how the show continues the legacy of Muslim punk genre taqwacore

how the show continues the legacy of Muslim punk genre taqwacore

I recently binged the first season We Are Lady Parts, a Channel 4 comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band which is back for its second season. The American punk (and Muslim), Michael Muhammad Knight, could not have imagined what he was calling into existence when he came up with the name “taqwacore” for his debut novel, The Taqwacores, in 2004.

Knight’s book describes a fictional Muslim punk house in New York: “inhabited by burqa-wearing riot girls, mohawked Sufis, straightedge Sunnis, Shi’a skinheads, Indonesian skaters”. The Taqwacores has since become a catalyst for a new sub-genre, taqwacore.

Taqwacore’s name is derived from the Arabic term taqwa, which pertains to consciousness of the divine, or fear of god. It has become something of a global Islamic punk manifesto. The underground success of the book led to a feature length documentary, an indie film and the growth of international Islamic punk scenes in countries like Indonesia and Syria.

Punk was originally built on oppositional attitudes and DIY cultural production in response to social conservatism in the US and UK. I encountered this ethos myself as a young guitarist and drummer, shouting and smashing with lo-fi, punk and rock bands in Brisbane, Australia in the 1990s. We made the music we wanted to make, put on our own shows, hand-printed flyers, drew our own album covers on short run cassettes and photocopied our own zines with all kinds of smutty politicised humour.

In taqwacore, the fundamental tents of punk are a vehicle to challenge what it means to be Muslim. Islam doesn’t have an absolute definition and people have the power to define it for themselves. Taqwacore bands such as Kominas mostly use punk-styled guitar rock chord progressions, abrasive lyrics, fast tempos and loud volumes, although some groups use more experimental in their sound. For instance, there are also bands which blend non-western influences in their punk, such as the Sex Patels.

A hybrid ideology of punk and Islam may seem paradoxical. As the writer Ronia Ibrahim explains, punk and Islam: “are basically opposing identities. The former is seen as violent, profane and unhinged, the latter is a religion that values modesty, peace, and prayer”. We are Lady Parts tackles this paradox through humour, irreverence and that most-celebrated quality of a true punk – imperfection.

The main female characters in the series are complex, vulnerable and relatable, or as they describes themselves: “a bit shit but totally unique”. The series challenges stereotypical depictions of Muslim women and puts the female characters to the fore of the narrative, with the men mostly playing supporting or subordinate roles.

The band is a representation of a growing number of Muslim punks who confront the taboo of music being “haram” or forbidden by Islamic law head on. Tattooed band leader Saira pens ironic and abrasive numbers such as I Want to Fuck a Terrorist and the catchy Voldemort’s Alive And He’s Under My Headscarf. When the lead guitarist Amina protests that some people might find their lyrics offensive, the group’s queer goth drummer, Ayesha, shouts back: “fuck people in their eye sockets!”

The group’s vape-smoking, burka-clad manager Momtaz works in a lingerie shop while creating online content for the band on a mission, as Amina describes it: “to save the world one chord at a time”.

While We Are Lady Parts is a welcome evolution of taqwacore, presenting inclusive and divergent portrayals of Muslim identity, The British journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya suggests that the movement has already betrayed its ideals. As taqwacore begins to gain more traction as a marketing label, punk groups such Secret Trial Five have begun to distance themselves from the taqwacore tag.

Similarly, in the final episode of season one of We Are Lady Parts, as the group becomes the target for online hate, bassist Bisma protests that they’re not the “bad girls of Islam” but rather, the “thoughtful Muslim women of planet Earth”.

Even punk music can be polished and packaged as a disposable commodity. Musically speaking, I don’t know how “punk” the music in We Are Lady Parts is. Sure, the lyrics are barbed and ironic, but the bands still succumbs mostly to non-confrontational pop-rock structures of western harmonic chord progression and cliched guitar solos. Perhaps this an example of what American critic Ted Gioia calls the current crisis in music. Or as We Are Lady Parts leader, Saira, fears, that their music could be used “to sell Pop-Tarts to make someone in Silicon Valley rich”.

And yet, despite these misgivings, I still remain optimistic about the future of punk. Ironically, this optimism is humanistic rather than political. It stems from that tangible and universal sense of how music can unite us.

My favourite scenes in the show are the most simple. For instance, young people losing their shit listening to System of a Down in a car, or the unbridled joy of writing a song. It is in these very human moments that the core ideals of taqwacore come alive: when we experience the power of music to help us find our true voice, to feel connected to each other and commune with something much bigger than ourselves.

If a TV show can spark that flame for an alienated youth in Jakarta or Johannesburg, in London or in Lahore, then ultimately I think that punk is still a beautiful thing – whether you’re wearing a hijab or not.

The post “how the show continues the legacy of Muslim punk genre taqwacore” by Matthew Noone, Course Director of World Music, University of Limerick was published on 06/10/2024 by