Nurturing Islamic Science Fiction

This is from an article entitled HOW ISLAM NURTURED SCIENCE FICTION, which actually says nothing much about how Islam nurtured science fiction, and makes no mention of Julesbrahim al-Verne or Herbdul Jibril al-Wells or even Jalalibad W. al-Campbell, Jr., and how their devotion to the faith of the Prophet drove the growth of modern speculative fiction.

No, the article is actually meant to encourages (presumably Mohammedan) science fiction writers to write within the Islamic world view. This encouragement takes the form of drawing very strained analogies between Koranic verses and Sciffy tropes. Here are the core paragraphs:

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.


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.

My (snarky) comment: That noise you heard was my head striking the desk.

No one should fail to know that when the ancients spoke of “worlds” they meant Heaven, Earth, Hell, not to mention Jinnistan the abode of Genii, or other celestial and infernal realms, and did not mean Arisia, Tellus, and Eddore.

Penetrating the bounds of heaven is not a reference to rocketry, nor is the flight of the Prophet on the back of the winged man-faced beast Al-Rakim a hidden reference to a surface-to-orbit biotechnological aerospace vehicle.

The Jinn are Genii, and are not references to the Organians, Metrones, or the Squire of Gothos from Star Trek.

Does This Look Like a Space Alien Energy Being to You?

The reference to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus is a reference to a Christian story, not to ‘When the Sleeper Wakes’ by H.G. Wells and not to Buck Rogers.

The theme of Solomon the Magician understanding the speech of birds and beasts has more in common with Doctor Doolittle or Siegfried the Dragon Slayer than with Doctor Moreau or conversations with the Grand Lunar of the Moon.

I have no complaints about Science Fiction set in the background of the Thousand and One Nights, and certainly a story set in a future when the Dar-el-Islam should outnumber and overcome the West is valid speculation, if not forecast.

The Houri of Paradise or Space Princesses of Planet Venus?

Nor do I have an objection to a story set in a universe where the world view of Mohamed turns out to be correct and the world views of Saint Paul and Buddha and Arjuna and Homer, not to mention Dawkins and Hitchens and Karl Marx and Ayn Rand, are the ones that turns out to be wrong — After all, since the world views are mutually exclusive, someone has to be wrong, and the point of science fiction is to exercise the imagination to shock our otherwise unquestioned assumptions.

Myself, I do not believe Allah is actually running the store, but neither do I believe in telepathy, time travel or faster than light drives: but this does not diminish my enjoyment of watching Mr. Spock perform a mind meld on a cavegirl. Or for that matter, on a slave damsel from ancient Persia.

Harem Girls from Outer Space — Legit Topic for Islamic SFF?

What, you may ask, is my opinion of Science Fiction stories taking place in a clearly Christian background? I have to admit that I am against dead set against it, and this for three reasons: First, whenever the Supreme Being from the Christian world view appears in a story, Mr. Spock would just shoot Him with a shipboard phaser cannon; second, wherever the Ark of the Covenant appears in a story, it either melts Nazi face or sits in a giant warehouse; and third, I do not think our Christian Nuns are as cute as the kidnapped Circassian Harem girls of the Persia, even when they have rocket belts.

Rocket Nun — Legit Topic for Christian SFF?

Is there anything we in the West can do to combat this dreaded ‘cuteness gap’ developing between Christian and Mohammedan SFF?

Dancing Girls Enslaved by Space Bedouins! — Legit Topic for Islamic SFF?

No, sadly, the only way to do truly insightful Christian SFF, done with thoughtful respect for the institutions and sensitivities of that great and ancient world-religion, while closing the cuteness gap, is to have the Japanese do it in Anime.

Assault Nuns — Legit Topic for Christian SFF?

While I have no complaint about anyone and everyone using themes from mythology and religion in science fictional writing (indeed, I strongly encourage it), I must complain if someone misinterprets a mythological or religious notion on the pretense that it was science fictional, or part of the scientific world view, from the outset. The scientific world view is recent; the mythic world view is ancient.

There is nothing wrong with retelling myths in modern or even futuristic garb —— what is E.E. Doc Smith’s LENSMAN series but a romance like that of Ariosto or Mallory of knights fighting ogres merely set in space? What is STAR WARS but a fairy tale of ‘once upon a time’ retold? —— but let us not pretend the ancients were talking about astronauts when they spoke of angels. Down that path lies madness, or, at least, Erich von Daniken.

Ah, the delights involved in rewriting history! Perhaps Islam is responsible for all the useful arts and sciences of the West! Perhaps the Industrial Revolution actually happened in Constantinople, perhaps Ford was Al-Farisi and Edison was Al-Khazin!

In this same spirit, here also is a quote from THE FLYING INN by GK Chesterton:

Eventually it appeared to her that he had some fad about English civilisation having been founded by the Turks; or, perhaps by the Saracens after their victory in the Crusades.  He also seemed to think that Englishmen would soon return to this way of thinking; and seemed to be urging the spread of teetotalism as an evidence of it.

“Loo-ook,” he said, wagging a curled brown finger, “loo-ook at your own inns” (which he pronounced as “ince”).

“Your inns of which you write in your boo-ooks!  Those inns were not poo-oot up in the beginning to sell ze alcoholic Christian drink.  They were put up to sell ze non-alcoholic Islamic drinks.  You can see this in the names of your inns.  They are eastern names, Asiatic names.  You have a famous public house to which your omnibuses go on the pilgrimage. It is called the Elephant and Castle.  That is not an English name.  It is an Asiatic name.  You will say there are castles in England, and I will agree with you. There is the Windsor Castle.  But where,” he cried sternly, shaking his green umbrella at the girl in an angry oratorical triumph, “where is the Windsor Elephant? I have searched all Windsor Park.  No elephants.”


“You will find the same trace of Asiatic nomenclature in the names of all your English inns,” he went on.  “Nay, you will find it, I am almost certain, in all your terms in any way connected with your revelries and your reposes.  Why, my good friends, the very name of that insidious spirit by which you make strong your drinks is an Arabic word: alcohol.  It is obvious, is it not, that this is the Arabic article ‘Al,’ as in Alhambra, as in Algebra; and we need not pause here to pursue its many appearances in connection with your festive institutions, as in your Alsop’s beer, your Ally Sloper, and your partly joyous institution of the Albert Memorial.  Above all, in your greatest feasting day–your Christmas day–which you so erroneously suppose to be connected with your religion, what do you say then? Do you say the names of the Christian Nations?  Do you say, ‘I will have a little France.  I will have a little Ireland.  I will have a little Scotland.  I will have a little Spain?’  No–o.”  And the noise of the negative seemed to waggle as does the bleating of a sheep. “You say, ‘I will have a little Turkey,’ which is your name for the Country of the Servant of the Prophet!”


“I will not for one moment maintain,” said the old gentleman, “that there are no difficulties in my case; or that all the examples are as obviously true as those that I have just demonstrated.  No-o.  It is obvious, let us say, that the ‘Saracen’s Head’ is a corruption of the historic truth ‘The Saracen is Ahead’–I am far from saying it is equally obvious that the ‘Green Dragon’ was originally ‘the Agreeing Dragoman’; though I hope to prove in my book that it is so.  I will only say here that it is su-urely more probable that one poo-ooting himself forward to attract the wayfarer in the desert, would compare himself to a friendly and persuadable guide or courier, rather than to a voracious monster.  Sometimes the true origin is very hard to trace; as in the inn that commemorates our great Moslem Warrior, Amir Ali Ben Bhoze, whom you have so quaintly abbreviated into Admiral Benbow.”

For those of you who miss the jest, the Admiral Benbow Inn is the tavern where Jim Hawkins lives in Stephenson’s TREASURE ISLAND. The Saracen’s Head and the Green Dragon are likewise famous, and many inns, including fictional ones, take their names from them.