The 99 – a comic strip (Book Review)

I was in a bit of a dilemma as to whether I should write this post but I decided that it is better for readers to know about something (the good, bad and ugly) so that they can better make a decision. So here is some information about The 99.

What is The 99?

First published approximately four years ago,  The 99 is termed an Islamic superhero comic. There are 99 characters each of whom has a superpower that reflects one of the 99 names of Allah. They do not use weapons or violence to fight evil powers or to correct a wrong, but instead they use the gifts that they possess. It is said that The 99 aims to promote universal values. See for yourself the first part in the comic series titled “Origins” and preview copies of the series here.

Why Islamic Superheroes?

The creator of The 99 says that he wanted to provide Muslim children with superheroes with whom they could identify. The superheroes are Muslim teenagers and adults who hail from all corners of the globe, signalling the diversity of the Muslim ummah. For example, Hadya, ‘the Guide’, is from Pakistan and never gets lost while Jami, the Assembler is from Hungary. Fattah, the opener, is from Indonesia and can travel through time portals and space.

According to one article, the creator of The 99 stated that the 99 characters in the comic:

… represent Allah’s myriad attributes — everything from wisdom to faithfulness — there is no overt mention of religion in the stories.

“When you read through the books, there is no mention of Islam, Allah or the Quran,” says Mutawa.

“I used an Islamic archetype, but the actual stories don’t show any Islam, because they are based on values that we all share.”

The Debate surrounding The 99

Some claim that the comic is unislamic because it portrays characters that embody the names and attributes of Allah. See this video which describes what the originator of The 99 desires to achieve through the comic strip and what its opponents have to say in response.

Some critics have also said that The 99 resembles the characters  of well-known superhero comic strips. They almost look like distant relatives of Superman! No wonder since some of the well established names in the comic strip world are involved in producing The 99!

Another criticism is that there is little or no mention of Islam, the Qur’an or salah. For example, none of the characters are shown praying. Why? It is said that in order not to enter into debate or create schisms as to which is the right way to pray (i.e. whether Sunni or Shite) the characters are not shown praying.

The Future of The 99

The 99 has over 1 million copies sold at present and is translated into several languages including English, Bahasa Indonesian, Hindi and French. Last year a theme park opened in Kuwait, the first of several reported to be opening. And an animated television show is in the works.

Your Children/Students and The 99

General media and press reviews refer to The 99 as an Islamic superhero comic. However, to Muslim readers, it appears that The 99 is just a comic strip that happens to contain Muslim characters.  It appears that the producers of the comic were trying to appeal to a mass market and in doing so they have created characters and a story that contains some representation of Muslims without making obvious that they are Muslim. 

Whether you would let your child read The 99 is entirely up to you of course.  On the one hand, if your child likes reading comics, The 99 may be a better alternative than conventional comic superheroes. The 99 promotes cooperation and peace, violence is not used and female characters dress modestly (though most do not wear hijab)  in comparison to their counterparts in general comics.

On the other hand, don’t expect that your child will learn Islam from this comic strip. And there are serious aqeedah (belief) issues to be considered here. I am not a scholar, but the fact that the characters in this comic strip possess attributes related to the 99 names of Allah seems to me border on very risky ground. Take time to discuss with your children/students the fact that Allah alone possesses these attributes and names and the characters in the comic strip are only part of a story. All in all though, the characters in the comic strip may prove to be good role models for Muslim children so at least we can take what good there is from it.