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How Islam Nurtured Science Fiction

By Ahmed A. Khan
Science Fiction Writer - Canada
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The plural “worlds” should be noted. Obviously, ours is not the only world with intelligent life

In a previous article titled “Islamic Science Fiction Coming into Light” I had posed a question: What is Islamic Science Fiction (SF)? I tried to provide a comprehensive definition of Islamic SF and had concluded that Islamic SF would be any speculative story that is positively informed by Islamic beliefs and practices. That definition had led to a partial list of what we could consider as Islamic SF, as follows:

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 and fasting.

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.

Science fiction has been described as a literature of ideas. Knowledge and reflection are the source springs of ideas. As far as I know, no other religion in the world puts more emphasis on seeking knowledge, pondering and reflecting than Islam does.

Several verses in the Qur’an urge humanity to think and ponder on the world around them. Below are just a few examples:

(Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day, there are signs for men who possess wisdom; those who remember God standing and sitting and reclining on their sides and think in the creation of the heavens and the earth) (Aale-Imran: 190-191).

(There comes out from within it (the honey bee) a drink of diverse colors, in it is healing for men; verily in this is a sign for the people who reflect) (An-Nahl: 69).

(Say, “I exhort you only to one thing; that you rise up for God’s sake, in twos and singly, then ponder) (As-Saba: 46).

There are several well-known sayings of Prophet Muhammad about seeking knowledge too:

It is narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Seeking knowledge is a must upon every Muslim.” (Al-Albani)

Hence – keeping the above in mind – what religion could provide a better platform for the literature of ideas fiction than Islam?

The Qur’an’s Alien Worlds

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Verse 33 of Ar-Rahman (Chapter 55) revealed 14 centuries ago, clearly showed the possibility of space travel.

The proof is – as they say – in the pudding. Let us see what SF tropes can be triggered and what ideas generated by just a very, very cursory glance at the holy Qur’an.

The very first Sura (Chapter) of the Qur’an Al-Fateha states:  (All praise is God’s, the Lord of the worlds). The plural “worlds” should be noted. Obviously, ours is not the only world with intelligent life. There are other worlds out there – extraterrestrial life, ripe for the imaginations of science fiction writers.

Verse 33 of Ar-Rahman (Chapter 55) says: (O’ you people of Jinns and humans, if you can penetrate the bounds of the heavens and the earth, then do penetrate through; but you cannot penetrate except with Our Authority).

This verse, revealed 14 centuries ago, clearly showed the possibility of space travel. With God’s authority you can penetrate the heavens and the earth. And what is God’s authority? Knowledge.

Incidentally, the above verse also talks of Jinn. There is also a complete chapter in the Qur’an titled “Jinn”. Jinn are considered to be sentient beings made of smokeless fire. And that brings us to more than one well-known tropes of science fiction: sentience in a form different from us; beings of energy; a whole race hidden from our eyes, and so on.

Al-Kahaf (Chapter 18) also provides glimpses into multiple science fictional tropes. The first part of the chapter talks about the people of the cave – seven people and a dog from a time before Christ, to whom God granted a very long sleep to escape from the atrocities of their times. After being in sleep for over three hundred years, they wake up and go out into the world to find it completely changed. Right here are four common themes of science fiction: suspended animation, longevity, temporal displacement, and alienation. As an interesting aside, the place where the people of Kahaf slept provides a great spark to the imagination. The location of the cave is a mystery. Qur’an offers very interesting and fascinating hints, but that is all.

An-Naml (Chapter 27) and As-Saba (Chapter 34) talk about Prophet Solomon speaking to insects, birds and animals. Themes of multilingualism and animal consciousness could be explored through these chapters.

These are just some of the themes and ideas that a writer could use to write Islamic science fiction. And these ideas were brought to light after a superficial and perfunctory glance at just five of the hundred and fourteen chapters of the holy Qur’an. Imagine the marvels writers could find if they gave a look at the rest of the hundred and nine chapters!

Related Links:
Islamic Science Fiction Coming Into Light
Are Science and Islam Compatible?
The Pre-sonic Man (Short Science Fiction Story)
Religion Helps Science To Be Rightly Guided
The Maker Myth (Short Science Fiction Story)

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