She has all the general trappings of your typical superhero: standing up for the weak and defenseless, she’s always there to save the day. She’s always there when you most need her, and she has some awesome swordsmanship skills. She’s your typical badass crime-fighter. But wait.
Qahera’s not like everyone else.
Something makes Qahera different: she’s a hijabi Muslim superhero. Within that lies a world of differences. As a covered woman, she seeks to fight for the rights of women in distress, particularly women finding themselves in situations of sexual violence. Fed up with misogyny, sexual harassment and the generic ‘white savior’ ideologies, she lets no-one save- or seek to save her: Qahera is here to kick some butt and make some changes, and she’s here to stay.
So why did Deena Mohamed, the creator of the wildly popular web comic, decide to start chronicling the triumphs and adventures of Qahera? In an exclusive interview with MuslimGirl.net, she opens up about the story surrounding the veiled superhero. At nineteen years old, Deena is an Egyptian graphic design student and illustrator, describing her life as having “lots of artsy things going on.”
But that didn’t serve to take away from her feelings surrounding the high rates of sexual harassment and violence in Egypt. “I’ve always had the longing for a badass female Muslim superhero for as long as I can remember, so the pent-up frustration is probably the more suitable answer. But I remember one night I just read the most appalling article on Muslim Spice and all of that frustration came pouring through because it was so incredibly awful and misogynistic and I was just like, ‘Well, this is as good a time as any.’”
With that, Deena began drawing Qahera, whose naming she explains in an interview with The Daily Beast to be influenced by several reasons, “I sort of wanted to make a reference to Egypt, but Qahera also struck me as a great name because it has so many powerful meanings: vanquisher, destroyer, omnipotent. It’s a great name for a superhero, honestly, especially one who faces as many challenges as she does.”
But why is Qahera needed now, more than anything? According to figures released by U.N. Women, 99 percent of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed. An initiative called HarassMap.org, working to end the acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt, states that, “we believe that change will only come when all elements of society, whether they are individuals or institutions, unite to mark this phenomenon as unacceptable in every way—both legally and socially. Only this will create a safe and peaceful life for each citizen in Egyptian society.”
With that in mind, it’s only natural that a badass female superhero like Qahera has taken off in her popularity, both in Egypt and around the world. In her interview with us, Deena talks about how the response has been like from the women in her community, “The majority of them have been incredibly supportive of the comic and Qahera and I think it saddened a lot of them because of how much they could relate to it. A few were also a little critical of whether or not it advocated modesty or the hegab as a solution to harassment (I hope it doesn’t), but that’s good, too… Criticism is essential to get anywhere, and debates will probably always be part and parcel of what Qahera is.”
Thankfully, amidst the newfound popularity of Qahera, Deena says that she hasn’t had much specific backlash. “I have to say that, given the material of the comics, I’ve experienced very little backlash and definitely far less than I expected. There’s been some constructive criticism, but I wouldn’t call it ‘backlash,’ and I usually respond with either agreement (for example, in the case of the FEMEN comic), or I argue my case (for those who objected to Qahera being a hijabi ‘rescuing’ the non-hijabi, which I generally disagreed with.) I guess for the genuine ‘backlash’ like people who disagree with Muslim women being superheroes at all, or Islamophobes, or trolls, I’m faintly ashamed to say I usually respond with pictures of Mr Potato Head making disapproving expressions.”
So what can we, as Muslim women from around the world, take from the adventures of Qahera? In the words of Deena, “Qahera is modelled after Muslim women I see every day, though. To be honest, I have nothing but admiration for the majority of Muslim women worldwide, especially those living in non-Muslim countries. I don’t think I have any right to ask anything of them, except to keep doing what they’re doing and stay strong and awesome and kind. If there’s anything I’d like Qahera to do, it would be to remind Muslim women that they’re brilliant and deserving of all the respect, and that they shouldn’t let anyone give them less than that.”