Marvel's Muslim teenage girl superhero spurs mixed Pakistani reactions

By Shehryar Warraich
U.S. comic-book publisher Marvel is introducing a new Ms. Marvel Feb. 5. The superhero's alternate persona will be a Pakistani Muslim teenage girl. Image courtesy of Marvel.
1 of 3 | U.S. comic-book publisher Marvel is introducing a new Ms. Marvel Feb. 5. The superhero's alternate persona will be a Pakistani Muslim teenage girl. Image courtesy of Marvel.

LAHORE, Pakistan, Jan. 22 (UPI Next) -- Some Pakistanis are embracing a new Marvel comic-book superhero modeled on a Pakistani Muslim teenage girl living in the United States as a chance to burnish Pakistan's image in the West, while others express reservations.

The latest incarnation of “Ms. Marvel” -- there were two earlier versions -- is to hit store shelves Feb. 5. Marvel Entertainment, the creator of Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man and other fictional superheroes, announced in November it was introducing Ms. Marvel, whose secret identity is "Kamala Khan," a 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Jersey City, N.J., and dealing with life between two cultures.


Some Pakistanis told UPI Next, the introduction of Ms. Marvel presents a chance to improve the image of Pakistan, often maligned for widely reported brutal treatment of women, religious extremism and terrorist violence.

Several women in Pakistan said seeing a Pakistani girl as a superhero would be novel for the patriarchal society.


"I'm excited about the concept," Qurat Ul Ain Arif, a 22-year-old Lahore graduate student told UPI Next.

"It will be interesting to see how a teenage Muslim girl being a superhero juggles traditional family values and a most advanced culture like the U.S. at the same time," said Arif, who studied for a semester in Pittsburgh.

"A positive image of Pakistan will be portrayed through the character of Kamala Khan. I am sure Kamala Khan is going to represent the true picture of Muslim families living in U.S. Moreover, girls are facing the same situation which Kamala Khan's story represents."

Anum Kazmi, an FM radio announcer in Lahore, said she expects the character will represent a combination of traditional values and modernization.

"The positive impact of the new Ms. Marvel will give Pakistani girls the confidence that they have a role to play for the betterment of the society," Kazmi told UPI Next.

Ruby Razzaq, a senior journalist based in Lahore, sees Kamala Khan as a part of the evolution of women's status in Pakistan.

"Kamala Khan will help mothers to have faith that their daughters can play an important role, as do their sons, in building the future," Razzaq told UPI Next.


Mobarak Haider, a Virginia-based Pakistani author who wrote "Taliban: The Tip of a Holy Iceberg," a book about fundamentalist Muslims, sees Ms. Marvel as an amalgamation of Muslims living in the United States.

"Pakistanis will feel proud to see their girl helping people and playing a positive role," Haider told UPI Next. "Kamala Khan is not only representing her compatriots in this role, but Muslims as a whole. Her character could have a great impact on Muslim families living in the U.S. The concept will make parents understand that by giving girls confidence, they can build a fabulous future."

Not everyone is thrilled. Some women voiced strong concerns, even expressing suspicion of a conspiracy to discredit Pakistani society.

"It is unrealistic for a girl to be a superhero," housewife Sanam Iqbal told UPI Next. "The dress Kamala Khan will be wearing doesn't represent our Muslim culture either.

"I can't expect that Kamala Khan is going to build our country's image. I am sure there will be a conspiracy behind this idea, either to disrespect our family values or to damage our religion."

Hina Gulraiz, a Lahore dentist with in-laws in the United States, said Kamala Khan would create problems in Muslim families trying to follow their normal ways.


"I visit the U.S. often and I am sure that if Kamala Khan's character hurts our values in any case it will not be accepted. We don't want our girls so open to the world, because it is against our religion and values," Gulraiz told UPI Next.

Amjad Saleem, owner of Saanjh Publications, which publishes novels, poetry and Muslim philosophy books, predicted that readers will rush to buy comic books depicting Kamala Khan.

"Kamala Khan will be the talk of the town, like Malala Yousafzai," he said referring to the well-known teenage Pakistani girls’ education activist.

"People will go for this book because of the unusual concept. Young people, both hardliners and progressive thinkers, will be buyers," he predicted.

Pakistan is about to get its first homegrown male and female movie superheroes in "Nation Awakes," from Karachi director-producer Amir Sajjad, who sees Ms. Marvel as helping Pakistan's image. He said he hoped her character would not hurt Muslim values or the customs of Muslims living in the United States.

"Pakistan is known to the world and the new Ms. Marvel will also be a sellable commodity," Sajjad told UPI Next. "We have 6 to 7 million cinema-goers here in Pakistan, and I am hopeful that Pakistanis would be eager to see Kamala Khan representing them on an international level," he said.


Syed Noor, a Pakistani film director and chairman of the Pakistan Film Producers Association, has announced plans to make a film about a superhero called "Ali."

"I am energized by the idea of seeing a Pakistani Muslim superhero girl," he told UPI Next. "The success of this idea will also help us move towards having female heroes.”

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