Muslims need to tell their stories. I’ve heard this for quite a while now. If we don’t tell our own narrative, then we are letting those who don’t know anything about us be the ones to promote stereotype-laden gibberish about Muslims. I’m still trying to find my place in all this and my need/want to contribute to the Muslim American narrative. While I’m still trying to find my own path though, I can’t help but be optimistic as to what is out there as of late.
An article came out the other day about the new comic book title Ms. Marvel, to be released in February. This time though, instead of Ms. Marvel being Carol Danvers, the hero will actually be Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim American from New Jersey. From the NY Times article:
Kamala, whose family is from Pakistan, has devotedly followed the career of the blond, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, who now goes by Captain Marvel, a name she inherited from a male hero. When Kamala discovers her powers, including the ability to change shape, she takes on the code name Ms. Marvel — what Carol called herself when she began her superhero career.
I know, I know. Bushra, you say, a superhero can’t be part of the narrative of what it is to be a Muslim-American. She has powers. I know she has powers. But Kamala will deal with normal teenage issues, protective parents, a dad who wants her to be a doctor, a really conservative brother, all while struggling with her own faith. This could be anyone. Folks, this title could be cool, especially since it will be written by G. Willow Wilson, writer of the comic book series Air as well as the memoir The Butterfly Mosque and the novel Alif the Unseen. Besides, who doesn’t want powers? I want powers (Flight. That’s all I ask. I’ll help save the world, promise.)
I love the fact that a few people thought of me when they first read an article about this new comic book and sent me a link. I’m an unabashed Superman fan who happens to be a Muslim-American (or American Muslim, whatever floats your boat) of Pakistani descent. I’m going to be all over this.
I’m sure it’s not easy to try to introduce diverse characters into the comic book world, but here’s hoping Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel has a chance.
If you’re done rolling your eyes at me saying that a fictional superhero can help with the Muslim narrative here in the U.S., I’ve got something else for you. I recently finished reading the book Painted Hands, by Jennifer Zobair. This book is about two Pakistani-American Muslim best friends, Zainab Mir, campaign strategist to a senatorial candidate and Amra Abbas, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. They are in their late twenties, successful in their professional lives although their personal lives, not so much. Wait, no, this isn’t chick-lit, trust me!
I couldn’t get over as how normal the characters in the book are. This isn’t meant to downplay the book at all, mind you, but just the fact that these two women can be pretty much anyone I know – children of immigrant parents who had come to this country to start a new life, creating their own path while navigating through their culture and religion. One happens to be more “practicing” than the other but In Real Life, Muslims encompass all walks of life, just as Zainab, Amra, and the other characters in the book demonstrate. Not one of us is meant to be the spokesperson for the entire Muslim population to everyone who isn’t us. The reality is that we’re all so different and that’s what the book depicts.
Not only did I like Painted Hands, it surprised me. Jennifer Zobair, an American Muslim convert, captured so much of what it means to be a hyphenated American that I found myself invested in the lives and outcomes of the characters.
Like I said, I still need to find my place and tell my story but in the interim, it’s cool that that there is a lot out there already that can appeal to not just Muslims, but to the public in general.