Muslim characters in comics: Yes, it works!

This month, a new kickass team emerges: the A-Force. The new comic will unite the female characters of the Marvel universe. G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, X-Men), who has converted to Islam, and Marguerite Bennett (Angela: Asgard’s Assassin) will write the series. The two authors wanted to recreate a group of heroes who want to be young girls, older women, and men. They explain to Time Magazine why it was time for the A-Force: ‘It is great to raise the profile of female characters who don’t have the same kind of cultural ubiquity that the male superheroes do,’ Bennett says. ‘If we can create those kinds of icons that people can look up to and see themselves reflected in, we will have done some good.’

Women and comics: not a contradiction

Even the most conservative fans seem to finally accept that women can also play a leading role in the comic world. Because this world is usually seen as a place where only men thrive. In the past five years, Marvel has promoted the female Muslim Ms. Marvel, an all-female X-Men team, and the feminist pilot Captain Marvel. The A-Force will be the 15th female-led comic book series for the publisher.

‘I think an announcement like this is not as shocking as it would have been a couple of years ago,’ Wilson says in Time. ‘It used to be that a character like Ms. Marvel would have been the trifecta of death. It was a new character, a female character and a minority character headlining her own book. Traditionally, none of those things sell. But it did. And since that’s been overturned, everyone is excited to be on the cutting edge. Nobody wants to be left behind.’ And it did indeed, as normally there would be a demand for about 100,000 copies, but Marvel’s female centric titles have already exceeded the expectations. The collected edition of Ms. Marvel by G. Willow, for example, was a New York Times best seller!

Kamala Khan: a main (and Muslim) character

Ms. Marvel was the first single series of a female Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan. She is not the first Muslim character in a comic, as there are obviously a few more. However, Ms. Marvel received worldwide media attention because Kamala Khan was the first Muslim character of Marvel that got the headline in her own comic book. According to The New York Times the concept of Kamala Khan came up during a conversation between Marvel editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker. Amanat said: ‘I was telling Wacker some crazy anecdote about my childhood, growing up as a Muslim-American. He found it hilarious.’ After that they presented the concept to Wilson. Amanat says that the series came from a ‘desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective.’

Even though the Islam is part of Kamala’s identity, the comic book does not try to preach about religion or the Islam in particular. It is about what happens when you are struggling with labels and how that sensation shapes you. It is a kind of struggle we somehow have all been confronted with at some point. It does not only apply to Kamala for being a Muslim. Her religion is only one aspect of her many ways of defining herself.

Speaking of Muslim struggles: Kamala Khan has been a big example on how to face them. At that time, San Francisco buses were coated with racist advertising in order to support hate against Muslims. Luckily somebody covered up this advertising with anti-hatred messages from Muslim superhero Ms. Marvel.

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As James Whitbrook says: ‘Sometimes, instead of bickering among ourselves about them, it’s nice to see Comic Books being used to promote the ideals their heroes stand for.’

Written by Sumeyye Copoglu

Sumeyye Copoglu

Sumeyye Copoglu is 23 years old and studies Islamic theology at the Islamic University of Rotterdam. She is an artist, with a passion for culture and travel.

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