“I am an Islamist! I am the anti-Christ!” With their tongues firmly in cheek, Boston’s The Kominas belt out an anthem for a new generation of young Muslims. And in this basement of a decrepit Chicago punkhouse, a mob of like-minded Islamic misfits sneers along.
It is the summer of 2007. The Pakistani punkers have arrived at the last stop of their U.S. tour and are celebrating with tourmates. There’s Koroush, an Iranian kid from San Antonio who calls his bandVote Hezbollah; Sena, a Pakistani lesbian from Vancouver who fronts the all-girl Secret Trial Five; Marwan, whose Chicagobased group Al-Thawra pounds heavy metal beats into Arabic drones. And there, at the centre of it all, pumping his fists in the air and shouting Allah hu Akbar, is a white American convert named Michael Muhammad Knight.
The Islamic punk music scene would never have existed if it weren’t for his 2003 novel, The Taqwacores. Melding the Arabic word for god-consciousness with the edge of hardcore punk, Michael imagined a community of Muslim radicals: Mohawked Sufis, riot grrrls in burqas with band patches, skinhead Shi’as. These characters were entirely fictional.
But the movement they inspired is very real.
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam follows Michael and his real-life kindred spirits on their first U.S. tour, where they incite a riot of young hijabi girls at the largest Muslim gathering in North America after Sena takes the stage. The film then travels with them to Pakistan, where members of the first Taqwacore band, The Kominas, bring punk to the streets of Lahore and Michael begins to reconcile his fundamentalist past with the rebel he has now become.
By 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.”