This is kind of cool: Crusader Kings II, which previously let players take on the role of a Christian feudal lord, is expanding the game so players can be Muslim rulers, and if they choose to do so, they’ll get to operate under a different set of laws that govern everything from property to marriages. It’ll be interesting to see what that turns out to mean: is there a banking system that doesn’t involve interest? A rule of law that permits multiple marriages? Characters with protected status under Muslim law?
There’s something appropriate about the fact that this game is rolling out at a time of hard-right panic about a theoretical resurgence of sharia law, a paranoid fear that Muslim religious law will supplant a secular Western, by which they mean Christian-derived, legal system. But it’s not as if medieval European countries were exactly models of rational, just governance. Putting old-school Muslim law and Muslim governance up against feudal scenarios, even in a game, is a useful reminder that both societies have evolved, that whatever al Qaeda would have wanted, we’re not actually enmeshed in a holy war at the direction of the pope anymore. There are useful conversations to be had about the status of women, about the treatment of people of other religions, of the harshness of punishments in majority-Muslim countries or in countries with legal systems derived from Islamic jurisprudence. But pretending we’e actually at risk of going back to the dark ages is silly fear-mongering, and doesn’t actually make those conversations productive.
What would help? Having more people who know more good information about Islam, and who don’t view Muslims simply Other. I’m not saying an extension pack on a video game will change the world. But it’s nice to see someone treating Muslim characters as identities people would want to put on, not merely as enemies to be eliminated. Curiosity makes for better storytelling than mindless mistrust.