Monday, May 11, 2009


(Image source:

It was about four, maybe five years ago that a couple of mouse clicks and speedy door-to-door delivery led to my introduction to an unusual and strange phenomenon that seems to be galloping through western Islamic youth societies like a haras of horses. I waited for the dust to settle to be able to examine the hoof prints of the Taqwacores, the pages of which now lie ashen in my back yard. The title of the novel is a combination of the Arabic word, taqwa, meaning piety or God consciousness, and the word hardcore – as in hardcore music.

I had read about the maverick author, Michael Muhammad Knight, when he participated in the women-led Islamic prayer in New York City. Fascinated by the title of the book and intrigued by the controversy it created, I had to read it!
By the time it reached me, it had long undergone a dramatic facelift from the photocopied manuscript that Knight circulated on his campus.

Reading the story of punk-rock Muslims – misfits in society – I recognised a sense of longing in the characters – of wanting to belong to something greater than them. The extreme juxtaposition of being punk rockers but being God conscious in an unconventional style drew me deeper into the story, at each turn of the page, anticipating an about turn. But as the story progressed, I began to realise why this was meant to be Knight’s farewell to Islam. At times I felt that I could identify with the anguish and uncertainty that each of the characters go through in finding their niche, or in some cases, rooftops! I appreciated the author’s belief that “Islam is big enough for someone like me” because I truly believe that it is! But now, as the movie adaptation of the novel is being made, and since the novel has been prescribed as a set-work for many course studies at universities across the USA, I am reminded of why I felt the need to build a bonfire around it.

I have never been known for conservative interpretations and practice of religion but I had some levels of discomfort with the blatant disregard for some basic respected norms. I feared that young people would interpret the Taqwacores as consent to behave as and how they pleased, and still claim to be followers of Islam. Nudity, uncleanliness in prayer, reading the holy book to the sound of a guitar, drug and alcohol abuse and outrageous sexual obscenities cannot be condoned even if the message behind it all is real!

The Taqwacores was an imaginary creation of Knight but it has now reached cult status and several so-called Islamic punk-rock bands have been started – some whose songs I like! Young Muslims, not only punk rockers, are identifying with the messages in a positive way and linking up with each other, creating what Knight calls their own “anti-community”. Those who were, like Knight, turning away from the religion, and feeling ex-communicated, are now more comfortable in knowing that God doesn’t ex-communicate anyone from His fold. The Taqwacores has an almost Sufi aspect to it and reminds me of “God’s Unruly Friends” – but that’s for another review.

Knight returned to the fold of Islam after some interventions by the Muslim community but he continues to be controversial, writing about the Five-Percenters, an off-shoot of the Nation of Islam. On his decision to learn and write about the group and their founder, Clarence 13X Smith, who later blasphemously named himself Father Allah, Knight said: “I was really getting into the idea that Islam is not something fixed in stone, its not a dead thing but something that’s alive and still grows and adapts to its surroundings. South Asia has produced its own Islamic traditions; it blended Islam with itself and made Islam its own. The same thing happened in Persia, Turkey, Indonesia, everywhere. I started to think about that also taking place in America, that American Islam would evolve its own traditions and honour indigenous American saints. The Five-Percenters are a vital part of that tradition, even though they’ve moved so far from the center that they emphatically reject the religion of Islam and have no desire to be considered Muslims at all.”

So…. Will I go to see the Taqwacores movie?

Yes! And it’s probably not a bad thing that so many young people can still feel God in their core!

Would I go to a Muslim punk rock concert like that of the Kominas (bastards) band?

Maybe, mostly out of curiosity.

But I think I’ll stick to the quiet sema, rather than the head banging and I’m soooo not into patch-worked burqas! It’s so retro!


shabz said...

hmmmm the very contrvrsl Knight, i hope there is a big fuss because even though religion shouldn't be interprtd rigidly , I would like to believe that we live in a world where somethings are sacred .

Anonymous said...

delicate line to tread! Interesting post DD. I haven't read the book but i'm gonna look out for it. I guess no chance of borrowing if from you after the bonfire?

Anonymous said...

Interesting--reminds me of something similar that I experienced in Christianity many years ago. I had a very conservative upbringing--no rock music, no dancing and so on. In college, I found many Christians who believed that their faith could be rightfully expressed in any form of music, in dance and more. It was a very exciting time for me spiritually.

Of course, I've moved quite beyond all that now. But I think every religion adapts--at least, it seems that it should or it risks extinction--don't you think?

Azra said...

Sounds interesting...slightly scary.

"never been known for conservative interpretations and practice of religion but I had some levels of discomfort with the blatant disregard for some basic respected norms. I feared that young people would interpret the Taqwacores as consent to behave as and how they pleased, and still claim to be followers of Islam"

I have similar issues with some "new age" muslims. I'm not conservative by any means, but there is a definite line that can not be crossed and in dealing with some, since their lines aren't as clearly defined, it almost forces a conservative "shield" from me. I dont want people to get the wrong idea, to think that certain things are "ok" when they're not. Its a fine line to tread.

Anonymous said...

If religion has changed and adapted over thousands of yeras, people today are not as staunch as what religion represented, not stood for , but represented before understanding. I say that because one may have the belief but lack the understanding to be able to carry on, if i may term it conservative in todays times. know one will know as the elders knew how religion would be practiced today and i dont think people of today will undersatnd future 'new generations' slowly mixing and being accepted into certain communties. How ever future generations may turn out may it be our duty to install all the basics and neccissities into them, DD - GREAT ARTICLE , HOPE YOU FIND MORE LIKE THEM

Anonymous said...

I think the most glaring aspect of this post is the question of boundaries and what we believe to be acceptable are determined by these lines which we draw in the proverbial sand. It is important to note that these decisions are to a large degree personal choices.

Knight has the right to his. We each have the right to ours. But there can only be one Judge...

desert demons said...

Shabz - contorversial he is but courageous to be out there setting the stage and sparking debate.

Anon 1 - Nope, not unless u're a forensic scientist and have the time to piece together the ashes. Maybe now 4/5 years down the line i wish i hadn't set it alight.

River and Anon 2 and Azra - religion and the practice of it is derived from the manner in which we as human beings interpret things. It is relative to our needs not to that of the Supreme Creator. I do believe that it is evolutionary and continuously in a state of adaptation, because we as humans are in a constant state of change.
Perhaps its my somewhat conservative upbringing and even tho i've been a non-conformist in most aspects of my life but I hav to concur with Shabz that some things should be sacred.

Anon 3 - This post was absolutely a personal reflection on the book and was in no way meant to be objective but also not judgemental of the author. He is free to his opinions and his interpretations. Actually I appreciate that he is controversial because it makes the rest of us think of the wat ifs in life... But yes, I have drawn my own boundries and this book crossed many of those. I can look beyond some of the issues and see the symbolism in it but there are other things that are disrespectful of Islam, no matter how many attempts are made at justifying it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Having read your comment, I realise my very condescending tone! Apologies. My comments were not directed at anyone in particular. It was merely a comment from my own perspective - that we judge and are judged by our viewpoint. I tend to forget this when I am knee deep defending my point of view... to give credence to an alternative. This despite trying to be an individual in society myself!

Anonymous said...

Hey DD, I was searching for news on release of Taqwacores movie and found another review, here:

Anyway there was an interesting comment to the review posted by a punk rock muslim. I thought it was interesting:

Dawud // May 9, 2009 at 12:10 am | Reply

"Speaking as an American punk/hardcore vegan straight edge kid who coverted to Islam a year before 9/11… I honestly can’t say this book is at all a good representation of what I would even conceive of Muslim punks and hardcore kids would be like… nor is it at all representative of the ones that I’ve met. There’s not all that much “taqwa” in the core of the so-called “taqwacores” here. The characters that do have actual taqwa here are generally represented as assholes and proto-fascists, while the characters that engage in absolutely obsene and unpious behavior at points in the book are lionized. Such as the burqa-wearing feminist guitar player who leads her largely ignorant jamaat in prayer. I’ve no problem with a woman with superior knowledge in religion leading prayer, but I can’t truly ascribe that to this particular character. Especially after reading what she does at the end of the book… honestly, I and all my Muslim hardcore/punk and metalhead peers found this book to be absolutely reprehensible and a mockery of what we actually are."


Anonymous said...

An image is worth a thousand words. The Taqwacores - the documentary photography book - is due to be released over by powerHouse Books. For more :