Relatively Faithful Movie Review: The Taqwacores
On Sunday I went to see The Taqwacores with some friends, a film based on a book by Michael Muhammad Knight, my favorite Muslim. I'll start this post with a spoiler alert, because I reveal some aspects of the ending below. You should really go see it, so if you don't want to know details please read no further. If you aren't interested in watching independent films about Islamic Punk Rock, keep reading.
For a synopsis, the movie is about a straight-laced Pakistani-American Muslim college student who moves into a house in Buffalo populated by a bunch of punks - a straightedge fundamentalist, a burqa wearing feminist, a stereotypical punk with a big red mohawk, and one of those deplorable gutter punks who spend all of their time drinking and doing drugs and generally being totally out of control. On the surface the film is about the way that he's influenced by their ideas and lifestyles, and about how their community eventually self-destructs, and on the surface it's kind of a flawed film. It tries to fit in too much to 84 minutes (it should have been longer), it's confusing in parts if you haven't read the book, and it's difficult to navigate if you aren't acquainted with both Islamic and Punk subcultures. But I think the film is best interpreted as a sort of allegory, with all of the characters representing something bigger than themselves that can, I think, resonate with a wide audience - especially a religious audience. The main character, as I interpret it, isn't really the central character - he's more of the tourguide through the Inferno. The real heart of the story, I think, is a character named Jehangir, who is trying to use the house and his religion as a way to create an inclusive and open community that uses the Punk thing as a way to break down traditional boundaries between 'holy' people and 'normal' people, men and women, religious and non-religious, gays and straights, etc. In the climax of the film (and here's the spoiler) he ends up getting stomped to death by fundamentalists at a concert he throws that is supposed to be the incarnation of his vision.
For me, watching the movie helped me to realize why the original book had resonated at several personal levels - it's a story about practitioners trying to redeem a religion and hold on to it's beauty and their identity despite the fact that they have serious issues with many traditional elements of their spiritual tradition (At one point, the feminist takes a black highlighter to the Quran, which leads her to feel much better about it). And ultimately, it's a story about how such attempts don't work and eventually lead to piles of blood, vomit and brains on the floor. The interesting backstory on the movie is that the author wrote it as a goodbye/eff you statement to his religion, and handed out copies at a local mosque as his original target audience. And, for me, the themes resonate with my autobiography. The interesting follow-up to that is that through his 'eff you' book, he discovered a community of punk Muslims (which he thought he'd made up) and ended up rediscovering a place within his faith tradition, re-establishing himself as (some kind of) Muslim, continuing to write fiction and non-fiction about fringe movements within Islam, and studying to be an Islamic scholar at Harvard. I don't know where/if the parallel will happen in my own story, but I do know that I still feel compelled, somehow, to affirm some aspects of my Christian background, despite also sometimes feeling like my attempts to remain religious have just ended up in having my head stomped in, figuratively and way over-dramatically.