Like Jewish hip hop, Muslim punk or “taqwacore” is about finding one’s place at the intersection of a global religion and a nation-state in which that religion is in the minority. I’ve heard of taqwacore a few times before, but it seems to be getting more buzz lately and I thought it was worth a shout-out.
Taqwacore as such is the brainchild of a guy called Michael Muhammad Knight, a convert to Islam who became disillusioned with his faith and, in 2003, published a novel called The Taqwacores in which a bunch of Muslim kids who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else move into a house together and do their own thing. (Basically just like parts of West Philly, but plus Islam and probably more fun…anyway.)
The novel inspired a full-fledged genre of Muslim punk music, which is becoming more and more successful all the time; most of the music deals with issues of concern to American Muslims and generally sounds like regular punk music with a few nods to Arab influence here and there. The musicians conceive of themselves as
stoking the revolution – against traditionalists in their own communities and against the clichés forced upon them from the outside – “we’re giving the finger to both sides,” says one Taqwacore. “Fuck you and fuck you.”
Here’s a review of an Al-Thawra concert earlier this year. As an aside that should be developed further at some point, I think it’s pretty interesting that this is (to my knowledge) the only music scene that has grown almost entirely out of an imaginary group of music-makers in a fictional work. It’s almost too pomo to be happening in real life.
Unlike Jewish hip hop (which is the topic of my current research hence my constant reference to it), which tries very hard to contextualize itself within and connect itself to both mainstream American society and to the larger Jewish diaspora, taqwacore seems to be more about individual identity–more about asserting oneself against the larger Muslim and American communities. (Not that there aren’t elements of both in each style.) I don’t always like the strident individualism in the punk ethos, but I think in this case it can be really valuable for members of a community who are often seen by other Americans, and by the media, as monolithic, dogmatic and obedient (especially women).
Taqwacores don’t unproblematically identify as Muslim; they have many different views on the practice of Islam, on American culture, on music, and how they deal with all of the above and more. They’re also really savvy about speaking for themselves–check out the Taqwacore Webzine–and seem to be making room for themselves and their unique take on American Muslim identity. Perhaps their paradoxical “shared sense of isolation” will be the tension driving a new way of thinking about Islam in the American public sphere. We can hope, right?