Tag: Muslim

Urban Desi Artist Ginz’ Tribute to Gurdwara Shooting

8Aug

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photoEvery South Asian was truly shocked by the Sikh temple shootings that took place in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sunday morning August 5th. Urban Desi rapper Ginz has dedicated a track to the Gurdwara shooting that took place. He calls it “an open letter tribute” and expresses his emotions the best way he knows how, through rap and hip-hop. Kudos to Ginz for expressing how the South Asian community is feeling right now.

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Mr. Khan Christmas Message

20Dec

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Click here for Mr. Khan Message

If you find her majesty the Queen’s Christmas message a little dry and boring, flip the channel and tune in to Mr. Khan. He’s giving out gifts to folks at the mall, cooking up a “chili” christmas meal and serenading the ladies. Mr. Khan is played by BBC Radio personality Adil Ray.

Film Review: Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam

13Oct

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The writer wishes to remain anonymous.
‘Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam’ recently had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Four years in the making, Montreal-based director Omar Majeed follows the birth of a new music subculture entitled “Taqwacore”, a combination of the Islamic concept “taqwa” or God-consciousness, and the “core” of hardcore — otherwise known as Punk Islam. From its inception in an underground novel entitled The Taqwacores penned by writer, convert, and American Muslim Michael Muhammad Knight, to its massive growth into a music scene bringing together an array of bands and fans across North America, the film weaves together excerpts from Knight’s book and documented footage of the bands as they meet, play together, and generally just stir shit up. Sifting through the stories of individual band members as well as their travels across North America and into Pakistan, the movie is grounded by Knight’s own narrative. A remarkable on-screen presence with a rare level of depth and honesty, the film chronicles Knight’s youth, his conversion to Islam in his teens, his early years of studying conservative Wahhabi Islam in a Saudi-funded mosque in Pakistan, and his eventual disenchantment with an Islam that seemed to have lost all space for the creative that led him to write The Taqwacores.

In a world saturated by information and obsessed with Islam, it should come as no surprise that the Taqwacores, both novel and the music genre, have received massive amounts of media attention ever since. (If you haven’t already heard of it, go buy a copy, google, wikipedia, whatever.) The novel is a fictional account, and while there are countless parallels between the novel and the film, they speak just as much to Majeed’s careful attention to detail and subtlety as to Knight’s insightful imagining. But these are real bands and real people. They existed before the book, playing music, pissing people off, indifferent or searching or raging, somehow struggling. And that is where the brilliance and the beauty of the film really lie. It is so clearly a portrait of struggle. As they keep reminding us, taqwacore is not a genre of prosletyzation: these are not musicians trying to teach others about Islam, or a cohesive group that branched off mainstream Islam to form some alternative sect that has anarchist Imams and a queer-positive legal system. (As it turns out, we’re still waiting for that.) The members do not always agree with each other, whether in taste of music or understanding of religiosity. But that is precisely the point: taqwacore is not an ideology, it is the attempt to forge something out of disgruntled experiences and artistic inspirations. The birth of an art that, while existing in previous forms and drawing upon multiple diverse histories, finds in Knight’s novel and each other, something new.

I talked to a friend about the movie afterwards and she said something to me that still stands out. “When I was growing up”, she recalled, “we were told whistling was haram (forbidden) because it interrupted your direct connection with God. To go from that to Muslim punk, then, is pretty incredible.” And incredible it is. For those of us that have were born into an Islam that seemed to have room only for rigid adherence to the rules, watching ‘The Birth of Punk Islam’ feels in some sort of inherent way, exciting. A release. Something new, fresh, and unexpectedly comforting in its complete deviance. But there is more to the beauty of this movement than simply its “difference”, or even its flippant disregard for rules and general embracing of the forbidden. It is not only that it claims music is not forbidden that made me pause. But to take the notion that whistling, stringed instruments, or female stage presence are all somehow interruptions in our connection with God and turn them so completely around that they become the very channel through which we access God, is where things get interesting. What is this world, where desi Americans plan on introducing punk to Pakistan, only to find age-old traditions of thousands of worshippers smoking hashish at shrines and losing themselves in the praises of the Divine? And why did no one tell me it existed?

I grew up as Muslim as they come: both my parents Imams who were classically trained for years in an Iranian seminary. I learned to read the Arabic alphabet before the English, had the 30th section of the Qur’an memorized by elementary school, could explain the history of Islam better than most of my Sunday school teachers, and could correct adults old enough to be my parents on the proper techniques of prayer recitation by the time I was an angsty teenager. We grew up in the mosque, always the first people there and the last to leave, attending everything from the weekly Thursday evening programs to the Saturday children’s lessons, the Friday afternoon prayers when we didn’t have school, the 5 AM Sunday morning Qur’an discussions that happened after the dawn prayer as the sun was still rising, the full 12 days of Muharram and 30 days of Ramadhan. (Yeah — Shi’as are intense with the mosque-going.) And for all the overdose that provided, and all the resentment that surfaces from time to frustrated time, Islam is seared into my existence. It is the most visceral part of my being, and the most grounding of spaces, sounds, and peoples. Wherever I am, entering a mosque or hearing the Arabic prayer remains the most intimately familiar of experiences. Even when I do not want them to be — in many ways some sense of ‘Muslimness’ has been embodied deep in my soul. And it was that level at which ‘Taqwacore’ struck such a chord.

Some of the most beautiful points in the film occur when excerpts are read from the book, and Knight’s voice takes us through a series of footage so perfectly matched to his words it almost feels surreal. The closing sequence of the film draws from the text of a sermon given before the Friday prayer by one of the novel’s characters, a mohawked punk from San Francisco named Jehangir. “Allah’s arranging things beyond all our grasps. The earth isn’t spinning because you told it to. Your intestines aren’t digesting by your command. You’re made up of a trillion cells that don’t ask your permission before offering their rakats [daily prayers]. And we think submission’s about applying a strict discipline to our worship? We think surrender’s about not eating a pig? It’s not that small to me. I can’t fit my deen [religion] in a little box because to me, everything comes from Allah… Allah’s too big and open for my deen to be small and closed. Does that make me a kafr [disbeliever]? I say Allahu Akbar. If that’s not good enough, then fuck Islam, you can have it… Now let’s pray.”

What struck me most about ‘Taqwacore’ was not that the bands lived in contradiction, praying and swearing, mediating between mosques, mosh pits, and the media… that’s all old news. Every Muslim/immigrant/kid that turned out different than their parents has already figured out that life is complicated and no one lives one-dimensionally. Nor was it really the music — I’m not a huge punk fan, and when I first heard about Taqwacore years before it was in Rolling Stone, I thought it was a cool idea but could never really get into the music. What surprised me most about the movie, then, was that I liked it that much. That I felt this raw reaction, that made my heart come up into my throat and tugged on some emotional organ somewhere in my core. And it seemed that in some way, here was art that was not preachy, not quiet, not apologetic, not commercialized or sanitized or boring, and yet was still an acknowledgment of a world other than that of our own making. That as Jehangir puts it, praised without asking permission. That dared to say what you’re not really allowed to, and originated out of the sweat of matam. And ask any Shi’a the world over: when it comes to intensely sacred outpours, you really can’t top that.

It seems less important, then, that not all the Taqwacore band members are Muslim, that some describe themselves as atheist, that some make sexist comments and the scene remains highly male-dominated, or that there is generally a whole lot of disagreement and difference in the spaces between. The film opens itself up to all sorts of audiences and critiques, and all the better. But for someone who, for every rule I willingly break, still takes seriously this perpetual search for piety (taqwa), the movie offers something pretty exceptional. The Arabic root of the word taqwa is related to the words for “dealing mercifully with something for fear of God”, “showing regard for something for God’s sake”, or “making something a matter of conscience”. Heck, it’s even related to the phrase used to describe “seeking shelter from rain or air raids”. Piety in Islam has always meant more than simply adequate obedience. So it seems appropriate to take punk, music born out of an anti-establishment ethic and a rejection of the mainstream, and make it a matter of God-consciousness. Perhaps even something, as all sorts of bombs rain down, to find shelter in.