Where did Aya, Sura and friends come from?
A Muslim Manga Club Origin Story
The first time the three words Muslim, manga, and club were strung together was on Dec 2nd of 2012, but actually, the true origin of Muslim Manga goes back even further.
This article will discuss the origin of many of the characters for Muslim Manga Club and WaSalam series.
Muslim Manga Club is a comic series that follows the everyday lives of the Japanese Muslim siblings, Aya and Sura, and their classmates. Aya is very much a nerdy girl who loves anime, manga, games, and lots of other nerdy fun. As Aya’s brother Sura says, “Aya is a little.. how do I say it nicely? so... very very very very very much energetic. "
Sura, on the other hand, is very much more reserved and studious. Both are practicing Muslims.
One day, while asleep in class, Aya has an epiphany. She wakes up with a sudden explosion of energy, scaring all her classmates and teachers who were very much not asleep. She shouts out “Muslim Manga!” That was it. Aya had discovered her calling. She would create a Muslim Manga club at her high school. And that is just the beginning of the story.
You can join the nearly 40 thousand followers on webtoons and read the series with its iconic 4-panel episodes.
WaSalam is a spin-off series of Muslim Manga Club, where the characters interact with each other, mainly outside of school, but not limited to that. WaSalam also heavily deals with punny jokes. The name of the series itself is a pun. 和 or “Wa” in Japanese means peace. سلام or “Salaam” in Arabic means peace too.
Aya & Sura Flashcards
(Aya holding up Aya & Sura Islamic Flashcards Volume 1, used for studying Quranic Arabic. It can be ordered here.)
Throughout the years of working on the Muslim Manga Club, and even before that, through our Muslim Manga community contests, Aya and Sura have been central characters that our fans have loved. We have also recently created Aya & Sura, LLC, which deals in using our characters in various products. Our very first product was released this last Ramadhan. It is a deck of 54 cards, which helps users learn common Arabic vocabulary found in the Holy Quran. Each card comes with illustrations and or artwork, which act as mnemonics to help memorize the vocabulary and example verses using the card’s vocabulary to help learners build a connection with the Holy Quran.
How to support Muslim Manga Club
I want to share one more point with you before getting into the background of how many of the characters from Muslim Manga Club and WaSalaam came about.
If you enjoy the Muslim Manga Club series or simply wish to know how you can support initiatives like this, I would like to introduce you to becoming a backer of this series on Muslim Manga. You can do so by going here. Feel free to pledge any amount, and if there is another series such as Tokyo Hamedo, or Hana & Love that you also want to support, you can do that too! Because of generous people just like yourself, we’re able to keep pushing on forward to bringing you fantastic Muslim representation and Muslim-character-focused content.
Muslim Manga Club Characters and their Origins
Without further ado, let's begin…
Once upon a time, there was a boy, Hamed, who had finished his pilgrimage to Mecca. Perhaps like many many others, the trip had inspired him. He now was set with a new dream, one that would take him forward through the years. He dreamed of combining his interests in anime and manga with his faith…
Aya is a very energetic, positive, and just big ball of fun.
Last year of high school, I had already started Muslim Manga as a website for a year or so. I met another high-school student, a year younger than me, in a bilingual multicultural club. This person was gifted in the arts and drew me a sketch of a hijabi girl. I used that sketch and illustrated it as a logo in Adobe Illustrator. I wanted to have a cute chibi muslim related logo for Muslim Manga. And that was exactly that.
I don’t think the name for this character came to me initially, but eventually I started thinking of the character, more as a character, and less as a logo. Around this time, I was interacting with some members from my local Islamic community. One of the families had a cute little girl, around two years old. She wasn’t even speaking yet. Her name was Aya. As soon as I heard the name, I thought “This is it. This is my character’s name”.
The original logo designed was very cute and nice but eventually I started using different versions of Aya as the logo, versions that I designed myself.
The idea of the club that Aya forms in Muslim Manga Club didn’t cross my mind until about 2 and a half years after the first appearance of Aya on the internet. It was December of 2012 when the idea of the club was first presented to the world. It was then, when creating a small contest for our community that I first concocted the idea of the Muslim Manga club. It wouldn’t be for many years later before I started working on the series though.
As seen in episode of the comic, Aya has an epiphany about Muslim Manga. The idea of the sudden inspiration reflects that of my own when establishing the Muslim Manga community online, except I was not asleep in class when I had the vision, and perhaps I had a bit less energy bursting out of me than Aya did.
Sura is Aya’s younger brother, but he is much more studious. He also has his interests, and while there may have been hints of his interests, since it hasn’t really been revealed in the series, I won’t be giving much away. But from his first appearance to the world wide web in 2014, he was set to be the opposite of Aya. She is much more energetic and interested in the world of anime, manga and games, while he is not interested in that. He tries to stay out of Aya’s plans, but somehow he always ends up getting involved.
(Sura was originally introduced on May 1st of 2014 as part of the Muslim Manga community’s 4th anniversary contest. )
Sura’s name origin:
After Aya was around for a few years, I realized that I was getting a lot of female artist participating, but not as many male. I figured, the organization had a bit of an image problem. So I set out to fix that. I came up with Aya’s brother to fill that void. Unlike Aya, I don’t think Sura was that common, as a name. I didn’t let that stop me. I just decided that was what his name was going to be. Since Aya was from the Holy Quran, I also wanted a similar name for her brother.
Poji Poji Poji! Poji is a popular character among the Muslim Manga Club fans.
This character has a rather interesting origin story, which also parallels some events in the story.
I was preparing to go to Japan on a study abroad program and was planning on doing some traveling on my own after the program was over. As a student, I was trying to be especially frugal, so I was looking up inexpensive ways to stay longer in Japan. I found one solution. It was WWOOF Japan. (Willing Workers on Organic Farms Japan). This allowed me to volunteer in a place in exchange for free accommodation.
I may write a separate in depth article on this for the paying subscribers and patrons. For those of you who are, let me know via comment or email if this might interest you.
Long story short, I found a place that in addition to helping on their organic farm area, they wanted me to practice English with their children. I was thinking on how to teach children for a while in advance to my trip. One day, while buying some clothes at a clothing store, I came upon a very cute lion plushie there. And it was quite inexpensive. I purchased it for around 3 or 4 dollars. It was quite the bargain! I put the plushie in my bag and head out to Japan.
While in Japan, I was studying Japanese with other classmates from my university. As part of that program, every day, one student had to show the other students around and or give some presentation to the others. For whatever reason, I thought it might be fun to use the plushie as talking puppet. So I had a little skit to go along with my presentation. Despite the study abroad program being a Japanese language program, I noticed a lot of the students were not actually practicing Japanese, often reverting to English for communication. I did a presentation with them about being positive, and trying their best; not giving up when things get difficult. Something along those lines. At some point, I also came up with the name of Poji for the plushie. Poji was short for Pojitibu, meaning Positive in Japanese.
Now, the character in the story hasn’t exactly revealed to be very positive, which kind of makes it funny for me as the author anyway. Many of the fans probably didn’t know the back story, so the contradiction may not have been very visible. But now you know.
Poji the character was introduced in a prose version of Muslim Manga club that I wrote for a contest to introduce Poji to the Muslim Manga community in July of 2014 .
Over the years, we got a lot of submissions and illustrations of many of our characters, including Poji and Sura. One of my favorites has always been this one:
(Submitted to Muslim Manga Community by nrvrl)
So when working on the manga version, that was one of the versions we were looking at, thinking of what aspects we can implement in our story. Surprisingly, it was more difficult than I anticipated finding the right design for Poji. I was particularly picky about it, but this was one of the ones that I liked and was studying for our official design. Actually, I even temporarily used this Poji as an icon image for the Muslim Manga community.
Ultimately, Zhar, the artist of Muslim Manga Club has given life to the character more than anything by incorporating him in the story with her style.
Isa is a foreign exchange student from America. He is about 18 years old and is in his final year of high school. He has found Islam but also likes Japanese culture, hence, he gets particularly amazed when he meets not one, but two Japanese Muslims in his high school in Japan. Instant friendship. He is kind of a “Muslim + Japan” otaku (nerd) if you will.
I realized there was an absence of a bearded character among the characters that represented the Muslim Manga organization. And beards are cool. Poji was sort of a character with a beard, but he wasn’t human. So, then I came up with Isa.
I actually did a lot of sketches myself for developing Isa. Eventually Zhar helped create the image I was looking for. The character had to be young looking, despite having a full beard.
This bearded high-school student was based on personal experience too. I already had a mustache and a beard when I just started high school. So I was always thought to be older than I actually was. Fortunately, I didn’t get any upperclassman bullies to pick up me, probably because they thought I was older than them. In my first year, I was mistook for a second year student.
In second year, something particularly interesting happened.
I was trying to skip a level of math, so I was studying it at home, learning it at a faster speed. And so by the time the second semester came, I was to change classes and attend a new math class I hadn’t attended in the first semester. On the other hand, that winter break I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. For those who don’t know, one of the rituals that med do on the trip is shaving their head. So I came back, with no hair and with a decent length beard. I walked into the new classroom, where students started to show respect me some respect, “but why?”, I wondered. Well, it turned out they thought I was a substitute teacher!
The next year, I also had an encounter where a student thought I was a 4th year student (senior student). And finally in my last year of high school, when I went to get some document from administration faculty, I was mistook for another staff member.
And so, when making Isa as a character, I may have been influenced by t a bit. I didn’t have a beard quite as amazing as Isa’s, but I wanted Isa to have that. I thought it would be fun. But the problem was, it was difficult to make a bearded character look young. Very difficult. That is where Zhar’s magic hands came into play.
Nao is also such a lovely characters than many of the fans can relate to.
Nao’s name origin
Nao also has an interesting name origin story. The character itself came somewhat organically while creating the comic for Muslim Manga Club. While developing the character of Isa and thinking of a few plot points, Nao, just popped up in my imagination somewhere along the way. However, the name came up because of a sort of pun I often used with a friend.
While chatting with a certain friend of mine, we would often spell certain words differently. Sometimes a we would joke about a typo and then from that point on that spelling became our official way of spelling that word. “Nao” was such a word. I don’t remember the exact reason why we spelled “now” as “nao”. Perhaps it was because we in a certain moment we wanted to be cute with our spelling or unique about it. And it stuck. When we needed something immediately, we used “nao!” as the term to indicate that.
I happened to also know that Nao is a Japanese name. So somehow the use of that word transitioned into me using the name Nao as that character’s name.
Makimoto Sensei (Maki Sensei, Maki chan)
As I was developing the story, it was clear that we needed a teacher character, and I had a few personalities in mind, but it took a while to figure out how this character would be. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted a male teacher or a female one. I was trying to figure out the ratio of male character to female ones. Ultimately went with what you see.
Coincidentally, after making Makimoto as a character, I came in contact with a Japanese teacher of English with the first name Maki. No relation to my character!
Originally, before Zhar started working on the manga version of Muslim Manga, the character had a different kind of uniform.
(Sura was quite a bit shorter than Aya in some of the original designs we were sharing with the community. Art by Ukhti63)
But before working on the manga, I had the time to think about it, and I decided that what we were working on for a few years as the uniform was not what I wanted in the manga format, so I worked closely with Zhar in designing a uniform that I would like for the characters. It ended up being a design that I hadn’t technically seen before in anime or in real life, and I liked that. It was unique and had a certain charm to it.
There is still many more chapters to come Insha'Allah and along with new chapters will come even more awesome characters with their own unique quirks. We’re doing our best to bring you more content as soon as we can. Though it does take us quite a while to bring more chapters to you, given how much work it is to make it happen, combined with all the other work we have to do. But rest assured, the story is not finished.
So you want to help support us?
If you want to follow Aya & Sura’s adventures, make sure to join the 39,700+ subscribers on webtoons. You can order a join as a super fan backer on Muslim Manga.
In addition to the newly published Aya & Sura Islamic Flashcards Volume 1, there are also tons of MMC merch available, including but not limited to some awesome physical stickers ;)