Segment 14 – Islamic Punk

Today we dove into the crazy world of Islamic punk, particularly its iteration as taqwacore. Have a listen:

Songs we played: ‘Tunn‘ by The Kominas; ‘Amnesia‘ by Al-Thawra

Although there have been a small number of Muslim punk bands in the USA since the early 80s, there’s been a bit of a resurgence in the last few years, due largely to the work of Michael Muhammad Knight – a white American who ran off to a fundamentalist Pakistani madrassa when he was 17. (He actually went to the Faisal Mosque.) Typical adolescent rebellion, right? Eventually, however, he became disillusioned with orthodox Islam, came back to America, and embarked on a personal journey into progressive Islam. He released The Taqwacores in 2003 – a fictional novel about an underground scene of Muslim punks, from drunk Sufis with mohawks to riot grrrls with burqas. (Taqwa means piety or respect for God in Arabic.) Little did he know that his fiction would touch a nerve among disgruntled Muslim youths the world over, who took the novel as a calling, and began a real-life taqwacore scene. The two bands we played today, The Kominas and Al-Thawra, are both American bands who have been associated with the label of taqwacore.

What’s going on here is one of the variations of progressive Islam that are appearing around the world, but perhaps especially in the USA. It is a uniquely Western Islam, seemingly driven by white American converts or second-generation immigrants born in America. This new generation of American Muslims have absorbed a lot of the cultural values of Western liberalism and are working them into their faith. Individualism is a big part of this. Instead of submitting to tradition and institution, these young Muslims see themselves as the ultimate source of authority – they can make their own interpretations of the Qur’an. As such they play music (which some orthodox Muslim scholars claim is haram), drink, smoke, and even allow women to lead prayer (which almost all Muslims agree is haram). Knight’s book was central for many feeling that this kind of Islam is OK, is still Islam. “Reading the book was totally liberating for me,” said one member of this subculture. Another claimed, “this book … saved my faith.”

Have a listen to the audio above for some great little examples of how Muslim punks are “giving the finger to both sides” – the prohibitions of orthodox scholars and the preconceptions of non-Muslims. Finally (in what is becoming a habit in these posts) I must provide a caveat: there is, of course, more to these bands than their being Muslim. Wendy Hsu has written, “Over-emphasising the band members as ‘Muslim,’ the press has overlooked the non-Islamic sides of the band’s music, image, and membership.” For example, The Kominas identify more with their Pakistani heritage than their Islam; and Al-Thawra songs challenge all sorts of Western constructs, making social comments on colonialism, Gaza and capitalism.

‘Pagan electronic folk’ next week. One week I’ll try to have a four-worder…

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