Meet Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim superhero
New female Muslim comic book character a breath of fresh air
It has always been a dream of mine to possess super powers – I am not really into the whole “leaping tall buildings at a single bound” stuff although I do own up to hankering after Wayne Manor (real estate always did it for me) and the batmobile.
The superhero I wanted to be was Wonder Woman. With her, there was a role model for a young girl growing up in London. For those of you too young to remember Lynda Carter in her gravity defying red, white and blue playsuit, bear with me. This was a superhero who could deflect bullets with her snazzy cuff bracelets (later inspiring my obsession with Falco Verdura) and had a golden lasso which when wrapped around her enemies forced them to speak the truth and obey her without question.
Those who know me well will now be nodding their heads and rolling their eyes. Finally Wonder Woman had the power to impersonate anyone’s voice – I now speak five languages and can pull off most accents international and regional. In all I am a disciple of Wonder Women's alter ego, Diana Prince, Amazon Princess of the Paradise islands.
Growing up in suburban England in the 1970’s there were no real female role models, much less Muslim or Asian ones, so instead I identified strongly with superheroes and devoured Marvel comics under the bedclothes by torchlight.Ahlya Fateh
Growing up in suburban England in the 1970’s there were no real female role models, much less Muslim or Asian ones, so instead I identified strongly with superheroes and devoured Marvel comics under the bedclothes by torchlight. When one is raised in a culture that is alien to all those around you, especially at a time in your life when “fitting in” is paramount, it pays to learn how to suppress your real identity and play along with your peers.
Eastern alter ego
On the outside I looked English with my fair hair and blue eyes and pale skin that burned on contact with the sun, so I ironed out any signs of an accent matching my cadence and rhythm to the voices of my school friends and read as much English literature as I could so as never to be caught out as a foreigner. Just like Diana Prince had to hide her true Wonder Woman self I too kept my Eastern alter ego to one side. Only when we would return to Karachi for the school holidays would I fully embrace my Pakistani super heroine!
Much has changed since the 70’s, diversity and ethnicity is celebrated and encouraged. Finally we have the first Muslim Super Hero – Ms. Marvel is the newest character from the Marvel comics stable and her alter ego Kamala Khan is an American teenager living in New Jersey. The comics are the brain child of two editors at Marvel, Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, who had spotted a real lack of female superheroes in the market place. Their next step was to get G. Willow Wilson - a comic book writer and convert to Islam - as the series writer which was a major coup. Kamala will have to deal with all the baggage of growing up in a conservative Pakistani family with all that entails while fighting off super-villains.
Ms. Khan’s faith
The creators are aware that this is a subject matter that will seem controversial to Muslims as well as those who are anti-Muslim. But “this is not evangelism,” Ms. Wilson says. “It was really important to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith.” The writer then went on to describe how filial and religious constraints will come up against the need to break out against the status quo whenever Ms. Marvel takes over from Ms. Khan.
I for one welcome this new superhero; she may not have the bracelets and golden chain belt (hello, Chanel obsession explained!) but I bet Ms. Marvel knows what it is to hide your mini-skirt under your shalwar kameez and that makes her a super-super heroine in my book!
Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine, and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.