A new anthology is working to give geeky Muslims a bigger voice in science fiction with a collection of short stories both based on and inspired by Islamic culture.
Islam and Science Fiction founder Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad has released Islamicates Volume I, a free collection of 12 short stories. Ahmad said he started the anthology (and the website 10 years prior) because he didn’t see enough Muslim representation in science fiction. At least any that he could find.
“Nobody has brought all this material together in a single resource,” he said.
Ahmad said the anthology received about 78 submissions from both Muslim and non-Muslim writers. Most of the stories look at traditional science fiction tropes (like time travel or alien invasions) through a Muslim lens, but others specifically took inspiration from Islamic culture, like “Calligraphy” by Alex Kreis.
Even though specifically Muslim works aren’t always easy to come by, Islam is represented in both traditional and modern science fiction. For example, Dune carries a lot of themes and terms from Islamic culture. Ahmad said it’s partly because Islamic countries have a wide range of stories, fables and legends that resonate in both fantasy and science fiction, like Arabian Nights.
It’s also because of Islam’s contribution to the scientific community. Back when Europe was going through the Middle Ages, Islam was having a golden age of scientific and mathematic discovery. From the elephant clock to the camera obscura, the Islamic civilization brought us many technological marvels of the modern world.
Islamic scholars also translated thousands of additional texts on science, medicine, and mathematics, at least 1,000 of which are currently available at the Qatar Digital Library.
That dedication to science, technology, and world-building also inspired many works of fiction that are considered part of the roots of science fiction. While Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered the first work of true science fiction, there are several books from Islamic authors that carry many of the characteristics that have defined scifi.
These include A True History by Lucian of Samosata, a 2nd century novel about a man who travels to the Moon through a water spout and encounters strange creatures. There was also Hayy ibn Yaqdhan by Ibn Tufail in the 12th century, and, in 1905, we got what many consider to be the first feminist science fiction book ever written, Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain.
But it’s not just about Islam’s history in science and science fiction, it’s also about where Muslims are today. Islamophobia has been growing steadily in the US over the past 15 years, and has become especially vile in recent months.
Ahmad said that most of the short stories in the anthology don’t specifically address anti-Muslim bigotry (one does directly, and another indirectly). Still, he recognized that it’s a pressing issue, especially for American Muslims. Ahmad said science fiction is actually one of the most positive literary communities when it comes to Islam, especially given the increase in diversity over the past decade.
“If you look at the state of scifi in general, the scifi community in general has responded positively to prejudice,” Ahmad said. “As compared to other genres, Muslims in the scifi genre is more balanced.”
That doesn’t mean the subject isn’t being covered. Science fiction is often used to reflect problems in our own society, like Fahrenheit 451's themes of censorship in the wake of McCarthyism, and there are those who are incorporating it into Islamic science fiction. It can help people better understand what Muslims are going through, as Deka Omar wrote on Islam and Science Fiction earlier this month:
For many Muslims in the West, anti-Muslim rhetoric and intrusive government surveillance are very much at the forefront of their anxieties... As a community often subjected to a narrative that demonizes them and depicts them as the ultimate “other”, this type of storytelling could help bridge the gap separating them from mainstream society.
Ahmad said he’s a fan of religious representation in science fiction, with some of his favorite scifi books having Buddhist or Catholic influences. He’s excited about the growing diversity in science fiction, and wants to make sure that all voices continue to see themselves represented in the genre. Whether it’s their gender identity, politics, cultural identity, or faith.
You can download the free anthology as a PDF, but it’s also available for a number of e-readers. Ahmad hopes to open up submissions for Volume II in 2017.
Clarification: added details about short stories that address anti-Muslim bigotry.