Muslim Punk Rock: A Mashup of Piety and Politics

When I went to Austin for the 2009 South By Southwest film festival I spent a lot of time with the director of a film we had just acquired for distribution, Rip! A Remix Manifesto. The director, Brett Gaylor, is part of a Canadian production company called Eyesteel Films and they had rented a funky little house a little way out of town. It became the place to hang after the last screening of the night, and I got to talking to another director in the Eyesteel stable, Omar Majeed, who was making a documentary about Muslim punk rock. I knew a little bit about it from the Soft Skull Press book The Taqwacores, published by my friend Richard Nash.

Fast forward several months and Omar’s film is now starting to screen at festivals and arthouse cinemas. Check out the official site for screening info, and here’s the trailer:

Meanwhile, the film is attracting some serious media attention, as evidenced by this article in Time:

When Jimi Hendrix smashed his guitar in the 1960s, it was clear he was attacking the Establishment. When a Muslim punk rocker smashes up a guitar outside an American Muslim convention, the now-standard rock ‘n’ roll trope gains a few new meanings. These young punks are taking on every establishment going: Muslim, American and Muslim American. “In this so-called war of civilizations, we’re giving the finger to both sides,” says the godfather of the Muslim punk movement, Michael Muhammad Knight, in Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, a new documentary by Pakistani-Canadian director Omar Majeed. As a mashup of piety and politics, hard-core music and anarchy, the Muslim punk movement makes the Sex Pistols look like Fleetwood Mac.

The guitar-smashing episode occurred in 2007 after a crowd of Muslim punks were thrown out of the Islamic Society of North America’s open-mike night. They had shocked attendants at the meeting — North America’s largest annual Muslim gathering — not just by cranking up their amps, swearing and screaming their lyrics, but also by having a woman sing onstage. In the documentary, young women in hijabs are shown staring open-mouthed at first, then rocking out and yelling, “Stop the hate!” The concert then comes to an abrupt halt when the meeting’s organizers, backed by Chicago police, step in, deeming it “not Islamically appropriate.” Afterward, the punks smash their guitars and begin an ironic, anti-authority chant outside: “Music is haram [forbidden]!”

In their small but burgeoning scene — there are only a handful of Muslim punk bands in the U.S. and Canada — rebellion is an act of piety. Strident as their sound can seem, it is, in spirit, in harmony with other rebellious voices that are rising amid the breakdown of authority in the Islamic world…

[continues in in Time]

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