When you’re a teenager, rebellion seems like a rite-of-passage. Whether it’s swiping a pint of vodka from your parents’ liquor cabinet or shaving your head, you are an individual going through some serious life changes and you need everyone to know it.
For me, the ultimate outlet for my post-pubescent angst was punk rock. From an ill-advised nose piercing in a scary, Indiana tattoo shop to telling my parents I was going to the mall and ending up in a sketchy basement watching Anti-Flag’s side project, the punk scene introduced me to people I actually related to — feminists, gays, politically-motivated band geeks — many of whom I am still friends with today.
For 17-year-old Michael Knight, his ultimate rebellion came in the form of leaving his mother’s home and heading to a Pakistani madrassa, where he would study Islam. He burned out on the “demands of religious dogma” years later, but in 2003, he went on to write a novel titled The Taqwacores, a “punk-rock manifesto” that went from work of fiction to real, cultural movement:
Melding the Arabic word for god-consciousness with the edge of hardcore punk (hence Taqwacore), Michael imagined a community of Muslim radicals: Mohawked Sufis, riot grrrls in burqas with band patches, skinhead Shi’as. These characters were entirely fictional. But the movement they inspired is very real.
The book became something else when actual Taqwacore bands were popping up nationwide. This caught the attention of filmmaker Omar Majeed, who decided to film the bands as they toured the U.S., leading to the documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam.
After 9/11, many of the Canadian and American Muslims involved in the project felt the need to do some serious venting, and Knight’s book gave them a platform to do so.
Sena Hussain, a lesbian “Pakistani Canadian drag king from Vancouver,” is the front woman for the first all-girl Taqwacore band, The Secret Trial Five. She told the Globe and Mail this spring that she didn’t have much interest in political music until 9/11 seriously changed how Muslims were portrayed in pretty much every aspect of life.
“It’s far from being a religious music, in that it’s not at all similar to Christian rock,” Hussain told the paper. “It’s about Muslims post-9/11, that’s the perspective I take. It’s very political and satirical.”
Hussain’s band caused quite a stir at the Islamic Society of North America’s Chicago convention in 2008. After a reading of the Koran and some “stern, spoken-word stylings,” her band took the stage and burst into their song “Middle Eastern Zombies,” prompting much of the crowd to leave, a call to the police and (the best part) a group of “excited hijabi girls rocking out” and chanting “Stop the hate!”
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam screened last month in Canada, and will be showing at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam Nov. 19 to 29.
The film’s goal is to show the wide array of young voices within the Muslim community. People who are willing to challenge everyone: from “homophobic Mullahs to warmongering Western politicians,” Majeed told the Globe and Mail.
“I don’t think Western media as a whole is ready for a complicated Muslim voice — they divide the world into good Muslims and bad Muslims,” Knight said. “But these kids are pissed off about everything.”
For more information about the Taqwacore movement or upcoming film screenings, check out the film’s website.