Dune: Sharī’a on Arrakis

End of the year plans? Why not add Dune to the list? Students everywhere are planning study breaks from preparation from impending finals. And almost everyone will get some downtime as the end of the year approaches. What better to do than to make a plan for DUNE-watching, to explore what we’re calling the Islamic Law of Arrakis. Which, it turns out, is a thing!

The new Denis Villeneuve-directed movie adaption of Dune (released as “Part I”) revived interest in the lore of the written work: the 1965 science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert. The Dune fandom knows that Herbert, in crafting his vision of the world of Arrakis, generously drew on Islam and Islamic law-related themes (along with other religions). The movie arguably does the same thing, although some critics have lamented that the movie adaption pulls back from Herbert’s Islamic sources of inspiration (though still other critics wonder why that should be a lament given the eventual direction of the original six-part series, after the canonical first book).

In what follows, we present a curated collection of resources exploring Dune’s – the book and the movie – many references to Islamic concepts: both theology and law.  We hope that they will prove useful, and fun, to readers and viewers looking to see, contextualize, and comment on the extent and accuracy of these references.

  • The Muslimness of Dune: A Close Reading of “Appendix II: The Religion of Dune” by Haris Durrani (Princeton University) (Tor.com, October 18, 2021) (arguing that Dune‘s references to Islam go beyond being “orientalist garnishes” and that the Dune novels are “thoroughly Muslim,” marked by their “serious engagement” with Islam, including Arabic words, quotations from the Qur’ān, the teachings of the Prophet, and Muslim authors).
  • The novel Dune had deep Islamic influences. The movie erases them.” by Haris Durrani (Princeton University) (The Washington Post, October 28, 2021) (comparing the original novel and the latest movie adaptation and concluding that “[t]he resulting film is both more orientalist and less daring than its source material”).
  • The Throuhgline podcast episode titled “Bonus: The Deep History of Dune” interviews Harris Durrani (Princeton University) (Throughline, Apple Podcasts) (arguing that “Dune projects Islamic belief and philosophy into the future, placing it right at the center of future events”)
  • Epic World-Building: Names and Cultures in Dune” by Kara Kennedy (Names: A Journal of Onomastics, vol. 64, no. 2 (2016)) (observing that “Frank Herbert accomplishes his world-building in Dune by choosing existing names that evoke a recognizable medieval, feudal setting and depict a desert planet inhabited by a quasi-Arabic and Islamic tribal people”).
  • ‘Dune’ May Be Fascist, but Its Focus on Islam Is Groundbreaking” by Ofri Ilany (Haaretz, November 7, 2021) (describing the book as “a kind of Middle Eastern, Islamic mythology” and noting that “Islam” is the “fundamental element that sets [the book] apart from most other fantasy and science-fiction works”).
  • Heresies of ‘Dune’” by Daniel Immerwahr (Northwestern University) (Los Angeles Review of Books, November 19, 2020) (describing the Dune author Frank Herbert’s childhood and early career influences, concluding that “Herbert read widely about desert cultures and worked deep-cut references to Islamic history”).
  • The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (Muslim ARC) recently hosted two webinars on Dune: in part I titled “Dune and the evolution of Muslim Scifi & Fantasy Epics” participants debate the origins and development of the Muslim science fiction genre, with specific reference to Frank Herbert’s works.  In part II titled “Dune Review- What we saw and what we liked” participants discuss the Dune movie, how it draws on Islam, and how faithful it is to its original source.

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