The Muslim Marvel

The first ten years and three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were dominated by theatrical films. Now, the overwhelming amount of content in Phase Four is found in Disney+ television series. The reception of the shows has been varied, but—at the time of this writing—the series with the highest Rotten Tomatoes critic ranking (at a near-perfect score of 97%) is Ms. Marvel. The show centers around a teenager named Kamala Khan, a Pakistani Muslim living in New Jersey. She is a massive Avengers fan who especially idolizes Captain Marvel. Kamala’s entire world changes when she develops superpowers, thus having the opportunity to become a superhero herself.

Just a “Brown Girl from Jersey City”
At the beginning of the show, Kamala is portrayed as a normal, day-dreaming teenage girl faced with the typical challenges of adolescence like overprotective parents and the demands of school. In fact, this may be the main theme of the series: how ordinary Kamala and her family are. They represent the American immigrant experience, having faced great hardships in their home country of Pakistan, as well as the challenges of immigrating to a new country. What is most significant about Kamala’s community, however, is that it is Muslim. The family’s mosque is a prominent setting in Ms. Marvel, both as a place of worship and as a hub for the community. Some Americans—especially in our post-9/11 world—may view all Muslims as potential terrorists, but Ms. Marvel shows Kamala’s Pakistani-Muslim community as loving, peaceful people. Yes, there are many radical Muslims who commit great acts of violence in the name of Islam, but there are also many peaceful Muslims, like Kamala’s family, who denounce violence. This is a simple-but-important reminder for us all that there are wonderful, loving people from all countries, cultures, and religions.

However, while Ms. Marvel prominently features Muslim characters, it does not discuss much of the teachings of Islam. While most Americans are probably familiar with basic characters and stories of Christianity, they probably don’t know as much about Islam, other than what they see on the news.

Key Teachings of Islam
Islam is one of the three great monotheistic religions of the world, alongside Judaism and Christianity. On the surface, Islam seems to have a lot in common with Christianity, holding the Bible in high esteem and treating figures such as Abraham and Jesus as prophets. The key difference, however, is that Islam rejects that Jesus is God, believing this to be blasphemy. Muslims also reject the most important aspect of Christianity: Jesus’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.

Like Christians, Muslims believe we are all sinners who need salvation. But since Islam denies the saving work of Jesus’s death and resurrection, how are Muslims saved? Unlike Christians, who are saved by God’s grace through faith, Muslims are saved by their deeds, by following the five pillars of Islam:

Shahada: reciting the Islamic confession of faith, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet”
Salat: praying five times a day facing Mecca
Sawm: fasting during the holiday of Ramadan
Zakat: charity/almsgiving
Hajj: making a pilgrimage to Mecca

While there are many other rules Muslims are required to follow, all of which may differ depending on which sect of Islam one follows, these are the five core requirements for all Muslims.

No Other Name
Like so many other Marvel films and series, Ms. Marvel highlights the importance of family. Whether we are Muslim, Christian, or atheist, we all have the same basic need for love and community. Thus, there is a common human identity we all share, no matter what religion or culture we are from. This is also an important reminder for us as Christians, that people from different belief systems are not enemies but fellow image-bearers.

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors—that includes those who believe different things than we do. God loves Muslims just as much as he loves anyone else, and he wants “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The last word in that verse makes all the difference, though: truth. It isn’t enough for people to be loving and kind, they must know the truth. They must know the One who claimed to be Truth: Jesus Christ. Jesus told us that no one can get to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Peter said that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). As loving and kind as our non-Christian friends and neighbors may be, they still need the truth of the gospel.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.