In 2002, when zine writer Michael Muhammad Knight first self-published his novel “The Taqwacores”, his intention was primarily in conveying his disillusionment in his adopted faith. Yet the postive feedback was overwhelming, and the story took on a life of its own. The novel introduces us to the fictional inhabitants of a Buffalo-based Muslim punk house as they live out lives that adhere to a less than traditional version of Islam.
The book enjoyed proper distribution and publishing through Alternative Tentacles & Autonomedia, and it inspired countless Muslim youths across the country who found great resonance in the variety of personalities depicted in the book. The story of Muslim skateboarders, punk rockers and queers has helped to give a voice to a generation of youth who are mostly accustomed to seeing themselves depicted in film and TV in a stereotypical fashion, if they are depicted at all, and opened the doors wide open to a space with room for all.
Numerous bands have popped up along the way championing the cause, and taqwacore has enjoyed profiles in media outlets such as NPR, Rolling Stone and the Guardian.
Two films have been made highlighting this burgeoning scene. In 2009, the documentary, “Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam,” followed several taqwacore bands who had first met online for tour of the Northeast, The Kominas and Al-Thawra to name a couple, all pulled together by the man who helped to start the fire — Michael Muhammad Knight.
Additionally, a film adaptation of the novel screened at Sundance earlier this year and should help to spread the scene to an even wider audience.
A couple of weeks back, we had the good fortune of spending time with Sunny Ali & the Kid, a Pakistani cowboy punk band based out of South Philadelphia. Guitarist and vocalist Hassan Ali and drummer Abudullah Saeed each found characters they could relate to in Knight’s story and have identified with the subsequent taqwacore music scene. Musically, they are bringing something wholly unique to the table among their contemporaries with their country, post-punk, bollywood-beat hybrid, but there are still many aspects of the movement that resonate.
The band recognizes how important it is for youth to have roll models they can identify with, even if simply for how they look. And the taqwacore scene provides an outlet for young Muslims and Hindus who have long come up without a voice. Their vision respects the culture in which they were raised, and yet offers a unique outlook which is filtered through a modern experience of growing up as a youth in the today’s society — particularly in this post-9/11 United States.
For Sunny Ali & the Kid, being punk isn’t just about playing loud music and adhering to any particular pre-set punk style, but rather breaking out of any mold and just doing whatever you want to do. Sunny Ali & the Kid is a band that works as an agent of disruption. They defy any expectations of what anything they touch is supposed to be, making a political statement without explicitly doing so.