“Is everyone here Muslim?” Yusef asks.
“From a certain point of view,” Umar replies.
So begins the movie The Taqwacores. A sophomore in college in Buffalo, New York, Yusef moves out of the dorms to live with Muslim roommates. His search for a new place to stay leads him to this one particular house where Umar, a burly guy with tattoos of “X”s on his hands, answers the door. Eventually, Yusef meets the rest of the rather diverse group of Muslims he now lives with – red-mohawked Jehangir, fully burqa’d Rabeya (you can’t even see her eyes), the seemingly always shirtless Ayyub, and Fasiq, a stoner. Yusef realizes rather quickly that his way of life is much different than that of his new housemates as they have all reconciled their practice of Islam with their punk way of life. As a result, Yusef ends up broadening his own definition of religion which at times, has him questioning his own practices.
The Taqwacores is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Michael Muhammand Knight. “Taqwacore” is the name given by Knight to reflect the Muslim punk rock scene. I’m going to go ahead and admit it – I’m not into punk. I don’t know anything about it and when I’ve tried to listen to it, I quickly come to the conclusion that it’s not my thing. Also, unlike most of the characters in this movie, I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs (coffee is NOT a drug!), have tattoos, or curse.
But I like good movies. And The Taqwacores? Good movie.
The movie is unexpectedly funny at times, awkward at others (intentionally I believe) and has some great dialogue and acting. As Yusef, Bobby Naderi plays the out-of-his-element Muslim well while Dominic Rains stole the show as Jehangir. While I did feel that a couple of scenes were controversial for controversy-sake, this movie is important for one simple reason – The Taqwacores is going to inspire conversations. What does it mean to be Muslim (or if you’re not Muslim, religious)? Can you really ever have the right to judge someone else because maybe their lifestyle doesn’t conform to what you know? And also, if you are the subject of being judged does that give you the right to do the same to others?
Case in point – As Jehangir organized a Taqwacores concert, he invited a band whose viewpoints differed from those of his and most of his housemates. He explained to Yusef that he still felt the need to invite them because if were to exclude this group, how would that make him different from all of those other people who exclude him for who he is?
Major caveat – this movie is not for everyone. The Taqwacores can be (more than) a bit crude and ever so slightly blasphemous. Ultimately, I’m glad I watched the film though. If a movie sparks an intense debate with a friend after you watch it, then you know you have come upon something that made you think. That’s never a bad thing.
The Taqwacores is directed by Eyad Zahra and stars Bobby Naderi, Dominic Rains, and Noureen DeWulf and will be out on DVD on April 5th.