By Michelle Chung
Departments from Bryn Mawr and Haverford jointly organized a lecture by Kuwaiti clinical psychologist Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Dressed unassumingly in a gray plaid shirt and slacks, Al-Mutawa did not initially appear like the sort of man who triple majored as an undergraduate (history, literature, and psychology), attained three master’s degrees, and a PhD in psychology. Despite his extraordinary educational accomplishments, Dr. Al-Mutawa is arguably most famous for creating the breakthrough comic book series “The 99.”
“The 99” is a comic book series inspired by the 99 attributes of Allah. It is emphatically not a religious series; there are no references to Allah or the Koran within the comic. It is, however, a series with secularized stories from the Koran. While religious inspirations in comic books are not at all new (popular series like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are rife with Biblical plots and archetypes), “The 99” is the first of its kind to draw from Islam.
During this lecture complete with anecdotes, historical references and office-friendly flowcharts Dr. Al-Mutawa explained that his series is meant to address a lack of positive Muslim characters in our culture today. Al-Mutawa stressed that the only way to overcome the problematization and fear of Islam was for audiences, Muslim and non-Muslim, to see elements of Islam beyond those demonstrated by extremists popularized by the media. It is a series meant to encourage understanding and tolerance between and across cultures.
Characters from “The 99” are from 99 different countries and range in appearance, cultures and backgrounds. They are young superheroes joined together by powers endowed by the fictional Noor Stones, stones that endow their owners with extraordinary abilities from teleportation to super-human strength.
This is an important year for “The 99” because it is the first year that the comic series is airing as an animated series in countries around the world. Co-produced by Endemol and distributed by the same companies that distrbuted “Ben 10″ and “Batman Beyond,” “The 99” has reached somewhat of a hitch in its attempts to enter the United States market.
Erroneously accused by Fox News as an attempt to expose citizens to Sharia law (laws derived from the Koran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad), “The 99” has not settled on a U.S. air-date, despite having been accepted in countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia.
Dr. Al-Mutawa and his work have been commended by President Obama at a recent Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. “The 99” has been praised as innovative and inspiring by news sources like The New York Times and The Washington Post. While its acceptance seems increasingly widespread, “The 99” has the difficult task of clearing popularly accepted misinformation and prejudice.
Given the intersection between Western nations and much of the Middle East, hopefully “The 99” and its heroes will not be alone in their challenging but increasingly necessary endeavor of narrowing cultural and national divisions.