Blogger Jehanzeb Dar’s critique of the depiction of Muslim women in comic books provides an insightful continuation to broader discussions of depictions of these women in other venues, such as the showcase of portraits of Muslim women I wrote about in November here on Inside Islam. His two-part essay entitled “Female, Muslim, and Mutant” has been featured on prominent Muslim and non-Muslim blogs alike. You can find his commentary on Racialicious and Muslimah Media Watch. The series also received the Best Post or Series Award in The 2007 Brass Crescent Awards last month.
Dar finds that the majority of comic books depict women in a sexist way and also fail to integrate Islam into a new, innovative storyline. Instead, he argues, they rely on mainstream Western depictions of stereotypical beauty and plots that focus on revengeful superhero archetypes like Batman. He writes in his commentary posted on Racialicious that the characters in such comics:
lack symbolism, depth, originality, and most of all, they lack their own culture and individuality! The issues of terrorism and women’s rights in the Muslim world are very important and they must be discussed through this kind of medium, but it doesn’t mean that the writers and artists should sell-out to the images promoted in mainstream American comic books.
The exception Dar presents to readers is “The 99,” a new comic book series with a plot based on the 99 divine names of Allah. Noora, pictured above, represents “the light” and her human flaw, a common characteristic of all superheroes, is representative of the Islamic concept of nafs, or human soul. She, like every human being, consists of both light and dark. In Noora’s individual struggle to balance both sides, she finds tawhid, or harmony between the two. This discovery illuminates her superhero powers. Noora has the ability to see the dark in others and determine whether they are genuine and trustworthy. She also can project light and create optical illusions to protect her friends.
Jehanzeb Dar concludes his critique with a suggestion that mirrors what we are trying to accomplish with the Inside Islam project as a whole. He asks comic book readers and authors to consider the lessons that non-Muslims and Muslims can teach each other. While he applauds the efforts of the writers and artists of “The 99” for their positive depictions of Muslim women and Islamic culture, he mentions that they should also consider how the characters might struggle with their religious identities in the modern world. In raising awareness of important issues, he hopes, as do we, that comic books can help break down stereotypes and show that non-Muslim and Muslim can learn from each other about contemporary issues like terrorism, women’s rights, and religion.
I would love to hear your comments on these issues. Have you read “The 99?” What are you thoughts on images of Muslim characters in literature? Do you know of other refreshing perspectives of Muslim women? Feel free to leave a comment below or send it by email to Inside Islam.