A bracing stroll through an emergent American Muslim punk sub-culture, The Taqwacores follows newcomer and straight A student Yusef as he moves into a shared house in Buffalo, New York, to get his head thoroughly rattled by its inhabitants. There’s a dope smoker, a feminist riot grrl, a flamboyant gay dude, various drinkers and promiscuous party people, all of whom claim to be devout in their own way. Thus we have skateboard sequences jostling with moments of unconventional worship (‘You gotta come to Friday prayers!’ ‘Totally, I’m there!’). We have a call to prayer played on an electric guitar and we have bands called Osama’s Tunnel Diggers and The Guantanamo Bay Packers. Tensions build within the house as the contradictory belief systems clash, and it all comes to a head at an ill-starred all-star punk blow-out.
The film The Taqwacores brings most readily to mind was Penelope Spheeris’s cult gem Suburbia, which detailed the LA squatter punk scene of the early 80s. Like Suburbia, it’s a bit gauche and earnest and embarrassing in places, with lots of on-the-nose dialogue as the ‘cores thrash out their conflicting ideologies. Like in Suburbia, the story has a tragic arc we can sense in the offing, and we have to endure a central character who’s mainly there to ask dumb questions and get opinions thrust at him. Unlike Suburbia though, The Taqwacores has pretty good performances, especially Noureen DeWulf as Rabeya, who manages to convey a forceful personality through a customised full burqa, and Dominic Rains as the mohawked poster boy Jehangir (‘I’m too wrapped up in my mismatching of disenfranchised subcultures!’). It has energy and humour and a nice bleached out look. And it throws a startling image or off-the-wall piece of dialogue at you every few minutes of its lean 83-minute running time.
Apparently the Taqwacore scene didn’t exist until Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, on which the film is based, inspired a number of bands to spring into being. If so, more power to their various elbows, at least if they’re anything like the mess portrayed here, a welcome vision of Islam as something not set in stone by humourless pricks, but something fluid and playful.