For the first six months that TAQWACORE: The Birth of Punk Islam has played in theatres and festivals across the globe, people are dying to ask me the same question. It either takes the form of “Have you gotten any death threats?” or “Have you received a fatwa?” or “What do Muslims think of your film?” And I’ve been happy to defy stereotypes by grinning and replying that the result has been overwhelmingly positive. About the worst comment I got was from a Muslim Auntie who told me that she wouldn’t want her son to see the film (and that of course, pleased my inner punk).
No, for every showing of the film so far has only brought me the the young faces of supportive Muslim men and women, who having heard about this whole thing, came to check it out because they related to taqwacore or thought they might relate to the ideas in the film.
The last two weeks, however, has revealed some new hostile moments. A young woman, and her posse, walked out of the screenings we had in Ottawa (MAYFAIR theatre, you guys still rock!). She told me that she thought I was bashing Islam. I tried to argue my point-of-view back, but she told me she wasn’t interested. The best I got from here was a half-hearted promise to give the film another chance someday when she felt she could handle watching it. Part of me felt an adreline rush of excitement, after all the film was pushing buttons and provoking responses – and hey that’s punk, right? But the difficulty is feeling that you can’t talk to both sides — that you have to be in one camp or another. The best moments of the film ephasize the possibility that one doesn’t have to exclude one for the other, so as the young woman walked out, I did feel a pang inside – like I’d failed her with the film’s rude punk posturing and that I’d missed an opportunity to reach someone in a kinder, gentler way.
But that was nothing compared to the emails that have started to pop up in the inbox telling me how I’m going to burn in hell. Couldn’t say it was totally unexpected, given our current social climate, but still knocks the wind out of you a bit. These emails just irritate me. At least the girl who walked-out gave my film a chance. At least she had enough respect for me as a human being to say she might give it another chance. At least, and this was important, there was communication. These angry, threatening emails, on the other hand, only reinforce some of the things I fear about religious people: that the blind fury of fanaticism cannot be reasoned with.
TAQWACORE may be many things. Sure it’s rude at times. Sure it’s trangressive. Sure it flirts with blashephous notions. But one thing it is not is anti-Islam. These characters give Islam an important place in their identity. They pray, they visit the mosque (sometimes), they read Islamic literature, philosophy, etc…they treat religion seriously, even if they dare to ask questions or push for different interpretations, they are trying to work WITHIN the faith, not against it. And for that they and everyone around them deserves to burn in hell?
Supposedly it’s because we are not practicing Muslims the way our critics imagine we should be. And that is worth the ultimate punishment. Does that mean that non-Muslims like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Mahatam Gandhi are going to burn in hell too? Because they didn’t fit the narrow pocket of the recognizable ‘traditional’ Muslim? And what of the Sufis, the Ismaeli’s, the Shias? Do they also deserve hellfire? The Sufis dance, and listen to drums and guitars, and smoke hashish, just like some of the Taqwacores do. The Shias don’t hold the exact same interpretation of the Quran and hadith as you might, also like some of the subjects of my film. Yet all of them call themselves Muslim, all of them have uttered thanks to Allah in prayer, and all of them have fasted, given to charity, and observed the other core values. If that’s not enough to call someone brother, and honor them their way, even if you don’t agree with it, then I don’t know what to say.
Actually, I think I do know, and its the most punk thing I can think of: Never Mind the Bollocks.1 Comment »