I came across this interesting site about Islam in science fiction writing [via arabist.net]. Featured prominently is Dune.
Clearly, Arab desert culture was what inspired Frank Herbert’s depiction of the Fremen. The spice for oil metaphor was also quite apparent. Here, however, is an excerpt of something that I disagreed with:
The character of Paul Atreites [sic] is inspired from desert prophets like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (pbuh) etc. Paul’s character is a prophet who is also a warrior, he leads a desert society to military victory and lays the foundations of a new empire. Does it ring any bells? The story has many parallel to the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) [link]
Yes, Paul Atreides, Muad’Dib, the mahdi, was a warrior prophet. But he was not born Fremen. Recall the prophecy:
He will take to the ways of the Fremen as if he were born to them.
In this, and in other ways, he’s more like T. E. Lawrence than Mohammed. Not the real Lawrence perhaps, but the Lawrence of Arabia of popular myth, the one who lives in print and on the screen and in our minds. The Lawrence who took to Bedouin ways as if he were born to them. The Lawrence who turned squabbling tribes of desert nomads into a formidable guerilla force. He is Muad’Dib. Not Mohammed.
Of course, there’s a strong undercurrent of racism in this narrative. Petty, bickering Arabs needed a white man to unite them. The Fremen, with all their desert wiles, and spice and worm secrets needed a noble-born Atreides to lead them to freedom. All things being equal, I prefer my messiahs to be native born.
One more point. Frank Herbert was obsessed with the nature of prophecy. Paul struggled with the fundamental paradox of foreknowledge: if you know the future before it happens, where then is the choice?
Unable to resolve the paradox of foreknowledge, sickened by the violence that he had unleashed, he makes the ultimate choice of not choosing at all. He heads off into the deep desert, and lives out the rest of his days as a blind beggar.
Mohammed, on the other hand, died with his boots on, quite content with his prophet status.
[Do read this seminal article on Arabic and Islamic themes in Dune.]