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Ms. Marvel actually lets the hero (and the viewer) explore the concept of the Djinn

Ms. Marvel’s debut in the MCU has many people wondering what the new source of her powers might be, especially given her apparent lack of her trademark polymorphism. But in the third installment of the MCU Mrs Miracle, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) and her audience finally learn more about the mysterious bracelet that activates her powers. Through the portrayal of Najma (Nimra Bucha), she learns that the ancestors of Najma and Kamala (and their descendants, like her and Kamran) are the secret beings who are entirely from another dimension.

They go by many names, says Najma, including “Jinn” — which brightened the ears of Kamala and countless Muslim viewers. It’s a frightening thought for them that might surprise those whose familiarity with jinn comes solely through a Western lens. But what exactly are these beings of Islamic teachings?

Jinn in SWANASA folklore, Islamic teachings and western media

Djinn (or Djinn) exist in various myths and legends among people in the regions of Southwest Asia, North Africa and South Asia (SWANASA), even centuries before Islam. The root of her name derives from the Arabic “janna” which means “hidden”. In various stories, they are ghost-like or demonic beings who shapeshift and trick unsuspecting people into getting what they want from them. Through these stories, people learn to be careful with them. In some stories – namely in Thousand and one Night, who have compiled stories from across the SWANASA region – they have more magical abilities, including the ability to grant wishes in Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp and The Fisherman and the Genie.

In Islam, according to the Qur’an, jinn are a people created by God (Allah) and referred to as beings of “smokeless fire” who have the same range of morals as humans and live on a separate plane of existence from humans. Allah has given them free will just as He has given human beings free will. This distinguishes both them and humans from angels in Islam, who have no free will and ensure their express purpose of serving the goodness of God. Jinn, on the other hand, can be either good or bad, as they are subjected to the same moral tests under Allah as humans. The devil in Islam (Iblis) is a powerful jinn, not a fallen angel as in Christianity (since an angel in Islam can never commit wrongdoing); He is able to use other evil jinn, collectively called “shayāṭīn,” to influence people into wickedness as well.

Jinn are a minor issue in Muslim communities overall and in many cases can simply be considered haram when it comes to al-shaytan. Instead, the popular understanding of jinn comes more from Western storytelling. It uses them excessively as an otherworldly magical power, particularly as a trope of the wish-granting spirit. It is an exaggerated orientalist representation often used to “exoticize” the SWANASA regions and the Muslim people.

Aladdin and Genie

Image: Walt Disney Pictures

In things like i dream of jeannie and the animated Disney classic Aladdin, Western depictions place a heavy focus on the most fantastical aspects of jinn to further exoticize the culture. Even if I still enjoy it Aladdin — especially for the air of representation it gave me as a brown West Asian child – and the character of genius, it’s Orientalist by nature. Especially since it presents all jinn with “phenomenal cosmic power” to grant desires, while what most Muslims believe is actually much more nuanced and complicated regarding jinn.

Although the jinn have become an Orientalist trope, more SWANASA and Muslims are beginning to take back the reins of storytelling when it comes to jinn in fantasy. American Kuwaiti author Chelsea Abdullah has just published her debut novel The Stardust Thief, the beginning of her fantasy Sandsea trilogy. Abdullah draws her imagination on stories of jinn she grew up in Kuwait, along with various other aspects of Arabic culture, and offers a more hopeful, nuanced, and culturally confident portrayal of jinn in popular media.

Ms. Marvel and Djinn in the Comics (and Beyond)

The Djinn have also been present in Marvel Comics, specifically the Clandestines we see in them Mrs Miracle, although their comic origins seem to differ significantly. They also, as you can imagine, play into jinn Western Orientalism.

In the comics, the ClanDestine are the superpowered children of Englishman Adam Destine and his Djinn wife Elalyth, granting him immortality and invulnerability. They would have many children of various powers over the centuries, most of whom would come together as “Clan Destine”.

They are a relatively small and obscure team from the comics – Kamala Khan in the comics and other media has never encountered the ClanDestine or even the Djinn in general. This makes her an enigmatic choice to be included in the show, which will direct the first major Muslim and Pakistani Marvel superhero. But considering that the Mrs Miracle Show has South Asian and Muslim creators who have been vocal in their commitment to respectful portrayal, they are believed to have attempted to undo or subvert the comics’ ClanDestine orientalism with this Najma-led version.

Kamala builds a wall to protect her and Kamran

Image: Marvel Studios

And the summoning of the Djinn in Mrs Miracle is over almost as quickly as it came. When Kamala talks to her grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmad) about what Najma told her about the Djinn, she is very casual about it, just calling it “genetics”. We hear from the leader of the Red Daggers, Waleed (Farhan Akhtar), that the Clandestines aren’t like the jinn any of us have heard of in stories or religious texts, and that he would be too if Thor were in the Himalayas were called jinn. We also learn about the “Noor Dimension” and how it is the origin of the Clandestine.

In light of all this, the Djinn aspect seems like a red herring or diversion, albeit a culture specific one, especially considering how visibly uncomfortable Kamala seemed at this revelation. Couple that with the stray clues pointing to a version of Kamala’s comic origins (a severed blue arm in Episode 3’s opening screen looks like an extraterrestrial Kree arm; in the comics, Kamala is a brute that the Kree genetically has given powers over the Terrigen Mist) and we could be completely out of Djinn folklore territory. But even if I’m still betting my money on a Kree involvement – and maybe hopefully some brutes – the Djinn distraction wasn’t a wasted one. Perhaps the intention was to scare Kamala in Episode 3, and Episode 4 is the beginning of her building confidence as a heroine who comes with a nobler heritage than she initially thought.

https://www.polygon.com/23189742/ms-marvel-djinn-explainer Ms. Marvel actually lets the hero (and the viewer) explore the concept of the Djinn

Charles Jones

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