On Thursday, April 26th, we had our second book club of ALA’s Great Stories Club series, Growing up on the Margins. We read and discussed the first volume of Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson. If you haven’t read it yet, you should!
From the publisher: “Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!”
We began our book club with a fun ice-breaker, “Cross if You….” This activity got us moving, gave us a chance to get to know one another a little better, and it helped to demonstrate how similar we are and what makes us unique.
Next, we watched this short video on Muslim representation in the media.
We had a brief discussion around:
- Why representation matters. You can’t be what you can’t see.
- Type-casting Muslims deal with – from terrorist to submissive wife and everything in between.
- The fact that six in ten Americans don’t personally know a Muslim, so media plays a large role in their understanding of the people and culture.
- and more
This was the perfect jumping point for us to dive right into a presentation by our special guest, Varisha Khan, current activist, formerly of CAIR-WA, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the former Middle Eastern Student Commission director at the University of Washington.
I sent some questions to Varisha ahead of time and we ended up covering a lot of them after watching the above video, but here’s the complete list:
1. Number of Muslims living in the US and Seattle area?
2. Overview and complexities of religion and comparisons to other religions.
3. Challenges encountered in the current social and political environment?
4. Can you talk about the debates around gender within the religion?
5. What does Ms. Marvel get right about Muslim representation?
6. How does Hollywood negatively portray Muslims?
7. What are some of the ways that the media negatively stereotypes Muslims?
8. How are these negative stereotypes harmful?
What needs to happen for this to change?
Recommendations for books and other media featuring positive portrayals of Muslims?
Varisha talked to us about the work that CAIR does and the activism she’s involved in. She described what life has been like for her growing up Muslim and the first time she experienced bigotry as a child because of her religion. She also relayed a terrifying account of a time while Trump was running for the presidency she was stalked by an angry man who followed her on the streets of Seattle while she walked to her Mosque (that was giving tours to elementary school kids at the time), yelling anti-Muslim slurs. She talked about how Donald Trump’s rhetoric and his “Muslim bans” have fueled so much of the anti-sentiment that has become so prevalent recently.
We then transitioned into our discussion of Ms. Marvel.
Here we are as a group!
We concluded our discussion with this video featuring one of the editors and creators of the series, Sana Amanat who’s life experiences growing up as a Pakistani-American Muslim in New Jersey helped shape the character of Kamala Khan and the story of Ms. Marvel. says Amanat: “It’s important that we find a way to cultivate our own strength and formulate that identity on our own terms. The story of Kamala Khan is very much about that.”