Comic Superheroes Re-Envision The Future Of Islam

Comic Superheroes Re-Envision The Future Of Islam

PSFK chats with Dr.Naif Al-Mutawa on the successful promotion of multiculturalism and tolerance via pop culture.

Plus Aziz
  • 18 january 2012

There is no question that America is re-working its foreign policy and perspective on the Middle East in a big way. The US government is acting swiftly to build bridges with Islamic governments not only through policy, but through culture as well.

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa is one such bridge. His work has been recognized for the immense vision it presents when it comes to framing Islam in a de-politicized manner. His animated franchise, The 99, has been making ripples around the world and is currently in talks with broadcasters to distribute the 2nd season. He is essentially helping restart the conversation on what Islam means, for both the East and West.

We interviewed him to get a better idea of his vision and primary motivations that drove him to develop The 99.

Tell us about your role and how you came to establish The 99 and Tashkeel Media Group.

I’m the founder and CEO of the company. I got the idea during the summer of 2003; I wrote the business plan and financials and conceptualized the first few stories when I was raising money for it. We secured $7 million dollars within the first year and $37 Million after three more rounds; a million came from my business school classmates and the rest came from banks and institutions in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I began hiring a team and setting up a strategy of trying to figure things out. Since then, we have several hundred people working on the project, so my role is now about finding where we need to go next and getting it done. We’ve grown the management team and I remain the thinking behind the project, but no longer the storywriter.

What are the biggest problems your organization is solving for?

As a psychologist, my work has always been about people and perception. When a client goes in to see a psychologist, you work with how the person sees himself or herself, how they think others see them, and somewhere in the middle you do your work. I wasn’t happy with the way people were seeing Islam, but more importantly, I wasn’t happy with how Muslims were seeing Islam itself. Not how the West sees Islam, but how we see it.

I made a bet on the next generation. I basically went back to the same place where groups that are weaponizing my religion have tied their messages, and tied my own messages of tolerance and multiculturalism there as well. They, in turn, become bad guys with bad messages and I can de-link them from religion. This was my initial hypothesis. So I took off with that, but the product itself is just a good comic and TV series without any of that in there. This is because the ways we address issues of tolerance and intolerance are not about your religion or where you’re from. It’s more about what power you have; and is it important to solve the problem at hand. So we deal with it in a very neutral way.

What has surprised you most about the way that people have responded to your work?

The most surprising response was when President Obama talked about The 99. That was amazing for us.

I haven’t been surprised at the impassioned response we’ve gotten to what we’re doing. Everybody understands it in the way that they want to–this is normal. The trouble is that there are those who try to pigeon-hole us based on their prejudices. That’s happened to us in the Middle East and now it’s happening in America. And it’s the flock of people that teach us that they are better than everyone else. These people exist everywhere and what I’d like to say, half-jokingly, is that The 99’s superpower is exposing bigots. It’s actually very cliché for a concept promoting tolerance to get shot down by people that are prejudiced.

You launched a Facebook page for The 99 a little over a month ago and now have thousands of followers. You’re also active on Twitter. Tell us about your online community and what you’re looking to get out of social media.

We started promoting the Facebook Page at the end of November in 2011. In less than a month, we’re at 600,000. We didn’t launch it until recently because we didn’t want to launch without having anything to feed it. So now that the animation series has been sold all over the world and we have 4 years worth of comic book content, we felt it was the right time to launch a Facebook Page.

From the start, a lot of the attacks we’ve received have been through social media. And while it might’ve seemed that there was this huge opposition to us, it was far from accurate, as our growing community demonstrates. Another part of why we did this is because we need a base. People had heard of us, but no one knew how to interact with us. I did not allow for that to happen because I needed to be strong enough to weather any kind of confrontation. The truth is that we got picked on, and so we’re building our ranks through social media.

Thanks Dr. Al Mutawa!

Dr.Naif Al-Mutawa


Wearable Tech Expert: Designing Technology To Empower Connection To Ourselves

Technology Today

This Sensor Will Help You Brew The Perfect Cup Of Tea Every Time

42Tea is a small device that guides you through every step of the brewing process, even identifying the type of leaves being used

Design & Architecture Today

Norwegian Mountaineering Center Mimics A Snow-Capped Mountain

The structure's exterior is clad in a uniform surface of pixels to create a unique climbing experience


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Gaming & Play Today

Shopping Bag Turns Your Hands Into A LEGO

Designers from the School of Visual Arts thought up the Playbox Bag for a competition

Related Expert

Kevin Allocca

Online Media, Video Tech

Home Today

Small Device Creates A Personal Weather Station Inside In Your Home

Netatmo's new sensor is a standalone air quality monitor that can measure humidity, purity, noise and temperature

Travel Today

Advertising Proposal Aims To Be The Most “Instagrammable Billboard In The World”

The Belltower in Los Angeles would allow video advertising and live event streaming, and include a pedestrian plaza for visitors

Design & Architecture Today

Easy-To-Build Shelter Offers A Quick Way To Put A Roof Above Your Head

The structure designed by studio Duffy London has applications in disaster relief or first-aid


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed october 14, 2016

Everything I Know About Leadership I Learned Teaching 7th Grade Math

Bree Groff, Managing Director at NOBL NYC, shares her secrets for knowing your employees and enabling a team

PSFK Labs october 12, 2016

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Beauty Today

L’Oréal Wants To Help Visually Impaired Women Apply Makeup

The cosmetics brand has developed a series of audio tutorials for Brazilian consumers with reduced sight

Travel Today

Drone-Powered Hotel Concept Could Radically Redefine Vacations

These unique pods would allow guests to visit a variety of locales over a period of several days

Automotive Today

Pitch Your Startup Idea To Fellow Uber Passengers

A new promotion on the ridesharing service's POOL feature lets select riders compete for a $5,000 investment from prominent venture capitalists

Work Today

Busy Office Managers Can Rely Upon A Digital Concierge To Help Offload Tasks

MEET is a service that automates the process of everyday tasks such as pantry and printer reordering, so employees can focus on more important work

Media & Publishing Today

Design Series Turns Emojis Into A Coffee Table Book

The Emoji Book will be comprised of different artist interpretations of the ubiquitous symbols

Health Today

These Pajamas Are Promising A Better Night’s Sleep

Recliner's new collection is made for those looking for a better way to get quality shut-eye

Design Today

Cook An Entire Pizza On Your Stovetop

This compact kitchen appliance lets people bake a homemade pie without the need for an oven

Work Yesterday

How AI Is Becoming A Seamless Part Of Our Daily Lives

Looking back on Dennis Mortensen and's update at our PSFK conference and the future of artificial intelligence

No search results found.