Michael Muhammad Knight’s “The Taqwacores”


The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight

Identity and belonging are funny things. They never mean the same thing to everyone. Growing up as a Muslim American, I was exposed to a myriad of experiences, but I definitely cannot say I was exposed to every kind of Muslim or every interpretation of Islam. We are talking about over 1.3 billion people! What I have learned is that there are Muslims everywhere who have grown up claiming more than one identity marker and they are finding numerous ways to think about their faith, question, negotiate, and locate a space within it that they feel as their own.

There are so many ways that this can and has been done. One of the most visible is music. There are many Muslim artists who are using music to engage in this conversation over faith. This music takes many forms: heavy metal, hip hop, and punk rock, to name a few. Artists like Outlandish, for example, have even made it internationally. The focus of the next Inside Islam radio show is a punk rock movement inspired by Michael Muhammad Knight’s book The Taqwacores. Since, I am interested in music and Muslim identity, I thought I would read the book and see what it’s all about.

Well, to put it simply, it’s about a world that is beyond any interpretation of faith with which I have grown up. Reading this book, I found myself, honestly, offended at many points. The references to drinking and praying weren’t the parts that really hit me; it was the way, for example, that the Prophet is spoken about that troubled me and the way a review of the book describes the characters as urinating on the Koran. For me, that reminds me too much of what some critics of Islam and Muslims do, say, and advocate. How many times do I have to hear discussions that suggest that my Prophet was a womanizer and pedophile? That’s why I was so bothered when Knight engages in that discourse in the book.

I am not questioning the author’s religious identity at all, I am simply sharing my reaction to the book as a Muslim as well. I am simply saying that there are many Muslims who truly believe in and adhere to many of the tenets and aspects of the faith and yet question, challenge, and formulate responses to interpretations of Islam that they do not always agree with. What I am really trying to say is that you don’t always have to reject many aspects of a faith to truly engage it; you can still be critical and an adherent — I know that I am.

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4 thoughts on “Michael Muhammad Knight’s “The Taqwacores”

  1. I agree with what sister Reem said. While I can’t dispute the fact that this semi-Muslim, semi- Western identity crisis is at stake in Knight’s work, I also question the reasons that made those Muslim punks resist religious ideals consciously incorporating a Western form of rebellion and sub-culture. The novel didn’t only remind me of Salman Rushdie’s evil-advised, anti-religious Western-informed “Satanic Verses,” but also urged me to speculate how these authors who speak for Islam “from within” are under constant pressure to either fathom and reform religious teachings in a culturally-disoriented context where they live and grow up, or to simply exist on the margins of religiousness due to the ill-informed and incomplete understanding of the religion they embrace. I think the question that needs to be reconsidered here is “Who speaks for Islam and how do we distinguish between “true insiders” and undecided and thus confused “out-insiders”— those who celebrate “religious in-between-ness” (like Punk Islam) as a pretext for cultural religious revival?

  2. When sister Reem says that “there are many Muslims who truly believe in and adhere to many of the tenets and aspects of the faith and yet question, challenge, and formulate responses to interpretations of Islam that they do not always agree with,” and that “ou don’t always have to reject many aspects of a faith to truly engage it; you can still be critical and an adherent — I know that I am,” she seems to be expressing disapproval not of the questioning of the faith, but of the aspects of the faith that Michael Muhammad Knight has chosen to question. There are some aspects she is uncomfortable discussing, and she particularly singles out the treatment the Prophet (PBUH) receives. However, the prophet, though chosen by allah, was still a man, and fallible as such. He is not beyond reproach, and while she may have hoped for a gentler treatment for him, punks are known not for their tact, but for shocking people into discussing controversy.

    Similarly, when Ammar questions who speaks for Islam, he need only refer to the Koran to know that any muslim has that right. There are no authorities established to speak above others, and such hierarchies are cultural byproducts not of Islam but off the cultures in which Islam has thrived. Besides, who could possibly fill the role of such an authority? You? And who would follow you? Has not the umma already split itself many times over? Do you really believe it possible to form such an authority in these conditions?

    These authors such as Knight and Rushdie are under no pressure to reform religious teachings by anything other than the inconsistencies that develop within the interpretations of those teachings, in the same way that many of the other faiths of the world have grown inconsistent. If some subjects keep popping up, perhaps it is because they have never truly been dealt with.

    As for the Prophet being portrayed as a womanizer in the book, that is simply false. The question is discussed, true, but if I recall correctly, the character Jehangir makes a moving comments about the Prophet truly loving Khadija, but then only marrying his other wives out of political convenience. It would take a lot of distortion to take that and portray it as womanizing.

    There are a lot of comments about gender inequality in the book, however,and many of those are legitimate.

    • Thanks for your comment. What I like the most about this forum is that discussion can be generated and ideas exchanged. Literature, whatever form it takes and whatever its aim, allows for a multiplicity of readings and reactions–what I wrote on Michael Knight’s book was my own personal reaction. There are many interpretations of faith that I am not comfortable with; however, I do believe that it is important to be respectful–even if there is not agreement–in expressing one’s concern with an interpretation. I appreciate the different perspective that Knight offers, but I do not agree with some of the approach. Thank you again for your comment and hope you will continue to offer your insight on the blog.