Hey Emel, what have you done to my avatar?
Back in late 2008, I got contacted by Emel magazine, a British Muslim lifestyle magazine, for a feature on Muslim bloggers. The process of getting the material over there took months, and I dealt with two different sisters as the first one left the magazine, but I finally got word last week that it had been printed at last, offered a complimentary copy, which I accepted, and it finally hit the shelves in Charing Cross Road late last week, although it hasn’t made it down to Kingston yet. When I finally saw it, I made a startling discovery. However, a bit of background wouldn’t go amiss at this point.
The second sister requested some physical details about me as they wanted to design an avatar, which is a cartoon representation of someone. I’m not too happy about the whole idea of avatars, because they involve hand-drawn pictures of people, which are at best disapproved of in Islam unless they’re really necessary. I’m OK with photos, though, so I sent them the only decent one I have of me. Well, when I saw the magazine, I first went up to the Starbucks on the first floor of Borders in Charing Cross Road, and when I saw the queue, went to the basement and finally found a vacant seat. (More: Talk Islam.)
As you can see, the cover features three superhero-like characters, including a muscular male, an attractive Somali-looking sister with matching purple hijab and robe, and a seated young-ish male with a tidy beard. The hairstyle and dress sense are not quite mine, but what nearly had me out of my seat was, well, the seat. It’s a wheelchair. What was I doing in a wheelchair? Admittedly, I do spend much of my blogging time sitting down, but I sit in an office chair, which has wheels, but not as big as the one on his chair. Also, I admit that I’ve done a lot of blogging on disability issues lately (and there’s more to come insha Allah), but I’ve never told anyone I’m disabled, because I’m not!
If my suspicions had been correct, then I would have been the second person in less than a month to first find out they were disabled from the media. At the end of August, the New Statesman website published this article by Victoria Brignell, a quadriplegic BBC producer who writes an occasional online column for the NS site describing life as a quad in often quite intimate detail (her anniversary article is particularly worth reading, and yes, that fourth comment is mine). Only, when it appeared, it was attributed to Victoria Brittain, who must have had quite a shock when she discovered that article, on the difficulties of toileting for a severely disabled woman, under her byline. (Then again, if she or I were freaked out by that, imagine what it’s like to find your own obituary in a national newspaper, as happened to the fiddle player David Swarbrick in the late 1990s.) I recognised it as Brignell’s, since I’d been reading her column since its beginning, and tipped off both the author and the magazine. It was rectified a few days later.
As it turns out, though, the three superheroes weren’t bloggers, but characters from “The 99”, an “Islamic” superhero cartoon published in the Gulf, and the character I thought looked like me was “The Afflicter”, AKA John Weller, a bitter and twisted paraplegic from St Louis, Missouri, who lost his family and the use of his legs in a drink-driving incident:
After spending months rehabilitating at the hospital, John became disillusioned and bitter. Although the drunk driver’s family paid for everything John needed, his anger continued to festeranger towards himself and the kind of irresponsibility that led to his tragedy.
John visited a ‘holistic’ healer who gave him a special stone, suggesting that the pretty gem would help John heal his scarred psyche. John was skeptical, but after the visit, he found himself inexplicably empowered with the ability to cause physical harm just by focusing his hatred on living target, human or animal. He discovered this when he attended the trial of the drunk driver who had hit him. The driver’s family was powerful, and his sentence was light. From the wheelchair where John was doomed to spend his days, he seethed with anger at the injustice. As the driver left the courtroom, he clutched his head and released a tremendous scream, collapsing from a seizure that left him catatonic.
John reveled in his new power using it to punish anyone who was involved in a vehicular homicide, whether they had done their time or not, and regardless of their intent. John was located by Dr. Ramzi and his team after news of the St Louis “painwave” hit the newspapers.
I’m sure some of the disability bloggers I’ve recently made the acquaintance of will spit tacks at the reference to “the wheelchair where John was doomed to spend his days”, but to be fair, I’m sure they would be a bit annoyed if they were saddled with that wheelchair. It’s got no obvious means of making it move (perhaps it’s propelled by mind power) and the back and seat are both hard as boards! Anyone who spent most of their time sitting in that thing would have a serious pressure sore problem. I know decent wheelchairs cost a lot of money, but these are meant to be superheroes after all.
As for the actual blog feature, besides me, it featured Ethar el-Katatney who contributes to Muslimah Media Watch, Rafael Alejandro Jara, Jana Kossaibati of Hijab Style (you may remember her as the sister who wrote about finding suitable clothes to go with hijab in the Guardian in March, inspiring this article on this site), Margari Aziza and Wang Daiyu of Islam in China. The piece on my blog copies the style of this site, with a more accurate picture of the London skyline than the one above, a list of my favourite Islamic blogs (but not their locations, sadly for Izzy Mo and the others on my A-list) and has four paragraphs compiled from a question-and-answer email discussion with me on why I started blogging, whether the medium is compatible with Islam, and the usual “will blogging replace the mainstream media” and “is Twitter a threat to blogging” questions. Insha Allah, you should find the magazine in your local bookshop fairly soon if you’re in the UK, and perhaps the articles will appear on their website soon.
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