Do you want to be good or cosmic? Can’t Muslims be both?
My Muslim-Brown-Western-Nerd relationship with my parents over 40 years explained in 40 minutes by Ms.Marvel Episode 1
SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1 OF MS. MARVEL. IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED IT DO IT NOW HERE ON DISNEY PLUS!
Written June 9th, 2022 (Near Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
There were many amazing moments as I watched Ms. Marvel Episode 1. But the one that stuck out to me the most was when Kamala framed in the backdrop by Quranic calligraphy (that adorns many a Muslim home) is nervously asking her Pakistani parents about permission to go to “Avengercon”.
Her parents tell her no. Because they don’t trust the haram (Islamically impermissible) things there like boys and drinking. Kamala like any teen but especially a Muslim teen explodes that she isn’t “going to do cocaine.” All while comedically her religiously zealous Muslim brother Aamir is trying to keep the peace with an almost smothering and annoying sense of religiosity.
Kamala points out the double standard that if Aamir wanted to go it would be fine and complains. She is frustrated and asks why can’t she do a single normal teenage thing.
“Come on beta. You’re not normal.” Her father says too quickly.
When I watched the episode at 3am by myself that moment nearly brought me to tears. When I watched it a second time in the evening with my Pakistani-Canadian-Muslim parents, we all shared a look of understanding.
Beyond the desire to go to what is a party, Kamala (played by Iman Vellani) just can’t convey to her parents what the fantasy world of superheroes and dreams means to her. Her parents can’t convey to her why they are so concerned that she lives in fake realities.
When I was 16 I would find myself immersed in novels like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars anime, video games, manga and comics (I am now 39 and still am fyi).
If it wasn’t a fake world it didn’t feel real, still doesn’t.
My mother couldn’t understand me then, and it became even harder for her to understand me when I flunked out of business school in university at 19. Because deep down I wanted to make my own series. I kept hiding it and trying to find career paths to become “normal.” I think my parents thought it was a phase.
Except, when I was 31, I finally told her I wanted to leave a successful job at the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre to pursue making my own Western-Muslim inspired anime called MultiFacet.
I wanted to not just be a consumer of other people’s stuff. But for once have people consume my identity and nerd vision, stemming from my unique experiences.
My Pakistani-mother’s response has been akin to that of Kamala’s in the final scenes of episode 1.
Kamala has just snuck back into her house after disobeying her parents and going to AvengerCon.
She has discovered her Nani’s bracelet gives her superpower, and is ecstatic her fantasies are becoming reality.
Waiting in her room is her mother in disbelief. Disbelief that her daughter lied to her and is charting this fake nonsensical path.
Her mother asks her “Do you want to be good like we raised you to be, or do you want to be some, you know this cosmic head-in-the-clouds person?
Kamala’s mother is all our mothers in this moment as Muslims. It has taken me 40 years (now as a parent 3 myself) to understand where my own mother has been coming from. It isn’t out of meanness or malice that the concern comes from, but out of care. My mother wants her son and her grandchildren to be good upstanding people, Muslims, and also live in a grounded reality.
For Pakistani and other immigrants to places like Canada, UK, the US etc. who sacrificed everything and built lives for their kids from the ground up. Why wouldn’t they be concerned? They at times feel desperate to reach us when they feel we are on the wrong path. No matter your age.
Kamala’s mother is trying to reach her daughter, but how can you reach someone if you don’t fully understand them?
Because when Kamala lays down on her bed, with the poster of Ms.Marvel in view she grabs her bracelet, which begins to glow and just whispers
It is who she is and it is who she has always been. But bringing all her worlds together and showing her parents who love and support her that the world needs brown Muslim superheroes is a journey that she has just started. It is a journey we are on the ride for, parents too.
My mother was amazed that a Pakistani-Brown Canadian Muslim was playing a superhero. For one night all her sons fantastical dreaming about making his own show wasn’t just a fantasy. It was real.
Like Kamala the task ahead is to weave her upbringing and her fantasy into something the world has never seen before. Each week as she climbs I am living through her journey. Because Ms. Marvel it is beyond meta for me as I fight to make my own anime Muslim heroes and sheroes come to life. Kamala isn’t playing a fake superhero to me. She is real.
If she can become a superhero. I can make my show.
Ms. Marvel is Cosmic.
And she just opened up a Galaxy of possibilities for Muslim creatives.
Nadir Shirazi is based in Toronto, Canada and is the creator of the MultiFacet Islamime (Islam + Anime) Project.
On July 15, 2022 after Ms. Marvel is done he invites Muslims and allies to join him in a unique collaboration. To bring to life a sci-fantasy anime about contested-Muslim-identity in a never before seen experiment.