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Taqwacore on the Screen

March 19, 2010

The raucous, revolutionary sound of taqwacore–Muslim punk–is coming to a theater near you.   Two new movies, a documentary and a feature film, have been making waves at festival screening rooms from Sundance to SXSW.

The Taqwacores is a feature film (directed by Eyad Zahra) about a Pakistani-American student who finds himself drawn into a Muslim punk subculture in Buffalo, New York when he moves into a house inhabited by a straight-edge Sunni rocker, an often-intoxicated Sufi with a mohawk, a burka-wearing riotgrrl, a skater kid from Indonesia, and other decidedly untraditional young American Muslims.  It screened to sold-out houses at Sundance, and recently landed a screening deal with Strand Releasing.  Here’s the trailer:

The film is based on the novel The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight, who also co-wrote the film.  Taqwacore might be the only musical genre that started out as fiction and became reality–while other Islam-identified punk bands existed before, especially in the UK, the name (a combination of the Arabic word taqwa, meaning “piety”, and “hardcore”) and the North American scene were directly inspired by the novel.  Knight, an American convert to Islam, wrote The Taqwacores in 2003 to reach out to other young Muslims struggling to reconcile their faith with an alienation from both orthodox Islam, and mainstream American culture–an alienation for which punk music seemed like a perfect fit.  The self-published novel, circulated in photocopied form and later republished by Soft Skull Press, became an underground hit.  When its fans found out that the punk bands in the book were fictional, they responded by starting their own, creating the flourishing scene populated by bands like Vote Hezbollah, the Kominas, Secret Trial Five, Al-Thawra, and more, some of whom provided the music for the feature film.

The emergence of the real-life tawqacore scene is also the subject of Omar Majeed’s documentary film Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, which follows Knight and several taqwacore bands on their first North American tour, and beyond, as they take the music to Pakistan:

The taqwacore scene has gotten a lot of media coverage over the last few years–here’s one article from The New York Times–but you can also follow it through the words of taqx musicians and fans themselves, at the Taqwacore webzine.  As they write,

Taqwa (Arabic for ‘God Consciousness’) + Core. Punk Islam? Muslim Punk? A haven for Junkie Sheikhs, Retarded Muslims, Queer Alims, Masochistic Muftis and Guttermouth Maulaunas? Just a bunch of confused desi’s and estranged arabs? A sincere appropriation of the 77 punk ethos in a post 9-11 world? Just a joke, auntie?

Yes. All of the above.

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