Diversity in Muslim Superheroes: The Webcomic Qahera
One of the joys of webcomics is that they are so free from constraints. It’s just the creator, the Internet, and the reader. Anything can happen. Sometimes it amounts to almost nothing, but sometimes it is the thing of dreams. In 2013, Deena—a Muslim Egyptian student—created Qahera, a Muslim superhero who has supersonic hearing for misogyny and cries of help. The comic is wonderful.
Deena describes Qahera as “a female visibly Muslim superhero who combats misogyny and Islamophobia amongst other things.” Those other things include nonintersectionalist feminism and misguided white “saviours.” There are a few panels in which white women are discussing the need to “save” Muslim women from the “oppression” of their cultures or of their clothing. Qahera offers an alternative view. She’s a scary badass and doesn’t need anyone to “save” her.
When two men are talking about the flip sides of the overwrought arguments for and against women’s modesty, she shuts down both misconceptions: One man argues that women are like candy; you wouldn’t want a lollipop that’s been walking around without its wrapper. The other man disagrees and says that it’s the sign of a developing country to have women “liberated” and not have to cover their bodies all the time. Qahera interjects with, “Women do not exist as periphery objects in your universe! … Women’s lives are not for you to prove to a point! Our choices are not your political punchlines!” I love it. Instead of pitting the argument for modesty and against modesty as the two sides of the argument, the comic pointed out the real problem: policing women.
The topics covered in Qahera range from the ultra serious, like the lives lost in Gaza, to the more mundane feminist worries, like misogynistic lyrics. Deena handles each topic with care and full attention, and I found myself nodding in agreement as I read through her work.
The story is not focused entirely on the Muslim superhero, but also the everyday heroes in the world. One of the best pages is the short arc when Deena highlights the work that activists are doing all around her:
I also have been enjoying the budding friendship between Qahera and a woman she rescued from a group of attackers on the street, Laila. Laila is another point on the spectrum of physical appearance. Whereas Qahera wears a hijab, Laila is criticized for not being modest enough and not covering her body. Qahera protects her rights too, and they make good foils to one another. Deena is also quick to point out—within the comic and elsewhere on her Tumblr—that “the hijab is absolutely not meant to help prevent you from getting sexual harassment from men, and it literally does not prevent you from getting sexually harassed by men.” That accountability should be on the shoulders of the harasser, not the harassed.
There’s not much of this comic. The first image was posted on Tumblr in the summer of 2013, but there have only been a few updates since then. The entire comic can be read through in a few minutes, and it’s definitely worth the time. Each page has a lot of thought, artistry, and work put into it. The story is available in both English and Arabic.