Oh, My Pop Culture Allah: The Burka Avenger

Last week Lady Geek Girl dedicated this column to a discussion of religious feminism that both celebrated its existence and lamented the lack of representation of messages that are both religious and feminist in nature. This week I’d like to bring to your attention a pretty delightful new TV show that falls firmly under both umbrellas: Burka Avenger.

burka

Burka Avenger is a Pakistani TV show that started airing just recently, and it seems like, basically, the coolest thing ever. The show follows Jiya, a schoolteacher by day who is sick to death of terrorists trying to get between kids and their educations. Jiya chooses to don the burqa and assume the identity of the Burka Avenger in order to defend her school and its students from these threats, fighting the bad guys using only school supplies as weapons. The burqa—which, if you don’t know, is the dark, full-length Muslim attire that leaves only the wearer’s eyes visible—is the perfect disguise for a woman who has a secret identity to protect. Haroon Rashid, the show’s creator, had this to say about the decision to have their heroine don a piece of clothing that’s become a divisive symbol in discussions of Islam and feminism:

We chose the burqa because of course we wanted to hide her identity the way superheroes do. She doesn’t wear the burqa during the day — she doesn’t even wear a headscarf, or a hijab or anything like that; she goes about her business as a normal teacher would. And so she chooses to wear the burqa, she’s not oppressed … and on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of female superheroes in the West are objectified, and sort of sexualized in their costumes, like Catwoman and Wonder Woman, and that certainly would not work here. (x)

Rashid consistently stresses that putting on the burqa is Jiya’s choice, not the result of some sort of partriarchal pressure. Furthermore, according to interviews about the show, Jiya’s burqa’s flowing nature allows her to use it to glide from buildings “like a flying squirrel”, among other things—it’s really a multi-useful garment for the Muslim superheroine who needs to punish some evildoers in the dark.

To delve a little further into the religion + feminism dealio, basically the whole point of this show is to encourage female empowerment and education, and it does so while maintaining a postitive image of Islam and Muslim women, which is a much-needed message both in Pakistan and abroad. Also, for everyone who feels the need to spout bullshit about the oppression of Muslim women, what does it say for the West that they’ve got an awesome original lady superhero show and we can’t even get the freaking Wonder Woman show out of the gates?

Unfortunately for us, although there is an English trailer for the show, the actual cartoon is in Urdu. Maybe some helpful person on the internet will sub it for us? The West has a tragic dearth of Muslim heroines, and although I know and respect that I’m not the target audience for this show, it seems from the trailer like it will genuinely entertaining on top of having a great message.

Here’s to the future of Burka Avenger and shows like it: may our heroines continue to diversify and display positive messages about both religion and feminism.