Taqwacore: Muslim Punk Rock

Photographs and Text by Kim Badawi

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Writer Michael Muhammad Knight coined the term "taqwacore" for his novel about a Muslim punk house in Buffalo, NY, which Knight initially distributed from the back of his car as a DIY photocopied zine. In time, the book found widespread publication through Autonomedia and garnered supporters, even inspiring the first woman led prayer of a mixed-gender Muslim congregation in the United States in 2005. But something far grander was in the works; unbeknownst to Knight, a real Muslim punk scene was starting to emerge, based on the one he had imagined for the book.

Photographer Kim Badawi first met Knight around this time, and bore witness as the taqwacore phenomenon began to take hold. Beginning in 2006, Badawi traveled across the U.S., chronicling the burgeoning subculture and the musicians who had been spurred to action by Knight’s creative vision. In 2007 he was invited to accompany the TaqwaTour, traveling to major cities across North America alongside bands including The Kominas and Secret Trial Five. As the genre continues to take shape and influence a rising generation of artists and intellectuals, Badawi’s The Taqwacores stands as a photographic companion to the original text and an indispensable document of the making of a movement.

INTERVIEW WITH KIM BADAWI BY powerHouse Books:

powerHouse Books: How did you first come to know the Taqwacore phenomenon?

Kim Badawi: I first met Mike Knight in 2005. We spoke on the phone several times about wrestling and other things. At this time, Mike's book had not yet been published let alone become a reality. Let me explain. Mike had spent much of the summer before traveling the US, and handing out Xerox copies of The Taqwacores from the back of his car. Little did he know that his writings struck a chord amongst young Americans across the United States. Knowing very little about what to expect, in the summer of 2006 I began documenting this emerging genre traveling across the US and somehow retracing Mike Knight's steps.

pHB: How would you define the Taqwacores?

KB: Many times I have been asked how to define what Taqwacore really is and my response has always been vague in nature. If anything, I still don't know. It has yet to grow. What I found was a movement in the making. Musicians, writers and artists from across the continent, who had found Mike's writings to be a source of inspiration and by consequence, began emitting the same creative force.

pHB: What did that creative force result in?

KB: By the summer of 2007, by means of the world wide web and websites such as MySpace or Facebook, a network of actual Taqwacore musicians joined to form the first ever TaqwaTour. Five bands—Vote Hezbollah, The Kominas, Al Tharwa, Secret Trial Five, and Omar of Dia Critical, collectively known as Box Cutter Surprise- would tour major cities in the North American continent spreading the Taqwacore literature, styles, trend and fashion culture. Having acted as an active thread and constant link amongst these pioneers, I was kindly invited to bring my camera along. I gladly accepted, and the rest remains history.