With all due respect, how many muslim superwomen comics will it take before the idea gets old? Back in September, I wrote about two comic series that have muslim superwomen - the New X-Men and Qahera. Apart from these two, both Marvel and DC comics have had quite a few muslim superheroes in the past. Now, Marvel’s Ms. Marvel will have a muslim teenager playing the lead, and is being touted as the first series with a female protagonist of Islamic background. Wrong.
I have never been one to keep up with the religious beliefs of superheroes. That Superman is Methodist or Nightcrawler is Catholic is extraneous information, which distracts from what makes them truly singular for me. But, if that type of information tickles your fancy, The Comic Book Religion website has a comprehensive compilation of the religious affiliations of superheroes. The “Religious Topics” link on the top left corner of the website with excerpts from various comic books makes for an interesting read.
Superhero comics are hardly celebrated for being secular. A majority of superheroes were created during various national and economic crises, and served as harbingers of hope. They spoke to the people’s collective needs, beliefs and attitudes; gave context to their identity and re-vitalized their pro-nationalist sentiments.
If the rise of Islamic superwomen comics is looked at from this context, it may be speaking to some kind of collective guilt. This may not be a bad thing, if it leads to prosocial behavior. But, when you begin to describe a protagonist mainly by their gender or religion, then you may be running the risk of soft-pedalling their other qualities, which as I pointed out earlier, would be equivalent to describing Superman as a methodist superhero above everything else. That to me is highly irritating. Having said that, I can live with us having many muslim superwomen over having none!
Sooraya Qadir (Dust) is a young Afghan Sunni Muslim mutant, with Sandman-like powers. She is rescued by Wolverine from slave trade in Afghanistan and brought to X-Mansion for training. She wears the abaya and niqab and observes traditional Islamic etiquette.
She is one of those characters who plays a prominent role in New X-Men and Young X-Men series, and saves the day on many occasions; still, most of the conversation around her is about her defending her faith-based choices; One wonders what motivated the writers to think up her character, in an otherwise secular series.
Most of this dialogue on Islamic faith is intriguing for several reasons.
One, because it happens over many volumes. Sooraya to everyone is a muslim before she is a mutant.
Two, because Sooraya's character was conceived right after 9/11.
Three, because it adds a new slant to the dialogue about hypersexualization and objectification of female superheroes in comics.
Four, because, in a world where mutants are misunderstood and discriminated against by humans, this discussion seems a bit captious.
Five, because the comic offers little information about the beliefs of other X-Men characters' from other parts of the world that are specific to their culture!
Six, because her faith is presented as being restrictive, and she as being one-dimensional, which is lamentable given she is an adolescent girl!
Seven, because it makes me deliberate on the similarity between the typical superhero costume and the hijab in relation to both secret and self-evident identities, visual iconography and symbolism!
The good news is, we now have another perky hijabi superhero in a more real, non-X-men universe! Qahera, an Eqyptian superwoman, fights misogyny, Islamophobia, and offers her own brand of droll humor.
I recommend using the Index to navigate through the Qahera comic strips and FAQs!