Hard Core Religion

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The L.A. Times ran a piece a few days ago on Muslim punk-rock teenagers, which mostly served as an excuse to run a non-dairy-creamer story on how Muslim kids are wrestling with, and sticking to, the faith.

muslim punk roock kids?!?

The story is told from the point of view of Hiba Siddiqui, a 17-year-old girl in Texas, who’s in a rebellious spot (she’s not praying 5 times a day or dressing in hijab), but still trying to make sense of her religion. Her room is a pastiche of Rumi books and Nylon magazines.

There are a lot of perfect moments in the story — a girl quoting Muslim rapper T.I.P. in her speech for Muslim Student Association president; a quote from a song in a book, “Muhammad was a punk rocker and he rocked that town.” Another girl confronts her mother with the amazing book The Taqwacores, a Muslim punk-rock novel by Michael Muhammad Knight (which actually kick-started a genre of music) that offers insights like the following:

I stopped trying to define Punk around the same time I stopped trying to define Islam. . . . Both are viewed by outsiders as unified, cohesive communities when nothing can be further from the truth.

But the article’s failure, in my opinion, is the same thing I encountered with (sorry, egotism) people writing about my Orthodox Jewish punk-rock book Never Mind the Goldbergs — it’s a lot easier to say “look! kids are rebellious! and still trying to be religious!” than it is to look at the intersection of the two and ask out why it’s going on, or what it means. I mean, I’m a journalist too, and I know that the best stories are supposed to tell themselves, and the writer shouldn’t let opinions creep in. Hiba sounds like a fascinating person, and I’d love to hear more of what she thinks of herself — not just that she decided to friend Muhammad Knight and some taqwacore bands on Myspace.

Posted on November 21, 2008

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