Rebels with a Cause: Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam

by Anisa Benmoktar on June 19, 2010

If one thing’s surer than Sid Vicious’ steel toe caps, it’s that  Taqwacore: The Birth of Muslim Punk took courage, faith and fearlessness to complete. This recently released feature documentary about the revolutionary twists, turns, triumphs and travesties of Pakistan’s Muslim Punk movement sure ain’t for the fainthearted.

Basim Usmani from The Kominas

The film is based on its namesake novel, The Taqwacores, written by Muslim-convert Michael Muhammad Knight, without which the Islam punk music scene may never have existed.  The book was published in 2003 and the movement was born, screaming…

Fiction: the Furnace that Forged a Movement

The title Taqwacores blends the Arabic for “God-conscious” and adds a (hard) core suffix. Its characters form Michael’s fictitious community of Muslim radicals and are as controversial as they come: Sufis with Mohawks, burqas with band patches and skin-head Shi’as that quite literally came to life.

The author describes his work as “a Muslim punk manifesto” and constitutes a personal catharsis/cartography on Knights external and internal trajectory. At the age of 17, the author left his native Rochester and white-supremist father, to study Islam at a Pakistani madrassa. This initial “rebellion” was followed by a second; which materialized in the form of his riotous, revolutionary book.

Creating a Scene

The Taqwacores struck a real chord with young Muslim readers across the globe and before you could say, “punk is defunct”, real red-blooded Taqwacore bands began to spring up.

In 2010, the documentary: Taqwacore The Birth of Punk Islam, the film was finished after three years of work. It follows Michael and his band of Muslim punks travelling across the U.S. and Pakistan: “transforming their worlds, their religion and themselves through the spirit of Taqwacore. “

In the spirit of taqwacore/ Photo by Kim Badawi

Through the eye of the lens, Michael and the Muslim punks embark on their first U.S. tour, “inciting a riot of young hijabi girls at the largest Muslim gathering in North America after Sena takes the stage.”

The camera criss-crosses continents with the band to wind up where the movement was born, in Pakistan.  There, members of the first Taqwacore band, The Kominas, bring punk to the streets of Lahore. Michael’s two worlds collide: the strict madrassa-made Muslim and the rebel without a cause dance for a while in on terra firma Pakistani, stomping, screaming, shouting and swearing.

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There’s no denying that Taqwacore took great bravery to make. If you’re modest, traditional, timid, or tame, neither the book nor the documentary is for you. However, if like me you are possessed with a strong curiosity (and stomach) for all takes on our faith, be they  unique, obscure or even obscene, it’s well worth a gander….

More info and screening dates can be found here:

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