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!
I was asked a series of questions on my tumblr, and I decided to crosspost them here for easy reference to any new readers (hi!).
Why did you start writing?
Honestly, I was always daydreaming as a kid and I was so amped about them that if I didn’t get them out I’d feel this big pressure in my chest, and the more I tried to restrain it, the more wired I’d feel. If I wasn’t daydreaming, I would be acting out those daydreams! I’d climb trees and build little fairy castles in my backyard and make up languages and speak them, or sing songs without an ounce of shame while at the park. In public. By myself. At like, thirteen.
…Anyway yes, if I didn’t channel all that into writing it would have come out in other, probably less socially acceptable ways. Writing feels like a usually invigorating, sometimes painful compulsion, tbh.
Give some fun tidbits on the oc(s) of your choice!
Ooh! Ok! So Raoul of CofM has two younger sisters. I haven’t decided on their names yet, but one of them will be the protagonist of my genderbent Aladdin retelling! Due to circumstances (spoilers!), the story will open with her living as a boy on the streets, where she bumps into a very sheltered prince, and adventure ensues!
What are some of your favourite authors?
Oof, many. Off the top of my head — Patricia A. McKillip, Ursula K Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Georgette Heyer, Gail Carson Levine, Jeff Smith (of the Bone series), and Catherynne M. Valente! My goodreads is here 😁
If you could, what advice would you give yourself as a young writer?
Save all your writing, even the crappy, cringey stuff, in multiple places, both online and in hard copy. You’ll want to look back on them, see how far you’ve come, what’s changed and what hasn’t, and have a record of it all.
Also! Lean harder into writing the stuff that makes you happy! Somewhere along the way people’s opinions get into your head and hold you back, and it takes you a long time to get your mojo back.
Also also! Watch what you read, it influences you in ways that are often negative! Yeah, your parents actually were right about that one, and you’re gonna beat yourself up about it for a while.
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Featuring prompt fills, excerpts from my wips, posts about my writing process, and more.