November 6th, 2013
08:02 PM ET

Meet the new Marvel superhero: A rebellious Muslim teen from New Jersey

Opinion by Hussein Rashid, special to CNN

(CNN) - In the world of comics, the news of Ms. Marvel’s return to the world of Iron Man and the X-men is a big deal – and not just because the character’s alter ego is a Pakistani-American Muslim girl from New Jersey.

The previous Ms. Marvel, for those of you not familiar with the Ka-Pow world of comics, was a blond, blue-eyed Air Force pilot.

The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old student who favors hipster-geek glasses and Holden Caulfield-style hats. She's also Muslim, though she's no poster girl for the faith, according to G. Willow Wilson, her creator.

"Islam is both an essential part of her identity and something she struggles mightily with," Wilson said in an interview posted on Marvel's website.

"She does not cover her hair – most American Muslim women don't—and she's going through a rebellious phase," Wilson continued.

"She wants to go to parties and stay out past 9 p.m. and feel 'normal.' Yet at the same time, she feels the need to defend her family and their beliefs."

Wilson is an accomplished author who wrote several issues of Superman comics and recently won the World Fantasy Award for her novel "Alif the Unseen."

More importantly, Wilson is Muslim. A memoir of her conversion, “The Butterfly Mosque,” intimately expresses the beauty she finds in her faith.

That level of complexity bodes well for the Khan character, whom Wilson says will wrestle with her faith.

Sana Amanat, an editor at Marvel Comics has said she also wants the comic-book character to struggle with difference, a common teenage concern made especially poignant by the currents of Islamophobia running through many parts of the United States.

"As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, this book isn’t preaching about religion or the Islamic faith in particular," Amanat has said.

"It’s about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you, and how that forms your sense of self. It’s a struggle we’ve all faced in one form or another, and isn’t just particular to Kamala because she’s Muslim."

Kamala Khan, the new Muslim superhero, and her family.

The emergence of the new Muslim Ms. Marvel highlights an increasing sophistication in the ways Muslims are shown in popular culture, a shift led by comic books.

But I’m happy that we may finally see a Muslim character whose faith is not the only part of her life that matters.

I want to read about a young woman/Superhero who deals with the ordinary ordeals of being a teenager, battling her bratty brother and forging her own identity for the first time.

The cover art Marvel Comics has released hints that Khan will be a sophisticated character. She is holding books about art, religion and history and is wearing a scarf around her neck – notably, not her head. A bracelet wrapped around her wrist appears to feature Arabic script.

My hopes for Khan are buoyed by the fact that Marvel Comics, the publishing company that will release Ms. Marvel in February, has a solid track record of confronting controversial issues, including religion.

Issues such as homophobia and the AIDS epidemic have been addressed through characters such as Northstar, who came out of the closet in 1992.

Anti-Semitism is another recurrent theme in the Marvel universe, with characters like Magneto being shaped by his experience of the Holocaust, and Kitty Pryde struggling as a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

After years of cardboard representations of Muslims, the character Dust, aka Sooraya Qadir, joined the X-Men in 2002.

In 2011, we found out that another of the X-Men, M, was raised as a Muslim. Although it took nearly 17 years for her religiosity to be revealed, M eventually challenges xenophobia by questioning protesters at the site of the so-called "ground zero mosque," asking them what it means to be American, and who gets to decide.

DC Comics introduced the first main comic-book character who is a Muslim born in America, Simon Baz, aka the Green Lantern. Unfortunately, because he is part of the Justice League, a larger team, his appearances have been infrequent since his introduction in 2012.

The character of Kamala Khan has the opportunity to offer something new to pop-culture portrayals of Muslims. She is born in the United States, appears to be part of the post-9/11 generation and is a teenager.

In the end, I hope the most interesting thing about the new series is the writing, not the fact that the character is Muslim - and not the fact that a small number of Americans seem to have a problem with that.

So far, the folks in my Twitter feed seem more upset that Kamala Khan is from New Jersey.

Hussein Rashid teaches at Hofstra University in the department of religion. He is an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, a term member on the Council on Foreign Relations and fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed in this column belong to Rashid. 

(Daniel Burke contributed reporting.)

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Entertainment • Islam • Muslim • Opinion • Teens

soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. gregb

    When does she strap on an explosives belt and take care of some dhiminis?

    November 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Keyboard Ninja

      Greg B. mild mannered accountant by day, by night Keyboard Ninja

      November 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  2. Andreas Kollmuss

    Please, check out my facebook – Marvel album, which is real Marvel.

    November 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  3. Herp (Derp?)

    If the author's intent of this article was to make this comic book character sound totally boring, it was a success. Does the confluence of teenage angst, American culture, and religion somehow equate to interesting superhero? Yawn.

    November 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Keyboard Ninja

      Not unless the super hero's super power was being able to tear random strangers to shreds with the stroke of a key.

      November 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  4. LJ

    The author of these comics better watch out- I bet a bunch of jihadist freaks are already plotting his assassination.

    November 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  5. boring

    And yet I am still not motivated to read comic books.

    November 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  6. Topher

    Boring and kind of unoriginal. DC Comics already did this within the last year with Green Lantern.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • Alias

      Just wait for her rival, Bible Boy, to hit the pages.
      A new super hero with the power to make people donate money; and every time you torture him to death he comes back to eat your brains.

      November 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • Topher

        Perhaps they should bring back Bible Man. But this time make it more serious. Personally, I wish comic books would stay away from religion, no matter which kind. They never get it right and just end up offending everyone.

        November 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
        • Alias

          Personally I wish they would put more pictures in the bible. It would make it easier to see what a comic book it really is.

          November 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
        • sam stone

          "But this time make it more serious. "

          Yeah, REALLY scare the kids this time

          What would your evangelism be without empty proxy threats, gopher?

          November 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      Boring and kind of unoriginal....gee, gopher, you have something in common

      November 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Doc Vestibule

    I'm a fan of the little comic books the JoHos leave in my mailbox telling me how I'm hellbound.

    November 7, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  8. The evolution of the scarf

    In some cultures a scarf is worn to cover your hair, in some others it goes around your neck.

    If you have a scarf–flaunt it, wear it and make a fashion statement.

    At the end of the day, by all standards, looks like Khan is a modestly dressed woman.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  9. Sara

    The author of this story likes to point out that the character doesn't cover her hair, making her sound like the product of a liberal Muslim. Yet here is a picture of the author:


    So I would guess the lack of headscarf is more of a tactical descision than a reflection of the authors progressive beliefs.

    November 7, 2013 at 6:33 am |
    • guest

      I looked at Wilson’s photo, one thing I can say is: I have not yet seen a homely Muslim woman.

      November 7, 2013 at 8:12 am |
      • ME II

        Really? They cover the spectrum just like any other group. Maybe you need to meet more.

        November 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • It's in the bag


        They keep them bagged and gagged for the most part. 1/3 of Saudis are extremely obese nowadays - that includes the women.

        How many homely Scandinavian women have you seen? French ones? You are quite myopic.

        November 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • Sara

          Several studies put Kuwait as the most obese nation on earth. People like to give the US that ti.tle, but that is only the case in surveys that use a very limited set of developed countries. Interestinly, other countries like Greece and Australia have tried to claim the ti.tle on various occasions. It almost seems people are happy to be #1 regardless of what the arena is.

          November 8, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  10. That should sell about four copies

    Now that the comics have become religious propaganda, I just can't wait for the adventures of Pentacostalman! His superpowers are speaking in tongues, the laying of hand instead of medicine, running the aisles, and actually being able to get through a day on a 47 IQ!

    November 7, 2013 at 3:40 am |
    • saggyroy

      We will probably see them left at truck stops with the other tract garbage.

      November 7, 2013 at 6:16 am |
  11. guest

    Super heroes, I think, should have a good influence on the readers, otherwise the message is lost. Will this new super heroine character be of a positive influence to the readers?

    November 7, 2013 at 3:16 am |
  12. Isis

    I can't believe they forgot the superhero "Isis". Maybe that wasn't Marvel comics that made that one.

    November 7, 2013 at 2:49 am |
    • Malcire

      You mean Black Adams wife? If so she was DC and worshiped(ish) the Egyptian pantheon (all of her (fictional) country did).

      November 8, 2013 at 1:23 am |
  13. Neo Agnostic

    Next up: Jesus Man!

    November 7, 2013 at 2:44 am |
    • guest

      And your definition of a superhero is: ….

      November 7, 2013 at 3:40 am |
  14. Jack

    This is fantastic. Hopefully this will help a new generation of comic fans overcome Western society's incessant Islamophobia and grow to accept people from all walks of life as potential heroes!

    November 7, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • Just Call Me Lucifer

      I see a suicide bomber in your future...good luck with that.

      November 7, 2013 at 4:42 am |
  15. Red

    Great story. Anything that brings on hillbilly atheist rage makes me smile. Keep hating, it only makes Islam stronger. God is the Greatest!!!!

    November 7, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • Commenter

      "Keep hating, it only makes Islam stronger."

      Well, I don't know about that, but you sound fairly pugnacious.

      November 7, 2013 at 1:18 am |
      • Red

        No, you don't know about it. And I don't want you too. Just sit back and take the ride. Islam still is (even after terrorist attacks on this country)the fastest growing religion on Earth and will remain that way until it is on top. Monotheism Rules!!!

        November 7, 2013 at 6:04 am |
        • Red


          November 7, 2013 at 6:19 am |
        • Reality # 2


          Religion………………………… Adherents

          Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

          Sunnism................................... 1.2 billion

          Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion (look out here we come)

          Hinduism 900 million
          Chinese traditional religion 394 million
          Buddhism 376 million
          Shiite- ism 300 million
          Animist religions 300 million
          African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
          Sikhism 23 million
          Juche 19 million
          Spiritism 15 million

          Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

          Baha'i 7 million
          Jainism 4.2 million
          Shinto 4 million
          Cao Dai 4 million
          Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
          Tenrikyo 2 million
          Neo-Paganism 1 million
          Unitarian Universalism 800,000
          Rastafari Movement 600,000

          November 7, 2013 at 8:05 am |
        • Reality # 2

          And Red, there is a fast cure for your Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in your religion: Scroll down to the Five Steps to Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths;

          November 7, 2013 at 8:09 am |
        • Alias

          I thought Scientology was the fastest growing religion.

          November 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
        • Red

          I said fastest growing. Never said most. I don't know why you wrote all that useless garbage. As for your post below, I'll read it when you read the Qur'an. Deal?

          November 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
        • Malcire

          Why aren't Sunnis grouped with the other Muslim sects?

          November 8, 2013 at 1:26 am |
        • Reality # 2

          Sunnis and Shiites consider each to be infidels i.e. the reason to separate the factions into separate parts.

          November 8, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Gotcha

      Red, why are you dogging atheists? It's the Christians that are the most Islamaphobic.

      November 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      Some results from reading the Koran, the terror and horror operating manual of Islam:

      http://www.muslimaccess.com/quraan/arabic/005.asp et al
      o "Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5:51)
      "Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons...he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home..." (Surah 8:12-)

      "Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)

      "...make war on the leaders of unbelief...Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them..." (Surah 9:12-)

      "Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9:29-)

      "It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it." (Surah 9:31-)

      "If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men." (Surah 9:37-)

      "Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

      "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)

      "Say: 'Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom..." (Surah 17:111)

      "'How shall I bear a child,' she [Mary] answered, 'when I am a virgin...?' 'Such is the will of the Lord,' he replied. 'That is no difficult thing for Him...God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!...Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood..." (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

      "Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him...He has given you the name of Muslims..." (Surah 22:78-)

      "Blessed are the believers...who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)...These are the heirs of Paradise..." (Surah 23:1-5-)

      "Muhammad is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another." (Surah 48:29)

      "Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?...Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents...They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets...Blessed be the name of your Lord..." (Surah 55:52-66-)

      November 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  16. Reality # 2

    Only for the eyes of Muslim superheroes:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    November 6, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  17. AtheistSteve

    Fantasy comic book superheroes and the characters posited in the various religions of man seem like birds of a feather in my opinion.

    November 6, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      The biggest difference being that the characters in the Marvel universe are far more interesting to read about. Rife with gods, demi-gods, demons, monsters, mutants, superbeings and aliens whose interactions with mankind are either catastrophic or beneficial makes for jolly good entertainment. Bible stories are just dreary and dull by comparison...especially when they are taken seriously.

      November 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
      • You are on to something

        So your point is that Marvel Comics could write a better scripture than any of the bore-fests already in existence?

        I'll go with that.

        And had they invented those stories in some ignorant iron-age Middle East backwater a couple thousand years ago, all these yokels would be worshiping Superman and the Green Hornet instead of Jesus.

        November 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          I guess my point is that scripture is pointless. Fantasy of any stripe should be taken for what it is...flights of imagination. And yeah...Superman or even DC comics the Green Lantern would make far better role models than Jesus.

          November 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          Come to think about it Superman is DC too.
          Marvel Comics heroes tend to be more flawed...more human. DC fills that role also with Batman who isn't really a superbeing.

          November 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  18. Apple Bush

    I have a sinus infection.

    November 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm |

    • Sometimes, for drainage, they have to drill a couple of holes into your sinuses from your oral cavity. But for some organisms there isn't much they can do.

      November 6, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
      • Apple Bush


        November 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
        • Alias

          Just cover your sceeen before you sneeze.
          There could be children out here.

          November 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Observing guest

      Your post made me laugh so hard. I'm sorry you are ill but it's just that it had nothing to do with anything at all.

      November 7, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  19. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    The best things about America are imaginary – imagined in its comics.

    November 6, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  20. Maddy

    Oh, goody. This story will probably bring out that Islamaphobe, infidel.

    November 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.