I received an email inquiry from a reader and fellow author about how to best to go about incorporating Muslim characters into a fantasy world (specifically, Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V), and the sender gave me permission to post his message and my response to it, since I thought it would be a neat discussion to share.
Found your online essay about Samirah al-Abbas--it was very incisive and I am grateful for having found it, especially since you're another Muslim Canadian who's a bit into the deep end of nerdiness. It gets a bit lonely when my sister is the only other Muslim I know who orbits any of the same interests as me.
Thanks for reaching out to me! I'm glad you enjoyed my essay, and I'm thrilled you found me and then reached out to me as a fellow nerd. Before I get into everything, I do wanna make it clear that I'm not a scholar but I'm answering you with the best of intentions and with my (limited) knowledge and understanding, and Allah knows best.
So I don't really know anything about Yu-Gi-Oh! or Arc-V, but I did a quick perusal through wiki about it and I think your fanfiction should be fine? When I talked about Samirah and the issue of her being Muslim in the context of her world, it was because she lived in a universe where there is a real and existing pantheon which necessarily makes it impossible for there to be God as Muslims believe Him to be.
You said there isn't any 'god problem' in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V universe, so I should think having Muslim characters should be fine. If there are beings that people in the universe of Yu-Gi-Oh! believe are gods, but aren't actually—are instead some sort of magical being with powers etc.—that's also totally fine.
(For example, if in the Magnus Chase universe, the Asgard gods were revealed to be...I don't know, a magical race of superhumans that 'regular' humans believed were gods and worshipped them as such, Samirah could quite happily and easily be a Muslim still believing in truth, and I wouldn't have an issue with it).
It's excellent that you're concerned about this, and I have a couple of suggestions for you, if you want them, for anything you might write in the future that might deal with this. In which case, I'd advise you to do one or all of the following, as you need!
As for magic (because you mentioned there were paganist/occultist stuff in other Yu-Gi-Oh! arcs)...hm. Magic in real life is evil, has to do with djinn, and is haram for Muslims to take part in. But when it comes to fiction...people might disagree with me, but I think fictional magic is not a problem. I think it's fine to have Muslim characters who practice fictional magic or have magical powers, as long as it's not anything like real magic, has nothing to do with djinn, doesn't require them renouncing their beliefs or not fulfilling some tenet of Islam.
For example, I wouldn't think it would be a good idea to have a Muslim who practices human sacrifice, or does spells relating to blood or possession, or something like that, unless the author wanted to point out some corruption or hypocrisy in this character, because Muslims are people and people are flawed etc etc. However, I can easily imagine a Muslim character in the world of, say, Harry Potter being a witch or wizard, because that magic is nothing like real magic and doesn't infringe on Muslim beliefs.
Again, I'm not a scholar, so I could be wrong or missing something.
As for your characters being in the process of an arranged marriage: that's totally up to you! I absolutely get wanting them to be in a halal relationship, and so setting up an arranged marriage for them allows for that. I know some people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, may be uncomfortable with that, out of concern for your characters being so young, or having a choice in who they marry, and being able to fall in love or out of love etc, so it's up to you how you wanna depict it. This is, I think, more of a personal preference than a theological issue, so feel free to explore the whole idea the way you want to.
I hope this (very long) message helped and answered your questions! Tawfeeq with your writing and I hope you find more fellow nerdy Muslims to connect with! If there's anything else you wanted to talk about, or if you wanted more clarity on something I said, do let me know! I'm always happy to chat.
Happy reading and writing!
If you followed me on tumblr (back when I had a tumblr), you might remember that several months ago, I said I was writing an article in response to something I'd come across, and also promised to share it when it went live. I very much meant to do so much sooner, only the first version of this article was not very good and I needed time away from it to be able to rework it. The finished product, I am proud to say, is loads better and I am really pleased with it!
I have currently hosted it on Medium, because I'm still without a job (thanks, pandemic) and Medium allows me to get paid per reader. Which means I would really appreciate it if you could check it out and give my article a read, and also share it around!
Happy reading and writing!
❝ If someone were to ask me what I identify as, I would answer Muslim, Canadian, and giant nerd, in that order. I might tack bookworm onto it too. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I can be found doing one of three things: reading, writing, or interacting with online creative spaces. While I have rarely been unwelcome in those spaces, those spaces have very rarely been inclusive for me or my beliefs as a Western Muslim, largely because Western Muslims simply aren’t represented very well (or at all) in Western media. ❞
You may or may not know that I'm writing a Muslim-themed fantasy epic temporarily titled The Chronicles of Mourra (or CofM for short). I've been working on it off-and-on for about a decade now, which means I've been doing research for it for the same amount of time. I'm quite blessed in that I grew up surrounded by easy access to an excellent Islamic education (any and all ignorance is a reflection of me entirely lol).
My parents especially instilled in me a love of my history, traditions, and religion. Both my parents are educators and storytellers, in different ways, so that I haven't really needed 'outside' research to create the world of CofM (as it stands now). I base a lot of it on my lived experience!
Still, when someone on Facebook asked me if I was able to do my research easily, and lamented struggling to find resources on notable women in Islam, especially in positions of power and leadership, I went on a researching binge and compiled a very non-exhaustive list of resources on magnificent Muslim women.
This is more a jumping off point so you can have a direction when researching online (there's a lot of books out there too!) I focused mostly on medieval women, as there's a wealth of easily accessible information out there on all the incredible female companions and contemporaries from the Prophet's (ﷺ) time. (Although, if y'all want a list of them, do let me know and I'll make a part 2 to this!)
1) Via Ballandalus, a truly excellent online resource on Islamic history:
2) Extraordinary Women from the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation via 1001inventions
3) Women’s Contribution to Classical Islamic Civilisation: Science, Medicine and Politics via MuslimHeritage
All these links include references that should lead you to more information! I did my best to make sure they're all credible too. Some standout favourite women I want to learn more about include:
Do you know of notable Muslim women of history that are absent from this list? I would particularly like to find more women from outside the Arab world! Comment below and let me know!
Until next time, happy reading!
Welcome to the blog!
Featuring prompt fills, excerpts from my wips, posts about my writing process, and more.