The Taqwacores (2010), adapted from the cult novel by Michael Muhammad Knight and directed by Eyad Zahra, is a quirky Indie film about young American Muslims determined to rebel against convention.
Set in Buffalo, New York, Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a shy engineering student from Pakistan, moves off campus into a shared student house. Little does he suspect that he will be residing with a bunch of Muslim punks and tattooed misfits who claim to be linked by their faith. Their home is transformed into a mosque by day and party house at night.
These larger than life characters pray, bicker and hang out together. They voraciously debate Islam’s attitudes towards women, homosexuality, sex before marriage and how to express one’s faith. Those who don’t get pissed up on beer, smoke dope freely – claiming there’s nothing in the Koran to forbid it. As Yusef settles in, he finds himself beginning to question his own beliefs and morality.
There are some lovely moments in Zahra’s anarchic, low-budget film, such as when Yusef first encounters Jehangir (Dominic Rains) on the rooftop of the house, sporting a Mohican and delivering a call to prayer on his electric guitar; or when female flatmate, Rabeya (Noureen Dewulf), dispenses sexual advice to Yusef, clad in a burqa customised with feminist motifs. Other pleasures are a punk riff on ‘Allah Akbar’ and hard man Umar’s (Nav Mann) modelling of slogan tee shirts.
Knight’s book portrayed a fictitious Islamic punk scene – originally, photocopied pages of his text were handed out for free in car parks. But when it was formally published in 2004, The Taqwacores inspired a real life Muslim punk scene and helped spawn bands like the Kominas, who feature in the screen version.
The makeshift quality of the novel is replicated by JP Perry’s grainy cinematography. Shot on hand-held cameras, interspersed with accelerated footage and stills, and slipping between colour and black and white, the film is as rough around the edges and fragmented as its characters.
This is a rite of passage, of sorts, for Yusef – the action takes place over the course of his academic year. But The Taqwacores also acknowledges the complexities and contradictions of Muslim youth culture. Many of the characters interrogate Islam in order to strengthen their faith.
Although The Taqwacores is unlikely to attain the same cult success, its depiction of disaffected youth confronting cultural taboos, reminded me of Stephen Frears’ seminal film, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).
The actors all give credible performance, but running at just over 80 minutes, The Taqwacores feels slight and under-developed. Just as I was warming to the characters and main themes, the film abruptly ends with a punk concert, organised by Jehangir, descending into chaos. As a result, the tragic conclusion left me feeling strangely unmoved.