It was while surfing for Young Justice fan-works that I came across the advertisement for BURAAQ, an independent comic book featuring the world's first American Muslim superhero. Intrigued - and having found that the first issue was available free as a PDF - I was quick to read it. It begins by introducing the title hero - Buraaq's - home city, and detailing a recent rash of hate crimes terrorizing the city's immigrant populace.
Buraaq initially appears "as if out of thin air" to save a Muslim woman from being targeted. He's a striking figure against Nova City's night sky: wearing a red domino mask, red and white costume and a black cape, and bearing a message of universal acceptance. Issue 1 closes with the blessing of the woman Buraaq has just saved: "Whoever he may be, wherever he might be... God bless him."
In honest truth, BURAAQ the comic may be more religious than some readers will be able to accept easily, which writer and artist Adil Imtiaz says he doesn't plan on changing.
Adil immigrated to the United States from Pakistan with his family when he was a teenager, 21 years ago. As a child, he says, he read all the major DC and Marvel comic books, and was fascinated by them, as many others were, and still are. It's not so easy, now, to get your hands on a physical comic book - you have to go to specific stores - but the nice the thing about the internet, Adil says, is that "everyone has access to BURAAQ."
Splitmoonarts, the website on which BURAAQ is hosted, is run by Adil's younger brother Kamil, and has already logged downloads of the first issue from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Canada as well as the United States. BURAAQ also has a modest following on Facebook. Although the first issue of BURAAQ was only released in January 2011, the BURAAQ Facebook Fan Page already has 570-some 'like's. Another good thing about the internet: instant results.
Adil has had a passion for art since he was child, and admits that his sketches in childhood included superhero comics, but a love for the craft wasn't the only reason he started BURAAQ. "Everywhere you go," he says, "you get one side of the story most of the time... when you turn on the news, all you hear is Muslim, Islam, terrorism, bombing... it doesn't give you the full picture."
Buraaq, he says, is the other side of the story. "He's a regular guy. I mean, he's a superhero, so he does superhero things, but he also has a religious side. That's how I want people to see him - as a Muslim - so that they can get a different picture."
The picture of Islam that Adil wants people to see has many of the same values that every other major religion possesses: honesty, hard-work, compassion... and god-consciousness. "If you believe there's a god," he says, "then you don't go to your mosque or church and then you're done, you're back to your regular life."
God-consciousness is part of the expectations of every religion, and as a Muslim, Adil believes in keeping that consciousness in every aspect of life, including in entertainment. Since the creation of entertainment media, there's been a steady move towards secularism, and although religious entertainment has its niche market today, religion is a focus most mainstream producers stay away from.
Adil, through Buraaq, is planning on changing that. "Why shouldn't religion be included? We can't separate religion from our daily lives." He is prepared, however, to face resistance to the idea of a religious superhero.
Although Adil has no current plans for a multi-hero universe - as DC and Marvel comics have grown into - he already has a supporting cast in mind. "The idea is to bring people together, so Buraaq is going to have friends from all kinds of backgrounds."
Splitmoonarts and the BURAAQ Facebook page both feature concept sketches of Buraaq's arch-nemesis, who is likely to appear "quite soon, probably in the third issue".
Adil's ultimate goal? "I want to see a big, epic movie," he says. "I want to see Buraaq on the big screen."
In the next issue, Adil plans on introducing Buraaq "as a normal guy, outside of the superhero costume." He's hoping that readers will see Buraaq as a positive Muslim character, and let the comic influence their opinion on Muslims and Islam. "My goal isn't to preach," he stresses. "I want people to be entertained, to enjoy the artwork and the story."
He also hopes that other artists will be inspired to contribute to understanding in their own ways. "There are Muslims artists out there who may not be aware of what they can do. I'm hoping that this will inspire, or at least make others think... We're living in a time where you can actually achieve your goals. Thanks to the digital age, and global internet, you can do anything you want. This is the right time for people to take advantage of this."
Source: SpineOnline - Kathleen Henry