First there was the animated series Burqa Avenger, a Pakistani school teacher by day and superhero by night who fights crime with Takht Kabbadi — a special martial art that uses books and pens. There was also The 99, originally a Kuwaiti animated series based on ‘Muslim values and culture’ and featuring children and adults from around the world who have in their possession ninety-nine magical Noor Stones (Ahjar Al Noor or the Stones of Light) and gain magical powers from them.
Where Burqa Avenger is an on-going series, The 99 wrapped up its adventures in September 2013. Let’s also not forget Kamala Khan aka Ms Marvel, the latest super hero introduced by the comics giant Marvel Comics in 2014, she is a Pakistani American teenager based in New Jersey that fights baddies with her ability to shape shift. This was also the first time a Muslim character has headlined a Marvel comic book.
The latest Muslim superhero to come to our attention is Buraq, a product of Split Moon Arts and created by two brothers who are techies in their own right, US-based Adil and Kamil Imtiaz. The animator/artist behind Buraq is the very talented Rafik Gevorgyan, who is based out of Armenia. The animated series is named after the legendary horse Al-Buraq that carried the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) from Mecca to Jerusalem and back during the night of the Mi’raj.
Buraq, the new superhero on the block is suave, smart and … Muslim
Images on Sunday spoke to Adil Imtiaz (who has voiced the English version of the promo) over Skype in Shahzad ‘Shahi’ Hasan’s studio in Karachi. Shahi, as he is popularly known, one of the founder members of the Vital Signs and one of Pakistan’s most well-known music producers, has worked his magic on the soundtrack of Buraq. Former fellow band member and now televangelist Junaid Jamshed has given his voice to the Urdu version of the promo that was released online recently.
How it all started
“We started the graphic novel in 2011,” said Adil Imtiaz, “the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. People from all over the world -Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East, Pakistan, and India and even in the West, especially Muslims — were happy.”
They didn’t think about converting this into an animated series until 2013. “We met up with a really bright group of people, including Shahi, whom everyone knows,” he added. Thus a promo of what the series would look like was born. The duo are now looking for partners willing to fund this project further, although work on it is currently underway regardless.
Buraq is Yousuf Abdullah, a young man in his early 30s, born and raised in the United States. “He’s a son to an immigrant father, a born Muslim, and a mother who accepted Islam so his parents come from different backgrounds,” related Adil. Being caught between two worlds, he predictably has issues with fitting in while growing up. “Unfortunately, his parents become victims of a hate crime,” added Adil. “That’s when his life takes a turn and he discovers his spiritual side.”
Taking back the narrative
“What we’re trying to do is show someone who is not only a superhero but also someone who happens to be a practising Muslim. When I say practising Muslim, he’s not going out on the streets giving sermons or preaching. He’s just a regular guy who prays and reads the Quran as a normal part of life.”
The narrative of Islam seems to have been hijacked by violent extremists or militant organizations, are they trying to reclaim that? “Absolutely,” responded Adil, “That’s one of our driving goals: to show our youth that Islam is not about extremism, it’s not about who’s right and or trying to prove who’s wrong. It’s about following the middle path which Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) showed us. You have to have a very healthy balance in life.”
Not just for the boys
Men don’t have all the fun in this animated series. Women will find characters to identify with and for little girls to as well. Buraq’s plainclothes partner is Imaan, Nova City’s district attorney. “She’s a very strong character and a confident lady,” said Adil, “She’s going to be a big part of the series.”
Having this character represent Muslim women is important to Buraq’s creators as people often fail to make the distinction between culture and religion. “All these misconceptions about women being oppressed in Islam, I mean, there is a big difference between cultural oppression and Islam,” said Adil. “There’s no room for oppression in Islam. Of course we have men who oppress women in the name of culture etc, but it has nothing to do with Islam.”
Promoting inter-faith harmony
If you thought that the animated series would target only Muslim communities around the world, think again. Buraq doesn’t work alone. He gets plenty of help from a group of people called the Truth Seekers. “This is a group of individuals from different backgrounds,” said Adil. “There are Jews, Christians etc and their goal is to join forces with Buraq and stand for justice and against other agendas that are being pushed to promote hatred.” Is promoting inter-faith harmony a big part of the series? “That is one of our goals,” responded Adil. “The way Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his companions lived in Madina is a testament to how we’re supposed to live in a multicultural society and have tolerance and patience. That’s how Islam spread. There was no one who was sent to Indonesia and yet Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world.”
Old-school family entertainment
According to Adil, Buraq is going to provide entertainment for your family the ‘old’ way. “We’re trying to provide an alternative for our youth,” he said. “I know people are obsessed with Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and all the Khans and then you have all these superhero movies, which we enjoy too by the way. But what we’re trying to do is give them something else: wholesome fun where there’s no vulgarity, no sexual themes, no hidden messages. Anyone would feel comfortable watching it. You can leave your kids alone in a room and they can watch it.
“We’re trying to provide that alternative and at the same time we’re trying to inspire people to come back to their roots.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 15th, 2015