Default, no longer afterthought

Eid is coming in three more days, which means two things: 1) I have been accompanying my mother to run errands in anticipation for the celebration, and in between that 2) I’m trying to get as much data analysis and thesis writing done as much as possible as I am going to be away for at least two days for Eid, and I have a submission for the next three chapters within this month. Which also, leads to the temporary dormancy of this blog.

I have started some bits of thematic analysis in a software called NVivo today, which I just learned to use about a month ago and surprisingly it is easy to navigate. Thematic analysis is something interesting because: 1) it is one step beyond the normal content analysis, which involves assigning general themes to tweets (in the context of my research). However it can be too general, which means 2) I can go one level deeper by assigning subthemes within themes, which is I think it is something I am good at and that’s how my brain often mentally categorises things. This chart is a good representation of how it is done, and I’m sure it’s something a lot of us are familiar with already.

I am in the midst of reading this anthology of djinn-related short stories called The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories. I wouldn’t have known about this book if not for a dear friend recommending it to me after seeing my Goodreads history of inadvertent pattern of djinn-related stories — The Golem & The Jinni, Alif the Unseen, Cairo, A Dead Djinn in Cairo (I swear I didn’t notice the pattern) — and many others. The book title is taken off the titular poem by Egyptian poet Hermes, and it’s chock full of stories — well, of the shadowy, fiery beings called djinn — or jinn, jinni, genie, etc. (The authors made sure the spellings of this creature is retained according to the culture each story is told from). I am 76% in and I am sure I am going to finish this within this weekend.

There’s one interesting observation that I have taken quite an interest in within this anthology. For some sci-fi-themed stories such as The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice by E.J Swift — a story set in the future where a spaceship was infested with djinn — the crews were by default all Muslim, which is different from the stories we were brought up with when spaceship crews were normally Western, white, and most often, male. In portraying Muslims as a complex and nonhomogenous community, the crews were also made of practising (there was an imam and also those who religiously pray) and non-practising ones, men and women (although with a lack of mention of other gender spectra, but it is a short story and could be improved) all flying a spaceship and working in science together. I think about A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark which tells of a woman detective (and with mostly women characters) set in steampunk fantasy / magical realist Cairo where djinns, angels and ghouls roam freely, mentions of alchemy and magic that drove out the colonisers. It is a refreshing reminder of what we Muslims could be, and have done already, and this thought of representation fills me with so much joy.

There’s this term that I learned early this year which is Afrofuturism — defined as “a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.” It was coined by Mark Dery and it is essentially a reimagining of a world where blackness is the default and no longer an afterthought, a recontextualisation of the world through the perspective of the African diaspora, and also a new conceptualisation of this future. In mainstream media we often see this in movies such as Black Panther, from authors such as Octavia Butler, N.K Jemisin, and Nnedi Okorafor (whose short story is also included in The Djinn Falls in Love), and even in music such as Janelle Monae’s music video (also a narrative film) Dirty Computer.

A similar term for one in the context of Muslim’s, as I looked up, would be Muslim futurism. Also described as “science fiction with a Muslim flavour”:

The aim being to craft a brand of storytelling placing Muslim characters, experiences, and narratives at the very heart of the story. Instead of trying to change the depiction of Muslims and Islam in the works of others, let us create our own creative outlets. There is not much we can do to stop the ongoing onslaught of vehement bigoted rhetoric, but there is much that we can do in creating a counter-narrative that showcases the true nature of Islam, and the experiences of Muslims through our creative works.

I look forward to reading more works such as this, where stories of other communities and civilisations are the norm, and no longer secondary after Western civilisation like we are often exposed to.

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