Muslims Can Be Heroes, Too

Marvel Comics announced the debut of its latest superhero—a 16-year-old Pakistani American-Muslim from Jersey City.

When Marvel Comics announced the debut of its latest superhero – a 16-year-old Pakistani American-Muslim from Jersey City – it was correctly seen as a positive development. Created and written by two American-Muslim women, Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, holds promise. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” the editor, Sana Amanat, told The New York Times.“Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.”

But while Khan is a comic book character, she should not become a caricature. American literature is replete with tales of assimilation from My Antonia to The Joy Luck Club. The overprotective mother and the demanding father are staples of the genre. But with Khan, there is an additional twist: The “conservative” brother. When talking about Muslims, conservative is often code for someone who embraces a fundamentalist understanding of Islam, which is viewed as just one step short of becoming a terrorist. In his forthcoming book, The Muslims Are Coming!, Arun Kundani identifies two narratives about Islam that have fueled the “war on terror” and its cousin, Islamophobia. Conservatives believe Islam’s problem is that it has yet to reconcile itself with modernity. Liberals believe Islam has been hijacked by ideologues to produce a new, totalitarian ideology, radical “Islamism.” The idea of religiously conservative but tolerant Muslim doesn’t fit within either of these paradigms. We don’t fully know how Kamala’s brother will behave, but the creative types at Marvel should think hard about whether they are perpetuating stereotypes or accurately reflecting the complexity of a modern American-Muslim family.

Nor should courageous Muslim characters – both real and imagined – be a reason to let ourselves and our leaders off the hook for the pervasive discrimination ordinary Muslims face.

It is ironic that Khan’s superpower is that she is a “shape shifter” who can transform her body into any size or shape. Islamophobia shifts shape too. A recent Oklahoma constitutional amendment banning Sharia (a nebulous body of Islamic law and traditions) was struck down because it discriminated against Muslims, but that didn’t stop its proponents. In 34 states, they pushed laws barring the application of any foreign law that doesn’t follow the federal and state constitutions to the tee. They have won in six states already. While these laws don’t overtly target Muslims, their advocates sure do. Florida state senator Alan Hays likened Sharia to a “dreadful disease” against which Americans should be vaccinated. Other faith communities also suffer. Jewish groups have voiced concerns that the bans call into the question the decisions of religious tribunals used to resolve marriage and contract disputes.

When Gov. Chris Christie nominated a distinguished Muslim lawyer to the New Jersey Superior Court two years ago, there were questions about whether the nominee would apply sharia, not state and U.S. rules. Christie, typically blunt, dismissed the criticism: “This ‘Sharia law’ business is crap. It’s just crazy.” Last year, members of Congress, spearheaded by Rep. Michele Bachman (R.-Minn.), charged that Hilary Clinton’s long-time Muslim aide, Huma Abedin, was part of an Islamic conspiracy to influence U.S. foreign policy. Prominent Washingtonians took up Abedin’s defense, including Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who declared that the attacks had “no logic, no basis and no merit.”

Although most American-Muslims cannot rely on defenders like Christie or McCain, they surely need government protection. The two percent of the American population who are Muslim make up a whopping one-quarter of the docket of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to latest data from the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims have jumped 50 percent from to 2008 to 2011. The ability to gather together to pray is one of the fundamental pillars of religious liberty, but the Department of Justice has found that Muslims face major obstacles when they try to build mosques.

Government agencies have been assiduous in documenting and fighting these types of discrimination. But such support quickly falls away when Muslim communities complain that they have been spied upon because of their faith. Faced with documents that raise extremely troubling questions about how the New York City Police Department monitored Muslims, the city’s political leaders have by and large been unmoved. The Justice Department may come to the aid of communities seeking to build mosques, but it has ducked repeated calls to investigate the NYPD’s infiltration of these same institutions. The FBI investigates hate crimes against Muslims, but it continues to target the religiously observant among them as potential terrorists.

In this context, the arrival of Kamala Khan is cause for celebration. She may make a few people think that Muslims can be heroes as well as villains. But vanquishing anti-Muslim prejudice will take a more sustained and energetic effort by Kamala’s human counterparts.

Image courtesy of Sam Howzit.

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  • Ilikethenats

    You want to stop Muslium prejudice than they have to be known more for doing good works than blowing themselves up and shooting 13 year old girls for the henious crime of wanting to be educated. Religion can’t and never will be able to run a Country. Heny the VIII figured that one out a long time ago. With the exception of Turkey most are either run by hapless Dictators that we support or Idiot Mullahs that make rediculous proclamations.

    I would love to be more optimistic but I can’t rite now see any good that comes from a nonsecular nation. Bush was all into faith and look what he did to us. Politics and religion are two separate entities and they should never be confused or co-opted into one another for any reason. A stupid cartoon is not going to make anyone any more ill at ease if a Turbaned Muclim gets on a plane with a good friend for the purpose of just going somewhere. I would love to think otherwise but I rite now I can’t. You want a cause to celebrate than bring social justice to the MIddle East.

    When human decency triumphs over Religious Meglomania than even I will join the party.

  • Abey

    In my opinion a “good Muslim” is he who rejects the discriminating and violence inciting verses of his holy book, the Koran. But then he would no longer be regarded as a Muslim by his own clerics.

  • ScottVA

    You think Bush is a Christian?
    Governments ought to be secular, but populated with people of faith — preferably the Christian faith, which is the only true faith.

    And Bush did far less to destroy this nation than the Community Organizer in Chief currently foisting his Marxism on us. And I’m no fan of Bush.

  • ScottVA

    When reading articles such as this of, it is important to understand that when Muslims quote the Koran to “infidels”, they are lying. When they say that the Koran tells them to “honor the people of the Book (Bible)”, they don’t tell you that another verse, telling them to “kill them wherever you find them,” abrogates that peaceful verse.

    Remember this phrase: “Al nasikh wal Mansoukh”
    That is Arabic for, “The Abrogator and the Abrogated.”

    In short, it means any koranic verses spoken later (the Medinic verses) annul those verses spoken earlier (the Meccan verses).

    Needless to say, the Meccan verses are very tolerant and “peaceful”, while the Medinic verses are marshal and quite intolerant.

  • ibnAdan

    @WmarkW
    The law is anyone not just women and it is a deterrent that’s not actually supposed to be practiced. Only a handful of people got the punishment and those people specifically asked for it multiple times so they could be expiated for their sins. Clearly shown when the prophet turned away from a lady in this case. The Islamic punishments are not actually practiced like the punishments in the West but rather they are deterrents.

  • Ahmed Mohamed

    @WmarkW
    My comment got deleted so I’ll make this short. The law is for both men and women. Punishment laws in Islam are deterrents that aren’t really practiced like in the West. Only a handful of people got the punishment and they asked for it multiple times to expiate their sins The prophet turned away from people who asked for the punishment.

  • Ahmed Mohamed

    @ScottVA
    You’ve exposed you’re own ignorance for everyone to see. Who is “them”? Why do you assume its Jews and Christians?
    “Them” is Pagan Arabs who broke treaties and killed Muslims.

  • Ahmed Mohamed

    @Abey
    Those verse are about Pagan Arabs who killed Muslims. They are in defense. Please read the entire chapter instead of one verse

  • Ahmed Mohamed

    @CCNL
    You do not understand those verses in context and there is no way I can go through them all. It only shows me you haven’t read the FIRST VERSE in Chapter 9.
    “[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists.”
    Pagans who broke treaties and killed the Muslims. You didn’t even read the first verse you are exposing your ignorance in public

  • Abey

    Ahmed Mohammad Mahmoud
    All a person needs to know for certain that the Quran incites discrimination and violence against Christians and Jews is to read Quran 9;29 or read Omar Pact, the Muslim manual for treatment of Christians and Jews living among Muslims

  • Abey

    @ahmadmohammad
    “The prophet turned away from people who asked for the punishment.” Maybe! Yet he had ordered the assassination of Asma bint Marwan, a nursing mother of five children for reciting a poem that was not to the liking of “the compassionate prophet of Allah”.