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