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Taqwacores: A Punk Subculture Inspired By A Book

In 2003 filmmaker and activist James Spooner’s film “Afro-Punk” was released and challenged society’s perception of black identity and the traditionally white punk scene. Also in 2003, Michael Muhammad Knight self published “The Taqwacores“, a book created to mend the rift between his being an observant Muslim and an angry American youth.

Like “Afro-Punk”, Knight’s book continues to inspire young people who are searching for ways to validate their own experiences and defy social norms and the New York Times reports that there will be an independent film version of the book released next year.

Behind The Book

Knight was born an Irish Catholic in upstate New York and converted to Islam as a teenager. He studied at a mosque in Pakistan but became disillusioned with Islam after learning about the sectarian battles after the death of Muhammad.

Five years ago he wrote “The Taqwacores”, inspired by the like of Muhammad, who instructed people to ignore their leaders, destroy their petty deities and follow only Allah.

At first it was handed around in xeroxed versions like a Soviet era Samizdat. Then young Muslims began contacting Michael asking where they could see Muslim punk bands. He told them he just made it up and he didn’t know of any such bands. He told them he just made it up and he didn’t know of any such bands.

The novel’s Muslim characters include Rabeya, a riot girl who plays guitar onstage wearing a burqa and leads a group of men and women in prayer. There is also Fasiq, a pot-smoking skater, and Jehangir, a drunk. Such acts — playing Western music, women leading prayer, men and women praying together, drinking, smoking — are considered haram, or forbidden, by millions of Muslims.

So the young kids started creating bands like Secret Trial Five and The Kominas who have the first Taqwacore (“taqwa,” the Arabic word for “piety,” with “hardcore,” ) hit “Suicide Bomb the Gap”.

For many young American Muslims, the merger of Islam and rebellion resonated.

Hanan Arzay, 15, is a daughter of Muslim immigrants from Morocco who lives in East Islip, N.Y. In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, pedestrians threw eggs and coffee cups at the van that transported her to a Muslim school, she said, and one person threw a wine bottle, shattering the van’s window.

At school, her Koran teacher threw chalk at her for requesting literal translations of the holy book, Ms. Arzay said. After she was expelled from two Muslim schools, her uncle gave her “The Taqwacores.”

“This book is my lifeline,” Ms. Arzay said. “It saved my faith.” (excerpt from Jon Taplin’s blog)

Rad! Here’s to more creative and revolutionary self expression in 2009.
Resources

Video – Tacwacore (the Kominas) Somerville Ma House Party

The Taqwacores Mahalo page

The Taqwacores book preview

Eyad Zahra – Taqwacores film writer/director – 2006 interview

Blue-Eyed Devil
In his quest for an indigenous “American Islam,” Michael Muhammad Knight embarked on a series of interstate odysseys. Traveling 20,000 miles by Greyhound in sixty days, he squatted in run-down mosques, pursued Muslim romance, was detained at the U.S.-Canadian border with a trunkload of Shi’a literature, crashed Islamic Society of North America conventions, stink-palmed Cat Stevens, limped across Chicago to find the grave of Noble Drew Ali, and hunted down the truth of the Nation of Islam mystery-man, W.D. Fard – filling dozens of notebooks along the way.

Impossible Man, Or, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Rise of Islam
Knight’s forthcoming memoir, to be released March 2009 by Soft Skull Press, tells the story of Knight’s “bizarre and traumatic boyhood and his conversion to Islam during a turbulent adolescence.”