July 3 2011

In todays politically charged climate, it’s tough to be a Muslim.

From the controversy that erupted last year over Park 51 in New York City, the Islamic cultural center to be built near Ground Zero, to Peter King’s Muslim hearings and Pastor Terry Jones’ Qur’an Burning campaigns, to the GOP creeping Sharia hysteria, the atmosphere of fear-mongering and suspicion has reached an all-time high. So much so, that anti-Muslim rhetoric permeates the national discourse.

With the influx of Hollywood blockbusters featuring American superheroes, some are looking to the creation of Muslim superheroes on one of the nation’s oldest entertainment mediums, the comic book. But can this story-telling platform help erase the bigotry and distrust that the characters’ counterparts face in the real world?

Marvel Comics introduced Dust, a Muslim “mutant” member of the famed X-Men, with only her eyes visible beneath her full-body burka, whereas its rival publisher DC Comics recently brought out Nightrunner, an Algerian Muslim immigrant recruited by Batman. Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa’s creation of The 99, a comic book published by Teshkeel Comics, features a team of global superheroes based on Islamic culture and religion.

However, Muslims on the pages of comic books confront the conundrum of their flesh-and-blood counterparts: their community views them with suspicion. Comic expert A. David Lewis, in a recent article, writes that non-Muslim heroes wonder if Muslim heroes can truly represent the American way and if they can really be trusted. “The comic book creators can present an altruistic Muslim hero, but also reflect the Islamophobia.” says Lewis.

It is within this context that DC comics called off the release of the original story of Superman #712, in which Superman goes to Los Angeles and meets the West Coast’s newest superhero, Sharif, a young man dealing with a public that does not want his help.

The story written by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Roberson, part of the long-delayed “Grounded” arc, was scrapped and replaced by a different story altogether.

A questionable move to say the least, DC Comics explained that they “determined that the previously solicited story did not work within the ‘Grounded’ storyline.” The publisher did not mention if Sharif will be introduced in one of the future issues.

Meanwhile, there is a new Muslim superhero who made his appearance: Buraaq. He is the first Muslim superhero in America created to counter bias and propaganda against Islam. Buraaq, a practicing Muslim, is a regular guy who gains super powers as a result of experiencing traumatic events in his youth.

SplitMoonArts, creator of Buraaq, aims to provide wholesome family entertainment. The underlying message, they say, would help foster better relations between the West and the Muslim World.

Adil Imtiaz and Kamil Imtiaz, brothers and co-founders, hope that this new comic book series will dispel the fear and mistrust that surround Islam.

“Unfortunately, in the past couple of years we’ve seen a growing sentiment against Muslims and Islam largely due to propaganda in the media and elsewhere. Something had to be done; we needed to hear an alternative voice. As such, we thought that the time was right to introduce a Muslim superhero who would carry this message with all the elements of mystery, action, and adventure. So the idea of ‘Buraaq’ was born and SplitMoonArts was founded,” says Adil Imtiaz, in charge of the artistic work.

“As an American, I cannot see the very principles on which our nation was built being deliberately attacked. All those on the side of Truth, Justice and Peace must come together regardless of race, color or creed. I strongly believe that Good is universal as is Evil,” adds Kamil Imtiaz.

The first digital issue of “Buraaq” was released online in January. It can be downloaded for free via the company’s website.

SplitMoonArts recently launched the second digital issue online, which is also free to download. The plot revolves around “Buraaq,” who is drawn into a centuries old battle between seekers of truth and forces of evil, which are always shrouded in secrecy.