July 26, 2007
What are your first thoughts when you hear that someone is a Muslim? Are they of head-to-toe burkha-clad women or suicide-belt wielding fanatics? Rabid xenophobic and stereotypical depictions saturate our media. But what about that kid with a Mohawk at the punk show last night? Could he be Muslim? How about the author of your favorite comic book? Contrary to popular images, Muslims are everywhere, especially here in America.
U.S. Muslims number about 6 million and are becoming thoroughly immersed in American culture. Muslim Americans are also highly diverse, covering a range of ethnicities, careers, political leanings, and beliefs. Among the U.S. Muslim population are many progressive folks that run the gambit from punk rockers to the comic book writers and bloggers. What does being a Muslim, a progressive and an American mean to them?
“A South Asian mother’s worst nightmare,” The Kominas is a Boston-based Bollywood punk band. Band members range in age from 22 to 30 years old and are a hodgepodge of middle-class, frustrated but fun-loving musicians, chemists, journalists, college dropouts (and graduates) who are trying to find their place in society. With controversial songs like “Mohammed Was a Punk Rocker” or “Suicide Bomb the Gap” they are hardly conventional by any means and are best classified in the new punk music genre Taqwacore.
Inspired by young Muslim author Michael Muhammad Knight’s underground novel The Taqwacore, Taqwacore morphed into an alternative Muslim punk movement. This summer, The Kominas are joining forces with other Taqwacore bands as well as Knight, for an East Coast tour doing what they do best, rocking out and playing punk.
“I was somewhat religious until the time I was 14 and began to have sexual urges,” says 24-year-old Shahjehan Khan, a Kominas co-founder. “I basically dissociated myself from Islam until I dropped out [of college]. A year later, I read The Taqwacore and realized I had done nothing wrong, despite what I felt inside, that ‘trying it out your own way’ is about as Islamic as you can get.
“If anything, I have gotten closer to my God because of the shifts in my [personal] attitudes, and feeling a part of the faith and its followers rather than an abomination. For me, it’s not about empty rituals–it’s not about thanking God all the time, and it’s certainly more than not eating pork.”
The Kominas formed when Khan and co-founder Basim who knew each other from the local mosque, decided to create a band. Khan did not grow up on punk music, “Basim got me into it,” he states. “The fucker actually made me a CD-R called ‘Punk 101’… I grew up on Boyz II Men and Oasis. I’m extremely insecure around punk kids because I have no cred other than a desire not to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer of some kind. … I’m glad I’ve gotten into it, because I can identify with the anger, disillusionment, confusion and lack of regard for authority.”