Last night I went to my first taqwacore concert. Taqwacore is Muslim punk rock, and what that means to you is basically that I was in a room packed full of angry young Muslims, and I was, well, the only person looking like this. Which could have been a recipe for disaster at best case and ethnic cleansing at worst, if things had gone that way. Lo and behold, though, it was a crazy, jubilant, good-natured and even sort of flamboyant affair. I was nervous and skeptical on the walk to the Bowery Poetry Club, where the concert was being held. A serious-looking muscular dude with three colors of dyed hair, eyeliner, a heavy beard and a skirt was standing there. He nodded at me as I approached.
“You here for the show?” he asked.
After a moment of hesitation — did he mean that invitingly or threateningly? — I threw up my arms and said, as innocently as I could, “Yeah!”
His face split open into a toothy, wild grin. He turned his palms heavenward. “‘Mash Allah,” he said.
Which, I knew from all the books the movement was based on, meant Boruch Hashem.
The concert was actually only half a concert: the taqwacore band The Kominas played, and preceding that, Michael Muhammad Knight read. He has a new book out, Journey to the End of Islam, and as he took the stage, people shouted requests. It’s not that I’ve never heard requests shouted from the audience — I have, even for writers — but these weren’t requests for pieces to perform. They were for radical performance art. Mike chuckled into the microphone and shook his head: “Nah, I can’t. I didn’t bring any thumbtacks this time.”
He read a section in which he visits a sacred Muslim tomb, the burial site of a Muslim holy man. One way or another, he’s arrested, and quirkily ends up in the office of the curator of the tomb as the man shows Knight movies on his phone of the equivalent (in Pakistani rupees) of millions of dollars being unloaded, the temple’s profits from that year’s pilgrimage. Knight waxes philosophical about that, and about the unrestrained passion of thousands of pilgrims crammed into a small room — a scene that reminded me of nothing so much as visiting the tomb of Shimon Bar Yochai in Israel. Knight asks himself: does the sheer capitalist profit-making endeavor mean that the tomb isn’t sacred? Does the sheer number of people visiting mean that it is sacred? He doesn’t answer the question (although, sharing the experience, it does sound like he went through some sort of religious ecstasy there), but he does say this: