Muhammad Would Love Star Trek

By Sumbul Ali-Karamaliauthor As a practicing Muslim, I’m always answering questions, and it’s amazing how often Star Trek works its … Continued

By Sumbul Ali-Karamali
author

As a practicing Muslim, I’m always answering questions, and it’s amazing how often Star Trek works its way into my answers. Captain Kirk was my first crush and I still sometimes hear his affable yet steel-edged cadences in my mind. Perhaps never before Star Trek had such jewels of wisdom been delivered by someone so un-selfconsciously ensconced in olive-green polyester. Call it coincidence, but the Prophet Muhammad favored green, too.

Prophet Muhammad would have loved Star Trek. Muhammad would have admired Captain Kirk for the same reasons that Muhammad’s followers admired him. Muhammad was a social reformer in 7th century Arabia, and Captain Kirk was a social reformer in space. Oh, Captain Kirk was supposed to be following the Prime Directive, but he managed significant social reform on all those planets. He once stopped centuries of warfare by showing that computerized brutality was still brutality. Human beings are barbaric, he said, but we can wake up every morning and say to ourselves, ‘You know, I don’t think I’ll kill anyone today. Not today.'”

Like Captain Kirk, Muhammad reformed society by limiting violence. He outlawed all forms of warfare except the jihad, which is the use of force in self-defense to overthrow an oppressor.

He also established an egalitarian social structure. He advocated a pluralism that was unvalued in his time. The first muezzin of Islam was a freed Ethiopian slave. Muhammad had family connections who were Christian, Jewish, and pagan. In his last sermon, Muhammad famously proclaimed that no one had superiority over another, not a white man over a black man, not a black man over a white man, not an Arab over a non-Arab, not a non-Arab over an Arab. And the Qur’an says that God could have made us all into one religious community, but instead made us into different nations and tribes so that we would learn from one another.

Pluralism was Star Trek’s hallmark, too. Captain Kirk’s bridge boasted international and interplanetary diversity. Only three years after the Civil Rights Act, Star Trek proudly featured a black woman on the bridge. We might now cringe at Uhura’s mini-dress and her role as glorified telephone operator, and we roll our eyes at some of her lines (like, “Captain, I’m frightened”). But, we can recognize that Star Trek established a feminist model that later Star Trek movies – and society – could build on.

Muhammad and the Qur’an were feminist, too, believe it or not. Together, they gave women more rights in the 7th century than any other legal system in the world did at the time. In fact, Islam gave women more rights than Englishwomen would have for another thousand years. Jane Austen’s heroines would actually have fared better under Islamic law than English law.

Islam, like Star Trek, established a feminist model that could be built upon later. Muslims have a duty to build upon this model. They haven’t nearly done enough in the last few centuries. For one thing, they’ve been hampered by socioeconomic and political obstacles (colonization being a big one). Today, though, many Muslims groups and individuals are working to promote women’s rights and human rights from an Islamic perspective. That’s what Muhammad, despite the limitations of his premodern society, tried to do.

And that’s what Captain Kirk, despite his society, tried to do, too.

I hugely enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, but I thought it lacked the social conscience of the original series. The original Captain Kirk is still my hero – as is Prophet Muhammad. And for some of the same reasons.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali has a degree in Islamic law and is the author of “The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing.”

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  • Paganplace

    Ah, a fun topic. “Only three years after the Civil Rights Act, Star Trek proudly featured a black woman on the bridge. We might now cringe at Uhura’s mini-dress and her role as glorified telephone operator,”The ‘telephone operator’ factor certainly wasn’t something very progressive, but then again, very few of the secondary characters were really doing more than pushing buttons, presumably related to very technical and important things. Not to apologize too much for it. At the time of the original Star Trek, the mini-dresses weren’t actually considered anti-feminist: there was a very different view of the significance of short hemlines at the time the original series came out, actually: it was considered a liberation from men telling women what was ‘modest’ and all that went with that. Not that it hurt the ratings with the target market or anything, but it wasn’t an anti-feminist thing in the fashion of the time, quite the contrary.

  • justillthen

    Thank you Sumbul for this perspective. I particularly liked the look at womens rights and non-violence. It is a shame that perceptions of Islam are hijacked by the extremism of islamic fundamentalists. We should hear more from moderates and liberals in the Islamic community. I am certain that colonialism has played a large role in affecting Islamic societies in the Near East in particular, and Africa, though it is less clear to me how that has shaped the state of feminism in those cultures. There is little doubt that colonialism was a manifestation of an already weakened political and economic structure, as well as it’s social structure. Strong organizations rarely get colonized. Again, I like the voicing of this view of Islam. Nice job merging Muhammad and Captain James T. Applause…

  • Paganplace

    I think some of the notions there’s something astoundingly Muslim about Kirk may be a *tad* thin, but really, I think the whole notion of a United Federation Of Planets has much to do with humanity’s best hopes for our world, in all our diversity. I remember even as a child being impressed by a marriage ceremony that Kirk celebrated as a ship’s captain, and he said something like, ‘In sight of our many beliefs.’ And I had the amusing thought that if we served together on the same starship, Pagans and Muslims both might be praying in the direction of Sector Zero Zero Zero One. πŸ˜‰

  • Paganplace

    Well, I guess, come to think of it, Pagans would want to find a deck oriented *down* toward Earth, …Or, possibly parallel with the galactic ecliptic. We’re adaptable, that way. πŸ™‚ Point’s the same, though. πŸ™‚

  • abhab

    Karamli pontificates thus:”He (Mohammad) outlawed all forms of warfare except the jihad, which is the use of force in self-defense to overthrow an oppressor.””(Islam) gave women more rights in the 7th century than any other legal system in the world did at the time.” β€œmany Muslims groups and individuals are working to promote women’s rights and human rights from an Islamic perspective.β€β€œFor one thing, they (Muslims) have been hampered by socioeconomic and political obstacles (colonization being a big one).”

  • Paganplace

    I don’t think, Abhab, that *any* ‘people of the Book’ can exactly claim a proud heritage of …ever… honoring the ‘Prime Directive.’ I think that’s supposed to represent a lesson learned from history. Doesn’t make it a bad idea.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I wonder what Capt. Kirk would have thought about Muhammed’s handling of the Banu Quraayza Jews, 900 men murdered, women, children sold into slavery, etc. Just wondering….Ibn Ishaq describes the killing of the Banu Qurayza men as follows:β€œ Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle they asked Ka`b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, ‘Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!’ This went on until the apostle made an end of them. Huyayy was brought out wearing a flowered robe in which he had made holes about the size of the finger-tips in every part so that it should not be taken from him as spoil, with his hands bound to his neck by a rope. When he saw the apostle he said, ‘By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.’ Then he went to the men and said, ‘God’s command is right. A book and a decree, and massacre have been written against the Sons of Israel.’ Then he sat down and his head was struck off.”

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    As usual, I have no idea of what justilthen is referring to. There is no question as to the historical veracity of the slaughter of the Quorayza Jews. It has been the subject of much scholarly discussion, and no one disputes it. It is a fact of history. Justilthen is advised to use google.I have now two bloggers, justilthen and ccnl, who are obsessed with yours truly. They are ignorant in that they lack information and are militantly so in that they refuse ever to seek knowledge. The current instance is a case in point. His/her notions are canned, and everything must fit in neatly with them. Since there are myths in the OT and NT, the Banu Qurayza must be myth. Let us not trouble ourselves to check first. All other religions must viewed in the light of my own. I am reminded of when ccnl asked me for an historical accounting of Akiva as if he were the Jewish version of Christ!!! Same mentality.I would suggest a dose of Yunus Emre, incomparable Sufi sage, known to calm minds more savage than those of this blogger, who knows nothing of any religion save Christianity, and that which s/he “knows,” one would prefer h/she did not. I would also point out that this threader has been advised by another blogger to find a pastime in lieu of harassing me. Since s/he does not, we must assume s/he has nothing of his/her own to contribute. Oh, well, perhaps, in time, s/he will find something worthwhile to say.In the meantime, we commend him/her to Yunus, the mystic, and to Yunus we commend all.www.stwing.upenn.edu/~durduran/yunus/

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Btw, for justilthen’s edification. Muhammad was also a historical figure, did exist. On this, there is no doubt. Google is an excellent tool. One must, of course, be able to distinguish among web sites, which differ vastly in quality. One must also know something of the writers whom one reads.

  • James210

    Religion,J

  • coloradodog

    “Muhammad reformed society by limiting violence. He outlawed all forms of warfare except the jihad, which is the use of force in self-defense to overthrow an oppressor.”Except “jihad” as self-defense?”Outlawed all forms of warfare?”Looks like Muhammad’s teachings of “non-violence” were about as effective with his followers as Jesus’ teachings about “love” were with his.Abraham was the original Satan.

  • coloradodog

    Paganplace wrote of “…. her role as glorified telephone operator,”Because I respect your posts and think we have many ideas in common, I’ll overlook your unintended insult because of your lack of knowledge concerning things military.As a former Army Communications Electronics Officer, I was more than a “glorified telephone operator.” Fortunately, I outgrew my affinity for things military and became a teacher which I’m sure you wouldn’t call a “glorified babysitter” even though that’s what it often is. Peace, out.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Gee, sometimes, I wish I understood Turkish.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Yes?ΚΌAαΈ₯mad (Ψ£Ψ­Ω…Ψ― also Ahmed, or with ch and/or t in place of h/d respectively), is the transliteration of an Arabic given name that comes from the Arabic Triconsonantal root of αΈ€-M-D Ψ­Ω…Ψ― (“praise”), meaning “highly praised” implying “one who constantly thanks God”. One of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s many names is Ahmad, the name ‘Muhammad’ pre-dating ‘Ahmad’; a related name is ‘Mahmood’. The context by which “Ahmad” is referred to as “praised”, can at times be mistaken, it is because the Prophet Muhammad was so highly regarded in Islam that the name “Ahmad” has come to mean “highly praised”.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    taksimbirki:But are you in Bursa now?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I was born in Iran. Now I live in New York.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    No! :)Your English is very good!

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    How did you find this blog? The Washington Post?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Thank you! I see where you live. You and I are far apart. We are far away from each other.Did you like our president?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Obama is the president. Iran….Things are not so good.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    The fly? What do you mean?Do you see where I live?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    His feet?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Did he say something you did not like?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Your English is very good. Now, people will read Yunus Emre. :)My Turkish is not so good. :{You must post to Coloradodog and to others in English. I know it makes you tired.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    You are right. He is not an emergency doctor. What will happen in Iran? I was born in Iran.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    You have big feet! I love Iran. All Iranians do. It doesn’t matter if they are Muslim or Jewish. Many Iranian Muslims are here. Many of them are wealthy.Iran has suffered. It is suffering now. It suffered with Shah. It is suffering now. Your country and Iran. I think I have two countries. I could never leave the US. I have grown to love it, but I would like my daughter to see Iran.I don’t want more people to die. They say maybe fifteen people have died.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    You cannot get a passport?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Everyone has been helped, I think.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Yes, George Bush was stunned, I guess. I did not understand him.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Is Bursa beautiful?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I understand Yunus the Mystic better than George Bush.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Of course, you are right. Yunus Emre was fluent in Turkish! Translations are dreadful. There are some “good” translations of Hafiz into English, but although they are “good,” they are horrible.George Bush was not so good in English.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    When you finish, you will come here to live? Or you will come here to visit?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    You mean George Bush? The man who used to be president of the US?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    George Walker Bush. I don’t think he had big feet.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    No words for religions. No words for countries. Things would be better, maybe.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Circumcision?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I am a woman. I have big feet. You are a man?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    What business are you in? What kind of work do you do?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president, US. Wife, Barbara.George Walker Bush, 43rd president, US. Wife, Laura.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    i could not grow much to be a woman, just a man, a simple man. but learning from Presidents how to be a Woman.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Two different Bushes.Bush Dad. Bush son. Enough Bush’s. No more, please. No more President Bush’s. Why two?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    You are very interested in feet.Do you sell shoes? πŸ™‚

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Doesn’t everyone have a dress they love?

  • Athena4

    Actually, Mohammed would probably tell Captain Kirk to stay away from his wives. πŸ˜€ (Yeah, someone had to say it.)Seriously, I’m a hard-core Trekkie. I believe in all of that stuff. And so do a lot of other people. One of the coolest stories regarding Star Trek as a way of uniting people was at the 40th Anniversary Star Trek convention a few years ago. They were giving an award to people who were inspired by Star Trek to make the world a better place. The winner was a young civil engineer from Beirut, Lebanon. He told the story that, before the Lebanese Civil War, the city was divided into sections by religion (Christian, Jewish, Sunni, Shia, Druze, etc.) Nobody went into each other’s block. Except for Wednesday nights. That’s when his parents, who had one of the few TVs in their part of Beirut, would invite all of the neighbors over to watch this show from America called “Star Trek”. The neighbors were all religions, all nationalities. They were brought together by this one program, and they talked about it afterwards, while sharing dinner and tea. The guy himself was inspired by Scotty to become an engineer. He’s currently working to repair the Beirut water system. Stuff like that makes me proud to be a Trekkie. Live long and prosper, and salaam aleikum!

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    AThena4,Takis from Turkey is here. He is blogging from Bursa. I believe he is a Trekkie, too.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Yes, I will definitely add Meg Ryan. :}

  • Paganplace

    Like in the episode, ‘Darmok.’ Picard, and some guy, on some planet. Learned to speak. Did a story, about Darmok. πŸ™‚

  • Paganplace

    Hey, cool, Farnaz. I was referring to a next Generation episode that’s pretty classic. And I think appropriate, right now. πŸ™‚

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I don’t think there was too much selling. I think Robyn Williams is recovering. He won’t be the next president, though. :l

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Yes! There were all those things! You never saw any of the episodes?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    They traveled to new worlds, battled with evil, etc.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 54324.5The Enterprise docked at Planet Sumbul Ali-Karamali. There, we rendezvoused with Captain Taksimbirki from the Starship Undertaking, and we learned many things.We will meet again on our way back to OnFaith.

  • Paganplace

    Shaka when the walls fell. πŸ™‚

  • Paganplace

    *wavies to Tak.* Well, that was random. Topic? πŸ™‚

  • justillthen

    Farnaz, Further, the accounts of Ibn Ishaq are not uniformly agreed with. The accounts of the massacre at Banu Qurayza do not find universal accord with scholars, from my quick research. “A few Muslim scholars, such as W. N. Arafat and Barakat Ahmad, have disputed the historicity of the incident.[29] Ahmad, argues that only the leaders of the tribe were killed.[30] Arafat argued that Ibn Ishaq gathered information from descendants of the Qurayza Jews, who embellished or manufactured the details of the incident.[31][32] Watt finds Arafat’s arguments “not entirely convincing.”[33]””Paret[70] and Watt[71][8] say that the Banu Qurayza were killed not because of their faith but for “treasonable activities against the Medinan community”.[8]”There is little new in slaughter of this kind in ancient warfare. Just look for Scriptural justification for slaughter of all men, women and children in your Tahakh. Devarim is fascinating. Perhaps early Jews perfected the arts of slaughtering enemies in warfare and in capture, even put it into religious law, only to have these customs copycatted by the next upstart religion…

  • justillthen

    Hello Farnaz,”As usual, I have no idea of what justilthen is referring to.”As usual, yes. You do have consistency, Farnaz, even if it is in insistence on incomprehension of plain language. I do not believe you are that unaware of the written word, but you insist that you are. I have been clear with my posts.Here I do want to thank you. Though I was not disputing this history, I did not have knowledge of this history. Thank you for your inspiration to do some research. I am always happy to learn more.I am left with more questions than answers, and as always perspective is everything. And, as they say, history is often written by the victors.”There is no question as to the historical veracity of the slaughter of the Quorayza Jews.” I was not asserting that the slaughter at Banu Qurayza was a myth, nor that it was untrue or invalid. Indeed, I did not know of Banu Qurayza before reading the name in your post. It’s validity was not my issue.Since I have to spell out the obvious to you, I shall again. You take the story written by Ibn Ishaq as literal and true, even as they were written down from oral accountings that had been passed down over generations. Ibn Ishaq lived a century after Muhammad died. This is longer in time, after the events that they describe, than some of the NT Gospels were written, also second hand. 30-60 yrs. after CE were the earliest Gospels written. The account of Ibn Ishaq is further generations removed, about 100 yrs. after Muhammads death, and his writing does not even remain extant but through inexact copies by students. My point was that if you take this as an accurate accounting of events at Banu Qurayza, quotations attributed accurately and literally, then you cannot criticize Christians who believe literally in their Scriptural rendering.The point, once more, is obvious.