Superheroes of Social Entrepreneurship: AWSIF (14 & 15 May, Cairo) features THE 99 Islamic Superheroes

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa is the creator of the comic book characters THE 99 – the first group of superheroes born of an archetype inspired by the Arab and Islamic heritages.

This weekend, 14 and 15 May at the Cairo Marriot Hotel, Ashoka’s Arab World Social Innovation Forum (AWSIF) will feature and honor Dr. Al-Mutawa, whose truly innovative approach has created a better understanding of Islam and its values.

Through his comic book characters, Dr. Al-Mutawa portrays Islam in a positive light, highlighting its traditions of diversity, rational thought, and moral self-examination.  The comics, launched in 2006, have already captured the imaginations of children around the world.

His characters and their adventures communicate a marvelous vision of Islamic values and traditions to our youth.  It is a vision which sees no contradiction between modern Islamic values and multiculturalism, between Islamic civilization’s tradition of learning and the wisdom this heritage can offer children today.

THE 99 conveys regional history, culture and traditions, expressed within the context of mainstream international media.  Characters like “Hadya”, a Pakistani-British superwoman who grapples with the questions of a multicultural childhood, or “Jabbar”, the super-humanly strong Saudi who struggles with the moral nature of his powers, provide thoughtful and inspirational images.

The series’ name refers to a set of magical stones, which provides each of the 99 characters with their super-powers.  The plot line is a thrilling mix of history and fiction.  It goes like this:

The legendary ninety-nine stones are literally the gems of ancient Islamic civilization.  As the Mongol Hulagu Khan set upon Abbasid Baghdad, so ending an era of Islamic civilization, the last Caliph and his librarians at the legendary Dar al-Hikma sought to preserve the immense store of knowledge passed down to them across the generations.

As their city and heritage is consumed by the flames and massacre of the Mongol assault, the Caliphs’ men craft ninety-nine gems to hold the “light of reason” (a phrase that in itself indicates the series spirit and its enlightened vision of regional culture).

The stones are smuggled out of Baghdad – an emotive metaphor for the temporary flicker in the flame of Islamic knowledge during that dark era – and arrive at Andalusia, where they are hidden in the “Fortress of Knowledge”.  A Fortress caretaker has the hubris to absorb all the knowledge contained by the stones, generating a supernatural fire that consumes the entire place.  The ninety-nine stones are lost amid the smoke and ruins, and lost to history.

Enter Dr. Ramzi Razem, a historian and UNESCO official of uncanny intelligence, who has given himself the mission of finding and bringing together the bearers of the stones, for the benefit of humanity.  Naturally, Dr. Razem’s mission is riddled with globe-trotting adventure and nefarious characters, determining whether the unparalleled power of the stones will be used for good or for evil.

THE 99’s mission is in line with broader goals of its owner, the Teshkeel Group, a Kuwaiti-based company focused on “creating, re-engineering, and exploiting all forms of children’s media based on or infused with localized culture, beginning with a proprietary superhero concept”.

THE 99 has received the accolades of leading interna­tional media, with Forbes identifying THE 99 as ‘One of the Top 20 Trends Sweeping the Globe’.  Dr. Al-Mutawa has won a UNESCO prize for literature in the service of tolerance. He is also the recipient of The Festival Internacional de Humour e Quadrinhos Comics Award presented at Cartoons and Comics Fes­tival in Brazil, The Ecademy Award from Columbia Uni­versity School of Business, The Eliot-Pearson Award for Excellence in Children’s Media from Tufts University, The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Award and ‘The Schwab Foundation Social Entre­preneurship Award’, 2009 presented at the World Eco­nomic Forum on The Middle East, Dead Sea, Jordan. Dr. Al-Mutawa has recently been named as one of ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World’ by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Jordan.

Check out below the character profile of Dr. Ramzi Razem, the compelling and main protagonist in THE 99 epic.  (The profile is taken from the website at http://www.the99.org/article-36-33-Articles-9,ckl)

DR. RAMZI RAZEM

Dr. Ramzi Razem is a psychologist, historian, UNESCO official and lecturer on a wide range of topics, ranging from ancient civilizations to alternative medicine.

As a direct descendant of one of the Huras Al-Hikma (Guardians of Wisdom), Ramzi grew up hearing the legends and stories of the gems. He was captivated by the pain and potential that forged the Fortress of Knowledge, fascinated by the hope gem-wielders could bring to today’s fractured society. But they were just stories, weren’t they?

One day, when Ramzi was a graduate student, he was sent on a UNESCO mission to Granada. The mission was funded by the multinational MAMLUK, and Ramzi was consulting on the meaning of an ancient Arabic scroll that had recently been discovered in the archives of The Escorial, Madrid.
He eagerly translated the scroll, which showed a blueprint for an ancient building fitting the description of the Fortress! Finally, some measure of confirmation that the stories had been based on some kind of truth.
And if the Fortress really had existed, then perhaps the Noor Stones had as well? Or still did exist.

Ramzi completed his education, while learning still more about the potential of the gemstones and uncovering further legends of the Fortress. Over time, he developed strong international ties to political organizations and corporations alike.

Now a doctor, Ramzi spent years filling in the information cracks on the Huras Al-Hikma and Noor Stones. He put together a blueprint for securing the gemstones. Scraps of historical information, piecemeal urban legends, and stories hidden in religious strongholds across the world all spoke to unexplained paranormal phenomena; especially stories of men who seemed to possess powers that mortals could not possibly attain.
He analyzed these worldwide accounts of unexplained powers. Then, he tried to link these occurrences to specific people, specific regions of the world or specific family lines, trying to narrow down the possibility of who might have a gemstone.

Now, he needs to find out if his suspicions – his theories— are true. Finding a person who could serve as a Guardian – as one of THE 99 – had proven difficult enough, but to actually find a gemstone and put that together with the right candidate? The odds seemed insurmountable at best, and all Dr. Razem could do was to keep searching and to pray for a miracle.

Then, after a lifetime of searching in secret…a miracle happened. A gem was found! And it was found with a gem-wielder at the same time!

Then Ramzi learns that finding is only the first step – now he has to recruit – convince the gem-wielder that he (or she) can—and should—help to change the course of human civilization. Convince them that others will benefit from their powers and that Ramzi can protect the wielder from others who might look to benefit from the powers of a Guardian. After a lifetime of waiting, wondering and working – Ramzis work has just begun…

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