A Muslim superhero! A female Muslim superhero, fancy that!
That was my response when I read news that Marvel were introducing a teenage Muslim girl into their world. I was positively delighted for many reasons. Firstly a growing number of Muslim women, including myself, are frustrated by the popular misconception that all Muslim women are oppressed or lack autonomy and independence. While it is granted that there is a percentage of Muslim women who unfortunately fall within that category, it is not true for the majority. We are women just like any other woman. It is for this reason that I welcome and applaud Ms Marvel.
Since the tragic events of September 2011 and subsequent terror attacks, Muslim women, especially those who are veiled, have become obvious scapegoats. Their veil is a symbol of Islam and has to some extent become an object associated with terror and hate. The Muslim woman has become an unknown entity, difficult to understand and appreciate. Why would women want to cover up? Is she forced by her father or brother? Why would she want to do it out of her own choice? These are familiar questions that many Muslim women will identify with.
Many of the young Muslim women I have spoken to are frustrated with the different struggles they deal with daily. Struggles with family expectations, and struggles with trying to identify themselves to others whether in college, work or university. They speak resentfully of how in the public sphere they are seen as only ‘Muslim women,’ and how there is a lack of understanding of what that really means, and the multiple identities within that very label. Especially given that most of the time people are questioning whether you can have multiple identities, i.e. is it really possible to be a British/American/Muslim?
So it comes as a great relief that Marvel have stated that they will explore this conflict within a Muslim woman they ‘say she will be forced to deal not only with her developing superpowers and the day-to-day struggles of adolescence, but also with the strict demands placed on her by her family.’
My only concern would be if the portrayal was to be one-sided, further reinforcing the negative view that all women are forced into certain decisions. The ideal representation would be that of a teenage Muslim girl facing her multiple struggles and dealing with them autonomously, because in all honesty, thats what happens most of the time.
Even if it doesn't do that, my hope is that it will tackle some of the misconceptions that exist; it could help a growing generation of children understand and redefine what it is to be a Muslim woman. When I was younger I loved the pink Power Ranger (I mean, which girl didn’t?), but I would have loved to grow up with a character like Ms Marvel because many of my generation will identify with her backstory. The need for a character such as hers wasn't as urgent as it is now. There is a growing population of Muslims in the West, and it is imperative that they are visible in all aspects of society to prevent marginilisation and isolation.
There is no doubt that the decision to introduce a Muslim female character into Marvel will bring controversy. I can tell you know that there are some who will argue that such a character is not needed, that she will become a flawed role model. I say to hell with the haters and a massive congratulations and thank you to Marvel for finally acknowledging the identity and struggle of a Muslim woman. She is strong, she is resilient, she is fierce, she is determined. She is Ms Marvel.