Muslim teen in comic challenges prejudice in US

  • 28/02/2016
Muslim teen in comic challenges prejudice in US

The universe of superhero comics is populated by outcasts – those who don't fit in, but who protect the world anyway.

But there's never been a comic superhero quite like this. Kamala Khan is just an average teen from Jersey City, who happens to have shape-shifting abilities. She also happens to be Muslim.

Sana Amanat is the series editor.

"We didn't want to tell a story about a Muslim or a South Asian; we wanted to tell a story about a young individual coming into their own and dealing with all of the obstacles that come with that journey to adulthood," she says.

To tell that story, Ms Amanat drew on her own childhood as a Muslim growing up in New Jersey.

"I had one instance where right after the first World Trade Centre bombing, this kid came up to me in class and was like, 'Hey, can you tell your people to stop attacking us?' It was the first moment where I realised I was 'the other' and I was not included like everyone else," she says.

She found solace in comic books, like the X-Men, which features a band of mutants who do good in the face of prejudice. 

In the first issue of Ms Marvel, a nod to an earlier series by the same name, Kamala Khan shape-shifts into a blonde, blue-eyed hero before her father convinces her that she's perfect as she really is. It's a story that resonated with readers everywhere.

That issue went through an unprecedented seven printings and was a New York Times best-seller, with more than 20,000 copies. It also dealt with Kamala's teen angst with humour and sensitivity.

"The first page of the comic is her smelling a BLT in the local convenience store and her saying, 'I just want to smell it.' Bacon is forbidden is Islam and she's a Muslim," she says.

"It's a moment where you are trying to be something you're not. I think diversity has always been really important in comics."

Professor Jonathan Gray writes about comics and pop culture.

"I think that Marvel is representing this character at a time where we have some divisive political rhetoric. I think that it shows that you know we can embrace our diversity and not be turned off by it," he says.

A sign of the character's importance to Marvel – the most recent issue of franchise series The Avengers features Kamala Khan front and centre.

Ms Amanat says their intention was never political.

"We went in to try to tell a unique story.

"But I think with that comes the realisation of the impact that Ms Marvel can have, relaying to the rest of the world of who Muslims are and who Muslims can be, but really about who a good person."

In these stories, Marvel presents diversity as struggle and strength. Their corporate motto could well be: with great power, comes great responsibility.

CBS News