Accessibility links

Muslim Punk Rock Joins American Cultural Scene

  • Katie Photiadis

A new American subculture is emerging - Muslim punk rock. Islam is not often associated with punk rock, but like young people across many cultures, Muslim youth are expressing themselves through punk music. The Kominas are punk rockers based in Boston who are trying to create a unique sound based on South Asian beats, the Koran, American punk and Bollywood. Producer Katie Photiadis prepared the story. Ruth Reader narrates it.

In a run-down Episcopalian Church on the outskirts of Baltimore, (in the coastal U.S. state of) Maryland, the Kominas and other punks rock on.

The Muslim punk rockers blend words from the Koran with American slang, as easily as they perform Islamic songs in a Christian Church. This is a new generation.

"When I was a kid there wasn't any music to really relate to. There was punk. There's rap. There's American culture. There's music from Pakistan, and both of those are totally disjointed from what's actually going on" says Basim Usmani.

Like other punks, Kominas lead singer Basim Usmani yearns to break new ground. "It's the voice of alienation. Growing up as the kid of immigrants you do get alienated and then you do look to create your own poems, your own music, you just want to escape into your own little world."

The Kominas' songs are unique, at times offensive - like Suicide Bomb the Gap. Usmani adds, "There's a no-man's land in our lyrics. There's extreme repulsion with American mall culture, and there's extreme repulsion with bigotry in all its forms. A lot of people do get offended."

But Muslim punk is not just about offending people or promoting a specific ideology or religion. "We're not trying to endorse Islam. This is not like Christian rock. This is people who are asking questions about religion."

Instead, the Kominas say they are trying to create music that appeals to first generation Muslims Americans. Lead guitarist Shahjehan Khan. "At the end of the day, you know, I grew up in a suburb of Massachusetts. I basically am white for all intents and purposes. I wasn't really conscious of being anything else, until after 9/11. That was kind of like when I felt the this other identity thrust upon me and I [was] suddenly needing to explain myself."

The feeling of isolation is captured in the novel The Taqwacores about a group of Muslim punk rockers. Author Michael Knight says: "Taqwa means God-consciousness. We're trying not to split hairs on anything. You're not Muslim enough, you're not punk enough that's the kind of thing we're retreating against. We just accept each other."

But will Islam accept the Kominas? Is there room for Muslim punk rock at all? Author Michael Knight thinks there is. "People like to make Islam look really small, but Islam has had people like this before in its history. This isn't really anything new. Muslims have always been complicated human beings."

At the Church in Baltimore, the Kominas belt out their last song filled with English phrases, quotes from the Koran, lines from Bollywood movies and South Asian slang. These punk rockers are not timid about meshing different faiths and cultures. Indeed, they crash them.

XS
SM
MD
LG