Real Life, With Superpowers

Ms. Marvel

I REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME someone told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. I was in preschool, preparing for an epic game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a group of boys. I was playing April O’Neil, the Turtles’ journalist ally. As we started our game of pretend, my teacher came over to ask what we were doing.

“Playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I responded.

“Oh, you shouldn’t be playing that.”

“But I’m April,” I explained. “I’m a girl.”

“No, girls don’t play games like that,” she told me, and directed me toward the finger paints.

Whatever my teacher’s intentions, the damage was done. From that day on, superheroes and all things related were a “boy thing.” That meant the X-Men, Batman, Superman, and, yes, Donatello and his human-reptile hybrid team were all off-limits. I eventually grew to love comics as a teenager and an adult, but I was aware that they rarely featured anyone other than white men (or, occasionally, heavily objectified women) as the heroes.

Thank goodness for Kamala Khan.

Kamala is the teenage protagonist of Marvel Comics’ rebooted Ms. Marvel series. She’s a clever, funny 16-year-old living in Jersey City, N.J., who, in addition to having superpowers, writes superhero fan fiction, plays video games, and struggles with parent-enforced curfews. She also happens to be the second-generation daughter of Pakistani immigrants and a practicing Muslim.

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Boston Mosque Says Bombing Suspect Had Outbursts But Wasn’t Violent

FBI Photo

A photo released by the FBI shows Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, left, and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After two troubling outbursts at a local mosque, leaders there told Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev he would no longer be welcome if he continued disrupting services.

Leaders at the Islamic Society of Boston‘s mosque in Cambridge say Tsarnaev, 26, who died early Friday after a shootout with police, “disagreed with the moderate American-Islamic theology” of the mosque, but they never had “any hint” the brothers might be violent.

On one occasion in November at weekly prayer, Tsarnaev challenged an imam who said in his sermon that it was appropriate to celebrate U.S. national holidays, such as July 4th and Thanksgiving, the statement said.

Tsarnaev argued that such celebrations are “not allowed in the faith.” When the preacher met with Tsarnaev after the prayer, Tsarnaev “repeatedly argued his viewpoint, and then left,” the statement said.

Judge Rejects Bid to Withdraw Guilty Plea in Mosque Arson

The Toledo-area mosque damaged by fire on Sept. 30, 2012. Photo courtesy David Yonke.

A federal judge on Thursday denied an Indiana man’s request to withdraw his guilty plea in an arson blaze last September at a Toledo-area mosque.

The judge confirmed a sentencing date of April 16 for Linn, who was charged with intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying religious property; using a fire to commit a felony; and using and carrying a firearm to commit a crime of violence. Judge Jack Zouhary of U.S. District Court in Toledo said Randolph Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind., was fully competent on Dec. 19 when he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the Sept. 30 fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

Linn, who did not testify at the hearing, had filed a motion seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he had signed the plea under duress and that he “did not have the opportunity to discuss defenses, tactics, strategies, or the nature and effect of my guilty plea and sentencing.”


Toledo and the Power of Love

A house of worship in Ohio was hit by an arsonist this weekend, causing an estimated million dollars in damage. Services were rescheduled, members toured the building to see the destruction, and statements were made. The religious community felt targeted and was afraid of future attacks.

The fact that the space in question was the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo should not change our outrage. As Christians, we need to stand for religious liberty for people of all faiths. We need to love our neighbors and speak out against hate.

Soon after this weekend’s attack was made public, we put a plan into action to demonstrate our solidarity. As we have done in Missouri, Tennessee, and New York, we will be offering a simple, biblical message: “Love your Muslim neighbors.”

Mosque in Toledo, Ohio Scorched by Arson

RNS photo by David Yonke

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. RNS photo by David Yonke

TOLEDO, Ohio — Muslim worshippers are reeling from an arson fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, but are grateful for an outpouring of support from the local interfaith community.

“All the support we get is very welcome because if you are going through a tragedy and you have a friend who is holding your hand it means a lot,” said S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for theUnited Muslim Association of Toledo.

Perrysburg Township police ruled that the Sept. 30 fire was arson. Surveillance footage from the mosque shows a “person of interest” — a white middle-aged male wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and hat  at the mosque’s entrance shortly before the fire, which was reported about 5 p.m.

Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center, said the suspect poured gasoline in the center of the main floor where men worship at the mosque. Women pray on the same main floor, but in an area separated by a low divider.

“It was set in the men’s prayer area and the sprinklers turned out the fire. There is a lot of water damage from the sprinklers,” Islam said. “The Islamic Center is uninhabitable for easily three months.”

Faith and Rights Groups Call for Hate Crime Hearings

Amid a rash of recent attacks that are being investigated as hate crimes, a coalition of more than 150 organizations is calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings next month with the aim of revamping hate crime legislation.

Led by the Sikh Coalition, the group of civil rights and religious organizations issued a letter on August 21 urging committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to look into hate crimes and hate groups in the United States.

The letter noted that the shooter that killed six at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, or gurudwara, in August had ties to hate groups. It also cited 10 Islamic institutions in seven states that have been vandalized, shot at, or burned in the past month.

Muslims Brace For Tense Holiday

Praying illustration,  Zurijeta /

Praying illustration, Zurijeta /

Following attacks on seven U.S. mosques in the last two weeks, including three attacks last weekend, many Muslim Americans are approaching the end of Ramadan on Aug. 19 under a cloud of fear as Muslim groups try to increase security without spurring panic.

According to reports, vandals shot paintballs at the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City on Aug. 12, and in Lombard, Ill., someone threw a bottle filled with acid at an Islamic school while 500 people prayed inside. The night before, a neighbor fired an air rifle at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove, Ill., while on Aug. 7, two women were videotaped throwing pig legs on a proposed mosque site in Ontario, Calif.

Joplin Mosque Destroyed in Blaze; Second Fire This Summer

A Joplin, Mo., mosque has again been the target of a "suspicious" fire, according to the Joplin Globe. The Islamic Society of Joplin reported on Monday the second fire this summer — this one engulfing the entire building.

The mosque's Imam said the blaze will not keep worshippers from their prayers. From the reports

“This should not stop us from serving God,” said Imam Lahmuddin, the mosque’s religious leader. “We still have to fulfill our obligation. We will do our prayer in other places. If we don’t find a place, we will do our prayers in our home. We cannot miss any of the five prayers.”


Christians Need To Love their Muslim Neighbors

Independence Day in Joplin, Mo. saw fireworks of a different kind. On July 4, the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque was set on fire. While the mosque has only been open since 2007, it has already been targeted twice by arsonists. These hateful attacks must stop.

The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.

While the FBI is investigating the incident, the fact that a religious community was targeted means the attack should be investigated as a potential hate crime. Christians around the country are speaking out to ensure the Department of Justice gives this the necessary attention it deserves. Add your voice to the petition calling for a hate crimes investigation and show a little love to your Muslim neighbors in Joplin, Mo.

Muslims, Christians, and Hope for a Peaceful Future

Muslim and Christian women, Anna Jurkovska /

Muslim and Christian women, Anna Jurkovska /

The view from my office in New York City overlooks Ground Zero. Every day I’m in the office, I have the opportunity to observe the massive construction project as well as the thousands of visitors to the 9/11 Memorial pools. It is all a stark reminder of how a person’s faith can be radicalized and politicalized.  

Unfortunately, violence perpetrated by those who have hijacked their faith continues to occur on almost a daily basis. 

The Islamist terror group Boko Haram has killed hundreds of Christians in northern Nigeria since 2009. The killings have escalated in recent months, and security forces have clearly failed to protect lives, forcing hundreds to flee for safety.

Earlier this month, al-Shabaab from Somalia attacked two churches in Kenya leaving 17 people dead and scores of people injured, including women and children.

However, attacks are taking place against Muslims as well. Last week an Islamic Center in Missouri was torched. Earlier this year a mosque in Queens was firebombed.

Whether deaths occurred or not, all these acts of violence need to be condemned by all faith leaders. 

As a Christian leader, let me specifically address the Muslim-Christian conflict.