Let’s face it. Let’s be real here. There’s a serious need for Muslim(ah) writers, artisans, musicians, and media personalities. “But Anthony,” some may say, “music is haram!” Or others may say, “But Anthony, there’s little money to be made in the arts. Why do that when I can be a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer?” Okay. So the music objection might take someone with more expertise in issues of fiqh than I have. As far as the latter objection, well, let’s just say, the need is not just serious; it’s desperate. Why am I saying this? Because if we Muslims are interested in eradicating the sense of Otherness and developing a sense of wholeness and belonging in America, then we need to tap into outlets accessible to the “common people,” and by this, I don’t mean to invoke a form of intellectual or academic elitism which, I my estimation, plagues the American Muslim discourse about – well – almost everything. In fact, I’m talking about quite the opposite.
There is a staunch narrative of anti-elitism in America; the word itself is almost like a curse. This is one reason why Fox News, and by extension, the Republicans, do so well in the States: it’s not because they are a credible news network (I almost laughed while writing this) or because their policies are good for the States (tax-cuts anyone?); it’s because they’ve found a way to “speak” to the regular, average, person. They’ve concocted a narrative – a warped, xenophobic, and exclusivist narrative, mind you – but one which nevertheless can easily be drilled into the minds of the people, like a mantra. Whether you hate or love Fox News (I’m definitely for the former), you gotta give the devil his due.
Muslims have to leave the Ivory Tower we’ve built for ourselves in this country and learn to – as my mom used to say – “break it down:” we’ve got to learn to speak to the average person, the guys and girls in the trailer parks and the projects, not the guys or girls in our Ph.D or med school classes since they aren’t the typical American. I’m talking about the guys named Joe Lunchbox or the girls named Sarah Plain-and-Tall. What do I mean? Consider one realm, the realm of books and novels: in all seriousness, I think most people probably will read Tolkien or Tad Williams or Peter Hamilton or even – dare I say – Stephenie Meyer before they’ll read Seyyed Hoessien Nasr or Dr. Sherman Jackson or even Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, may God preserve them all. (Ironically enough, it was Dr. Jackson who gave me this insight). As good as these academics are (masha’Allah), they can sometimes be too cerebral and thus inaccessible to the regular people, who, for the most part, might not be interested in – say – theology or the history of Muslim philosophy or fiqh. As much as it pains me to say this (because I hate Twilight with an endless passion and fury), we need a Muslim(ah) Stephenie Mayer; we need a Muslim(ah) Brom Stroker (because Dracula would just pimp slap the wanna-be vampire Edward Cullen into oblivion); we need a Muslim(ah) Frank Herbert; we need a Muslim(ah) Tolkien; we need a Muslim(ah) Neil Gaiman; we need a Muslim(ah) Stan Lee. We NEED them and we need them BADLY because we can’t even tell our own stories. We aren’t reaching the average person in the bookstores looking for a good fantasy novel or a science fiction novel or a graphic novel to read. And guess what? If we don’t reach them, then someone else will, and chances are, given today’s geopolitical climate, that someone else might not be on our side.
And this is just ONE realm, the world of books. What about the other ones?
With this mind, I wanted to share something with my audience, something I’ve been working on for quite sometime, probably since I converted to Islam back in 2005. I came up with this idea for a series of short stories set in a fantasy-esque universe consisting of many different worlds, called Planes, in which our Plane is just one of many. The main venue for these short stories is set in a Plane called Tamaz, an experimental world I built this world using my sparse of knowledge of Islam and my overactive imagination. These stories are exercises in creativity and are sometimes meant to convey metaphors for things I’ve seen as a Muslim. Now, I don’t consider myself as ground-breaking as Tolkien (even though I’m not a big fan of his) nor as eloquent as Roger Zelazny (I’m such a Zelazny fan), but I figured I should at least try to put “my money where my mouth is.” I read that Robert A. Heinlein, one of the great masters of science fiction, said that the best way to learn to write is to write, which sounds tautological, but nevertheless conveys some profound wisdom. Perhaps this will never get off the shabby launch pad it was built upon, but I feel the effort and the purity of my intentions, insha’Allah, will make this endeavor most pleasing to the One who gave me my crazy imagination in the first place.
I’ll post it as soon as I’m finished with it, insha’Allah. Comments, corrections, concerns, criticisms, questions will be greatly appreciated. Seriously, they would. 🙂