Michael Muhammad Knight converted to Islam at sixteen after reading Malcolm X's biography, and spent two months at Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. He later left orthodox Islam. His writing regularly appears in progressive Islamic venues. He lives in Western New York State.
The Taqwacoresby Michael Muhammad Knight, Shahjehan Khan (Read by)
A Muslim punk house in Buffalo, New York, inhabited by burqa-wearing "riot grrls," mohawked Sufis, straightedge Sunnis, Shi'a skinheads, Indonesian skaters, Sudanese rude boys, gay Muslims, and feminists. Their living room hosts parties and prayers, with a hole smashed in the wall to indicate the direction of Mecca. Their lives together, which mix sex, dope, and
A Muslim punk house in Buffalo, New York, inhabited by burqa-wearing "riot grrls," mohawked Sufis, straightedge Sunnis, Shi'a skinheads, Indonesian skaters, Sudanese rude boys, gay Muslims, and feminists. Their living room hosts parties and prayers, with a hole smashed in the wall to indicate the direction of Mecca. Their lives together, which mix sex, dope, and religion in roughly equal amounts, is centered around an Islamo-punk subculture called taqwacore, named for taqwa, an Arabic term meaning consciousness of the divine.
Originally published by the author on photocopiers and spiral-bound by hand, The Taqwacores has since been published in foreign translations, become the basis for two films, and is taught in various colleges and universities as a "Catcher in the Rye for young Muslims."
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- 15 - 17 Years
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By Christopher Maag
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 HERALD TRIBUNE
CLEVELAND: Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called "The Taqwacores," about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.
"This book helped me create my identity," said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Connecticut.
A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. "When I finally read the book for myself," she said, "it was an amazing experience."
The novel is "The Catcher in the Rye" for young Muslims, said Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.
Now the underground success of Muslim punk has resulted in a low-budget independent film based on the book.
A group of punk artists living in a communal house in Cleveland called the Tower of Treason offered the house as the set for the movie. The crumbling streets and boarded-up storefronts of their neighborhood resemble parts of Buffalo. Filming took place in October, and the movie will be released next year, said Eyad Zahra, the director.
"To see these characters that used to live only inside my head out here walking around, and to think of all these kids living out parts of the book, it's totally surreal," Muhammad Knight, 31, said as he roamed the movie set.
As part of the set, a Muslim punk rock musician, Marwan Kamel, 23, painted "Osama McDonald," a figure with Osama bin Laden's face atop Ronald McDonald's body. Kamel said the painting was a protest against imperialism by American corporations and against Wahhabism, the strictest form of Islam.
Noureen DeWulf, 24, an actress who plays a rocker in the movie, defended the film's message.
"I'm a Muslim and I'm 100-percent American," DeWulf said, "so I can criticize my faith and my country. Rebellion? Punk? This is totally American."
The novel's title combines "taqwa," the Arabic word for "piety," with "hardcore," used to describe many genres of angry Western music.
For many young American Muslims, stigmatized by their peers after the Sept. 11 attacks but repelled by both the Bush administration's reaction to the attacks and the rigid conservatism of many Muslim leaders, the novel became a blueprint for their lives.
"Reading the book was totally liberating for me," said Areej Zufari, 34, a Muslim and a humanities professor at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida.
Zufari said she had listened to punk music growing up in Arkansas and found "The Taqwacores" four years ago.
"Here was someone as frustrated with Islam as me," she said, "and he expressed it using bands I love, like the Dead Kennedys. It all came together."
The novel's Muslim characters include Rabeya, a riot girl who plays guitar onstage wearing a burqa and leads a group of men and women in prayer. There is also Fasiq, a pot-smoking skater, and Jehangir, a drunk.
Such acts playing Western music, women leading prayer, men and women praying together, drinking, smoking are considered haram, or forbidden