Friday, 13 January 2012

Islam and Science Fiction

Consider this a kind of follow-up to the topic of the previous post. I have to acknowledge Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad's path-breaking work on Islam and science fiction. Muhammad has compiled an anthology on the subject, entitled A Mosque Among the Stars:

He also maintains the Islam and Science fiction website. I was particularly impressed by Irfan Rydhan's contribution, "Star Wars: An Islamic Perspective". This is no mean feat, given how so much has been written about Star Wars, with Lucas generally excoriated for his portrayal of the Jedi faith. For example, Slavoj Zizek, as I have previously mentioned on this blog, seems to entertain no doubts that this integral aspect of the film is in keeping with the West's interest in Buddhism. Contra this view, Irfan Rydhan writes:

“The Force” is the common thread between all six movies and is defined as an energy field, which binds all living things together  (i.e. Allah, God, a Supreme Being or Power that most religion’s adherents worship, follow and/or yearn to become a part of).  According to Star Wars mythology, the Jedi “are a noble order of protectors unified by their belief and observance of the Force.”

"George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars films, has attributed the origins of “The Force” to the film 21-87 (dir. Arthur Lipsett) which used samples from many sources.”One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled for 21-87 [a film that had a great influence on Lucas] was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor , a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX. In the face of McCulloch’s arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: ‘Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”

The Wikipedia entry on 21-87 also notes how this short not only influenced the aesthetic of THX-1138 and American Graffiti, but is said to have inspired the term "The Force". Furthermore, Princess Leia's cell in Star Wars: Episode 4 (A New Hope) is numbered 21-87.

Intriguing enough to be sure, but I found that Rydhan's article maintains a consistently high standard of credibility throughout, in its jump from these recorded facts about Lucas's original inspiration, to the possible parallels to the tenets of Islam--including, for example, citation of a Sufi website, which includes the following description: "“We are at the core a Movement of Jedi..." Also noteworthy is the sympathetic reading of the "sand people" in the films as "a metaphor of the Arabs and other people of the Middle East."

I am still exploring Islam and Science Fiction, but read in light of my previous post, I believe it would be a mistake to dismiss  it as somehow divorced from "real world" concerns. Indeed, to the contrary, as we increasingly confront the conception of life as an "emerging property", there seems more reason than ever before to turn to science fiction to interrogate its provision of something like a "sociology of anticipation", with respect to these developments. It is certainly difficult to imagine a time when Islam would not play a constitutive, rather than a merely after-the-event role, in this emerging formation. I therefore commend Muhammad Aurangzab Ahmad and his fellow contributors for laying the groundwork for these conversations.

One final thing, if you're interested in watching 21-87, you can do so here.


Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed by Star Wars & Islam piece! Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed by Star Wars & Islam piece! Thanks for sharing.