PBS’ 10th season of Independent Lens kicked off recently with a delightful and inspiring documentary: Wham! Bam! Islam! Our recommendation: Don’t miss this film! If you’ve already missed it on PBS, read this story to discover other ways you can enjoy The 99 and Wham! Bam! Islam! The documentary tells the triumphant story of one Muslim scholar—a Kuwaiti psychologist—who was driven to create new kinds of heroes for Muslim children around the world. Here is the PBS Independent Lens homepage where you can read more and check on PBS resources related to the film.
Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa realized that Islam strictly forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad or of God—but Islam has one distinctive cultural feature known to Muslims around the world. Islam counts 99 “names” or “attributes” of God. These names include Rahman (compassionate or gracious), Rahim (merciful), Rauf (the kind). These 99 are as well known to Muslims as the first names of their friends and relatives, who carry these names chosen from the list of 99 with them throughout life as an inspiration to live as noble men and women.
In the new documentary Wham! Bam! Islam! Naif explains that, as a father himself and a psychologist, he was deeply disturbed by the culture of martyrdom he saw across much of the Muslim world. Instead, he wanted to create a Marvel Comics-class universe of comic books, cartoons and other products celebrating the 99, transformed into superheroes. Wham! Bam! Islam! tells about his rollercoaster ride over the past five years from huge success to near disaster to fresh new-media strategies and renewed success.
Who should make a point of seeing this film?
Anyone who … cares about cross-cultural competency,
… wants to understand the spread of new media,
… cares about the future of Islam in global culture,
… teaches children about diversity,
… loves comics, graphic novels and animation.
ReadTheSpirit has been following religiously diverse comics and graphic novels since our founding in 2007, when we first reported on The 99. Before becoming Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I reported on comics as part of my assignment covering religion in America for major newspapers. Comics rank among the most potent sources of fuel in popular culture around the world. Most of the 20 top-grossing movies of all time, now, are based on comicbook heroes. As a religion-news correspondent, I have traveled widely in Muslim countries and the culture of martyrdom that disturbed Naif is obvious everywhere one travels. Many major Muslim centers around the world commemorate martyrs—much like traditional Christian churches enshrine martyrs. The main difference is that many of the Muslim martyrs depicted in Muslim hot spots around the world are young men and women who died in various forms of political violence.
Naif is wise to try to move childrens’ eyes higher—to the noble heroes of their faith. Many Muslim children bear the names of the heroes in the 99. The potential here is powerful—so, watch this documentary! Get involved in promoting awareness of this alternative, inspiring cosmos of Muslim heroes!
WANT MORE ABOUT THE 99?
What are the 99 in Muslim tradition? Wikipedia is a good starting point, listing all 99 with further links to many of the names.
What is The 99 comic project? Again, the Wikipedia overview is packed with information and links.
Want more on religion and comics? ReadTheSpirit has published many stories on these themes since 2007. But, this early series on comics, which includes The 99, still ranks among our most informative.
Want to connect with The 99’s mother lode of news? If you’re drawn to this comics series, and especially if you are an educator or community leader interested in this creative idea, then visit and bookmark The 99 website, which is the portal to all new developments on this project.
Want The 99 in Facebook? Here’s the fan page in Facebook with links currently to the documentary film.
Want to buy the movie? Educators and community leaders may want to jump over to iTunes and buy the documentary, which currently is only $9.99. You’ll find this film useful in classes and small groups. You can search the title itself in iTunes—or, the 99 website and Facebook page also currently link to iTunes.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.