A new comic book is taking the world by storm. "The 99" features Muslim superheroes who embody each one of the 99 characteristics of God described by Islam. The comic, already a hit in the Middle East, recently debuted in the United States. VOA's Mariam Mahmood introduces us to "The 99."
The year is 1258; the Mongol's have invaded and destroyed Baghdad's ancient libraries.
This is the story of "The 99". The world's first Muslim comic book superheroes, featuring 99 characters based on Islamic history and culture. According to the creator of the comic book series, Naif Al-Mutawa, the title refers to the 99 attributes of God, which Muslims believe – when existent in one being – deify that being, and only Allah possesses all 99 attributes. However, Al-Mutawa declares that these are virtues of the Islamic faith that are often overlooked.
"Those attributes are also human attributes but not at the same level,” he says. “Things like generosity, strength, wisdom, mercy, foresight and dozens of others that are not used today to describe Islam in the media.
Al-Muttawa describes the central concept of "The 99." "The idea is a series of heroes each of which embodying one of these traits yet needing to work in a team of three to solve a problem."
Al-Mutawa also challenges common female stereotypes in his comic. "I didn't want a comic where the boys break the bones and the girls mend them."
The comic book will feature an equal ratio of male and female characters, with nine female characters wearing traditional headscarves in nine different ways, according to culture. In order to reflect the diverse cultures of the Muslim world, each character originates from a different country.
Twenty-five thousand copies of the first issue of "The 99" were published in the Middle East in June 2006 in Al-Mutawa's native Kuwait and the comic book has been second in sales to Superman. It made its debut in the U.S. in late October.
A Bahrain investment bank approved $25 million to finance Dr.Al-Mutawa's company, Teshkeel Media Group, and is interested in funding the launch of an animated series of the comic book for television.
Despite this success, there are critics of the comic book. In response to religious clerics who have banned the selling of his comic book, Al-Mutawa relates the story of the book, "The Catcher in the Rye."
"Three hundred million people have read this book ["The Catcher in the Rye"]. Two people have committed violent crimes in the name of it; so whose fault is that, is it the book's fault or the reader?"
"The 99 " contains no prayers, mention of prophets, passages from the Koran or religious dialogue. Al-Mutawa stresses that "The 99" is not exclusively targeted towards Muslims, but rather it is based on universal human values, which appeal to a broad audience.
"The 99 series is not a religious book, it is as religious as Spiderman, so it's based on values. So, when Uncle Ben teaches Spiderman – or Peter Parker – that with great power comes great responsibility: Is that a Christian message? Is it Jewish? Is it Buddhist? Is it Muslim? It's human. It's global."