Taqwacores: A Novel

Some books become legend. This book is one of them. Taqwacores: A Novel was written by an American convert to Islam, as his good bye to the religion. It ended up creating a movement. And that movement kept Michael Muhammad Knight within the Muslim fold and he ended up creating a documentary about the movement he inspired. 

Every religious person today has to somehow combine religion with modernity. This conflict may be hardest on Muslims as Islam is the most controversial religion right now. 

This book is interesting on so many levels, that writing a review is a bit like trying to summarize a doctoral thesis. In fact, the author is presently studying religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

Let’s start with the most basic level. The protagonist, Yusuf Ali, is an American Pakistani Muslim studying to be an engineer. He ends up in a house full of punk Muslims. The book is a narrative of his discovery of the world of Punk Islam and growing up. This description is so realistic, that the book became an inspiration for a Punk Islam scene coming into existence. Inspired by the book, women have started to lead mixed-gender groups in Muslim prayer. 

Don’t expect your basic sedate spiritual literature when reading this book. This book is about young men (and a few women) rebelling against both Muslim rules and Western prejudice. Channeling their anger in punk music, they try out what many have tried out before them: sex, drugs and rock & roll. And yes, some cross the line into violence.

What made me continue reading was not merely the original sufi-interpretations of punk-cult-classics, but also the refreshing naiveté with which Yusuf finds his way through this world. Even at the end of the book he is still a virgin who doesn’t drink alcohol (because prohibited by Islam), though he’s dating a white girl online. He has come to terms with his sexuality (nothing dramatic:  cis-hetero), is still working to become an engineer and has grown up a bit. 

From the perspective of the study of religion, this book is particularly interesting as well. The author is a converted Muslim who brings Western values to the Islam of Malcolm X. So a white guy finds his way through the agonies of puberty through a black guy’s version of Islam. Rebelling against orthodox Islam he subsequently writes a book that ends up creating a whole new version of the religion. 

Is this cultural imperialism, or syncretism, or something else entirely? 

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. There is only one moral take-away from this book: feel free to create your own version of whatever religion you’re into and be kind to people who create a different one. 

Recommended for anybody who is interesting in the struggle with modernity, Islam, immigrant culture, youth culture or even Sufism

  • The Taqwacores: A Novel, Michael Muhammad Knight
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Autonomedia (June 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570271674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570271670
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.5 x 0.6 inches

Disclaimer: I read the Dutch translation of this book, created by my brother Krijn Peter Hesselink, presented as a gift.