Halal Punkers

Much like I have a crush on the boys of Karmacy, Ebrahim, the kids at Beta Project, I now have a crush on the boys over at The Kominas. What can I say, i’m a sucker for the Alterna-Desi types. The Kominas were mentioned earlier this month on Sepia Mutiny as one of the handful of desi punkers that exist here in America. The Boston based trio of Muslim punks rock out with halal music, and songs titles of “Dishoom, Baby” or “Sharia Law in the USA.” The band, consisting of Basim Usmani, Shahjehan Khan, and Adam Brierly, are quickly heading to the top of ‘bands to watch,’and even have a quirky bit on MTV.

The Kominas, whose name means ”bastards” in Punjabi, say they hate labels but offer ”Bollywood Muslim punk” to describe their sound, a blend of punk, metal, and Bhangra folk music. The lyrics, written mainly by Usmani, are clever, sometimes risque commentaries on racial profiling, foreign policy, and religion…

The Kominas: Non-Violent Punks

Their music has attracted fans of all stripes but speaks to young South Asian Muslims who identify with both their faith and American culture, and yet feel welcomed by neither. They’re fed up with racist classmates, judgmental relatives, suspicious neighbors, and the extremists — Islamic and Islamophobic — who have made it a burden to be Muslim in the United States. But thanks to online communities and sites like MySpace, where they post songs and have attracted a substantial following, they now have a pulpit, too. [link]

The band has it’s roots in The Taqwacores, an alterna muslim punk novel that muslim convert Michael Muhammad Knight wrote and sold out of his backpack, until it was recently picked up for publication.

The Taqwacores,” a novel about a group of Muslim punk rockers who smoked dope, read scripture, slam-danced, prayed, had sex, and embodied the tolerance and compassion that Islam encouraged but that, in Knight’s view, were being neglected in favor of rules and rigidity…”The Taqwacores” was ultimately picked up for distribution by Alternative Tentacles, the publisher and music label owned by former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra.[link]

I was reading excerpts of The Taqwacores and I have to admit, it’s nothing like what they taught us in the mosque youth group when I was growing up. Muslim youth are raised with a very orthodox set of rules, creating this weird contradiction when living your life in a Western society. But as one who has performed pilgrimage in Mecca as well as one who has jumped around in mosh pits, I find the Taqwacore genre and subsequent movement able to intersect religion and counter culture in a progressive way – similar to the Christian rock movement.

Taqwacore excerpted here..

On Fridays the living room doubled as a masjid, mostly for kids from the campus who couldn’t identify with the MSA. They were nowhere near being ersatz mumins of Fasiq’s level, but you still had girls who didn’t cover their hair, guys who went to clubs down on Chippewa and so forth. Our house with its punk posters and vandalized Saudi flag was the closest thing they had to a comfortable Islamic experience in which they could pray and embrace their culture without having to feel inadequate.[link]

The Kominas are not the only ‘Taqwacore band’ out there. There’s Gilbert Switzer that reminds me of hardcore basement DC shows, with a bad ass desi chick guitarist. There’s also the DC-based Fugazi sounding Diacritical and out of San Antonio, the self-proclaimed Taqwacore band Vote Hezbollah. Much in how the roots of punk music have a message, all of these songs have a message too, but in addition to creating a space for angst-y rebellion they are giving a space for political and religious unity as well.

If in the Boston area, The Kominas have a couple of upcoming shows. I would like to know what some mutineers think of how this band is live. As for my crush, looks like I may have to duke it out with TMBGITW. In a wet sari.

Apparently the East-meets-punk-meets-heavy-metal sound is working for the guys, at least on the romance front. “[It's] like the type of music that Madhuri Dixit would want to marry you for,” jokes Usmani. “Aishwarya Rai ran towards me yesterday in a wet sari.” Ladies, watch out. The Kominas are working on their first EP, to be released later this year. [link]
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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

55 thoughts on “Halal Punkers

  1. similar to the Christian rock movement.

    no offense taz, but when you say “similar to christian rock” most people are going to see that as a back-handed slap :)

  2. Was a Wikipedia entry recently created? I clicked on “The Taqwacores” and I just got a “Not found” entry

  3. no offense taz, but when you say “similar to christian rock” most people are going to see that as a back-handed slap :)

    For real. “Christian rock” makes me think of that pop band Switchfoot and a bunch of other intolerable music–do you really want to compare? :P

  4. How cool! Its so on now, I’m dropping out of school and becoming a punk rocker! Who’s with me? =)

  5. Never been a punk fan – are there any brown brit pop equivalents (or any brown bands with smiths, cure, joy div, new order etc influences)?

  6. Papa kehte hain bada naam karega Beta hamara aisa kaam karega Magar yeh to koi na jaane Ki meri manzil hai kahan

    Papa kehte hain bada naam karega Beta hamara aisa kaam karega Magar yeh to koi na jaane Ki meri manzil hai kahan Papa kehte hain bada naam karega

    Source: QSQT

  7. Bengali: You might enjoy controller.controller. They’re from Toronto and the singer’s a hot brown chick named Nirmala. I got dragged to one of their shows when they were visiting once and had a total blast. They def. have a joy division sound to them.

  8. For real. “Christian rock” makes me think of that pop band Switchfoot and a bunch of other intolerable music–do you really want to compare? :P

    or my pet peeve, matisyahu. jewish reggae, but basically the same agenda as christian rock.

  9. thanks brownfrown.

    On their website:

    When asked about the meaning of ‘X’, Basnayake explains: “’X’ is a placeholder for so much, from things dirty and forbidden to things that run along a straight edge. ‘X’ can symbolize a kiss but it can also symbolize poison. ‘X’ can announce resistance as well as crossing paths and crossroads. ‘X’ stands out and ‘X’ marks the spot. ‘X’ is a letter that can express the sound of a group of letters, like a phonetic union. ‘X’ is our common chromosome. ‘X’ can even indicate something that has been eliminated, something of the past, but this is not the case with us. The future of this band is the undetermined ‘X’; precisely because it is so, we can make it whatever we want.”

    Nice… Never realised ‘X’ is so versatile.

  10. <

    div class=”comments-body”>

    you in the bean, anandos? i’m actually just moving to nyc…

    yeah, I’m in the bean – and you’re deserting us for pinstripes?!?!?!? (nb as soon as my career gets to that point, I’m on my way) mmm. . . Christian Rock. . . what was their name, Stryper? Xian hair-metal band which had a hit in the 80s?

  11. a novel about a group of Muslim punk rockers who smoked dope, read scripture, slam-danced, prayed, had sex, and embodied the tolerance and compassion that Islam encouraged but that

    HARAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >:(

  12. What’s so wrong with Christian punk bands? MXPX was one of my favorite bands when I was a teen, as well as the Mormon band the Aquabats. It’s punk rock, fun, and though it didn’t neccesarily preach a message, but they didn’t preach drugs and alcohol, and as a straight edge chick, that was dope.

    Maybe it’s all relative, you know, this perception of Xtian punk bands- I grew up with a born again who would only listen to Christian punk, and i found it honorable, and we found music that we could both agree upon. I think it’s kinda cool, to have punk bands that sing about god and goodness, whether it be christian or muslim.

  13. Was a Wikipedia entry recently created? I clicked on “The Taqwacores” and I just got a “Not found” entry

    fixed.

  14. taz, the idea of “punks” who are also into traditional religions strikes me as similar to “reactionary revolutionaries”. they exist, but the coupling of the terms tell you a lot about society.

  15. yeah, I’m in the bean – and you’re deserting us for pinstripes?!?!?!? (nb as soon as my career gets to that point, I’m on my way)

    hell no pinstripes. mets, baby.

  16. Responsibility… what’s that? Responsibility…. not quite yet!

    razib_the_atheist could you please explain further. I’d like to understand before I disagree :-)

  17. re: “punk muslims” and why i feel them to be a bit paradoxical, “punk” is usually considered a transgressive rebellion against the mainstream. but “punk muslims” like “christian rockers” are trying to graft a “cutting edge” and “countercultural” movement onto a traditional sensibility. i mean, “goths” and “punks” don’t get into paganism and satanism and all sorts of inverted religions because they really were into that stuff as kids and christianity naturally revolted them, they are trying to distinguish themselves. but, there is a subculture of christian goths and punks who are simultaneously trying to rebel against the “the man” and at the same time be true to the core principles of “the man,” if you know what i mean. and so my analogy with the “reactionary revolutionary.” a reactionary wants to take things back to the way they are…revolt back to the past, literally unchange changes…eh, you know what i mean? a marxist revolutionary makes sense, they are looking forward, to change the status quote. right-wing revolutionaries though are kind of weird, they want to turn back time. and so the same thing with religious orthodox punks and counterculturalists, they want their transgressive cake and their salvation too!

    though seriously, there are some interesting issues here. i remember reading an article about gay muslims in canada once, and one was a convert who was a tatooed lesbian. she was offended that other muslims in the montreal islamic community didn’t accept her. this was of course a basic case of narcissism, she seemed totally averse to changing who she was and simply wanted muslims to accept her personal choice as if islam was just about her own spirituality…but the thing is, who is the say it isn’t? ultimately, a “counter-culture” is defined by the mainstream culture, and a religion is defined by weight of numbers. so there isn’t anything fundamentally weird about “punk muslims,” i mean many who might have rebelled in western europe by becoming communist in the 1960s now flirt with islam (supposedly). tokens of rebellion shift and change.

  18. Eh, they’re probably as good as the ill-fated ska/Tibetan throat music band I was in during my college days called The Rabindranath Ta-Whores.

  19. How appropriate, Im in the process of getting the misfits boxset, and this article comes up! Takes me back to the days of trying to get together a indian hardcore group in new york. good times. Im defenitley down for adding Taz to the crew.

  20. Taz said:

    What’s so wrong with Christian punk bands?

    Exactly. I loved that “Switchfoot” song ‘Meant to live’ !!!! From my record on SM its clear that I strongly disagree with the message, but love the tune … (How do the urbans say : “Dont hate the player”)

  21. Kya baat hain!

    Anyways… lets settle the score: One KAMINA, Two KOMINAS. See how we Anglo-ed it? You can’t pluralize Punjabi with an S, silly patthans.

    There’s a lot of photos of my trip to Kashmire on our My Space Blog, as well as photos of my trip to Okara, hanging out in the military chowk where clashing farmers and police aggression left a handful dead.

    http://www.myspace.com/thekominas

    And though I appreciate the sentiment, Christian Rock is an uneasy comparison. Islam does have a spiritual component to it, but many of our tunes glorify it because of how politicized it’s become. Most Americans feel that Muslims make uneasy, primitive patriarchs of neighbors. In America, Islam is considered a counter culture to many. Christian Punk isn’t exactly the same.

    I’d feel much more comfortable being compared to Gay-core bands, who’re glorifying a culture which hasn’t had its heyday since Roman Times.

    Latah! ~ Basim

  22. Muslim punk rockers who smoked …, and embodied the tolerance and compassion that Islam encouraged but that, in KnightÂ’s view, were being neglected in favor of rules and rigidity

    On the contrary, listen to the music from the duo VijayIyer and Rudresh, both 2-nd gen Americans who don’t see a need to “rebel” from their native roots. They incorporate their cultural moorings into their work (music) without making a big deal about how great their religion is (as every Indian should), and add to the mosiac of American culture something that was not there before. For eg: In Hinduism, confluence of rivers (Sangam) has been considered sacred since millennia and is used in poems, love songs etc. This duo has created “Meetings of Rivers” as a confluence of eight streams of different musicians. How’s that for cultural adaptation?

    They’re on today’s Wall Street Journal’s entertainment section as well. Sorry – can’t get a link yet.

    M. Nam

  23. Eh, they’re probably as good as the ill-fated ska/Tibetan throat music band I was in during my college days called The Rabindranath Ta-Whores.

    Throaty, No Doubt.

  24. Razib wrote: but “punk muslims” like “christian rockers” are trying to graft a “cutting edge” and “countercultural” movement onto a traditional sensibility

    Not quite. More like trying to create a countercultural Muslim sensibility against the stultifying traditional MSA/ISNA world. Don’t look at Taqwacore from a Razib-the-atheist perspective. Look at it from an ISNA perspective. Conferences full of fucking keeners who treat getting into heaven the way they treat getting into med school. Mullahs who give out autographs. Muslim-branded merchandising, consumerism, and incessent ‘networking’. All the kind of crap a punk rocker should rebel against in any culture.

    And a song like “Rumi was a Homo (but Wahaj is a f*g)” is goddamn funny. Giving Siraj Wahaj the stink-palm (as Knight did) is also funny, but more childish than punk.

    Razib wrote:

    there are some interesting issues here. i remember reading an article about gay muslims in canada once, and one was a convert who was a tatooed lesbian. she was offended that other muslims in the montreal islamic community didn’t accept her

    Gah. You got that off my blog three years ago. And it wasn’t Montreal, it was the Salaheddin Masjid in Scarborough, Toronto. Hat tip where hat-tip is due, buddy. :)

    Anyway, I thought the plural of Kamina is Kamineh?

  25. The caption under the picture is in white font and doesn’t show up on my default bloglines reader. I discovered this when playing with some greasemonkey script. I wish there was a separate CSS file for blogreaders, but since there isn’t, can you guys try avoiding white or other really pale fonts.

  26. Maya,

    Do you know the guys at Slant? I grew up with a couple fo the guys and never miss an LA show, if I can help it!

    :-)

  27. don’t know them besides the mtv desi piece and my consequent googlings :) I’d like to see them if they’re out east sometime – I am kicking myself for missing the Kominas show. Neither are my kind of music exactly, but they seem like a good show and I like to support the up-and-coming Desi artists!

  28. i been meaning to read “The Taqwacores” for quite a while now…i had forgotten about until this entry. i’ll get it one day.

  29. also, credit where credit is due – that’s a mtv desi piece – not just one by mtv proper. you cited them before but it looks like you edited it? why did you change the text?

  30. Cool indie indo bands: cornershop my vitriol controller.controller Voxtrot (my current favorite) the stratford 4 Future Pilot AKA (Sushil from The Soup Dragons)

    I’m a huge smiths fan…joydivision/neworder, stone roses, etc, etc. Voxtrot is the closest to say The Smiths. Definitely check them out…

    I can’t think of any others off the top of my head…but there are many…

  31. Oh man – I’ve been away from SM for a few days, and, in my attempt to catch-up, saw this posting. I adore the Kominas! They’re my friends on MySpace, too. :) They came down to Brooklyn, and I wasn’t able to go see them. I may just drag myself to Boston. I can’t stop playing “Rumi was a Homo” on my Ipod Shuffle all the time, or from making all my friends listen to it.

  32. Oh I also forgot. Imaad Wasif has a new record out on Kill Rock Stars. It’s pretty amazing. He’s also playing guitar with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on tour. The guy is a great songwriter.

  33. The kominas do not personify either islam nor punk…so they lack integrity on both counts.Actually they dont personify anything.

    Both these cultures,punk and islam are sacred..punk is semi sacred,due to the way it developed organically over 20 years without mainsream inteference (well in the usa especially) in in days before the internet and green day… you cant be both without polluting the purity of the other..thats why all christian punk rock is crap…muslim punk…no no no,that is the worse…as a muslim who is trying to be an ex punk..please Allah in the words of mcrad “prevent this tragerdy!” Someone mentioned mxpx.they are an average rock band,but punk..cmon.. The bad brains mixed rasta and harcore..but they were innovators, they were the first and best hardcore band ever..and people could tell that they were for real,well people ignored the rasta bit quite righly as all hardcore kids knew that there rasta talk was,well, just talk….and i doubt very much if more than a handful of rastas even knew who they were.

    The kominas on the other hand seem so contrived.The whole conscious attempt to creater some kind of desi/punk counter culture is just marketing..and most importantly its not a movemment that exist in the minds of asian people.

    Well it obvious that muhammed knight is on somepones pay roll by tryingto create a rot in islamic youth and the kominas are a bunch of uncle tom sell out whores (masquerading as radicals)who are buying the mans agenda.But you know what, Muslim alternative types will be the last to buy this shit..only the kids who are not alternative by nature will find anything cool about this lot.

    i have met kids all over the muslim world,kids who have hair down their ankles and play in death metal bands….but to them islam and rock and roll are seperate.dont mix the real with the unreal..both worlds are an escape from each other..infact islam is the only real thing that they have,so of course they dont want to mix it with pop culture.Most of these rock and roll kids havent even finished high school,but even they ,perhaps unconsciously know that what the taqwacore culture vultures are trying to do is just phony .

    It all just seems like a bunch of muslim kids trying to be punk ,rather than a bunch of punks who happen to be muslim.

    i was invovlved and still at some level involved inthe punk scene for 14 years.and the whole reason why an asian kid like myself was attracted to being a punk in the first place was to get away from the culture around me.i dont want to go to a punk concert and hear about being a muslim punk.Punk was exploring a whole side of my perosnality that had no realiton to my islamic upbringing or to the assorted parts of my asian upbrining..

    Ironically, if you create a paki punk culture,it will drive the people from these culture who would be punks anyway, away.

  34. Its all hype!! They just sound awful, its not even close to punk, lame techno grime music! You want real muslim punk/rock? then listen to bands like Cornhole, Overdrive, Black Warrant etc