Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

23moth_muslimThis just in from the New York Times. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a book about Muslim-Americans forming a punk band in Buffalo New York. From the article by Christopher Maag, “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book“:

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

As a writer, the article is fascinating to me. Fiction has the power to give method and ideas to real people, helping to create reality. Now Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight isn’t gonna make vampires out of anyone–but it might make teenage girls want a chaste boyfriend. But Taqwacores imagined a reality for alienated Muslim teens in the States, a way to cope, a way to establish a new identity, a counter culture. The book empowers people. Through fiction.

Countless movies have played on the idea that a writer could create reality through writing about it–they are mostly comedies. But the concept, I think, is a powerful one. What if –instead of reflecting culture–we created it? What if we consciously created something that was not there before–something that could happen–so that it inspires others to create it?

Science Fiction often does this in reverse. Create something that we DON’T want around and then destroy it. And thank God we got rid of “it.” I think the Shine Anthology is seeking to help us imagine some creative solutions–and I still encourage you to submit. But I want to keep harping on the idea that you, as writers, can change the world. Michael M. Knight did. (I love that his name is the same as the hero from Knight Rider, the 80s TV show (with recent makeover)).

Go create something you want to see that doesn’t exist right now. Like Knight, create a subculture for disenfranchised teens. Or create the ultimate youth center in your town and inspire someone to imagine the real one. Or show oppressed people in power, how a family operates using green technology in their house, believable, doable, possible things. And then I hope your novel is photocopied and passed around and around and around. The world.

3 thoughts on “Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

  1. Jetse December 25, 2008 / 9:59

    Great post!

    On a somewhat related note, Ahmed A. Kahn and Muhammed Aurangzeb Ahmed have edited an anthology called A Mosque Among the Stars, whose stories portray Islam or Muslim characters in a friendly light. Disclaimer: it has one of my stories (“Cultural Clashes in Cádiz”, which was originally published in the Amityville House of Pancakes, vol 1 back in April 1, 2004: so I’m certainly not jumping on a bandwagon), so I’m biased.

    I likewise hope it changes the world, even if only very small bit.

  2. gillian December 26, 2008 / 9:59

    In the 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art”. This means that life can metamorphose, following Art as a model. This statement has proven true in many cases. American cinema has changed many aspects of life and mentalities in post -World war 2 Europe. Asimov’s “Robots” have inspired many contemporary robot designers to realize their boldest concepts such as those new, amazing robots able to learn and adapt.
    Arthur Clarke’s satellites are another, well known example.
    However, this SF who inspired new inventions, was not a gloomy, moaning SF. It was brilliant and inventive. In order to become a model of life, SF (or any other kind of literature) has to be DYNAMIC. Not necessarily slap-happy, just dynamic.
    A young person can build a sub-culture on an underground book. It is, however, clear that this book which influences someone to the point of willing that the dream described in there becomes a -partial or total- reality, is certainly not a book whose main theme is moaning and describing everything in black. OK, it does not have to be “Little House on the Prairie”. It is, however, bound to contain an optimistic point of view, something brilliant, original and constructive. People are not naive enough to believe in a fairy-tale-happy-for-ever world. But clever people are not convinced either by a ruined world, exclusively inhabited by losers and where hope is lost for ever.

  3. Ansar al-Zindiqi April 3, 2009 / 9:59

    I know that this is an attempt to give out yet another candy-coated version of Islam. I dare anyone to take on the crew at faithfreedomdotorg about this. Especially those who are still in the punk lifestyle.

    P.S.: But while I’m at it here’s a quote from anarchist Emile Henry just before being guillotined:

    “Beware of believing anarchy to be a dogma, a doctrine above question or debate, to be venerated by its adepts as the Koran by devout Moslems.

    No! The absolute freedom which we demand constantly develops our thinking and raises it toward new horizons (according to the turn of mind of various individuals), takes it out of the narrow framework of regulation
    and codification. We are not ‘believers!”

    *Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, trans. Mary Klopper (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970) 13.

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