Women’s Civil Rights in Islam: A synopsis from the pages of Ms. Marvel

Women’s Civil Rights in Islam: A Synopsis From the Pages of Ms. Marvel

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The Women’s Rights Movement in Islam is a fight for more than equality and freedom. It, in some ways, is a fight for humanity. The Western world has been put on notice that the women of Islam will no longer suffer the indifference of cruel and stubborn men. We see it everyday in our high schools and malls. Young Muslim women wear colorful hijab and dazzling outfits equipped with Gucci bags and Air Jordans. We hear it in their poetry through the voices of those like Suheir Hammad and Amal Kassir. We see it on the streets of Tehran and Bahrain. Social media has made it impossible to ignore. Sites like Wikileaks and Instagram have given a face to this head covered revolution.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf gives us a haunting description of growing up Syrian-American. When I picked the book up in 2006, I needed it to reaffirm my faith as a practicing converted Muslim. In its pages you can find similarities in almost every civil rights movement in modern history. Couple that with the struggles of assimilation in a society that perceives diversity as a weakness, and you have the basis for a constitution.

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This is why Ms. Marvel is more than a comic book. When it was first announced that Marvel would give the secondary title a much needed make-over, most of us were skeptical. In the film age of Avengers and The Dark Knight, there seems to be very little space for the lesser-known heroes. Most of the big companies are keeping their cash grabs going by reissuing past story arcs for future films and keeping the public interested in what the studios are putting out on the silver screen. But Marvel gave writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona a chance to do something out of the ordinary. The result is the tale of Kamala Khan, a teenage girl from Jersey City. She lives in world that doesn’t truly see her for who she is. At school, she and her friend Nakia are the subject of ridicule from the female Flash Thompson, Zoe Zimmer. She is not allowed to spend time with boys. Her parents, although not restricting her to strict Sharia law, do not give her the independence she believes she deserves. Her brother Aamir loves her, but is focused on prayer and devotion to Allah. Did I mention that she is nerd? This twist allows us, the reader to fall in love with this character on a very base level. Readers can connect with her through the awkwardness of being a teenager or by being a social outcast in school. She is everyone. Her accessibility gives her a human feel that most comics lack, for obvious reasons. She is empowering. Her character sees the hypocrisy in gender bias and questions it outright. This alone makes her a hero.

But Kamala is obsessed with the Avengers. She daydreams of battles with intergalactic invaders and wants nothing more than to change into her hero, Captain Marvel.

Kamala draws inspiration from the same heroes we do. Justiiiiice!
Kamala draws inspiration from the same heroes we do. Justiiiiice!

One night, her wish comes true. She transforms into Ms. Marvel, a super human with the ability to change her shape. How fitting. Whether as a nerd, woman, or culturally disenfranchised youth she dreamed of acceptance. Her newly found powers allow her to be anything she wants physically, but she remains the same inside.

Kamala sneaks out to a party that her parents forbid her to go to. Once there a strange mist envelopes her and she is greeted by the Avengers, speaking Urdu! They tell her that they are of faith, and speak all languages of beauty and hardship. This type of writing gives this book the type of authenticity it needs to be impactful. If Wilson decided to attack Islam for its treatment of woman alone, the book would take a preachy and holier-than-thou stance that would immediately offend. But this book doesn’t do that, it shows both sides, from the inside of an Islamic Masjid where women are separated in prayer, to the dinner table of a family with first generation westerners. Her first act of heroism saved the life of her mean-girl tormentor, Zoe Zimmer. This selfless act will shape the type of hero she will become. Wilson could have easily made her first heroic act saving the life of a Muslim kid in the midst of being victimized by a hate crime. But that would be the easy way out. In saving her perceived enemy this book takes a traditional Islamic pretense, to offer enemies love, from Al-Mumtahana, and that saving one life is like saving an entire people, from Al-Maida.

Sometimes, the bullies that affect us the worst are those that think they are being good people.
Sometimes, the worst bullies are those that think they are being good people.

The reality of our world is harsh. Women in most countries on this planet are subjugated to cruelty and treated as subservient. And before our glorious Stars and Stripes have their say, let’s not forget the shadow it still casts on our history. The Slavocracy of the South and Jim Crow laws that proceeded allowed for the ownership, rape and torture of African American women. Hell, the ruling class didn’t even allow their women to vote until 1920 and sexual health issues are still being fought today on a Congressional level. But Ms. Marvel is a glimmer of hope in a small pocket of our society. It’s pages are meant to inspire the oppressed, and objectified. Bravo for Marvel Comics, and Al-ḥamdu lillāh.

Ms. Marvel #1

Below is my review of issue #3 that I wrote for the weekly reviews (see all the week’s reviews here). The five part introduction to the new Ms. Marvel is entitled Meta-Morphosis. I suggest you purchase from comiXology or support your local comic book shop and strike a conversation with the guy behind the counter!

Ms. Marvel #3 – A
I can already envision the “What if” issue where Zoe Zimmer drowns. Tell me you saw the somewhere on the west side ave JC electronics sign or you noticed the sarcastic look on the New Jersey pigeons? This book screams of nuance. More than the cultural tension of growing up Muslim so close to Manhattan, I find the awkwardness of being a teenager compelling. Kamala frantically searches the web for answers…”Super-powers, Shape-shifting powers, Woke up as a polymorph, Embiggening. Come on interwebs, don’t fail me now–I can’t be the first person this has happened to–” The book feels real because we would ALL do the same thing. Still subservient in a world where woman are not allowed to worship with their male counter parts, Kamala struggles to find her purpose. It’s been a while since we have seen a hero’s genesis story. Watching Kamala awkwardly try to control her powers is like watching an eager tadpole.

After responding to his text, she heads to the Circle Q to meet Bruno. When she looks in the window she notices a masked man flashing a gun. Assuming that he’s being held up, she springs into action and makes a magnificent declaration.
“I am 911!”
“Strange things are afoot at the Circle Q.”

Shout out to the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure quote from Bruno.
Kamala learns a valuable lesson about being a hero this issue, if she makes it out alive she won’t make the same mistake again.

Post originally from John Soweto’s blog

“Respect My Craft” – Gwendolyn Willow Wilson

In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of comic books, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.

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Name: G. Willow Wilson

Profession: Writer

Notable WorkCairo, AirVixen (mini-series), Ms. Marvel (right meow!)

“You need to have integrity, even when you’re writing fiction. If you tell a story that gives a false or misleading impression about a real person or a group of people, you’re accountable for that, just as you would be if you were writing a nonfictional story. Fiction is not a license to lie.” – Gwendolyn Willow Wilson

You may recognize the name as the writer of the new Marvel series, Ms. Marvel, but G. Willow Wilson has been dropping knowledge for over a decade. Her path to Ms. Marvel was a unique one, as where she ended up is nothing compared to the journey that got her there. We may be a little biased because Wilson hails from Boulder, Colorado. Through all her worldly travels, she still considers Boulder home, although she lives between Cairo and Seattle now. “Like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I can’t quite go back to living in the Shire, much as I might want to. I’ve seen too much of the rest of the world, and living in a small town involves a lot of pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.” If Boulder is the Shire, then Cairo must be Mordor itself. After graduating from Boston University, where Wilson got her first gig in the industry as an intern at Komikwerks (a defunct online comics publisher), she moved to Cairo to teach English.

In Egypt, Wilson took up various journalism jobs, writing for The New York Post MagazineThe Atlantic Post and the Egyptian anti-government publication Cairo Magazine that frequently challenged the Murbarak regime, years before the Arab Spring. However, GWW’s passion wasn’t always in journalism; She is a self-claimed fangirl and has been an avid comic book reader since she was a young girl. Thus, within a day of landing in Egypt, G. Willow Wilson was writing her first graphic novel, CairoCairo is the fantastical journey of six individuals and how a stolen hookah containing a Jinn (genie) leads them to a path of enlightenment. A lot of elements in the book were borrowed from her own life, which added to the honesty of it. There is a noticeable religious undertone in Cairo, but it feels neither forced nor preachy. Wilson should be applauded for her ability to share culture with readers, as opposed to making us showing it off. From Fortieth Day to Jinn mythology to dialect, G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo is educational for some, and warmly familiar for others – the embodiment of how graphic novels should be used to explore cultural diversity.

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What makes her perspective so unique in the comic book world is that she is not a typical American, nor is she a typical Muslim. At first glance, she is not automatically accepted as either identity. As an Egyptian-American, this resonated with me. Growing up “too American” for my Egyptian peers and “too Arab” for the guys on the basketball courts, I gravitated towards books like Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Wilson’s style seems much of the same. You are who make yourself, and in a male-run industry with so few Muslim contributors, G. Willow Wilson’s success is a huge motivator for other outliers like myself trying to break out in the industry.

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Cairo opened the door for Wilson to write Air in 2008, a peculiar series about a flight attendant named Blythe who finds herself traveling through time and space. It was a “very, very weird” book, as Wilson puts it. It garnered enough acclaim to become nominated for an Eisner Award, but flat sales led to its cancellation after 24 issues. Now, this wasn’t to say that DC wasn’t impressed with her writing skills, as she wrote several one-shots and mini-series for DC over the next several years. After writing Air for Vertigo, Wilson had several runs with varying mini-series, notably the five-issue run of Vixen. G. Willow Wilson described the run as Dan Didio’s attempt to “do a DCU story set in Africa that didn’t involve armed, talking gorillas. It seemed like a worthy goal.” Vixen plays the familiar part of an outsider among her own people. It’s fascinating how universal of a feeling alienation can be, even with people of the same ethnicity, beliefs and economic background. Overcoming those feelings is the reason that we read comic books in the first place.

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Wilson has also written two novels: The Butterfly Mosque and Alif the UnseenThe Butterfly Mosque is a memoir that chronicles when she converted to Islam, fell in love with a Cairene man, and other findings during her time in Egypt. Alif the Unseen follows an Arab “hacktivist” trying to spark a digital revolution in an Arab police state. The latter was a book that was released during the Arab Spring, which has seen Egypt in political and social turmoil after the revolution that finally saw Mubarak, and subsequently the Muslim Brotherhood..

Another challenge in the transition for Wilson was writing somebody else’s character instead of her own, and it’s an especially interesting one because most writers who start out in the industry go the opposite direction – writing somebody else’s character so they may create their own work some day. However, when GWW writes a character, you know that she wrote it; her blend of down-to-earth hilarious quips is somewhat of a trademark of hers.

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G. Willow Wilson has already lived such a wondrous life, and thankfully has chosen to share it with us. She’s written a post-9/11 story about a nation drenched in ignorant fear. In Egypt, she contributed to a magazine that was a cog in the revolutionary wheel and wrote two novels that share the beauty of Islam and Egypt in a way that makes readers learn, have fun and want to come back for more. Just one issue into Ms. Marvel, and I already like I relate more to Kamala than I do to Batman (and that’s saying something).

Checked out her bibliography and still want more? Check this out:

G. Willow Wilson is strong on the Twitter scene, and her blog is full of social commentary about race and gender in comic books. Wilson frequently interacts with her fans on an individual level.

Staying involved in the community is important to Wilson, as she frequents comic book conventions and other geo-political conventions. We will be visiting her in just a short couple of weeks for Emerald City Comic Con.

I wanted to point out that none of this art is mine; it is all credited to the original publishers (Marvel and DC/Vertigo Comics) . Thanks for all the love and support for You Nerd Like A Girl. Look to us next week for more “Respect My Craft!,” featuring the industries most talented contributors.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib