Black Panther, Futurism and a Muslim US President in 2086

Although I’m hopeful, I can also foresee our future bearing its lot of challenges.

Although I’m hopeful, I can also foresee our future bearing its lot of challenges.

Black Panther is out and I didn’t escape the feel-good wave that has rocked the world. While Afrofuturism has finally made it to the mainstream, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if we had Muslim futurism? Can we imagine a future where we can produce content which is not copied on neoliberal models or adapted for white non-Muslim audiences? While the Black Diaspora has the proud and phenomenal Black Panther, we’ve got Bilal – a movie with a fair-skinned protagonist who never says the word ‘Islam’ and never calls the Adhan. Really?

As a sociologist who works on our current challenges, I set out to imagine the world in which my children and grandchildren will practice their faith in 2086, 100 years after I was born. Studies do not give you a crystal ball or a DeLorean (for those Back to the Future fans), but almost a decade of fieldwork interviews, readings and reflections gives enough insights to anticipate some trends. Although I’m hopeful, I can also foresee our future bearing its lot of challenges.

This is how I imagine the world and Muslims communities to be in 2086.

Mosques will be more inclusive but class-segregated

In 2086, the mosque where people just pray and go home will be a relic from the past. The younger generations will reshuffle places of worship by including a social function: a non-judgemental space where one can attend discussions, talks about (Muslim and non-Muslim) philosophy and trending social issues, calligraphy, filmmaking workshops and more. Although there will be much less division based on orthodoxy, culture or ethnicity, there may be some class issues: the more privileged may shun their local mosque if its audience is the working class.

Madrassas will include much more Adab (etiquette) than ritual knowledge

Remember today’s world where teachers assume that hitting fingers with a wooden ruler will help with learning verses of the Qur’an by heart? In 2086, children will first learn the basics of etiquette. Praying five times a day has no sense if people behave in a hurtful and inconsiderate manner, and madrassas will have taken this into account. The scripture will be learnt with their best translations and context of their revelation, and Islamic education’s first aim will be to develop a good character and social skills.

Hajj through virtual reality and Muslims on Mars

The increasing costs for Hajj and huge numbers of travellers will push people to offer solutions for the most vulnerable not able to perform this pillar of Islam. Thanks to Virtual Reality devices and a few fatwa-tweaks, it will be possible under certain conditions to perform a fully valid Hajj through virtual reality at a fraction of the cost. We may also see a Muslim astronaut travelling with the first human mission to Mars. Even though we’ll be in 2086, I believe that the most difficulty for this astronaut will not be the mission itself, but the pressure of the divided community on Earth debating the valid prayer timings on Mars. Let’s not even get into Eid days.

Muslim empires will come back

Not in the shape of the Moghuls or the Ottomans; rather we’re talking about giant multinational commercial empires. AI and neoliberalism have created a contractor economy where it is impossible to become employed by a company. Those who win at the game are from this wave of techno-fluent auto-entrepreneurs who set up businesses in the 2010s and 2020s, and now are walking in the footsteps of Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg, with literally millions of contractors working all over the world. However, with uncontrolled growth, business empires often throw ethical concerns out of the equation. Hopefully, higher consumer standards will limit the damages.

Artificial Intelligence will police identities

Because of decades of Islamophobia and algorithm-driven suggestions about how Muslims should look, behave and think, many will have sacrificed their culture, heritage and religious practice to fit in a government-vetted, multinational-approved superficial Muslimness – as long as they earn money, produce and consume, they can be accepted. As a direct result of this, I believe that many amongst the future generations will become like some assimilated Tatars of Poland or Russia (where some Muslims are proud to be Muslim but also proud to drink vodka). 

We will be able to hire mahrams online

Pushing fatwas beyond their limits, anything can be made Halal for the right price on websites like fatwa-shop.co.uk (not a real website, guys). Just like this service, if you are a single woman willing to perform Hajj but find marriage too risky, perhaps you will be able to browse, select and hire your partner for your religious travels from a wide range of models available on mahramhire.com. In 2086 though, it will be difficult to say whether Mahrams-for-hire will be actual humans or robots.

Hate crimes will disappear but Islamophobia will change its shape

With more Muslims in the major circles of society (law, politics, media, finance), harmful discourses and behaviours will be closely watched. While Islamophobic attacks will drop to near zero, Muslims will still struggle. There will be two stereotypes: the most privileged Muslims in elite circles will be targets of conspiracy theories like ‘Muslims control the media/the industry/politics’. Conversely, spiritual activists who are challenging inequalities will be seen as the ‘lazy annoying tree-hugger lefties’.

It will become almost impossible to get married

Beauty standards will have shifted away from the fair-skinned slim and athletic male or female bodies for more realistic expectations, but in 2086, over half of Muslims over 40 will be single. We will have AI-controlled apps like the Rishta Stock Index for ranking and matching potential partners, but people will be more scared of investing time, energy and finances in relationships. Arranged marriages will appear as a solution in an ever-more fast-paced society, and thanks to effective pre-marital counselling, those who commit will be more likely to stay married for longer. Perhaps it will decrease the divorce rate which was already at 50% in 2015.

We will have a Muslim President of the United States

It was unthinkable even in the 2070s. However, there is a risk that jubilant crowds get disappointed. In order to be elected, most politicians have to conform to the dominant culture and political agenda. Much like Obama didn’t change the political situation of Black Americans and sent drones to bomb civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there is also a risk that this Muslim President will start wars to boost the economy. Perhaps people will realise the importance of always being critical of people of power?

Hijra to the farm and gentrification of entire countries

Aware of environmental issues, people will decrease meat consumption and we will find vegan shawarmas and döners made with dhaal. But some Muslims will also settle remotely on farms to escape the control of Artificial Intelligence and live off-grid. Others will even choose to migrate to other countries, looking for an imaginary (and over-romanticised) Muslim ‘homeland’ where they never lived. Because resettling is expensive, these forms of escapism will only be reserved for ultra-privileged individuals and families. As a consequence, we will witness the gentrification of entire countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Morocco, Indonesia and more.

The survival of those who don’t fit

Competition without control exacerbates inequalities and provokes serious mental health issues. In the middle of all this, there will still be people who will suffer from the system because they will not be able to afford to travel, set up businesses or go to prestigious schools because of their ethics, skin colour, looks or socio-economic status. Although faith and culture-sensitive counselling will be widespread, it will be a question of survival for those who do not fit to find a safe haven where they are accepted as they are and loved for who they are.

Ultimately, I just pray that people will be able to find a place for anyone in search for meaning, a place where it will be okay not to fit the norm, a space for breaking free from any system of control, where people can feel at home, loved and then heal and grow, like a spiritual clinic which relies on traditional knowledge.

Footnote: I would like to thank Abbas Zahedi for the many discussions and ideas which inspired me.

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