Taqwacore documented: Images of Muslim American punk

Kim Badaoui Omar Waqar feeds the enchilada Shahjehan Khan of the Kominas during a
performance at La Casa Maladita.

First there was fiction, then there was a scene, now there is another book: “The Taqwacores: Muslim Punk in the USA”, by New York photographer and journalist Kim Badawi. The book, published by Brooklyn-based powerHouse Books, is a collection of images he took while traveling with four touring Taqwacore groups in August 2007. Prints from the book are on display in the space of the powerHouse gallery in DUMBO where Mr. Badawi will participate. in a conference on the movement on Saturday.

The Taqwacore scene originated from Michael Muhammad Knight’s 2003 novel “The Taqwacores” about a group of punk rock Muslim children living in Buffalo, NY. The book quickly developed among young American Muslims, in part thanks to social media sites, and it spawned a culture of flesh and blood that shaped like the fictional culture depicted in the novel. .

Basim checks his messages after prayer, while looking at Seinfeld in his parents' basement.Kim Badaoui Basim checking his messages after prayer, while looking at Seinfeld in his
the parents’ basement.

The Bloom of Taqwacore now includes a documentary, “Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam”, directed by Canadian filmmaker Omar Majeed which follows a “taqwa-tour”, which premieres at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October, and a feature-length film based on the novel due for release in 2010.

But in a recent conversation, Mr Badawi expressed his displeasure with the way the story is told. Despite his own book, he thinks all the attention may be premature.

“People don’t even really want to use the word ‘movement’,” he said, referring to children involved in culture. “They feel like it’s putting the brakes on something that’s about to ignite by making it known so much.”

Kim BadaouiKim Badaoui Kim Badaoui

Mr. Badawi sees his photos as a fix. Like a lot of punk iconography, there’s an element of shock involved, although he also says, “It’s about spirituality or people’s desire for something more. I can be more of a fly on the wall when people are having a meditative or spiritual time.

One image shows a member of the group descending a staircase in a family home, his Mohawk contrasting sharply against the background of family photos on the wall. Another shows a member of the Texas group Vote Hezbollah standing with his back to the camera, revealing a studded denim jacket featuring Ayatollah Khomeini. And there are some that are just quiet, set up in mosques or houses, with prayer rugs on the floor.

Mr. Badawi continues to photograph the scene and publishes new work on his websites, kimbadawi.com and upthetaqx.com. He recently celebrated Eid, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, with South Asian-American Taqwa group The Kominas, in their hometown outside Boston. He notes that the difference between what the movement was when he toured and what it is today is its size and the diversity of its followers. Many of the people who celebrated the holiday with the group do not identify as Muslims but feel part of the growing Taqwacore culture.

While the movement cannot be defined simply as “Muslim punk,” it has created a sort of alternative subculture for a group of Muslim Americans. When told that viewers might not expect Muslim children to sport Mohawks and tattoos, Mr Badawi replies, “Maybe they should be.

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