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. omnipotentsmile

    There have been Muslim superheroes before, like "Dust" on the X-Men or the new Green Lantern, Simon Baz. There hasn't been really been an outcry against them being made, the main issue are whether their stories are decently written or not -and that's the case for the majority of heroes in the comic universe.

    November 8, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • RickyPeters

      The original Ms Marvel was a babe; that's why there's out roar.

      November 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  2. glenn stockley

    muslim ameriKan......sounds ominous to me.....super hero ????...you should be imprisoned fro brainwashing the young to follow ur war like ways.....shame, shame, shame on u all......

    November 8, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Paulwisc

      Sounds like you're brainwashed in bigotry.

      November 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  3. Skorpio

    Malala should be the superhero with superpowers to resist bullets, acid attacks, bombings and beheading.

    November 8, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  4. Copenshaw

    She has a ,male sidekick. She can not go on missions without him, and always goes before her.

    November 8, 2013 at 7:42 am |
  5. Copenshaw

    Will she count as one superhero, or only one-fourth of a male superhero?

    The good thing is that she is female-genitally mutila.., oops, female-genitally modified.

    November 8, 2013 at 1:21 am |
  6. 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?

    Go to page one for the final cure.

    November 8, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  7. Kat

    This character is really horrible.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Maddy


      November 7, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
      • The Honest One

        Since when is "MUSLIM" used as a ethnicity?? Is there a country im unaware of called "MUSLIM"?? When you point things like that out your opening yourself to be critized negetivly. Im surprised and dissapointed in MARVEL....

        November 8, 2013 at 2:28 am |
    • Coco-b-ware

      If we draw Mohammed on a sidewalk, will she cut our heads off?

      November 8, 2013 at 2:56 am |
  8. crosemoore

    Why does it matter, who cares about what this girl believes in. Yet again another dumb hate thing that will turn this comic upside down. Why do we need to complain about this. It is a human, why does it matter what she thinks, or even that this comic was made to represent others. Do i agree with those beliefs? No. Do i care? No. As long as someone is not forcing their religion on me it doesn't effect me. It doesn't effect you either, so get over it. No matter what someone does, someone will disagree and complain. Why should this be made into such a big deal? If someone is to tell me that I am going to their hell because I don't believe in their religion, so be it. if it makes them feel better to hate me for being who I want to be so be it. Tell me I am wrong as a human, yeah it may sting, but seriously, can't we all just leave each other alone. So what if your neighbor is Asian, Mexican, White, Christian, Atheist, or Jewish. Why does their personal belief, or looks matter to you as long as they are not harming someone?

    November 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Question?

      A fictional character does not have any thoughts, the writer do. Marvel and the media are making a big deal of the character and the media pandering with the underlying, "like this character or you are a bigot" message is very annoying. B

      November 8, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  9. Ted Ward

    Since when have Marvel comic book heroes ever identified with any religion? Comics don't do religion, they do comics.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • crosemoore

      Since people decided what is wrong and right for others' business. Since companies are willing to take the risk of losing customers simply because of what those customers thought. Since people started making a big deal that their race and religion wasn't represented in their favorite make believe company. Since the U.S. has decided that they hate all Muslims because a few bombed us horrifically. Since a new race and religion in big name companies have flustered people.

      November 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Malcire

      For quite a while actually. The general assumption was generally christian (if any). Though the thing is Jewish (revealed in the 1980s), different Superman comics have played him up as a pretty devout christian (mostly graphic novels). Quite a few have dealt with religious extremism or approached religion and it's effects from a philosophical perspective.

      November 8, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • mattk

      Yah putting mainstream religions in a super hero comic book is kind of dumb. Especially considering you have god-like immortals in the comics themselves like Galactus and The Phoenix. Why would people in that universe believe in an invisible god when you have beings right in front of your face that are on the same level.

      November 8, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The X-Man Nightcrawler was a catholic priest, Wolfsbane is a Presbyterian, Daredevil is Catholic, Cannonball is a Baptist...

      November 8, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Ben

      Actually, most of the devout Catholic characters were also some of the most violent. Huntress from DC, and Punisher from Marvel, for example. Superman is usually shown to be the product of his Methodist adoptive parents, the Kents. Wonder Woman worships the Greek gods, which is easy for her, because she can actually talk and interact with them, physically. For a time there, she was actually the goddess of Truth, but that didn't last long. Truth and religion seldom mix, it seems. The highest level atheist would, of course, be Batman.

      November 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  10. M

    Do the authors realize that 'Kamala' is a Hindu name?

    November 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  11. cinnamonbite

    Why? Why require a superhero to support ANY religion? They are suppose to be above all that. Do we have a special catholic superhero or a 7th day adventist superhero? Or is this new one suppose to not be about religion but about culture? So where's the superhero from India? Or the superhero from Italy? That's right, they're suppose to be American inventions from American artists supporting American themes, so this is clearly about religion. And why a muslim? Indoctrinating the young. All muslims are just like us and all muslims are perfectly normal. Disregard muslim behavior in the news, those beheadings and burning buildings, nah. Shut up and read your comics, kids.

    November 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • RoiColard

      couldn't agree more! I don't see the need for a comics super hero to relate to ANY religion

      November 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • teeks

      Captain America is protestant

      November 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • crosemoore

      Why? Why does it matter what religion she is. lets be thankful its a she, and she is proportionate, wearing a real t-shirt, and jeans. Rather than some one-sy that holds in only an over-sized boob and a half. But the news and people shouldn't make such a big deal of what sort of a race or a religion based the figure is. people complain about how companies have only white dolls, princesses, or heros. yet people also complain about how thhe companies shouldn't have to create different types of people. no one is happy, ever, but why do we need to publicize this so much? does it really make a difference? maybe we should focus on how real humans look rather than how we want them to look. because this is how all of the teens out there start to think they arn't good enough for society. Maybe we should focus on the fact that this makes such a big statement.

      November 7, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Ben

      It's just part of who they are, like being left or right handed, gay or straight, men or women ... .

      Captain America may be a protestant, but he is far from being a conservative, or even particularly right wing. No Tea Party poster boy, to be sure. He, like John Wayne, would never refuse supporting a president simply because of what party they happen to belong to.

      November 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  12. Andreas Kollmuss

    The links, it works here! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150517931797922&l=153ec2f0b1

    November 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Skorpio

    MALALA should be the superhero with superpowers to repel gunshots, bombings and beheading of Islamic terrorists.

    November 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Squirrelyone

      I like your sentiment, but honestly I think Malala is more impressive because she *doesn't* have superpowers. 🙂

      November 8, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  14. Andreas Kollmuss

    I don´t know if this link works here ... https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150518401377922&l=470af908c1

    November 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
1 2 3
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.