Behind '40 Sufi Comics': India's Muslim Blogging Brothers

World's first Sufi Comics
Graphic novels have a cult-like following from the very young, to the academically wise. Who knew they could teach you spiritual, or Islamic life lessons?

The 40 Sufi Comics collection by Mohammed and Arif Vakil do just that, and Muslimness has been following their blogging journey from inspiring onscreen comics, to their first book publication.



Check out the what? why? and who? behind 40 Sufi Comics in this interview with the artists.





First up, thank you so very much for sharing your work with Muslimness. Tell us, where are you both based and apart from running the Vakil.org blog, what do you do?
Our roots are from Gujarat - India, but we’ve never really lived there. We grew up in Dubai where we attended a School under the British Edexcel Board as well as a Madrasah. In 2002 we moved to Bangalore, India. For a living, we work together with our father in our family business, Vakil Housing. Vakil Housing develops residential properties focusing on giving its clients excellent returns on their investments.


Why did you create the Vakil.org blog?
We had an e-newsletter that started as early as emails began. The newsletter was called “Our monthly dose of inspiration”. That metamorphosed into our Company Blog. Since most of the stuff we would be posting would be personal experiences and less about work, we renamed it to The Arif and Ali blog. We blog about topics that are of interest to us i.e. productivity and spirituality. Sufi Comics is a project we started in 2009, and we used the blog to share the comics with our friends.


And the Sufi Comics, why did you choose the name ‘Sufi’, do you have any favourites?
Sufi Comics are short illustrated anecdotes from Islamic traditions. As Muslims we’ve often heard of these stories either taught to us when we were young or have read them in books.

Sufism is the study and practice that focuses on the spiritual dimension of Islam. 40 Sufi Comics are an expression of universal spiritual values taught in Islam, such as faith, love, respect, piety and truth, thus the name “Sufi Comics”.

We have many favorites! The Meaning of Love, No Problem!, Mother and The Blind Astronomer:


What inspired you to create Sufi comics?
We’ve been avid readers of comics since our youth and have seen how wonderfully cultures can be expressed in the medium of comics. Initially Sufi Comics was an experiment to explore how Islamic tradition can be expressed in the form of comics. We felt it would be a great way for the younger generation to learn about Islam and for non-Muslims to understand our faith.


I noticed you use a tablet to illustrate your comics. How does that creative process materialise?
I started off by drawing these comics using conventional tools like a paper, pencil and pen-brush. Then I would scan them and format them using Photoshop. This was of course a very time consuming process. So, I started searching online of the most efficient way to draw comics.





I found that Digital Art tools have matured, and after publishing a few comics I decided to invest in a Tablet PC for myself to speed up the process. Using a Tablet is similar to drawing on paper, except that it’s very forgiving thanks to the Undo button!



I think as long as one has the creative will, anyone can make comics. I didn’t have experience in drawing cartoons /comics before Sufi Comics, and if you see some of my first comics the art looks quite amateurish. Every time I came up with an idea to draw a comic, I would visit some youtube video or pick up a book to learn the techniques on drawing.




Masha'Allah, you've got some 'mad skills!' You do not draw the faces of respected individuals in Islamic history, why is that?
Interestingly when I started Sufi Comics, it was around the time when there was an uproar in the Muslim world on the cartoons of the Prophet ﷺ. Though we humans have a need to represent our beliefs through symbolizing them, if we over symbolize then we tend to focus on the symbol and forget what it was supposed to represent. Traditionally Islamic Art has stayed away from drawing faces of revered personalities. It does make the work of drawing the comics more challenging, but I felt it would be only appropriate to respect that tradition.


How did you get the first 40 Sufi comics published? What sort of reaction did you receive from fans?
We decided to take a different route to publishing the comics by opening it under the “Creative Commons” license, which essentially allows anyone to make copies to distribute the comics as long as they don’t make any changes. The print version of the book was self published using CreateSpace.com, which is an Amazon.com company.

Mohammed Ali Vakil: Book launch of 40 Sufi Comics

Overall the reaction to the comics has been wonderful. The most satisfying comments are the ones that I received from some non-Muslims who said that despite being from a different religion they enjoyed the comics and will give these comics to their children to learn what Islam is about.

Often the media is very negative about Islam and Muslims. I hope people will learn about Islam from books written by Muslims rather than from sensational news reports.


Some great motivation there; what else inspires you as young Indian Muslims?
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) has said,
“He whose two days are the same is at loss”.
When we realize that the goal of Islam is for its followers to fulfill their human potential - first spiritually and then in all other fields, that thought motivates us to move forward.

The feeling growth and progress motivates us to try new things, take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. It also gives us the focus that whatever activity we undertake in life, we should look at how it can benefit us spiritually. Even mundane activities like eating and driving, if done with the right approach can be a spiritual practice.

India is a wonderful place to be. I am always awed by it’s diversity. What depresses us about India is the unprecedented gap between the rich and the poor. As Indians we need to work towards bridging this gap as poverty is the root of many evils.


Are you involved in any other projects? 
We’re part of The Lifeline Foundation {www.lifelinetrust.in}, that focuses on improving the living standards of the poor in Bangalore by means of providing microfinance and education. Other projects that we contribute when we can is:
- The Ugly Indian {http://theuglyindian.com} whose focus is on coming up with sustainable solutions in maintaining a cleaner Bangalore.
- India Against Corruption {http://indiaagainstcorruption.org}. This is a recent movement that we have joined to have a Corrupt Free India
- Also, we're working on a Project on Digitization of Islamic Texts and creating an Online Islamic Education website for Muslims.


Activism to the max, masha'allah. Finally, what’s the future for the Vakil.org blog? Will you continue making comics for us?
We’ve been having lots of ideas like creating short stories, a graphic novel, an iPad app and even some cool animation, but we need to be realistic as well. Our next step is to work on Volume 2 of 40 Sufi Comics, and we’re happy to share that as it's begun!

These days we're also experimenting with some Video Animation, and are planning to create a series of short videos called "Sufi Notes". Our first video was for our TED Full Spectrum audition.


Muxlim viewers: Watch {Sufi Notes on YT}

PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY:: We’re actually in search for a good publisher who can print and distribute the 40 Sufi Comics book to a wider audience. So if they're any publishers out there interested to publish the book, please get in touch with us through our blog.

Terrific! Shukran, thank you Vakil brothers for creating and sharing the whimsically smart Sufi Comics! 


Get your hands on a copy of 40 Sufi Comics:
Download and purchase:
Amazon.com - 40 Sufi Comics
FlipKart.com - Sufi Comics by Mohammed Ali

Images and video:: © Vakil.org

"Like" the {Facebook.com/SufiComics} page.
More behind the scenes of the {Astronomer comic on Arif & Ali's Blog}.


author

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