Down in Chicago, I caught a concert by a muslim punk band called “Al Thawra,” and did a short piece on it for Mother Jones. But now that the “Taqwacore” scene’s prime mover, a promising young writer named Michael Muhammed Knight, has come out with several new books, is appearing on NPR, in the New York Times, and being called “one of the most necessary and, paradoxically enough, hopeful writers of Barack Obama’s America,” I thought it was a good time to put a longer version out there. So if you’re interested in the intersection of punk and Islam, the search for identity and religion in the modern world, or what may well be the birth of a new American Islam, read on:
The Rise of Muslim Punk and the Birth of an American Islam
Michael Muhammad Knight and I were sitting at the very end of a long wooden bar on the west side of Chicago. At the other end, the bartender was slurring his words and swearing at his customers. “You don’t know shit about shit!” he said. “Get the fuck out of my bar.”
They did. And while there still plenty of drunk people in the bar, we were not among them. After a while, the bartender stumbled down to where we were sitting and asked in a thick Latin accent (he said he was from Florida) what we wanted. Knight answered.
“Coke,” he said.
I ordered the same, trying to keep with the spirit of the night. We’d come to hear Al Thawra, or “The Revolution,” one of the new bands in the nascent scene known as “Muslim Punk” to outsiders, and “Taqwacore,” to insiders, meaning a hardcore genre center on “taqwa,” which is Arabic for “faith,” or “love of divinity,” and which is about anything but dogma. The genre has lit a fire with those young American Muslims who don’t feel quite accepted in either post-9/11 America or in the larger Muslim world.
“It’s still very young,” says Mark LeVine, author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and a professor of Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies at University of California Irvine. “But it’s certainly growing, and it’s certainly going to keep getting bigger. It shows there was a need that was waiting to be filled.”
The story of Taqwacore is a story of rage and anger and lost faith and, oddly, professional wrestling. It’s a fundamentally American story of the search for a new identity, for a new cultural space, and even for a new kind of Islam.
That story begins with a 31-year–old, white, blue-eyed convert named Read more »