Posted Nov 2, 2009 in Arts | 0 Comments

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam


“TAQWACORE: The Birth of Punk Islam” premiered to a packed audience at the Imperial Cinema at Montreal’s Festival Nouveau Cinema. It documents the travels of Muslim punk bands in the USA that were united by Michael Muhammad Knight‘s fictional book “The Taqwacores” (god-consciousness and hardcore punk), which is about the adventures of a punk rocker Muslim band. Director/Editor Omar Majeed and Producer Daniel Cross (of “Up the Yangtze” fame) have created a film that is bound to turn heads and raise controversy.

Taqwacore is full of hope and testosterone. The film’s major protagonists are all young Muslim men, with the white convert Michael Mohammad Knight as the central character, who take us into the  journey of Islamic Punk Rock in America with bands like The Kominas (rascals), Vote Hezbollah and the all-girl, lesbian Vancouver band, Secret Trial Five.

Muslims are demonized in Western media and several Islamic nations have been placed on the US security alert lists, which make mobility to and from those nations increasingly perilous. Muslims are constantly the targets of media bigotry and it is rare to see a film that neither victimizes nor demonizes them. I found the parallel between the isolation of the Muslim boys in America and the American boy (Knight) in Pakistan extremely poignant. The homoerotic subtext between Knight and his ‘following’ of young men was consistently present in the film, as it is in homoerotic angst of punk rock itself.

The cinematography was also commendable, especially the shots of Pakistan in its luscious winter/spring glory. Director Omar Majeed went to great lengths to bribe his way across Pakistan to be able to shoot inside mosques and shrines. Certain scenes that were hilarious to me as a Pakastani might be lost on others, as the crowd seemed unsure whether to be tickled or frightened. One such instance occurred when Knight walks into a Shia Muslim shrine and joins some men in self-flagellation. The audience seemed a little uncomfortable observing his white skin turn to disturbing shades of red. It was a highly charged scene with hints of bondage and sadomasochistic ritual.

The camaraderie between the men was touching, though some in the crowd wanted to hear more from the women as well. The energy of the subjects drives the film full speed, but the solitude of Michael and his struggle with Islam and Muslims is intriguing and at times unsettling. Michael’s story of abuse by his white-supremacist father is set against his conversation with a pot-bellied, misogynist Imam at the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, revealing that the tensions in his own life mirror those of millions who struggle with reconciling their conscience to their spirituality.

Taqwacore is an unapologetic film that holds no punches back, but remains balanced, laying out the entire Islam/Punk/Music question for examination. While it critiques the USA and its fear of brown men and Islam, it does not shy away from examining sexism, class oppression (in Pakistan) and bigotry within Islam. A CBC reporter asked me if some would consider this film offensive. I responded that those who want to be offended would be offended no matter what. Taqwacore does what any good documentary is supposed to do: It questions everything, reveals all it knows and lays bare many questions. It unlocks a Pandora’s box of intrigue along with a ton of hope.

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam

Taqwacore opens for a limited one run at the Cinema du Parc and the AMC theatres. The director is usually present to answer questions (and there are always  inquisitive people in the crowd) at the 5pm and the 7pm screenings.

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