Sunday, 7 August 2011

THE TAQWACORES: a knife slicing the heart of American Muslim youth

Any views I may have had of American, or indeed British, Muslims, especially Muslim youth, were totally smashed into a smudge that slithered down the nearest drain, surrounded by graffiti decorated walls, after having seen The Taqwacores. My poor brain literally short-circuited as it was getting image after image far away from the stereotyped conception of them as being no more than a bunch of Western haters planning terrorist attacks all day long, as they are mostly accused of being by the Western media.

The Taqwacores portrays a group of teens looking for a gap to inhabit between the Qu'ran and popular culture (alcohol may be forbidden in the Qu'ran, but not weed, as a Muslim punk retorts when Umar, a pious man, harangues him), of teens who pray during the day and play punk rock and party hard in the night, of teens who defend that space they have created.

The film opens with Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a young man, an engineering student, staring at a house across the road, an unusual looking building, to say the least. Umar (Nav Mann), the leader of the house, lets him in. We go in with him, the walls are dabbed with Islamic and underground graffiti, and we soon meet his new house mates.

The film is cleverly divided into seasons, a device that allow its director, Ayad Zahra, to reveal this bunch of people in all their flowing diversity along nearly a year to our eyes, as the conversations between Yusef, the evolution of his beliefs constituting the leif motiv that pushes the narrative forward, and the other inhabitants of the house expose, conversations with Umar, a rather more conservative young man, who, nevertheless, evolves as autumn follows summer, and also with a young woman permanently wearing a burka, yet spending her free time in expurgating the Qu'ran of references demeaning women and their sexuality, a feminist burka wearing girl who does not mind to fall on her knees for a blow job.

Most importantly, his new house mates introduce him to the Taqwacores, a hardcore Muslim punk rock scene that is only known in the West, in the United States. As enlightening was also the exchange between Yusef and Lynn (Anne Leighton), a young American Catholic educated white woman flapping around the house, who prays to God, whatever the name of that God is, a conversation that shows how Yusef's beliefs, the ideology of his religion, wrecks the humanity of a beautiful yet sexual relationship she tries to initiate with him.

The house itself is another character in The Taqwacores, a house that looked like a squat, a mosque during the day, a den for outrageous parties at night, parties including a gay Muslim, the already mentioned sex obsessed burka wearing feminist girl, much to the disgust of their strict Muslim visitors, a visit ending in tragedy.

The Taqwacores documents a visceral clash between the desire to live, to sing, to rock, to be wild, with the stern face of a closed ideology, an interpretation of the Qu'ran intents in shackling the flow of life. Pious recitations versus loud punk songs coming out of the guts. A clash which lays wide open, all the bloodied metaphorical entrails hanging out,the deep divisions within American Muslim youth.

The hand held camera work visually conveys the immediacy and fragility of the story, while hard punk rock delights the ears. However, this is not a flawless film. Paradoxically, the raw edges here and there from the visceral shooting is a strength.

Punk versus the Qu'ran.

The Taqwacores was filmed in Buffalo, New York, with a Red camera, with support from the Sundance Institute, on a low budget. As such, it is a true independent film.

Directed by Eyad Zahra
Based on the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight
Distributed by Network Releasing 

THE TAQWACORES (15) is set to open at UK cinemas on 12th August at Empire Leicester Square, Ritzy Brixton plus key cities.

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