When it comes to magic, Muslims aren’t strangers to the concept. In fact, a large part of being Muslim is believing the words of the Quran, which also mentions magic. Essentially, in order to be Muslim you have to acknowledge the magic in our current reality. Magic, in Islam, differs from the modern renditions that we’re used to reading in fantasy books. Many Muslim authors have emerged with a refreshing spin on fantasy in the western market by adhering to traditional Islamic folklore. One of the most popular being Jinn, more commonly known genies, such as the famous genie in Disney’s Aladdin.
To start off, I want to give a disclaimer. While the purpose of this article is to provide writers and creators with some insight into how Muslims view magic, a lot of this article will be based on Islamic guidelines. With that said, I’m not an Islamic Scholar, but I hope that this article can serve as a starting point in your journey to writing diverse characters in fiction. Please use this opportunity to continue your research if you wish to write Muslim characters in your magical stories. How Muslim authors chose to represent magic in their writing is backed with cultural and social knowledge that came from their religion. My purpose here is to provide it to those who do not have the resources.
In Islam, magic is mentioned in the Quran, as well as a large part of our mythology. Islamic mythology, usually surrounding Jinn, is often the reasoning behind many supernatural instances. Ghost sightings, fortune tellings, tarot card readings, curses, and spells are often through the guide of Jinn1. Essentially, any magic that humans wield is indirect, often through the use of Jinn. With this framework in mind, it can set a lot of limitations to how Muslims and magic mix in fiction. Unlike other concerns with Muslim representation in literature, the subject of magic is more binary. The main concern isn’t if this is harmful or disrespectful, but rather if it makes any logical sense in Islamic context. When it comes to writing Islam, or any religion, a certain standard of beliefs must be held. The most significant part of a Muslim isn’t how they dress or what culture they have, but what principles they stand by, and what beliefs they hold as fact.
The use of magic in Islamic context is not only extremely frowned upon in the religion, but one of the greatest sins in Islam2. The reason for this is that nearly all magic, regardless of the intention, is black magic. Many Muslim readers often distinguish, the morality of magic, from the context of the fantasy novel they’re reading or the supernatural television show they watch. But what happens when the Muslim audience sees a Muslim character like themselves in fantasy? And what happens when the Muslim character is the one with magical abilities?
Well, let's get into what makes logical sense in Islamic context and what doesn’t. To start off, any mythology in direct opposition of Islamic mythology cannot make theological sense. During the news of Disney’s Percy Jackson adaptation and its amazing push for diversity, some conversations online lead to the hypothetical idea of a Muslim in Rick Riordan’s magical universe. Can a Hijabi be a demigod?
The simple answer is no. Because Greek mythology, being polytheistic, is in direct opposition with the framework of Islam, a monotheistic religion. Essentially, how can a Muslim character remain Muslim if they are aware of a higher power from a completely different religion? It’s not about inclusion or inoffensiveness at this point, but accuracy and authenticity. The two cannot overlap in this context.
Magic, such as witchcraft and spellcasting, has a similar outcome but for different reasons. In Islam, the belief is that magic (more commonly known as sihr) is wielded through Jinn, supernatural creatures who roam among the earth the same way that humans do. Writing Jinn is an entire topic in itself, but to keep it short: Magic through humans is indirect and through the use of Jinn. In Islam, the use of this magic is the gravest sin a person can commit. Not only is it a sin, but partaking in so completely ends your relationship with Islam. In other words, a person actively partaking in magic cannot be Muslim. This differs from other sins or vices that are frowned upon in the religion, which still leaves space for a person to be Muslim. Magic is not one of them. As soon as a Muslim participates in magic, they are directly rejecting Islam.
So let’s say you’re working on a novel about witches and magic, but you wanted to create a diverse cast of characters. That’s amazing! But can you write a Muslim witch? I would strongly advise against it because Muslim readers would be confused and it would perpetuate ignorance for non-Muslim readers. The two identities not only clash but are complete opposites.
If you want to include a Muslim character in your fantasy novel, maybe because you drew inspiration from a geographical location or culture, what alternatives can be provided to give the same effect?
Have Muslims Unaware of the Magic
Don’t have any Muslims at any point be aware of the magic. Many Muslims still enjoy reading and watching fantasy, and while it might be nice to see some representation, we don’t need to be included in it. We can still relate to the characters through other aspects, such as their personality or morals. The moment your Muslim character is aware of the magic though, you are (probably unintentionally) placing a moral dilemma on them rooted in their faith. There might be good intentions when including Muslims in your story, but marginalized religions differ from other marginalized identities. As a Muslim, it is a choice one makes every day to partake in it, even if the belief is so strong that it may be taken as fact. For many religions, the belief holds importance in every aspect of life.
Bring Diversity Through Race or Culture Instead
Think about why you initially wanted your character to be Muslim. Can the character be Arab, Desi, or African instead? While Islam isn’t a racialized religion, there are of course certain regions in the world where Islam flourishes. Was your character originally an Arab and Muslim witch? I would simply omit Islam and focus more on culture. Doing that, in my opinion, is probably one of the easiest changes to make. Oftentimes, when non-Muslim writers are trying to write Muslim characters, they include rich descriptions of their race and culture anyway. It might be hard to separate the two, and this is coming from experience despite being an Arab Muslim myself, but a little more research on the culture can help guide you.I would recommend a sensitivity reader for cultural and/or racial differences, but the chances of more accurate representation are plausible.
When writing Muslims in magical worlds, and fantasy in general, it’s important to keep in mind the rules and beliefs of Islam itself. Even as a Muslim myself, I recognize how it’s a thin line to walk, as it can be hard to accurately portray a real community in a fictional world. There is so much more context to consider, but I hope that this article helped in serving as a starting point. You may need to do additional research, as well as hire a sensitivity reader to comb through the story and provide accurate feedback. It’s understandable to have some ignorance when writing about a community outside your own. What matters is taking that opportunity to expand your knowledge in pursuit of reaching the best you’ve ever written. My goal as a sensitivity reader for Writing Diversely is to do just that.
Hana Ali is a Yemeni Muslim living in California. She enjoys reading, writing, and helping other writers with their projects. During her free time, she enjoys Korean dramas, animal crossing, and researching Islamic mythology and Yemeni folklore. If you would like Hana to sensitivity read your project, you can request her on the Writing Diversely Directory.
1. As stated from the Pew Research Center: “Both the Quran and hadith make reference to witchcraft and the evil eye as well as to supernatural beings known in Arabic as jinn (the origin of the English word genie)”.
2. In the book, Evil Eye, Jin Possession, and and Mental Health Issues, the author G Hussein Rassool mentions that the “use of magic and witchcraft are forbidden in Islam whether contemporary magic (just deception or illusion), black magic (dark), sorcery and witchcraft spell (false miracles). Sihr (Magic) has wider meanings which include magic or black magic (in the use of Jinn), dowsing, exorcism, sorcery and witchcraft.”