Film Review of ‘The Taqwacores’

The documentary is based off the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight.

BY REBECCA HILLARY, Staff Writer

It makes sense that Eyad Zahra’s indie punk film, The Taqwacores (based off Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel), was screened at the University of Michigan- Dearborn this past Thursday.

Given that Dearborn has the highest Muslim concentration in the United States, it was fitting for the controversial film, dealing with conflicts that exist for Muslims in American culture, to be publicized in an area where the subject matter really hit home. Zahra, the film’s director and a 27 year old Florida University Film School graduate, introduced his film, explaining that he “wanted to take the risk that the book took.”

The film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, definitely took that risk. It focused on the conflict between traditional and progressive Muslims, as well as a conflict between their traditions and the Western culture of America. The plot consists of a Pakistani engineering student that moves off campus to a punk house in Buffalo, New York.   His beliefs in Islam are questioned after living with an unorthodox group of Muslim punks that call themselves “Taqwacores.” The Taqwacores experience rejection from both sides. It is explained in the film that “the Muslims say they’re not real Muslims, the punks say they’re not really punk.”

The different characters illustrate the differing views and interpretations of the Muslim religion.  Though the two main characters have different perspectives, throughout the film they face similar internal conflicts and undergo a similar transformation.  The story’s protagonist, Yusef, played by Bobby Naderi, is conservative and traditional, but naive.  For the duration of the film, he challenges his own faith and ideologies.

His radical housemate, Jehangir, played by Dominic Rains (the most interesting part of the film, in my opinion), simultaneously begins to question his progressive beliefs, liberal lifestyle, and loose interpretation of The Quran.  The two characters form a connection that has an impact on each of their views, and is effective as the main focus of the story.

In addition to the film’s content, its overall style also takes a risk.  Zahra explained that his goal in doing this project was to “make a real authentic punk film,” and I would say he succeeded in doing so.
The film’s visuals were appropriate for its content, consisting of extremely dark scenes and a gritty setting.

I was not surprised when Zahra admitted that he was channeling the look of the indie film Suburbia, by Penelope Spheeris.  When seen in this raw, realistic style, the issues presented become more existent and relatable. The script feels too heavy to handle at times, with Jehangir saying things like he is “too wrapped up in my mix-matching of disenfranchised subcultures,” but thankfully it managed to include some humor and romance to lighten the mood.

The Taqwacores succeeded in providing the audience with an engaging story, while discussing religious and cultural issues and posing a thought-provoking question at the end — is it possible to hold onto our traditional religion and lifestyle while being accepted in a Western culture?   The film does not attempt to answer this question, nor does it take a moral stance on any of the issues.  It simply presents the information, and causes the viewer to consider and reflect on ideas of culture, tradition, and religion.