Directed by Eyad Zahra, The Taqwacores is the 2010 film adaptation of the novel by the same name (written in 2003 by Michael Muhammed Knight). The Taqwacores depicts the fictitious lives of several young, Muslim-Americans, all of whom live together in a house in Buffalo, NY and who embrace the Islamic Punk Rock scene.
We are first introduced to Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a conservative engineering student who acts as both a proxy for the audience and educator for those unfamiliar with Muslim tradition, as he becomes better acquainted with his new housemates. Each of the residents – in their own way – have come to question the traditional beliefs of their religion and actively initiate debate and critical thinking with Yusef, eventually broadening his own perspective of what it means to be a Muslim in America.
It’s a fascinating topic and one which I found easier to relate to than I would have expected. When a person’s experiences are in conflict with the traditions and beliefs they have been raised to accept – and when that person begins to directly question the fundamentals of their religious upbringing and culture, how do they reconcile that schism in their foundation with the person they are becoming? Faith – of any persuasion – is a difficult subject to address, which is precisely what makes this an intriguing premise.
The residents of the Taqwacore house all identify themselves as Muslim – even as they disavow certain tenants of the Islamic doctrine. They have wild parties at night and then hold Friday prayer in their living room, conducting the service themselves using their own voices and interpretation of the Qur’an. For me, these were the most engaging, interesting parts of the film – each resident had their own issue of conflict (though at times, felt too much like a broad characterization) which they addressed head-on during their lecture.
Unfortunately, the film was less successful in it’s use of Yusef as a surrogate for the audience. Right out of the gate, it seemed unlikely that a shy, conservative Muslim student would move in with a group of people who openly questioned the beliefs and traditions he held to be true. Yusef – in theory – is a necessary character to facilitate the story, but his interactions with his housemates often felt pedantic and highly orchestrated – serving only to provide a format to introduce the audience to traditional Islamic principles as well as the struggles which arise for the other characters.
Each of Yuself’s housemates is equipped with some type of label – Feminist, Queer, Straight Edge and West Coast Punk are a few – and each character is given a slightly more thorough introduction by way of chapters in the film. For the most part, they are drawn too broadly – the residents rarely have down time and are portrayed in a state of constant protest – though they do have moments in which they actually seem to connect to one another like human beings do, and those moments were the most engaging.
The Taqwacores aims to be provocative and subversive by creating discourse on the nature of faith, tradition, rebellion, human curiosity and how we come to terms with our definition of identity within the structure of our cultural upbringing. While I don’t think that the film succeeds in being as radical as it intends to be, it does introduce ideas and concepts that are worth exploring in greater depth. You can watch the full trailer, here: