The Islamic world is not usually interested in science fiction according to a prevailing stereotype, and the perceived lack of creativity, imagination and futuristic thinking often blames religious reservations, even because of authoritarian governments, but a new book issued recently dispels this usual image and considers it incorrect.
In his book “Islam and science fiction and life outside the planet … the culture of astrobiology in the Islamic world”, Jörg Matthias Determann, an academic at the “Virginia Commonwealth University” in Qatar, considers that Muslim-majority countries and countries ruled by authoritarian regimes have produced very great fictional novels belonging to biology. Astronomer or search for life outside Earth.
The book discusses how scholars from Muslim-majority countries have been at the forefront of the exciting search for extraterrestrial life, and argues that Islamic traditions have generally been supportive of concepts of extraterrestrial life (such as the belief in the existence of jinn).
In this attractive book, the author provides a survey of Arabic, Bengali, Malay, Persian, Turkish and Urdu texts and films, showing how scholars and artists in Muslim-majority countries have been at the forefront of exciting research.
He concludes that suppression helped science fiction more than harm it, as censorship encouraged authors to conceal criticism of contemporary politics by setting story plots in future times and on distant planets.
“Islamic” science fiction
The author said in the introduction to his book that while he was growing up in Germany and Austria during the 1980s and 1990s, the cinematic influences of the literature of Thousand Nights and Nights and Aladdin were of great repute, indicating that he loved wonderful imaginary creatures such as the genie, and after that he became more interested in the links between contemplative imagination and the world Islamic.
“In 2013, when I came to Doha, I was fascinated by its skyline … After I got used to the ancient architecture of Vienna, the Qatari capital seemed to me like the city of the future.”
In his lecture delivered at the astronomy club at Qatar University, Determann began his speech by referring to Arab participation in space discoveries, noting Qatari and Moroccan discoveries of external planets.
Congratulations to Dr. Jörg Matthias Determann on the launch of his book titled ‘Islam, Science and Extraterrestrial Life: The Culture of Astrobiology in the Muslim World.’ #doha #qatar #artsed #sciencefiction pic.twitter.com/WsYNq2HLF6
– VCUarts Qatar (@VCUQatar) September 16, 2020
Determann showed an artistic fictional image of a planet called “Qatar-1b”, which was discovered through a survey of exoplanets in 2010, considering that the real pictures are not very exciting, while the imagined artistic images interest journalists more.
The author considered that fictional images are a kind of science fiction or science fiction, which means that “art supports science. Rather, art is part of science, and art supports scientists in publishing their research and results in the global media.”
The author considered that fiction is an important part of space science in particular, and discussed conservative religious voices that were against science fiction for ideological reasons, stressing that Islam was not against science fiction, and pointing – at the same time – that authoritarian governments in the Middle East do not support free thought Or creativity in general.
The author added that science fiction and future thought are not completely dependent on a democratic system, as the Soviet Union produced many books and films in the field of science fiction, and the Union was a pioneer in astronomical research and life beyond Earth, and the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser pioneered the construction of the Helwan Observatory. During his reign, the writer Tawfiq al-Hakim wrote remarkable fictional plays.
The author said that science fiction writers also excelled among the Islamists, foremost among which is the writer Ahmed Raef, who was imprisoned with the late thinker Muhammad Qutb (the brother of the writer Sayyid Qutb) and wrote in prison a play entitled “The Fifth Dimension”, written by the Islamic writer Muhammad Qutb and depicting an ideal society Islamically without corruption on the “Red Planet,” this play, on the other hand, presented the current conditions of human societies as the antithesis of an imagined ideal society.
The author referred to Islamic interpretations that suggest the existence of life outside Earth, or at least leave the door open to contemplation of this possibility, stressing that it is not surprising that there are Islamic movements that refer to the presence of aliens and UFOs such as the “Nation of Islam” movement in the United States.
And the author considered that writing a critical play in prison is easier if its field is science fiction, while it is more difficult if its subject matter is more realistic. Thus authoritarian states and surveillance systems have inadvertently helped in the development of science fiction.
The struggle against tyranny
The mixing of science fiction and political stance is not a new phenomenon. In his play “Journey to Tomorrow” – written in 1957 during the race for space between America and the Soviet Union with some exaggeration and lengthening – the writer Tawfiq al-Hakim conveyed an imaginary atmosphere in which he predicts popular topics in the field of literature Science fiction is like time travel and space conquest, except that it mixed it with philosophical issues such as the ugly emptiness that so-called freedom, love and human principles would provide, and he asked: Is it better to live comfortably without effort, or we are upset and tired to get what we want?
Many writers resort – in the absence of freedom of expression and publication in the Arab world – to science fiction, to transcend the limits of reality and challenge government censorship by depicting dictatorial and authoritarian regimes with a symbolic metaphor for aliens or strangers.
The English novelist George Orwell, author of the novel “Animal Farm”, used literary projection and science fiction plot to describe the totalitarian Soviet regimes, and his novel was considered a kind of warning literature, whether from the tyrannical authorities or the most corrupt and tyrannical revolutionaries.
In the novel “Jonathan’s Promise” from the Fantasia series by the late Egyptian novelist Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq, US Vice President Jonathan Reinhart promises that Papua New Guinea will be a national home for the Arabs, which appears to parody the British Balfour Declaration.
Science fiction literature is globally linked to political and social criticism, and George Wells’ early novels – such as “The Time Machine” – included political projections often opposed to authority, while the novel “Sites of Fellows in the Chronicle of Telemak” – which was translated by Rafaa Al-Tahtawi from French in the mid-ninth century Ten – a scathing critique of King Louis XIV.
In George Orwell’s famous novel “1984”, and in the world of Big Brother who has strict government censorship and dictatorship and deceives the masses with false propaganda, a secret resistance movement (revolutionary brotherhood) appears that tries to confront the police of ideas and the Ministry of Truth and seeks to enlighten the facts.
And the English writer Herbert George Wells published in 1897 his scientific romantic novel “The War of the Worlds”, which narrates human resistance to the invasion of the Martians who turned the London countryside into ruin. It is one of the oldest stories dealing with the idea of human resistance to alien invasion that became popular in literature and cinema later.