This is a very unusual novel with a peculiar history. Written in 2003 by Michael Muhammad Knight, who converted from Catholicism to Islam aged 16, it first appeared as a photocopied edition, given away by the author in mosque car parks. This ‘mainstream’ publication – albeit in a bowdlerized form (about which more later) – should bring his unique voice to a wide and appreciative audience.
Knight’s novel is set in Buffalo, New York, where a group of Muslim punks – Taqwacores – share a commune-cum-mosque. The call to prayer is blasted out on electric guitar and debates rage about Qur’anic influences on Iggy Pop’s lyrics, fuelled by copious quantities of booze, pot and pizzas. The book’s narrator, Yusuf Ali, is a ‘straightedge’ Muslim, shunning his compatriots’ excesses and attempting, amidst the chaos of the household, to live a life of prayer and abstinence. Knight’s plot is rudimentary, consisting primarily of earnest discussions about what it means to be a young Muslim in the US. The climax of the novel is a riotous punk rock concert in which mayhem and Sufism, feminism and patriarchal bigotry share the stage with predictably calamitous results. Knight’s fictional Taqwacore scene is wonderfully inventive, with some splendid band names such as Burning Books for Cat Stevens, and Osama bin Laden’s Tunnel Diggers. It is therefore mystifying and regrettable that the publisher has chosen to censor the book, removing sections that could be seen as blasphemous. Perhaps this is marginally defensible in the light of recent events but it is, nevertheless, a craven abandonment of free speech and weakens the book’s feisty defence of open-mindedness and untrammelled inquiry.
The censored passages can be read at: