When Marvel, Qur’an Mistranslations, and Bigotry Collide

If you have read any of my articles or have known me in person for any length of time, you will know that I love the X-Men.

By far my favorite comic book universe, the X-Men have been with me since childhood. This lovable band of misfits, mostly teenage mutants and societal outcasts, have helped millions of readers survive the perils of adolescence and the traumas of being different.

The X-Men are meant to be an accessible story for anyone oppressed and downtrodden, facing bigotry, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or xenophobia of any kind. As such, the X-Men comics have never been a place for hatred, vilification of minorities, or political dog-whistling.

That is, until Indonesian Marvel illustrator Ardian Syaf embedded religious and political messages in his panels using a Qur’anic verse out of context to suggest anti-Christian and anti-Jewish sentiment. His decision to do so runs entirely counter to the X-Men’s message of acceptance and solidarity between people who are different, and entirely counter to Islam’s edicts on the treatment of non-Muslims.

To understand this fiasco fully, one must understand Indonesia’s current political and religious turmoil, and also examine Chapter 5 verse 51 of the Quran, referenced by Syaf in what is widely thought to be an anti-semitic and anti-Christian jab directed at Indonesia’s religious minorities and politicians.

The verse, misunderstood and misused by many, is thought by some to discourage division between Muslims and those of other faiths, specifically Christians and Muslims.

In December of 2016, protests erupted in Jakarta, Indonesia as thousands called for the removal of Jakarta’s governor amid accusations that he had committed blasphemy (which also makes no sense as Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was never a Muslim to begin with) and that he had insulted the Quran.


(From CNN.com, thousands protest in Jakarta)

Ardian Syaf, in his recent panels in X-Men Gold, referenced these protests by featuring the number “212,” referencing December 2, the date of the 2016 protests, and the numbers “5:51,” referencing chapter and verse in the Quran. Ironically, This appears in a panel in which Kitty Pryde, herself Jewish, leads the X-Men.


(From X-Men Gold/TheMarySue.com, Ardian Syaf’s controversial panel) 


(From X-Men Gold/TheMarySue.com: Colossus wears numbers referencing 5:51)

The verse, misunderstood and misused by many, is thought by some to discourage division between Muslims and those of other faiths, specifically Christians and Muslims. During the protests in Indonesia, it was used as xenophobic justification for the public vilification of Christians and Jews, especially in political spheres.

Having absolutely none of this “bullshittery” as she calls it, Marvel author and creator of the Pakistani-Muslim hero Kamala Khan, G. Willow Wilson wrote the perfect blog post to both shut down anti-Christian bigotry and tell the world the true meaning behind the controversial verse, which is now being used by Islamophobes to say, “Hey look, this Muslim guy is dog-whistling using this verse, because it is proof that Muslims hate Christians and Jews.” (Insert over the top eye-roll/gagging sound).

Enter G. Willow Wilson.

Wilson begins by illuminating the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are non-Arabs, and so are non-native Arabic speakers, which means that many of us read the Qur’an in translation only. This can cause things to get murky.

Wilson writes, “Apparently, the Indonesian translation of 5:51 reads something like this: “Oh you who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians as leaders/advisors.”  (I don’t speak or read Indonesian, so I am going off the explanations of others and stuff I have been able to find online.)”

This verse, like any other, comes with a very particular context, which many (Muslims and Islamophobes alike) love to leave out in order to support their particular agenda with supposedly religiously-sound knowledge, which, as Wilson explains, is based on a faulty translation of the Arabic word “wali.” She explains:

“Here is the problem: the Arabic word in that verse that is translated variously as leader, advisor, friend, intimate etc is أولياء (awliya’), the plural of ولي‎‎ (wali). And it means none of those things.

Awliya’ in this context means something very specific, and among Arabic speakers, that meaning has changed very little over the last 1400 years. A wali is a legal counselor or sometimes a legal guardian. Some examples: an unmarried girl must appoint a wali to act on her behalf during a marriage negotiation, according to Islamic law. Your lawyer is your wali in court. The executor of a will is the wali of the deceased. A parent is the wali of a child until that child reaches the age of majority. You get the gist.”

Wilson goes on to say:

“The Indonesian interpretation, in this case, is less bullshitty than the English translation pushed primarily by certain extremist Sunni factions (cough the Saudis cough cough) which has also been making the rounds in comics media today: friend. A wali is not a friend. A wali is nothing even related to friendship. The literal translation of friend is siddiq; you could also use sahib (companion). Wali doesn’t even come from the same root as either of these words. The Quran never suggests you can’t be friends with non-Muslims. Which makes sense, because, you know, the Prophet had non-Muslim friends.”

So why does this verse say that one should not take Christians and Jewish people as legal counsel? Does that still hold true, are Muslims really not allowed to retain legal counsel from non-Muslims?

“[This verse] was revealed at a time when the fledgling Muslim community was engaged in a de facto trade war (that rapidly escalated into armed conflict) with its non-Muslim neighbors. In such a situation, appointing somebody from the opposing side as your legal representative does indeed seem like a pretty bad idea.”

Are Muslims at war with non-Muslims today? No. First, we don’t have a central religious authority. We are no longer a small band of Muslims led by the Prophet, and we always have and always will live alongside people of other religions, and our religion has commanded us to be protectors and allies of our non-Muslim brethren. This verse is not meant to literally tell Muslims not to take legal counsel from non-Muslims, ever. This verse is meant to discourage Muslims from taking legal counsel or advice from those who oppose Muslims or Islam, actively and with malice, as aligning oneself with someone who takes up arms against Muslims while you’re a Muslim is just. not. smart.

Do I have a real-life, modern day example of this kind of Uncle-Tom baloney taking place today? Yes, yes I do. Asra Nomani voted for Donald Trump. (Seriously, if I roll my eyes any harder they may never come down).

In erroneously referencing the Quran and the Indonesia political protests, Syaf not only put Christians and Jewish people in danger of xenophobic attacks and acts of terrorism, he further justified Islamophobic hatred of Muslims.

Chapter 5 verse 51 shows us that our decisions in who we trust in times of turmoil affects not only ourselves as individuals, but the entire Muslim community. Though we may not be centralized, we are often viewed as one body, and treated as one body. We are connected, not by ethnicity, nationality, and proximity, but by our faith.

So too are Christians and Jewish people, which is why Ardian Syaf’s misuse of this verse is dangerous and irresponsible on a grand scale.

Ardian Syaf and those who reference this verse without proper context make their personal and political problem with one individual seem as though all Muslims, through a shared understanding of our holy text, have a problem with all Christians. Nope. NOOOOPE. In erroneously referencing the Qur’an and the Indonesian political protests, Syaf not only put Christians and Jewish people in danger of xenophobic attacks and acts of terrorism, he further justified Islamophobic hatred of Muslims. Great job, idiot.

In the words of G. Willow Wilson:

“This is all to say that Ardian Syaf can keep his garbage philosophy. He has committed career suicide; he will rapidly become irrelevant. But his nonsense will continue to affect the scant handful of Muslims who have managed to carve out careers in comics. From what I can deduce off of Facebook, it appears he is trying to claim the Charlie Hebdo defense…i.e., he doesn’t mean anything by it; we just don’t understand the nuance and subtly of the local bigotry. Much good may it do him. Goodbye, Ardian Syaf. We hardly knew ye, which is just as well.”