Young Muslims and punk music

CNN continues its series Generation Islam with a piece on punk rocker young Muslims.

The guitarist stands in front of a mirror messing with his mohawk. The drummer strikes a wild tempo. drummer strikes a wild tempo. The singer rips off his T-shirt and begins to scream the lyrics.

They’re young. They’re punk. And they’re rocking both their Muslim and American worlds with their music, lyrics and style.

“A lot of times people say, ‘Oh wow, look, brown people playing music’ [but] it’s more than that,” said 25-year-old Pakistani-American Shahjehan Khan, the lead singer for a Muslim punk band, The Kominas.

The Boston-based band is one of a handful of Muslim punk bands that emerged in the United States in the past few years.

The members of this four-person rock group with South Asian roots hold varying views on religion. One says he’s an atheist; three others identify as Muslims — both practicing and non-practicing. For them, punk music is a way to rebel against their conservative cultural upbringing and the frustrations of growing up a young Muslim in America.

“We aren’t [just] some alternative to a stereotypical Muslim. We actually might be offering some sort of insights for people at large about religion, about the world,” said 26-year-old bassist Basim Usmani.

Blending traditional South Asian rhythms with punk rock beats, they sing in both English and Punjabi. (Kominas means “scum-bag” in Punjabi, according to the band.) Their songs can be at once political, serious, satirical and insinuating.


Before the Islamic punk movement in North America had a voice, it had a story. The Muslim punk scene began to gel in 2003 when novelist and convert to Islam, Michael Muhammad Knight self-published his book, “The Taqwacores” about a fictional Muslim punk scene in Buffalo, New York.

The book opens with a poem called “Muhammed was a Punk Rocker” and describes both conventional and unconventional characters including a Shi’ite skinhead, a conservative Sunni Muslim, a burka-wearing feminist punk and a Sufi who sports a Mohawk and drinks alcohol.

“The punk rock kids I would hang out with weren’t even Muslim,” 31-year old Knight recalls. “They were so fiercely individualistic — I wish that I could be a Muslim in that way: not be ashamed of my confusion, not be ashamed of my doubts. Just be myself and be proud of who I am.”

The novel’s title, “Taqwacore,” is a hybrid word stemming from the Arabic “taqwa,” meaning “god consciousness,” and “core” referring to “hardcore” — a genre of punk music. It’s now a general term for Muslim punk rock.

The popularity of the book, which Knight said was born out of a search to find his identity as a Muslim-American, grew in underground youth circles and online.

It didn’t take long before real-life “taqwacore” bands like The Kominas began blooming across the country.

“It makes sense why punk has been the music of choice for young, politically active Muslims who are musical,” said LeVine. “The straight edge movement in punk which was about no drugs, no alcohol, was clean yet very intense and political. It’s a way for them to rebel against their families in some extreme ways yet still be ritualistically, ‘good Muslims.’ ”

“Taqwacore” gave voice to many young Muslim-Americans who felt muted by circumstances and created an opening for bands like Al-Thawra, Vote Hezbollah, and Secret Trial Five — an all-girl punk band out of Vancouver, Canada.

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