Donate to RNS

Marvel Comics’ less than marvelous Muslim mix-up

(RNS) New comic book was supposed to revive X-Men series. Instead, it stirred up religious controversy.

In one frame of a new X-Men Gold comic, the character Colossus wears a T-shirt with “QS 5:51” on it, referencing a controversial verse of the Quran. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

(RNS) United Airlines wasn’t the only brand to have a bad weekend. Marvel Comics stepped in it, too.

It began last week, when the venerable comics company released the first issue of X-Men Gold, a new series designed to revive its X-Men storyline. The artwork was done by Ardian Syaf, an Indonesian freelancer who is Muslim.

In one frame, a muscular character is playing baseball with the characters “QS 5:51” on his chest. To most folks, this looks like a team number. But to Muslims, this can be seen as a reference to Quran Sura (Al-Ma’idah) 5:51, a particularly controversial — and difficult to translate — verse from Islam’s sacred text.

“O you who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide such evildoers.”

Turns out, that verse is a “rallying cry” for a pro-Islamic political movement in Indonesia, according to the website Vulture. Jakarta, the nation’s capital, is in a tight election race between its current governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is Christian, and his Muslim opponent. Heating up the election is the fact that Purnama — only the second Christian elected to the governorship there — is on trial for blasphemy for allegedly insulting Islam.

The reference was initially identified by users of Reddit, who brought it to Marvel executives. Other readers identified anti-Semitic references in other frames.

Syaf took to Facebook to defend himself in a series of posts that have since been removed. Vulture reports the artist said he intended to embed the coded messages, but that “a lot of good friends” are Jews and Christians. He said he opposed Purnama because of the Christian politician’s alleged blasphemy.

Marvel wasn’t having it. The company fired Syaf on Tuesday (April 11).

“These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation,” Marvel said in a statement. “This artwork will be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks and disciplinary action is being taken.”