You've heard of punk, pop punk, and garage punk, but what about Islamic punk rock? It's also called Taqwacore, and after toiling in obscurity for the last decade, the sub-genre is poised for big things in 2014.
The Kominas got their start ten years ago in Lowell, Massachusetts. Sunny Ali, the group's guitarist, told Fuse News, "My parents are Pakistani first generation. I had older brothers, so they really turned me on to alternative music." Karna Ray, the group's drummer, recalls, "The first time I heard a glimmer of punk rock, the first album I ever got was actually Green Day's Dookie."
Basim Umani told us how these fans of punk all came together, saying, "Me and a friend were kind of messing around, and they mentioned that they knew two other guys that were in a band. Enter Karna and his brother. So, like during like the early years, it would be like us in his parent’s basement, jamming." He adds, "Kominas kind of means low-life, scumbags."
These "scumbags" have become the face of Islamic punk rock, along with acts like Al-Thawra and Secret Trial Five. But the movement actually began with a book called “The Taqwacores.” The novel was written and self-published by Muslim convert Michael Muhammed Knight in 2003 as a work of fiction.
Kenneth DiMaggio, Associate Professor of Humanities at Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut, says,"Knight was kind of a suburban misfit, [which is] the background of a lot of punks. He said, 'What would it be like to have a kind of rundown house filled with Islamic punks?' From there, he created this book."
The novel struck a chord with several burgeoning punk bands, including The Kominas. "I was surprised that it was a bunch of stuff that I felt was tailor made for me," says Umani. "Who else would get all of his punk references and this like, crypto-Islamic, house party anecdotes?"
Ray says that the author Knight was surprised that his fictional creation already existed in the real world. Soon, Muslim punk rockers forged their own community, which was documented in the 2009 film, "Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam."
For many traditional Muslims, Islamic punk rock is considered haram – meaning forbidden – because of its profane lyrics and loud, aggressive style. Ismail Sayeed, the Assistant Imaam at the Muslim Center of Manhattan, explains, "According to Islam, there are hadiths [traditions], there are different narrations, that speak about, 'Music is not something we should do Islamically.' I know Muslims who are against hip-hop, against rock, but they're cool with pop. They're cool with R&B because it's smooth; it's not loud." He adds that as far as The Kominas go, "To some extent, their lyrics are anti-Islam."
DiMaggio specifically says that their song "Sharia Law in the USA" (listen below) is "pretty gutsy." Sharia law is a moral and religious code based on the Koran and Muhammad's teachings. To many Muslims, they are holy and not something to be joked about. Ali defends the track, saying, "It's a completely sarcastic song if you break down the lyrics." Umani adds that over the years, they've offended countless groups, saying, "At different times we've alienated Pakistanis, Muslims, white people. Like everyone. [We’re] punks."
"This is what I find ironic: in a way, punks are almost like saints," says DiMaggio. "They're almost becoming deliberate martyrs. It's not middle-of-the-road music. It's really fervent, dedicated, passionate art."
Though The Kominas also sing about topics besides Islam, they are influencing punk rockers in Muslim countries like Indonesia, where punk is not accepted. "I saw something where they shaved a bunch of kids' Mohawks," says Ali. "It's probably a lot harder for them to play music over there."
Fortunately The Kominas have no such issues here in the States, where they are currently working on their fourth album. As one fan told Fuse at a recent Kominas gig, "When you take things like Islam and punk which are not supposed to go together, and you put them together, and they marry each other perfectly, I mean, what could be better than that?"
- Segment produced by Matt Paco
- Article written by Alan Noah
Watch the full piece on the Islamic punk scene on Fuse News tonight at 7:30/6:30C