happened to be in Paris offered Eiffel to finance his next big project – The State of Egypt Engligening the World. In subsequent years Eiffel moved to New York and the statue morphed into what we now recognize as the State of Liberty. Eiffel settled in Lower Manhattan where he became good friends with many people from Syria fleeing the wars in the Ottoman Empire. While most of the immigrants were Christians, there was one Muslim woman in particular that took Eiffel’s fancy – Fatima El-Nour, the woman’s whose face now adorns the State of Liberty. While they couldn’t marry because of religious and cultural differences, and the fact that Eiffel was 40 years her senior at the time of their ill-fated courtship. Fatima El-Nour did not survive for long, she caught influenza and died soon thereafter. With Westmoore’s financial backing Eiffel convinced the government of NYC to back the project which was marketed as a symbol of America’s shining light to the world and positing America as the new Egypt bringing light to the world. It was earlier thought that Eiffel traveled throughout the US mainly to raise funds for the project as Westmoore had only provided severity percent of the funds. However, when the Westmoore archives were finally made public in 2008 it was revealed that the tour of Westmoore’s idea to give people of the US a sense of ownership for the project. This is the main reason why the State of Liberty is not just the sign of America’s light to the world but also its promise of liberty and freedom. This is how a chance counter in Alexandria in British occupied Egypt, public backlash over the Eiffel Tower in Paris and a tragic love story led to the face of a Muslim woman being on a symbol of American culture.

The statue is inspired from not just Abu Simbel but Colossus of Rhodes and the base of the statue is clearly inspired from ancient Cretan architecture. The dress that lady liberty is wearing is inspired from the traditional dress of Egyptian rural woman. The headscarf that she is wearing is known as the hijab. This is one of the reasons why hijab has never become an issue in the US, despite it being controversial in Europe. In fact in the 1960s and 1970s hijab was adopted by the fashion industry in the US as another accessary. These days it is mainly Muslim American woman who wear the hijab on a daily basis but on 4th of July women everywhere in the US wear the turquoise hijab to symbolize lady liberty – a tradition which became popular during the Cold War to emphasize the Christian character of America.

Image Credit: Alternate State of Liberty sketch by Fiza Ahmad

OTL Notes:
While the State of Liberty of course did not turn out this way in OTL (our timeline), the first incarnation of the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be in Egypt overlooking the Suez Canal. In other words the first version of the Statue of Liberty was supposed to look like a Muslim woman. The Smithsonian Magazine covered this as a story a few years ago which reads like an interesting bit of history which is not that well known.

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Marianne Edwards

Fire Boy is the first book of a duology by Sami Shah. Shah is a comedian, broadcaster, writer, speaker, and newshound. He has the breadth of perspective you’d expect from someone with so many strings to his bow.

The story shows how a baby of extraordinary origins becomes a rather ordinary young man, Wahid. It then smashes his life apart by way of a car crash. It’s a compelling examination of survivor guilt and the bridge to adulthood. But it’s also a supernatural tale that is stuffed with terrifying djinns and explores Sufi mysticism. When the djinn causes the wreck, it steals the soul of Wahid’s ‘love object’ leaving her in a vegetative state. Wahid vows to find the djinn and make her whole again.

The book is one of those very gratifying reads that is easy on the eye while also working on several different levels. It’s also has a literary feel – every page is filled with gorgeous prose. Shah makes the quotidian touching without detracting from his trademark comic timing. He also makes the unbelievable credible through vivid and sometimes blood-curdling scenes.

Fire Boy is set in modern-day Pakistan, and delivers a delightful range of locations, geographical and cultural: rural communities, beach houses, the urban middle class, young people out clubbing, spiritual communities, and the poorest of the poor. Repeatedly we see normal life crunched to dust by malign creatures – supernatural and human. He captures the stomach-sinking paralysis of truly awful events in a way that remains fresh for the entire book, bringing us back to intimate human connection at just the right moment to throw the next horror into vivid relief.

As it progresses, the story takes us into increasingly unsettling territory in the real world. We go from what is, essentially, a middle class, suburban existence, to touching the lives of street children and battered women. Starting from a recognisable family and community Wahid ventures out into the wider world, forging deeper into Sufi mysticism to a place of suspended moral platitudes, ambiguity, and finally beyond the known world. It promises a very interesting sequel.

Unfortunately, most of the book felt like it was a prelude to the main story. Of course, being the first half of a two-book take, it is. But it didn’t quite focus enough on story in the first volume. But for all that it belts along. A series of unpredictable twists and compelling scenes keep you turning the pages. I kept scurrying off to the bathroom with my Kindle, and actually fed my kids the ‘Mummy has a headache’ lie, in order to indulge the bliss of lying down with a good book in the middle of the day!

The central plot is interspersed with urban legends and old folk tales that interrupted the narrative, dripping into the sub-plot, but still difficult to connect to the main events. It’s an ambitious structure, but these interludes are so well written that you don’t really mind being a bit disappointed that the clunky plotting never quite makes good on the promise of the excellent prose.

While I felt that he could have studied the craft of novel writing a little more deeply, Sami Shah’s raw talent sneaks light into murky philosophical corners, asking complicated questions and challenging stereotypes. His skill is in achieving this casually and without any hectoring. One of the things I really enjoyed was the way that Shah never panders to the ignorance of non-Muslim readers.

I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I can’t help feeling that the first draft of this book was written by a much younger man… a man who understands the importance of equality for women but isn’t yet fully conscious of his own implicit bias. The female characters are a terrifying mix of sexy old hags or perfect victim caricatures. My hope is that Wahid’s journey takes him to this realisation in volume 2. I can’t wait to hear what his would-be girlfriend has to say when she wakes up.

Sami Shah is enviably productive, and unquestionably talented. Fire Boy is his first work of fiction and I want many people to read it because it’s a good book. But, what my fingers are really itching to get hold of are his 3rd, 4th, and 5th novels.

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Islam and Science Fiction by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad - 8M ago

EMAD EL-DIN AYSHA is an academic, journalist and translator, currently stationed in Cairo, Egypt. While an Arab and Muslim he was born in the United Kingdom and is a native speaker of both English and Arabic. He completed his undergraduate and post-graduate education in England (BA, MA, PhD) and has taught topics ranging from international politics to Arab society at universities in Egypt. He’s a regular commentator on Mideast politics and a movie reviewing by natural predisposition. The two great loves of his life are history and science fiction. He’s finally moving into the literary realm, both as an original author and as a translator of short Arabic fiction.

Samples of Emad’s work fictional work to date:

Emad’s non-fictional work on fiction:

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