Friday, 5 August 2011

If there was ever an example of life imitating art, this is it. The Taqwacores started off as a zine which its author Muslim convert Michael Muhammed Knight created, photocopied and distributed himself before it was published as a novel in 2004 by Autonomedia. The book portrays an imagined American Islamic punk scene which takes its name from ‘taqwa,’ an Arabic word meaning ‘consciousness of the divine’. Not only did the book gain a cult following, it directly inspired punk bands the Kominas and Al-Thawra, spawning a real life Taqwacore movement.

Now Eyad Zahra has brought Knight’s vision to the big screen. His film, like the novel, tells the story of Yusef (Bobby Naderi), an American-Pakistani Engineering student who moves into a new house in Buffalo and in so doing inadvertently becomes part of a world unlike anything he has previously known. Covered in anarchist flags, graffiti and vomit, the house is a refuge for young Muslims who don’t quite fit in. These include Rabeya (Noureen Dewulf) a burka sporting riot grrrl who crosses out the sections of the Quran she doesn’t like with a marker pen; pink mohican-ed Jehanghir (Dominic Rains), who plays the call to prayer on his electric guitar and dreams of being Johnny Cash, and a permanently semi-nude skinhead called Amazing Ayyub (Volkan Erayaman).

With its irreverent script, stylised cinematography and banging soundtrack, the Taqwacores certainly succeeds in creating a vivid atmosphere. And it’s refreshing to see a film that deals with Muslim identity in terms of, as Jehanghir calls it, a ‘mismatching of disenfranchised subcultures’ instead of the usual tired clichés. But there’s something disappointingly flimsy about the Taqwacores. The characters lack nuance and too often the plot feels laboured and predictable. 

This isn’t the only film to have been based on Knight's novel. Omar Majeed’s 2009 documentary, Taqwacore: the Birth of Punk Islam, follows the Kominas on tour as they bring Taqwacore to the streets of Pakistan. I can't help feeling that's the film I’d rather be watching.

The Taqwacores is out on 12 August. 

This review originally appeared on Don't Panic

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