The 99: A More Inclusive World
“Who are the 99?
An ever-growing team of specially powered young people. The 99 prevent disasters, help people in need, and perform good deeds under the banner of the 99 Steps Foundation.
What are the Noor Stones?
Each member of the 99 bears a Noor Stone- an ancient gem of power. Forged out of the destruction of ancient Baghdad, the Noor Stones were created to preserve the wisdom of the ages. When bonded with a specific young person, each gem grants him or her a different gift of power”
This is the first box visible on the inside page of a comic called ‘the 99.’ It is written by Naif Al-Mutawa, who first starting writing ‘the 99’ for his children. Although it is a secular comic book, intended for children of all races, religion and ages, it is based on the ninety-nine principles of Islam. Al-Mutawa became increasingly concerned with the negative images portrayed of Islam by the American media after an Islamist extremist group hijacked American planes and crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th, 2001. Consistently, he saw Islam as a religion take the fall for the beliefs of an extremist group, which was not a true reflection of the principles of Islam. Watching his children growing up, he realized that his children would not only be subject to the prejudices the American media creates but be internalizing the negative portrayal of Islam on their own self-image. ‘The 99’ was born out of a need to positively influence Islamic vision; to reclaim how people perceive and interact with a religion other then there own. Al- Mutawa believes that the only way to truly create cultural understanding between two different cultures is through arts; something as simple as a comic book containing values that can be connected to all types of people, not just those of the Islamic religion. What I would like to explore is whether or not this is true and whether or not this can be considered a “feminist effort.”
A way in which ‘the 99’ could possibly be considered a feminist text would be in its lack of labeling. Although based on Islamic principles, it is not labeled as Islamic and in considered a secular comic book. The secular nature allows the comic book to reach a wider audience; people who may not even realized they are reading something that is based on a religion. In this way, the comic book can be more inclusive of people across different cultures. While it is not labeled as feminist, I believe the goal of the comic book is aligned with the goal of a feminist agenda, which aims to create language and culture that is more inclusive of everyone and more representative of multiple voices. The comics feature ninety-nine people, who have all a “Noor stone” which lends them a particular power. The powers and stones each correlate to particular principle of Islam. However, instead of the directing the reader, the book remains one that many children all over the world can relate to.
The vision of the author is another way in which this comic book presents as a feminist effort. The author believes arts will be the only way to create understanding of another culture and break down prejudices. In this way, he is also working toward a more inclusive world, one in which we do not judge the cultural Other simply because they are different or by their “otherness.” This inclusiveness vision is also one of a feminist nature, to move toward a more open world is to move away from the directed world of a patriarchal structure.
Peggy McIntosh, in her essay “interactive Phases of Curricular Re-Vision: A Feminist Perspective” talks about the phases she believes education reform has gone and will go through. The first stage of education teaches history without women in it. The second phase points out a few women in history who have managed to be successful but forgets to include the voices of the many. The third phase begins to frame women as an anomaly or the ways in which they have been absent from power structures and influencing societal change and dominant culture. The fourth phase presents women as history to be studied in themselves, and the final phase is a more inclusive history, that includes both genders. I believe ‘the 99’ can be a part of her fifth and final phase, the “phase in which History (or Knowledge) gets redefined, reconstructed to include us all” (22). She describes this phase as being vague; one reason being that we have had so little time to conceive this phase, while we’ve had “6,000 years carefully building a patriarchal structure of knowledge” (23). However, she describes this phases as one that can reassess the structures of power and deconstruct the damage done by the broken pyramid psyche, one that views the world in terms of power dynamics. This phase examines multiple perceptions and multiple voices.
‘The 99’ achieves this goal. It re-writes the principles of Islam and disperses them between 99 individual people of all walks of life. In this way, history is re-written as well to include everyone, not just Islamic people but people of all religions, races and ages. Not only that, but as McIntosh hopes, “Phase 5 curriculum promises to produce students who can carry with them into public life the values of the private sphere,” it allows this inclusiveness to be shared with the world, as children can read comics and share them with their friends.
If a comic book like ‘the 99’ is what is necessary to achieve inclusiveness, ‘a phase 5’ type of understanding about the world, then my question is what other ways can we forge curriculum around arts and culture? And what other types of work do we start not only examining, but creating?