September 26, 2016

Global Thinking: Marvel launches female Muslim Superhero

Comic books never caught my eye when I was a kid. The idea of Superman, Batman and Spidey outwitting and beating criminals to a bloody pulp never stood out to me. It always struck me as an old idea rehashed 1,000 times.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the stories of victory, defeat and betrayal — they’re awesome. But they got a little old after awhile. Marvel, however, decided to break the paradigm of the “typical” superhero, and did it in the best possible way.

GraphicKamala Khan is the fourth superhero to use the alter ego Ms. Marvel. Khan, however, is the first Muslim Pakistani-American to fill the role. The creators of the comic book don’t shy away from Khan’s background. Her identity is tied to her Islamic beliefs, and she struggles with many of her family’s traditions. Khan follows the likes of Sooraya Qadir, a.k.a. Dust, a Muslim character who appeared in a 2002 edition of the X-Men.

When I first heard about Marvel’s newest superhero, I was intrigued. I thought “wow, that’s a revolutionary idea.” If you saw the headlines paired with the story about Ms. Marvel, you might think the same. But in reality, Kamala Khan is part of a growing movement. In my eyes, what is important is the effort by Marvel to create superheroes that don’t subscribe to the typical construct of a superhero.

The typical superhero of old is an All-American, bigger-than-life macho-man or super-girl. I guess I like that Marvel has taken on the stance that “anyone can be a superhero.” The idea that a Pakistani-American isn’t being labeled as a “terrorist” is great. The fact that a Pakistani-American is Ms. Marvel is something we can all be proud of.

And while Marvel is taking steps forward in the fictional universe with Khan, we see young Malala Yousafzai — who I see as a superhero — stand up for what is hers. Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who was shot in the face and survived. She stood up against the Pakistani Taliban for her right to an education.

You could argue comic books have little importance in the grander scheme of things. But comic books make a big statement in a small way. We won’t have blockbuster movies about a Muslim superhero until we can all be excited about a comic book portraying one. When Marvel created Khan, it took a shot at breaking the typical paradigm of superheroes. While it’s a small gesture when measured up to the entire comic book world, it’s another step in the movement for equality in entertainment.

For the larger part of the decade, there was a potent cloud of racism and hatred towards Muslim people. Today, the fact we can portray young Muslim girls as superheroes is a beacon of hope for what is to come. Sure, a lot of people will say “it’s just a comic book.” But I’d like to think somewhere out there, it’s making a difference in a young Muslim girl’s life. And even if the message gets lost and Khan’s character doesn’t sell well, at least a young girl could have her own superhero to look up to.

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