Saturday, August 11, 2007

Punk Islam?

I'm up to my neck in exam prep today.
In my spare time, I'm reading the novel to the left, The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight (from Autonomedia). It's quite a read: the sort of book that challenges your notions of the way the world works. I like books like that. Most books that I find lately are mind-contracting instead of mind-expanding.
The novel is set in a Muslim punk house in Buffalo. They indicate the qibla by bashing a hole in the wall with a baseball bat. A Sufi punk makes the call to prayer from the roof with his electric guitar. The feminist Rabeya wears a burqa covered with band patches and writes the zine Ayesha's Hymen (a particularly controversial bit left out of the British edition).
So, for as incongruous as Muslim punk rockers might seem, Knight's point seems to be that all religious people practice faith in their own way, and that in the case of Islam, it is the apostates who will save the faith. It's also a novel about how people reconcile aspects of their lives that are equally meaningful to them, but equally at odds. It made me consider the fact that, for as much of a pain in the ass as religious extremists can be for us non-believers to deal with, imagine how hard it is to hate those people, but still love the faith and God.
Knight invented the taqwacore scene (combining taqwa- the fear and love of Allah- with hardcore punk) for the novel, but it seems to have struck a chord with a number of kids. There are now a number of real taqwacore bands, including Vote Hezbullah and my personal favorite The Kominas, who wrote the great song "Rumi was a Homo (But Wahhaj is a fag)" and who can be seen arguing about whether or not music is haram with a Bostom imam here. The Secret Trial Five (from Vancouver!) are punk, Muslim, and the singer's a lesbian.
It's hard to reconcile all of this in your head- Muslim punk might be haram, but it also seems strange for punk rock, which is often fairly anti-religion. Didn't Dead Kennedys say: "all religions make me want to throw up"? Of course, 6025, the guy that wrote that song, eventually became a born-again Christian! And we've already had Krishna-core and pretty good Christian punk. And the fact that progressive Muslim punk is a strike against the totalizing discourses of both extremist imams and war-hawk Americans is pretty punk rock, if you ask me. Remember, whenever you're given two choices, pick the third.
To be honest, I've actually already reconciled some of this in my mind. My friend Michael became a Muslim years and years ago, and my good friend David/Dawoud did the same a few years back. But I've never really given the concept much thought. It never really occurred to me how ballsy it is. Hell, if it even seems strange to me, imagine how threatening it must be to people who actually give a shit! But there are a million different ways to make sense of your life, and the strength of this book is that it explains one that I haven't heard before. Apparently, Knight invented Taqwacore to make sense of his own life and wound up helping a bunch of other people make sense of their lives too.
And maybe one goal in all of our lives is simply to increase the number of things that we can get our heads around. Certainly, there's a lot more under heaven and earth than is dreamt of in any of our philosophies.

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