When Michael Muhammed Knight‘s 2003 novel The Taqwacores was first published as a DIY zine in 2003, it imagined an underground punk aesthetic in a culture not known for libertinism. Knight, a Muslim convert, sometimes apostate, and provocateur, wrote The Taqwacores out of disillusionment with Islamic orthodoxy, painting a group of 20-somethings in a Buffalo, N.Y., group house who wouldn’t be out-of-place in, say, Petworth or Bloomingdale.
“Taqwacore” combines taqwa, Arabic for religious consciousness, and hardcore. The book latched on with young Muslims, with some readers realizing Knight’s story into an new subculture in the American Islamic community. Bands with names like Vote Hezbollah and Secret Trial Five popped up, combining hardcore punk sounds with progressive interpretations of their faith.
In 2008 Knight turned The Taqwacores into a film with director Eyad Zahra. Set in a spray-painted, hodgepodge house in a boarded-up Rust Belt neighborhood, the film follows Yusuf (Bobby Naderi), an unassuming student who seeking to live with other Muslims, winds up falling into this bunch. The awakening-of-the-inner-punk thread is nothing new, but some of his housemates are a hoot. Jehangir (Dominic Rains) sports a pink mohawk and announces the call to prayer with a Steve Jones guitar lick; Umar (Nav Mann) is the resident straightedge bully; the “Amazing Ayyub” (Volkan Eryman) is manic (and always shirtless); and Rabeya (Noureen DeWulf), the sole female roommate, spouts the most untraditional views and even blacks out passages of the Koran, yet wears a full head-to-toe burqa. None of this is should suggest The Taqwacores is satire on the level of Christopher Morris‘ 2010 film Four Lions, which parodied religious orthodoxy through a group of would-be terrorists. Knight’s characters struggle to balance their punkish ways with their religion—their house serves as both a DIY music venue and DIY mosque.
The Taqwacores is being presented tonight at American University as part of the Muslim Film Festival followed by a discussion with the director, Zahra, and Eryman, who will hopefully be wearing a shirt.
Screens at 6 p.m. at the Wechsler Theater at American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, (202)-885-2042. Free.