Mosque Pit

Rocking out with Muslim punks.

Photo: Christopher Dilts

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In a back room at Ronny’s, a bar on the west side of Chicago, Marwan Kamel stands onstage, leans back, and sings at the top of his lungs in Arabic, “Long live Palestine!” Twenty-three-year-old Kamel is the front man for Al-Thawra, one of the most active bands in the Muslim punk subculture known as “Taqwacore.” Tonight’s small crowd is composed of twentysomething white punks and a bunch of young American Muslims, including a couple of Palestinian kids dressed in black and Indian and Afghan girls wearing hijabs.

The eclectic scene was inspired by The Taqwacores, a 2003 novel set in a house full of Muslim hipsters who reject their parents’ and secular society’s rules and interpret their religion on their own terms. (Taqwa is Arabic for “consciousness of God.”) “There is a cool Islam out there,” says one of the characters. “You just have to find it.” The sense of longing captured in the book hit a nerve, and real-life kids soon began to emulate the book’s hybrid of faith and underground culture.

“Taqwacore is like a middle finger in both directions,” says Michael Muhammad Knight, the 31-year-old author of The Taqwacores, a white, blue-eyed convert from upstate New York who discovered Islam while reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teen. “It’s, like, rebelling against Islam and America at the same time.” One band, the Kominas (“bastards” in Punjabi), writes acerbic songs that sound like grounds for inclusion on the no-fly list (“Suicide Bomb the Gap”; “Blow Shit Up”). But the music’s not all about defiance, says Al-Thawra’s Kamel after the gig at Ronny’s. “We’re just showing the human side of it,” he says. “Most people don’t have exposure to real Muslims, who happen to be fucked-up people, too.”

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Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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