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Music: Islamic street preachers

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  • Zafar Khan
    Islamic street preachers From Boston to Lahore and beyond, the tentacles of taqwacore - aka Islamic punk rock - are spreading. And it s giving disenfranchised
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2007
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      Islamic street preachers

      From Boston to Lahore and beyond, the tentacles of
      taqwacore - aka Islamic punk rock - are spreading. And
      it's giving disenfranchised young Muslims a voice,
      says Riazat Butt

      Saturday April 28, 2007
      The Guardian


      There can't be that many female playwrights who are
      deaf, punk and Muslim, so Sabina England is something
      of a find. With a lurid Mohawk and leather jacket
      slathered with slogans, she looks every inch the rebel
      and has an attitude to match.
      Sabina, who says she lives in the "shitty midwest of
      the United States" or the "HELL-HOLE OF BOREDOM AND
      YUPPIES", is part of a subculture that, until a few
      years ago, existed only on paper.

      The Taqwacores - a novel about a fictitious Muslim
      punk scene in the US - has spawned an actual movement
      that is being driven forward by young Muslims
      worldwide. Some bands - such as the Kominas - have a
      cult following. Others, such as Sabina, are virtually
      unknown. In a brief email exchange, she lays out some
      harsh truths.
      You're a playwright. What do you write about?

      "I write plays about fucked up people in fucked up
      situations, because we're all fucked up human beings
      that live in a fucked up society. People need to quit
      whining and shut up and realise that we're all freaks,
      whether we admit it or not."

      Where are your ideas from?

      "Being a deaf woman from an Indian Muslim family
      growing up in both England and the US, I've never felt
      I fit in or belonged anywhere. So I was always forced
      to be an outsider, and because of this, I'd just watch
      people and observe their actions and words. I guess a
      lot of my ideas come from my alienation and anger."

      How well known is the taqwacore phenomenon where you

      "Muslims around here would rather act like a model
      minority and don't really want to rattle anybody's
      chain. I really want to move to New York City, if I
      can get my plays produced there. Unfortunately it
      seems many theatre companies are too scared to do my
      works, or think I only cater to Indians and Pakistanis
      and won't attract white people. But they're fucking
      wrong, and they can't see beyond racial boundaries.
      Fucking worthless piece of shites."

      What does taqwacore mean to you?

      "It means being true to myself, having my own faith,
      and interpreting Islam the way I want to, without
      feeling guilty or being looked down at by other

      What is the future for taqwacore?

      "It's gonna get bigger. A lot of Muslim kids are tired
      of being told what to do, how to think, what to
      believe in, and how to act, by their parents. There
      are 'the angry muslim kids' who wanna grow beards and
      pray five times a day, and then there are the OTHER
      'angry Muslim kids' who wanna get drunk and say a huge
      big 'fuck you' to the Muslim population. Or maybe they
      just don't care and wanna sit at home and not think
      about Osama's video speeches about how America is the
      Great Satan."

      How her words would fare with Michael Muhammad Knight,
      author of The Taqwacores and an unwitting idol to the
      young and restless, is anyone's guess. Knight, who is
      29 and lives in New York with his dog Sunny - "not as
      in Sunni Muslim" - downplays his achievement of
      single-handedly inspiring this subculture that has
      produced artists such as the Kominas, Secret Trial
      Five, Vote Hezbollah, Al-Thawra, 8-Bit and

      "There was a scene already," says Knight modestly,
      whose next novel will be titled Osama Van Halen. "I
      just gave it a name. There were kids out there, doing
      their thing. I don't think of it as a movement,
      though, just a group of friends supporting each

      Knight wrote the book to deal with his own issues. He
      converted to Islam as a teenager and admits he "burned
      out" from being so religious. "I was so intense. I
      felt Islam was so black and white and there were no
      grey areas. These Muslim kids, who are punks, they are
      in these grey areas."

      The kids he refers to have all devoured Knight's work,
      some taking it literally.

      "One kid," he says, "thought the book was non-fiction
      and thought that stuff in the book actually happened.
      He got in touch. He said if it wasn't real, that he
      would make it real." He sounds worried by the
      suggestion that his book will be a manifesto for
      Muslim punks. "If the scene develops, I don't want it
      to be based on my book."

      The words stable, door, horse and bolt spring to mind.
      Some Muslims are deeming his book to be nothing short
      of a revelation. "When I read The Taqwacores," says
      Basim Usmani, frontman of The Kominas, "all my
      reservations about Islam melted away."

      Usmani was born in New York and moved around the US
      when he was growing up. "I had this identity that
      stretched way further back than these disenfranchised
      white kids I was hanging out with, but they were the
      ones who showed me the most respect. I entered America
      where I was weird and, when I went back to Pakistan, I
      was weird there too. I was too Pakistani to be
      American and too American to be Pakistani."

      His aggression was ongoing, although he freely admits
      his rage didn't come from social dynamics. "In Boston
      I was middle class. In Pakistan, where I am now, I am
      definitely upper class. But the poverty here is
      intense and that makes me angry."

      Basim first played with Boston-based outfit Malice In
      Leatherland, supporting horror punk band the Misfits.
      It was during this time that he heard about Knight's

      "I read the book and I'm amazed. I send him an email
      and he called. I saw a lot of myself in it. Sometimes
      I feel like I'm living in a story." Neither he nor his
      taqwacore comrades confess to embracing the more
      debauched antics of the novel - which has one
      character urinating over the Qur'an and then reading
      from it and a female Muslim veil-wearing punk,
      performing oral sex, onstage, in front of 200 people.

      Understandably, Usmani was nervous approaching
      Shahjehan Khan, also in the Kominas, about the book.
      "I didn't know how he would react, he's not punk, but
      he was cool about it. He read it in one day. You could
      say it was a catalyst for the Kominas." Their songs
      are irreverent and un-PC. His favourite track, he says
      with a snigger, is "I Want A Handjob" - a jibe at
      Pakistani rockers Junoon (who launched a Muslims For
      Bush campaign for the 2004 elections).

      Usmani left the US just as the Kominas were breaking
      through into mainstream culture. But he has a new band
      - the Dead Bhuttos, a variation on the Dead Kennedys
      (who released their first single through the
      independent record label Alternative Tentacles, the
      very label that picked up Knight's book for

      A future project, hopes Usmani, will be a Punjabi
      version of the Billy Bragg song There Is Power In A
      Union. "I'd like it to be a song for the Pakistani
      workers 'cos they don't really have one," he muses.

      The Kominas, currently on a gigging hiatus, will tour
      later this year in North America. "It seems weird to
      leave just when we were on the brink. If I'd stayed
      then I would have been playing to sympathetic white
      liberals. I didn't want that. In Pakistan, people want
      to rebel against the police and religious authority
      and punk is the perfect way to do that."

      He's put a downpayment on a bus and decorated it with
      the shahadah [the Muslim declaration in the oneness of
      God]. "I have no idea how we're going to get it
      through customs."

      Meanwhile, Khan is in Boston mixing the Kominas debut
      album: "We've put some EPs out but this is our first
      official release. There will be remixes of our old
      stuff like Suicide Bomb The Gap."

      Khan says he looks like a typical engineer - with
      glasses and a goatee - and comes from a comfortable,
      middle-class background. But he appreciates what
      taqwacore has done for him. "I was like, where has
      this book been all my life? None of us know where
      taqwacore is going or what's going to happen. It is a
      subculture that could influence culture in general.
      It's nice to be part of something at the beginning."

      One of the newest recruits to the taqwacore scene is
      Secret Trial Five, from Vancouver. Lead vocalist Sena
      Hussain, 25, took her inspiration directly from the
      Kominas. "We saw them play and we were all into punk
      music anyway. We haven't had a chance to rattle some
      cages, we only got together last summer, but I expect
      we will. That's the point of punk."

      Proposed title tracks include Hey, Hey, Guantanamo Bay
      and Emo-hurram, a pun on the first month of the
      Islamic calendar. And, in a male-dominated culture,
      she thinks they will face challenges from all sides.
      "It's another thing that drives us," she says, "Muslim
      women are seen as helpless and oppressed. We want to
      prove that wrong. I used to sport a mohawk, I don't
      now, but we will totally play up the punk thing.

      "There's so much animosity towards Muslims and we need
      a dissenting voice to say 'fuck you' to people who
      pigeonhole us." Hussain, who is looking for a new
      guitarist, adds: "It's only fitting that we identify
      ourselves as taqwacore, that's where we got our
      inspiration from, and I think that's the way the genre
      will grow - and I hope it does."

      ยท Riazat Butt presents Islamophonic,

      Muslim 'outcast' hits the mark with second underground
      hip-hop album
      'The Undisputed Truth' follows anti-stereotypical
      artist's hopeful first release
      Quincy Moore
      Issue date: 4/30/07 Section: Entertainment


      This April, Brother Ali released his sophomore album,
      "The Undisputed Truth." The long-awaited follow-up to
      2003's "Shadows on the Sun," the album is a 15-track
      tale of political shortcomings, personal contemplation
      and the hope for a better tomorrow.

      Coming off over 140 live shows in 2006, Ali is one of
      the most immensely talented wordsmiths in the current
      underground hip-hop game, earning a massive fan-base
      with his optimistic lyrics and distinct appearance.

      Born albino, Ali's overweight frame and
      self-proclaimed outcast status makes his rise as a
      hip-hop revolutionary that much more impressive. He's
      a devout Muslim and the inclusion of Allah and the
      Koran in many of his songs furthers his place as the
      anti-stereotypical, undisputed king of lyrical

      "The Undisputed Truth" begins in classic Brother Ali
      form with head-swaying beats and a flawless flow of
      meaningful lyrics.

      The first song "Whatcha Got" welcomes Ali back to the
      game and is an ode to old-school hip-hop giants Eric
      B. and Rakim. "You'll never be prominent, face it
      you're imitation," Ali spits, as his genre-appropriate
      self-promotion comes across as stoic rather than
      egotistical like many of his pompous cohorts.

      The album continues with more personal explanation,
      "I'm Howard Stern meets Howard Zinn," he rhymes on
      "Lookin' At Me Sideways." His willingness to share his
      life story is one aspect of his musical forte that
      forces his audience to listen to every syllable that
      floats from his mouth.

      The middle of the album finds Ali lamenting his
      discouragement with the current political climate of
      the United States. In "Letter From the Government," he
      compares the President's self-preservation to crack
      peddling and questions his allegiance to a man who
      sent American youth to war when we didn't even elect

      His greatest lyrical achievement is found with "Uncle
      Sam Goddamn," which furthermore exploits the inability
      of our government to tell the truth. This is one of
      the most brutally honest depictions of politics ever
      recorded as Ali expresses his disgust about American
      futility surrounding slavery. "Shit the government's
      an addict with a billion dollar a week kill brown
      people habit," he says.

      In a concerted effort not to alienate his fans, Ali
      concludes the album with 3 songs that depict internal
      struggles that have only made him stronger. The
      beautiful "Walking Away" has a sweet Southern beat
      with quiet whistling that only Ali could rhyme over.
      This song is one of the saddest musical documentations
      about losing the people you love and having to fall
      down before you can get back up.

      "The Undisputed Truth" is a phenomenal album that
      should be regarded as one of the most complete
      underground hip-hip achievements since "Midnight
      Marauders" by A Tribe Called Quest. Brother Ali never
      left and now, through trials and tribulations, he's
      here to stay.

      Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Quincy Moore at

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