From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

Sooner or later, Punk and Islam were fated to meet and produce strange offspring. This excellent novel represents the first blast of the trumpet – loud and utterly unique. – Hakim Bey





“The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight is the author’s debut
novel, depicting a fictitious Islamic punk rock scene. The title
refers to taqwa, an Islamic concept of love and fear for Allah, and
hardcore (punk music) – punk subgenres frequently being suffixed –
core. Taqwacore thus refers to a genre of Muslim punk rock, existing
only in the novel at the time of its writing, but since emerging as an
actual genre, inspiring taqwacore bands such as the Kominas and Secret
Trial Five. The novel has also been credited by Asra Q. Nomani as
first presenting her the idea for woman-led prayer, leading to a
historica woman-led congregation on March 18, 2005.

Knight originally self-published The Taqwacores in DIY zine format,
giving copies away for free until finding distribution with
Alternative Tentacles, the punk record label founded by Jello Biafra.
After receiving an endorsement from Peter Lamborn Wilson, the novel
was published by radical press Autonomedia. A UK version is published
by Telegram Books.

The narrator of The Taqwacores, Yusuf Ali, is a Pakistani American
engineering student from Syracuse, New York who lives off campus with
a diverse group of Muslims in their house in Buffalo. Besides being
their home, the house serves as a place to have punk parties and a
place for Muslims not comfortable with the Muslim Student Association
or local mosques to have Friday prayer.”



“His second book, The Taqwacores, is the story of some punk Muslims in
Buffalo, New York, sharing a house together. Their living room serves
multiple functions as a prayer room and party venue – and for the
purposes of the former, they have knocked a few bricks out of the wall
to serve as a qibla. Their life together mixes sex, dope and prayer in
roughly equal amounts, plus near-religious devotion to Islamic-punk
taqwacore bands – the sort of musicians who forfeit their street cred
the moment they start becoming popular.

This is the point where fiction turns into fact, because at the time
the book was written taqwacore music didn’t really exist. It does now,
as a result of the book. The word “taqwacore” is a combination of
“hardcore” and “taqwa” – an Arabic term usually translated as “piety”.

Today, the best-known taqwacore band is The Kominas (a Punjabi word
meaning “bastards”), and some of their lyrics are here. One of their
most controversial songs, Rumi Was a Homo, attacks Siraj Wahhaj, a
prominent Brooklyn imam who was accused of homophobia.

Although The Taqwacores is now studied in courses at several American
universities, it took some time for the book to be formally published.
Initially, Knight made photocopies of it at his local Kinko’s store
and distributed them himself in the car parks of mosques.

Eventually, the book went on sale by mail order through Alternative
Tentacles, a record label in California which trades under the
provocative slogan: “Keeping the Homeland insecure since 1979”.

I came across the book one day while browsing the internet, found an
extract here, and ordered a copy. When it arrived … well, I have
never read anything quite like it, before or since.

Early last year, I was chatting to a friend in London who works in
publishing and told her about The Taqwacores.

“Mmm … sounds interesting,” she said, and promised to read it. The
next thing I heard, one of their staff had gone off to the States,
tracked down Knight and signed up the British rights.

So now, it’s here. I’m a bit apprehensive but I hope British Muslim
organisations will be sensible about it and think twice before
protesting. They complain – rightly – about being stereotyped in the
media, and The Taqwacores is a powerful antidote to that (which is one
good reason why it should be read and circulated as widely as

The book is an easy, funny read but, at another level and without
labouring the point, it’s also profoundly challenging. It addresses –
in a way that’s shocking but ultimately positive – questions of
identity that are faced, to some extent, by all young Muslims growing
up in the west.

Of course, there will be people who insist that the characters in the
book are not “true” Muslims. I’m guessing, but I think this is the
main point Knight wanted to raise. How do you define a “true” Muslim?
On what grounds? And does anyone have the right to judge?”




Islamic street preachers

From Boston to Lahore and beyond, the tentacles of taqwacore – aka Islamic punk rock – are spreading. And it’s giving disenfranchised young Muslims a voice, says Riazat Butt

Saturday April 28, 2007
The Guardian

There can’t be that many female playwrights who are deaf, punk and
Muslim, so Sabina England is something of a find. With a lurid Mohawk
and leather jacket slathered with slogans, she looks every inch the
rebel and has an attitude to match.

Sabina, who says she lives in the “shitty midwest of the United
States” or the “HELL-HOLE OF BOREDOM AND YUPPIES”, is part of a
subculture that, until a few years ago, existed only on paper.

The Taqwacores – a novel about a fictitious Muslim punk scene in the
US – has spawned an actual movement that is being driven forward by
young Muslims worldwide. Some bands – such as the Kominas – have a
cult following. Others, such as Sabina, are virtually unknown. In a
brief email exchange, she lays out some harsh truths.

How well known is the taqwacore phenomenon where you are?

“Muslims around here would rather act like a model minority and don’t
really want to rattle anybody’s chain. I really want to move to New
York City, if I can get my plays produced there. Unfortunately it
seems many theatre companies are too scared to do my works, or think I
only cater to Indians and Pakistanis and won’t attract white people.
But they’re fucking wrong, and they can’t see beyond racial
boundaries. Fucking worthless piece of shites.”

What does taqwacore mean to you?

“It means being true to myself, having my own faith, and interpreting
Islam the way I want to, without feeling guilty or being looked down
at by other Muslims.”

What is the future for taqwacore?

“It’s gonna get bigger. A lot of Muslim kids are tired of being told
what to do, how to think, what to believe in, and how to act, by their
parents. There are ‘the angry muslim kids’ who wanna grow beards and
pray five times a day, and then there are the OTHER ‘angry Muslim
kids’ who wanna get drunk and say a huge big ‘fuck you’ to the Muslim
population. Or maybe they just don’t care and wanna sit at home and
not think about Osama’s video speeches about how America is the Great

How her words would fare with Michael Muhammad Knight, author of The
Taqwacores and an unwitting idol to the young and restless, is
anyone’s guess. Knight, who is 29 and lives in New York with his dog
Sunny – “not as in Sunni Muslim” – downplays his achievement of single-
handedly inspiring this subculture that has produced artists such as
the Kominas, Secret Trial Five, Vote Hezbollah, Al-Thawra, 8-Bit and

“There was a scene already,” says Knight modestly, whose next novel
will be titled Osama Van Halen. “I just gave it a name. There were
kids out there, doing their thing. I don’t think of it as a movement,
though, just a group of friends supporting each other.”

Knight wrote the book to deal with his own issues. He converted to
Islam as a teenager and admits he “burned out” from being so
religious. “I was so intense. I felt Islam was so black and white and
there were no grey areas. These Muslim kids, who are punks, they are
in these grey areas.”

The kids he refers to have all devoured Knight’s work, some taking it

“One kid,” he says, “thought the book was non-fiction and thought that
stuff in the book actually happened. He got in touch. He said if it
wasn’t real, that he would make it real.” He sounds worried by the
suggestion that his book will be a manifesto for Muslim punks. “If the
scene develops, I don’t want it to be based on my book.”

The words stable, door, horse and bolt spring to mind. Some Muslims
are deeming his book to be nothing short of a revelation. “When I read
The Taqwacores,” says Basim Usmani, frontman of The Kominas, “all my
reservations about Islam melted away.”

Usmani was born in New York and moved around the US when he was
growing up. “I had this identity that stretched way further back than
these disenfranchised white kids I was hanging out with, but they were
the ones who showed me the most respect. I entered America where I was
weird and, when I went back to Pakistan, I was weird there too. I was
too Pakistani to be American and too American to be Pakistani.”

His aggression was ongoing, although he freely admits his rage didn’t
come from social dynamics. “In Boston I was middle class. In Pakistan,
where I am now, I am definitely upper class. But the poverty here is
intense and that makes me angry.”

Basim first played with Boston-based outfit Malice In Leatherland,
supporting horror punk band the Misfits. It was during this time that
he heard about Knight’s book.

“I read the book and I’m amazed. I send him an email and he called. I
saw a lot of myself in it. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a
story.” Neither he nor his taqwacore comrades confess to embracing the
more debauched antics of the novel – which has one character urinating
over the Qur’an and then reading from it and a female Muslim veil-
wearing punk, performing oral sex, onstage, in front of 200 people.

Understandably, Usmani was nervous approaching Shahjehan Khan, also in
the Kominas, about the book. “I didn’t know how he would react, he’s
not punk, but he was cool about it. He read it in one day. You could
say it was a catalyst for the Kominas.” Their songs are irreverent and
un-PC. His favourite track, he says with a snigger, is “I Want A
Handjob” – a jibe at Pakistani rockers Junoon (who launched a Muslims
For Bush campaign for the 2004 elections).

Usmani left the US just as the Kominas were breaking through into
mainstream culture. But he has a new band – the Dead Bhuttos, a
variation on the Dead Kennedys (who released their first single
through the independent record label Alternative Tentacles, the very
label that picked up Knight’s book for distribution).

A future project, hopes Usmani, will be a Punjabi version of the Billy
Bragg song There Is Power In A Union. “I’d like it to be a song for
the Pakistani workers ‘cos they don’t really have one,” he muses.

The Kominas, currently on a gigging hiatus, will tour later this year
in North America. “It seems weird to leave just when we were on the
brink. If I’d stayed then I would have been playing to sympathetic
white liberals. I didn’t want that. In Pakistan, people want to rebel
against the police and religious authority and punk is the perfect way
to do that.”

He’s put a downpayment on a bus and decorated it with the shahadah
[the Muslim declaration in the oneness of God]. “I have no idea how
we’re going to get it through customs.”

Meanwhile, Khan is in Boston mixing the Kominas debut album: “We’ve
put some EPs out but this is our first official release. There will be
remixes of our old stuff like Suicide Bomb The Gap.”

Khan says he looks like a typical engineer – with glasses and a goatee
– and comes from a comfortable, middle-class background. But he
appreciates what taqwacore has done for him. “I was like, where has
this book been all my life? None of us know where taqwacore is going
or what’s going to happen. It is a subculture that could influence
culture in general. It’s nice to be part of something at the

One of the newest recruits to the taqwacore scene is Secret Trial
Five, from Vancouver. Lead vocalist Sena Hussain, 25, took her
inspiration directly from the Kominas. “We saw them play and we were
all into punk music anyway. We haven’t had a chance to rattle some
cages, we only got together last summer, but I expect we will. That’s
the point of punk.”

Proposed title tracks include Hey, Hey, Guantanamo Bay and Emo-hurram,
a pun on the first month of the Islamic calendar. And, in a male-
dominated culture, she thinks they will face challenges from all
sides. “It’s another thing that drives us,” she says, “Muslim women
are seen as helpless and oppressed. We want to prove that wrong. I
used to sport a mohawk, I don’t now, but we will totally play up the
punk thing.

“There’s so much animosity towards Muslims and we need a dissenting
voice to say ‘fuck you’ to people who pigeonhole us.” Hussain, who is
looking for a new guitarist, adds: “It’s only fitting that we identify
ourselves as taqwacore, that’s where we got our inspiration from, and
I think that’s the way the genre will grow – and I hope it does.”

{Riazat Butt presents Islamophonic, www.guardian.co.uk/islamophonic }

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