By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Naif Al-Mutawa anticipated a struggle when he launched an Islam-inspired comic book series that he hoped would become a symbol of toleration.
He worried about the comics being banned in Saudi Arabia – which wound up happening, briefly – and he expected to be challenged by conservatives in Islam, since Al-Mutawa wanted to buck the trend of Islamic culture being directly tied to the Koran.
But it wasn’t an Islamic cleric that stalled the series, called “The 99,” after the 99 attributes of Allah, which the superheroes are supposed to embody.
It is the American market, and the voices of Islam’s Western critics, that have caused the most problems for “The 99,” says Al-Mutawa, who is the focus of a PBS documentary airing next week.
In 2010, President Barack Obama called the comic books, which debuted in 2006, “the most innovative response” to America’s expanding dialogue with the Muslim world, which Obama has encouraged. The series features 99 superheroes from across the globe who team up to combat villains and who embody what Al-Mutawa calls basic human values like trust and generosity.
But Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist and graduate of Columbia Business School, says a vocal minority have raised surprising questions about American tolerance of Islam.