Islamic Science Fiction Coming Into Light

Ahmed A. Khan along with Aurangzeb Ahmad edited the anthology "A Mosque Among the Stars".
Science Fiction
Religious or spiritual science fiction (SF) is an established sub-genre of speculative fiction. There are magazines like "Solaris Science Fiction" that cater specifically to this sub-genre of speculative fiction. Of the sub-sub-genres in this category, Christian SF has been quite prominent.

A Google search for "Christian SF" brings hundreds of hits. On the other hand, Islamic SF has been coming to prominence only of late, particularly through the existence of websites like islamscifi.com and OnIslam.net.

At the risk of sounding immodest, I like to think that the publication of anthology, "A Mosque Among the Stars" (edited by Aurangzeb Ahmad and yours truly) contributed more awareness of Islamic SF and planted seeds for fresh discourses.

In view of this rising awareness, I think this is the right time to come up with a definition and a manifesto for Islamic SF.

What is Islamic Science Fiction?

First, let me make it clear that this manifesto is not being touted as a definitive word on Islamic SF. On the other hand, its purpose is to encourage debate and discussion so that more ideas are generated and the field is delineated in more and more detail as time goes by.

So what is Islamic SF? Let us take the "SF" part first. By SF we mean speculative fiction and not just science fiction. Thus we are including the broader field of fantasy in this definition.

OnIslam.net invites you to contribute with your own Islamic Science Fiction story. To learn more about the initiative and guidelines click here.

Coming to the "Islamic" part of this expression: Islam, like other religions, is a combination of beliefs and practices. The most fundamental belief is the Unity of God. God in Islam is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient and unknowable. The other fundamental belief is the existence of divine guides, sent by God to guide His servants.

These divine guides and God's messengers include names that are well-known among other Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Christianity: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus and many others. The important difference is the addition of the name of Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) to this list as the last and the greatest of the Messengers of God.

As far as practices are concerned, other than ritual practices like salat (prayer), fasting, Hajj, and so on, almost all other practices would fall under acts controlled by ethical and moral codes and these ethical and moral codes are universal and can be found in almost all religions of the world.

Islamic SF would be any speculative story that is positively informed by Islamic beliefs and practices.

Keeping the above outlined beliefs and practices in mind, below is a partial list of what we could consider as Islamic SF:

1. Any speculative story that strives to state the existence of the One God as described above. 2. Any speculative story that exhorts universal virtues and/or denigrates universal vices. 3. Any speculative story that deals in a positive way with any aspect of Islamic practices, like hijab, fasting, etc. 4. Any speculative story that features a Muslim as one of its main characters and the actions of this Muslim in the story reflect Islamic values. 5. Any speculative story which takes on one or more elements from the Qur'an or the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), in a positive way.

Opening Doors for Discussion

"Crescent in the Sky" is a novel set in a futuristic interplanetary Islamic civilization that colonized space after the oil boom of the 20th century.

Analyzing the above list in detail, some may be surprised at what the list includes and what it excludes. As an illustration, my story, "The Maker Myth", would fall squarely within the boundaries of item (1) above.

Under item (2) above, Islamic SF would include any spiritual SF story even if it does not overtly refer to Islam anywhere. It would also include Christian SF or Jewish SF as long as the story does not deal with an aspect specific to that religion – crucifixion, for instance.

Take Mildred Clingerman's story, "Minister Without Portfolio". The aliens refrain from attacking Earth in response to the innate good nature of an elderly woman. I would have no compunction in re-classifying this story as Islamic SF.

Thus, a story written by a non-Muslim may be classified as Islamic SF, whereas a story written by a Muslim, if it does not fall under any of the above five criteria, would not be classified as Islamic SF.

The field of item (3) is quite wide and should be inviting for future writers who plan to write Islamic SF.

I can present almost all of the stories included in "A Mosque Among the Stars" as illustrations of item (4). Going further back in time, the fantasy stories of "Tilism Hoshruba" from India and "Shahnama" from Persia could be considered Islamic SF.

However, and this may come as surprising to many of the readers of this article – in spite of the fact that it was written by Muslims, originates from a Muslim culture and features Muslim characters, I don't consider "A Thousand and One Nights" as Islamic SF. In my opinion, the sayings and doings of the characters in this book do not reflect Islamic values.

Item (5) once again offers a wide field of speculation for writers. For instance, a story featuring a Jinn would classify as Islamic SF provided the Jinn is not some ridiculous figure as in Disney's Aladdin.

Hopefully the thoughts presented above open doors for discussion on the question: "What is Islamic SF?"

In a future article, I plan to tackle the question: "Why Islamic SF?"

Related Links:
How Islam Nurtured Science Fiction
"Mind Melds" Are No More Science Fiction
Book Review: Islamic Science Fiction
Science Fiction! Are You a Fan?
The Maker Myth

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