“Intellectually Black and Socially South Asian”: Michael Muhammad Knight

Michael Muhammad Knight, who had a pretty rough childhood in upstate New York, converted to Islam as a teenager. He came from an Irish Catholic background, but partly under the influence of Malcolm X and black nationalist Islam, and partly simply as a result of his own idiosyncratic spiritual leanings, he took the Shahadah at age 16, and changed his name to Mikail Muhammad. He traveled to Pakistan to study Islam at the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, under the guidance of Muslim intellectuals he first knew in the U.S. With a convert’s enthusiasm and zeal, he was as a teenager on a course to militancy –- perhaps not so different from John Walker Lindh (he acknowledges some similarities to Lindh at one point in his memoir, Blue-Eyed Devil). But Knight soon became disillusioned with that life and the rigidity of the teachings he was being exposed to, specifically as it seemed to inculcate a negativity in himself he didn’t like.

When Knight returned to the U.S. after a year in Pakistan, he continued to identify as a Muslim, but with a dimension of non-conformist punk rock theatricality. Starting in the early 2000s, Knight became a fixture at Muslim American conferences like ISNA, where he posed himself as a dissenting, outsider kind of figure, next to the well-groomed second-generation Muslim-Americans from Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds.

Also, starting around 2003, Knight started circulating a photocopied version of a novel he had written about an imagined community of Muslim punks in Buffalo, New York, called “The Taqwacores” (“Taqwa” can be translated as “God-Consciousness” or “piety” in Arabic). Eventually the book would be formally printed, most recently by an established independent publishing house called Soft Skull Press. Since 2004 Knight has become a bit of a publishing machine, putting out several other books. A documentary has been made about the Islamic punk movement his book helped inspire, and a feature-length film version of “The Taqwacores” is in post-production.

What’s interesting about Knight’s story for our purposes is the role South Asian Americans play in his books, especially Bangladeshis and Pakistani Americans. At one point early in “Blue-Eyed Devil” (and I can’t find the exact passage for some reason), he describes his engagement with Islam in America as “intellectually black and socially South Asian,” and the phrase has stuck with me. Blue-Eyed Devil

Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America began as a series of columns Knight wrote for the website Muslim WakeUp! between 2003 and 2005. Some chapters are personal accounts of hanging out (and sometimes hooking up) with Bangladeshi American girls he meets in environments like ISNA. These chapters alternate with travel experiences and encounters, all loosely structured around resolving the identity of the figure who inspired the founding of the Nation of Islam in the 1930s, a figure known as W.D. Fard (or sometimes Wallace Fard Muhammad).

One of the major threads in Blue-Eyed Devil is the thesis, which Knight investigates at length, that this pioneering figure in black Islamic theology, W.D. Fard, may have actually been from South Asia, rather than the Middle East, as was originally thought. There is at least some evidence uncovered by Knight and others (none of it overwhelming) that Fard may have come from India via Fiji. After 1934, Fard disappeared for awhile, and officially no one knows what happened to him. However, the successor to Elijah Muhammed in the black Muslim community in the U.S., Warith Deen Muhammed, claimed that Fard re-appeared as a “Pakistani” Imam in the Bay Area named Muhammed Abdullah starting around 1959, and died in 1976.

The prospect of W.D. Fard as a South Asian immigrant is a thesis not so much proved as explored in Blue-Eyed Devil. But it presents an interesting image: this founding figure in black nationalist Islam may not have been of African, but South Asian, descent.

Knight’s narrative involves contemporary desis to a considerable extent. One passage, which gives a strong indication of Knight’s complex relationship to South Asian American peers, is in a section where he talks about going to a Muslim Summer Camp in the U.S.:

Often I’d try to boost my Muslim cred by wearing the right kind of hat but only ended up looking like a crazy convert with something to prove. Which I was, of course. I had taken a decent religion and made it real crazy, crazier than any of the good normal kids at my Islamic summer camp back in Rochester. All those desi teenagers would go out between lunch and Zuhr to play basketball or soccer or man-hunt and I’d sit in the office pouring through Bukhari with the imams telling me that it was okay to go outside and play, that even Prophet Muhammad enjoyed sports. I had soon read enough to teach kids my own age who had been raised with Islam around them all their lives. I remember one summer-camp afternoon when all the kids sat in a circle in the mosque and the imams asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said that I wanted to be an imam or an alim and assumed that everyone else would say the same thing, but one after another it was all doctor, engineer, computer programmer. It blew me away; I thought we all wanted to live in mosques and read the Qur’an all day. (3)

Michael Knight’s approach to Islam often seems contradictory, not just slightly, but intensely. As a young man, he studied Islamic theology obsessively, and tried to shape his life to follow a pretty rigid interpretation of that theology. But there’s also a punk, anarchist, and non-conformist side of his personality which can’t help but rise to the surface. The two sides of himself seem to battle one another in the pages of his books, and he neither turns away from Islam (as the non-conformist side of himself might require), nor does he finally suppress all of his own rebellious tendencies under the banner of an undivided, respectable approach to Islam. Instead, you see passages like the following, again from Blue-Eyed Devil:

ISNA speaks for the Islam of Uplifting Hygiene: a vision of smiling professionals in cotton white hijabs, community-minded role models, politically moderate doctors, teenagers who keep their genitals clean and a perfectly sound way of life that all Americans will inevitably flock towards, or at least concede an enlightened admiration. In paying my $100 registration fee online I had to click ‘Agree’ on the term that if any member of a group caused a disturbance, my whole group would leave. I had no group. “Judgment of term ‘disturbance,’” it said, will be determined solely by ISNA officials.” The convention’s official website also provided a list of behaviors for Muslims to avoid and discourage while at McCormick Place: things like fuhsh (‘indecency, obscenity, atrocity and abomination’), fuhsha (‘shameless deeds, adultery, fornication and whoredom’), munkar (‘ignorance, detestable behavior and reprehensible action’) and bagha (‘rebelliousness, outrageousness and wrongdoing’). I figured that in my time at ISNA I’d have no problem hitting each at least once. My friend Sara told me that while ISNA usually had cool programs, it could often become a big hook-up place for horny young Muslims. ‘I guess they’re not all there for speeches and stuff,’ she said. (8)

Knight almost seems to take pride in first, knowing the Arabic terms for what is forbidden at an Islamic event, and then deliberately flouting those rules. (If it’s haram, it’s sexy.) A committed individualist (that is to say, a liberal) would reject the institution as a whole, or at least argue for a “progressive,” softened version of the institution, while a devout Muslim might do his or her best to follow the rules as given. But Michael Muhammad Knight seems happy being in both places at once: he prefers the most conservative version of Islam, specifically because it’s more thrilling to disobey it.

Admittedly, some of the people who figure in Michael Knight’s story as friends do call him on his idiosyncratic approach to the Muslim community in the U.S., leading to a fair amount of internal debate within the books themselves. A revealing example might be the following passage:

Then I imagined a voice in my head that sounded like Khalida’s telling me, ‘It’s not about being white or not white, Mikail… you’re in no shape to tell the story of American Muslims because you think that only weirdos are worth writing about, you and your Wally Fords—’

I don’t know why it sounded like Khalida in my head, maybe Khalida’s just my conscience but I knew that she was right—because I couldn’t bum all over the country sleeping in my car or sleeping on Greyhound buses for the sake of writing on lame Progressive Muslims and I don’t know that I could if I wanted to. Give me Noble Drew Ali with a Cherokee feather in his turban, selling Moorish Healing Oil for fifteen cents a bottle—and W.D. Fard in his mug shot looking like he could slit your throat with a thought (83)

Indeed, Knight is mainly interested in the weirdos and marginal figures in American Islam, people who are in some way like himself. He finds the new, respectable authority figures in the Muslim community –- people like Ibrahim Hooper and Asma Gull Hasan -– insufferable.

Taqwacores

I didn’t really enjoy reading “The Taqwacores,” certainly not as much as the two memoirs, Impossible Man and Blue-Eyed Devil. In large part the book just seemed too abrasive and gratuitously provocative, though I recognize that it wouldn’t be “punk” if the writing was too pretty and well-considered. The protagonist, Yusef Ali, is supposed to be a Pakistani-American interested in both conservative Islam and punk rock, but the novel isn’t really convincing on that score. There’s no real acknowledgment of Yusef Ali’s family, and very little discussion of Pakistan itself. Though most of its main characters are from South Asian backgrounds, it seems like “The Taqwacores” subsumes that part of their social identity to “Islam.”

Still, there are some great dialogues, which might have been inspired by Knight’s conversations with immigrant and second-gen Muslims at various conventions and summer camps. Below is part of a dialogue between Yusef and a white convert named Lynn, who has been struggling with her identification as a Muslim after being given grief by orthodox Muslims about her lifestyle:

The conversation paused for us to take a few bites of our respective slices. ‘You know,’ I mentioned after swallowing, ‘I imagine it’s a lot easier for you.’

‘What is?’ she replied with her mouth full.

‘Separating the good stuff from the bad. You weren’t raised in a Muslim family so you can just take things on your own terms. For me it’s hard because I got all this tuff in one big lump package. Some of it’s worthwhile guidance that I would like to hold on to for the rest of my life, some is just culture that’s a part of who I am and then there’s a lot of traditional things that I can’t understand and I don’t know why people follow them, but they always have. I think that’s why you have something to your Islam that I don’t have.’

‘What do you mean?’ she asked with half-smile of pleasant surprise.

‘I can’t separate spirituality from my family, my heritage, my identity as a South Asian; it’s inextricably connected. You reject an aspect of one, to some extent you’re rejecting all of them.’

‘Yeah, my family didn’t seem too disappointed when I started celebrating Christmas again.’

‘You celebrate Christmas?’

‘Just with my family. It has nothing to do with religion.’

‘Well, it is Christ-mas.’

‘No, no it’s not. It’s see-my-family-that-I-don’t-ever-see-mas.’

‘Oh.’

‘But who cares anyway, right? It’s like Attar said, ‘forget what is and is not Islam.’ (86-87)

The novel is a young person’s book –- at its core, it seems to be about how the protagonist’s sexual coming of age comes into conflict with his religious beliefs. The book has a series of graphic sexual encounters and a general uncensored sexual candidness that’s likely to turn off some readers (especially, one thinks, the conservative Muslims to whom it seems to be addressed).

But most of all, it’s the novel’s conclusion, which involves a graphic sex act performed by a woman in a Burqa in a public place, that is likely to be shocking to many readers. When the film of “The Taqwacores” comes out later this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a pretty major controversy, specifically relating to that scene… (I’m told the filmmakers are fully expecting that controversy to occur. There may be more from other SM bloggers on this in weeks to come.)

Overall, I think readers will find Knight’s books to be worth their time, especially the two memoirs written by Knight in maturity, Blue-Eyed Devil and Impossible Man. Impossible Man is a highly compelling conversion narrative, which includes both the rise as well as the decline of Knight’s religious fervor (and, oh yeah, a couple of chapters about wrestling). Blue-Eyed Devil is more of a road narrative, focusing on Knight’s engagement with African American interpretations of Islam, including the NOI, the 5% Nation of Gods and Earths, as well as the movement of black Islamic communities towards orthodox Sunni Islam after the death of Elijah Muhammed.

33 thoughts on ““Intellectually Black and Socially South Asian”: Michael Muhammad Knight

  1. Knight is not the only one to suggest Fard was South Asian. Evanzz book “The Messenger,” makes a very strong case for this. The historical evidence is very suggestive, but the theology does not work well with Ahmadiyya theology in my opinion. Fard seems more in tune with Druze and/or Bektashi thinking.

  2. Sk, aren’t the two ideas similar?

    See the following discussionfrom Wikipedia:

    The word taqwá occurs in the Qur’ān seventeen times in all in its nominal form. This form of noun in Arabic does not change case, so nominative, accusative, and genitive usages appear identical, although the grammatical differences often have a bearing on translation. A comparison between the translations of Yusuf ‘Ali and M. H. Shakir can shed some light on the nuances of the word taqwá and are therefore given respectively in the following summary.
    The word taqwá in nominative constructions occurs only at Verses 2:197 & 22:37 (“right conduct” or “piety”, “guarding of oneself” or “guarding against evil”). Likewise, the word taqwá occurs in accusative constructions in only two verses with a pronominal suffix in each case, as follows: 47:17, taqwāhum “their piety and restraint/guarding” against evil); 91:8, taqwāhā “its right, what is right for it”. There are three construct genitive forms with taqwá as the second term, as follows: 7:26, libāsu t-taqwá “raiment of righteousness, clothing that guards” against evil); 48:26, kalimata t-taqwá “the command of self-restraint, the word of guarding against evil”; 74:56, ahlu t-taqwá “Lord of righteousness, worthy to be feared”. There is also one construct genitive with taqwâ as the first term, additionally preceded by a preposition, as follows: 22:32, min taqwá l-qulÅ«b (from piety of heart/piety of hearts). The word taqwá occurs in the prepositional genitive case as follows: 20:132, li t-taqwá “for righteousness, for guarding against evil”; 49:3, 2:237, aqrabu li t-taqwá “nearest to righteousness, nearer to righteousness”; 5:8, aqrabu li t-taqwá “next to piety, nearer to piety”; 96:12, bi t-taqwá “righteousness, guarding against evil”; 5:2, ‘alá l-barri wa t-taqwá “in righteousness and piety, in goodness and piety”; 9:108 ‘alà t-taqwâ (on piety/on piety); 9:109, ‘alà t-taqwâ (on piety/on fear of Allah); 58:9, bi l-barri wa t-taqwâ (for righteousness and self-restraint/of goodness and guarding against evil).

  3. similar, maybe…but not the same. taqwa is more commonly used to describe an awareness of god, whether that be fear or awe. which i think is different than piety. maybe it’s a difference in how the word is actually used, rather than how it might technically be defined. also, i don’t think ‘piety’ was the intended meaning behind tawqacore.

  4. Sk, I changed the phrasing in the original post to include both words, God-consciousness and Piety. To me, the differences between the two seem semantic, but then I never studied this formally.

  5. This post reminds me of a black American who passed for Indian. Korla Pandit was a black musician who passed as an Indian in the 1950′s.

  6. No need to speculate on whether or not Fard was Desi, just read all the many, many publications that have been available about him for decades. He was East Asian.

    In my opinion Fard was something of a farce. I’m simultaneously surprised and yet not surprised that African Americans fell for him. You’d think that, being so Afro-Centric they would’ve preferred a leader who was not Asian. Oh yeah but wait, that’s the Afro-centric view isn’t it, that Asia man is really Afro-asiatic man. Ooops. Sorry. Been a long time since I socialized in those circles. Too much pseudo-science for me.

    There’s still plenty of youtube wars going on between all the different groups (video tapings of “debates on the corner of ______ and Flatbush still goin’ on in my old ‘hood to this day) – Sunni Muslims vs. NOI vs. 5%ers vs. Gods and Earths vs. Black Israelites vs. Yahweh bin Yahweh vs. Kemetologists vs. the Nuwabians (“Doctor” Malachi York’s cult here in Georgia, sweet Georgia). And all of them vs. aliens (except the ones that claim TO BE aliens!!! LOL!

    All of them severly testosterone dominated groups, only exception being Kemetologists (sort of).

    I’ll give them all this much – their outfits are all pretty damn fly (outlandish)!!!

    How far down the rabbit hole do you really want to go?

    In one sense Islam is an easier religion for western kids to convert to or be raised in because it is still within the fold of the Abrahamic faiths. Of course, since 9/11 it has become more controversial, but before that, not really.

    The western kids who converted to, still convert to, or who were raised in the Krishna faith are in one sense more set apart from mainstream western society because it does not at all fall within the Abrahamic fold, but the Krishna faith seems to be much more free, liberal and open than Islam on many levels. Especially now, ISKCON is really trying hard to rid itself of its dangerous cult image and present itself as a healthy, loving way of life. And now that other, more authentic forms of the Krishna religion are making their way westard, things are improving and the kids have more than just ISKCON to choose from now. Back in the 70s and 80s, unless you went to India, ISKCON was all you got.

    Taz, can you clarify what you mean by;

    A committed individualist (that is to say, a liberal) would reject the institution as a whole
  7. Taz, can you clarify what you mean by;

    A committed individualist (that is to say, a liberal) would reject the institution as a whole

    PG, it’s Amardeep, not Taz, who wrote this post. (Admittedly Taz has written on Taqwacore bands before).

    What I meant was: if he allowed the individualistic side of his personality to dominate, he could resolve the conflict by simply turning his back on Islam, since that part of his personality finds it overly confining and restrictive. I find it interesting that he doesn’t do that, but rather remains within the fold to challenge its norms from within.

    From the mug-shot I linked to above in comment #3, which is also the mug-shot Knight uses in his book, Fard does not look East Asian. Actually he looks Middle Eastern or Desi.

  8. What I meant was: if he allowed the individualistic side of his personality to dominate, he could resolve the conflict by simply turning his back on Islam, since that part of his personality finds it overly confining and restrictive. I find it interesting that he doesn’t do that, but rather remains within the fold to challenge its norms from within.

    Or could it be that such reductionist theoretical constructs just don’t map that well onto real human behavior?

    People don’t compartmentalize the facets of their personality like that. When we say “Part of me wants to ___” it’s a figure of speech. It just means you’re facing a dilemma or a temptation, not that there is a literal personality inside you that feels like doing something. Your personality works as a single unit. We draw distinctions for simplicity’s sake.

  9. Yes, I was confused by the conflation of “liberal” with “committed individualism” and wondered how or why Amardeep equated the two. Would depend on the definitions he’s working with, I guess.

  10. Interesting post, Amardeep (I admit, I looked for the Taz tag at the bottom as well — SM bloggers are usually predictable in your topics and perspectives. Not this time!)

    I found MMK’s columns in MWU a little juvenile (giving Siraj Wahaj the stink-palm — an anus infused treat — is very low brow) — glad to see his books reach a higher standard.

  11. I found MMK’s columns in MWU a little juvenile (giving Siraj Wahaj the stink-palm — an anus infused treat — is very low brow) — glad to see his books reach a higher standard.

    Whatever happened to MWU? That site has been down forever. Any conspiracy there?

    I liked that lady in the fuschia hijab who headed up the column “SEX AND THE UMMAH”

    Bring MWU back!

  12. All else aside, MMK has made himself an adoring disciple of Peter Lamborn Wilson, who is fairly openly disparaging of things like evidence and historical truth, believing it’s much more important to tell an interesting story. In that vein, I don’t think MMK is really interested in where the actual Fard was from, just where all of the possible Fards could be from. Certainly no one should read anything written by him or his Moorish Murshid (or any member of any of the groups Pardesi Gori mentioned) as “history.”

  13. Amardeep, did you like my quote on the back of the blue eyed devil cover? I have a simple question – why can’t you find young sardar youth flocking to punk? I’ve met a total of two young sikh boys into Sick of it All, the ramones, etc. What is it? They like to drink, and they like to yell. Punk seems perfect for them. Muslims on the other hand can’t decide about hilal meat, let alone alchohol.

    Listen to our song, Amardeep, about 9,000 miles. It’s on our myspace and its taken from WD Fard’s 120 lessons.

    rabb rakha

  14. why can’t you find young sardar youth flocking to punk?

    Because they have rhythm.

  15. don’t you have some black people to oppress, Pardesi Gori?

    Not anymore.

    You won’t by the way, find black people flocking to punk either (few exceptions). They have rhythm too. Punk is a white boy thang. Sometimes white girl. Yeah, only white guys could’ve invented punk. LOL. It doesn’t require dancing.

  16. Amardeep, did you like my quote on the back of the blue eyed devil cover? I have a simple question – why can’t you find young sardar youth flocking to punk? I’ve met a total of two young sikh boys into Sick of it All, the ramones, etc. What is it? They like to drink, and they like to yell. Punk seems perfect for them. Muslims on the other hand can’t decide about hilal meat, let alone alchohol.

    Hi Basim, the back cover of the paperback Soft Skull sent me doesn’t have a blurb from you. Did you get bumped for Andrei Codrescu, The Guardian, and Newsweek?

    On Sikhs in punk. First off, I was one, back in the early 1990s. I was briefly the lead singer of a hardcore-ish band called “Barcode.” I didn’t drink, but I sure did yell a lot. Another person, whom you might know, is Sunny from Outernational. He qualifies as a “young sardar youth”. (At 35, with a kid and a mortgage, I don’t, anymore.)

    Secondly, the issues Muslim youth struggle with — alcohol, intoxicants, diet, dating/sex — are also issues for many Sikhs, especially the ones who go to “Sikh camp” & get radicalized. Alcohol, tobacco, and other intoxicants are prohibited in the Sikh Rehat Maryada, and many devout Sikhs struggle with that, esp. given how central alcohol consumption is in Punjabi culture. Interestingly, the only kind of meat that is specifically forbidden in the Rehat is Halal Meat (!), though many devout Sikhs are vegetarian. Most Sikhs in India don’t eat beef.

    In fact, I saw a number of parallels in the discussions in “Taqwacores” with the kinds of debates I heard at Sikh camp as a kid, and then, briefly, as a counselor in my early 20s. One obsession in MMK that was new for me as a non-Muslim was the wudhu purification ritual and MMK’s obsession with urination; I don’t know if that’s just Mike Knight’s particular deal, or if other Muslim youth worry about it as much.

    Sikhs, for their part, worry a lot about hair. At Sikh camp, there are earnest discussions about whether it’s a violation of the Rehat for women to shave their armpits or legs, and whether it’s more correct to keep your unshorn beard “up” (with hairspray/fixer) or loose and free-flowing. And of course, how to tie a turban, what turban style to use, and how to make it look good.

    In general, I think hip hop has been a bigger influence in the Sikh second gen music scene than rock (or punk), in large part because of the success of the bhangra/hip hop fusion.

  17. One obsession in MMK that was new for me as a non-Muslim was the wudhu purification ritual

    I don’t know how MMK represents this issue or how he is obsessed with urination, but the ritual of cleaning before prayer or recitation is very much a part and parcel of the practice. I am not sure how it can be an obsession — the ritual of washing, like the sequence of actions during one’s prayers, is proscribed. You perform it like any other ritual.

  18. Aho Amardeep veera, the issues that sikhs and muslims deal with are the same. The obsession with wudhu and urination is specific to MMK. He’s really wrecked havoc on his prostate, bechara.

    Remember that bhangra has become the music of the desi diaspora because of how central the UK is to creating diaspora culture. I know a lot of punjabi muslims (3/4ths of the Kominas are punjabi muslims), and we all listen to Tigerstyle, Chamkila, Noorjehan, and punjabi Qawaali when we’re chilling before shows. That music is good, provided it isn’t ruined by badly choreographed dancing at shaadis. It’s wild how the dhol made it out from Sindh to Punjab, out to Europe. It’s almost the exact opposite rasta that the harmonium took.

    Tussi apnay geet bhejdayyo manu, barcode diyya. I’d love to rock out to Barcode knowing that it’s a punjabi brother testifying on the mic.

    But hip hop is a huge influence on diaspora muslims as well – much more than punk or rock music is. Check out the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) concerts they hold in chicago. The thing is, a lot of the kids I meet are into both punk and rap. That may be a generational thing, because of the internet, though it’s more likely evidence of how both styles influenced each other. Chuck D says a major inspiration of his was the Clash. Joe Strummer from the Clash says Afrikan Bambatta was a major inspiration of his.

    But back on topic, I’m so happy you read Mike Knight’s memoirs. I also think both Blue Eyed Devil and Impossible Man are better written and more insightful than the Taqwacores. But growing up the way I did, reading the taqwacores really changed how I reconnected with Islam. Convenient descriptions like Atheist no longer fit for me after reading that book.

    Chalo veera, jaddon mera kitab chap jaanda ey, mein tuanu bhejdanga. Rab Rakha

    PS I think it’s really important for young muslims and young sikhs to collaborate musically, seeing that a lot of the tappas sung in bhangra are based in sufism – mirza jutt, heer ranjha, layla mujnoon… it goes on and on.

  19. Basim:

    I, though a big Punjabi-music nerd and a hip-hop head, also enjoy and appreciate punk. I also have a few friends that are relatively super-Sikh and fluently speak Punjabi that love punk, and don’t listen to Punjabi music. One of my younger cousins is into death metal and has a rock band, in which he’s the drummer.

    I do think that there’s a space for Punjabis/Sikh-Punjabis in punk music (both performing and listening). I feel that there’s just not much exposure/access to “the good stuff”. I grew up primarily going to school with white kids and seeing desis on the weekends. I heard all kinds of music, but I also had my own interest in seeking out different kinds of music. If you’ve never heard punk or metal or ska or anything different, how do you know if you like it or not? More so, there’s the subtle pressure from the Punjabi community that to be a substantive part of the community, you have to love Punjabi music, hate Hindi music and otherwise listen to hip-hop, and that’s if your parents aren’t around. My cousin that I mentioned – when my Mom heard his band, her first suggestion was that it would be “cool” if they played some Punjabi songs, so that more people from the community would want to hear his band. I told her it doesn’t matter if they want to listen to it or not. If it’s good, they’ll want to hear it. (Though they do play a nice instrumental rendition of “Mundiyaan tho backe raheen” – it sounds hot on the electric guitar.) He speaks/reads/writes Punjabi, knows Punjabi history and music, but loves rock/metal/punk. I don’t think his band has to play Punjabi music, or any other desi music, for him to maintain his “connection” to the community, or for other desis to appreciate the music they play. But often, the community’s first instinct when they encounter someone desi doing something novel/different/new is to figure out a way to “desify” it. They don’t want you being interested in something completely non-brown – they feel like it’s a rejection of them and their interests or something like that.

    Don’t know if it made sense, but those are my couple of cents.

    P.S. – Go Kominas!

  20. Amardeep, did you like my quote on the back of the blue eyed devil cover? I have a simple question – why can’t you find young sardar youth flocking to punk? I’ve met a total of two young sikh boys into Sick of it All, the ramones, etc. What is it? They like to drink, and they like to yell. Punk seems perfect for them.

    Basim, Sikh youth in the UK and USA are too busy creating mad brilliant music in as wide a varity of forms from hip-hop bhangra to reggae versions to R n B to rock and everything in between. Whether its Cornershop, Talvin Singh, Panjabi MC or Jay Sean, they just get down with it, make music, have fun, and make a space for themselves. Punk rock is nothing special.

  21. PS I think it’s really important for young muslims and young sikhs to collaborate musically,

    In the UK, there are virtually no Punjabi Muslim musicians of any note. Being a musician seems frowned upon in that community, and religiousity is quite high.

    Amongst Sikhs, it is a badge of pride to be into music. Even religious Sikh dudes are into music. Also, relations between Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims in the UK are not really very amicable at times.

    So whilst all of that would be nice, I think people of all races, religions and backgrounds need to collaborate more in music and culture…..hey, maybe you are more of a hippy than a punk, Basim.

  22. My cousin that I mentioned – when my Mom heard his band, her first suggestion was that it would be “cool” if they played some Punjabi songs, so that more people from the community would want to hear his band. I told her it doesn’t matter if they want to listen to it or not. If it’s good, they’ll want to hear it. (Though they do play a nice instrumental rendition of “Mundiyaan tho backe raheen” – it sounds hot on the electric guitar.) He speaks/reads/writes Punjabi, knows Punjabi history and music, but loves rock/metal/punk. I don’t think his band has to play Punjabi music, or any other desi music, for him to maintain his “connection” to the community, or for other desis to appreciate the music they play. But often, the community’s first instinct when they encounter someone desi doing something novel/different/new is to figure out a way to “desify” it. They don’t want you being interested in something completely non-brown – they feel like it’s a rejection of them and their interests or something like that.

    Fuerza Dulce you are 100% right about the whole “desify” thing. I wonder what would happen if we had punjabi Jack White, Thom Yorke or Chris Cornell who was a major star but his music had no desi influence or sound, how he would be accepted by the community.

    But for the sikh punk rock thing, last night I want to the Megadeth/Slayer concert in Vancouver and I saw a young amritdhari sikh male at concert wearing a Slayer T-shirt. I thought that was it cool to see some people in our community with good taste in music.

  23. But for the sikh punk rock thing, last night I want to the Megadeth/Slayer concert in Vancouver and I saw a young amritdhari sikh male at concert wearing a Slayer T-shirt. I thought that was it cool to see some people in our community with good taste in music

    ?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!

    Good taste in music?!?!?!?

    That’s a high grade you’re smokin’ there, Suki.

  24. Fuerza Dulce – you gotta put me in touch with your cousin. Send me a my space message or email!!

    It would be badass to collab with more kids.

    Rab Rakha.

    Also outside the Gurdwara in Lahore I met a Sikh in a ride the lightning tshirt. He had his own name tattooed on his forearm “Jaxminder” and kept telling me he knew the RDB brothers personally :) And Billy, you sound like a bigot. No offense though.

    I’m friends with MC Riz, he’s Muslim and breaking through the music scene in the UK. I saw him at the Fabric, it was a huge show. You shouldn’t omit the names of your brothers, every post of yours becomes a genocide.

  25. If I may get back to MMK for a moment, he should also be read in the tradition of American outsider literary journalism, the same one that begat Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, and others. Typically, white males raised with varying degrees of the presumptions and expectations of white male viewpoints (though some aristocratic, and others, like MMK, deeply working-class), who found themselves blessed/cursed with exceptional observation powers and distinctive writing voice, and who ended up going off-script, both in their personal trajectory and in the work they produced. The result blends or juxtaposes social observation and personal development, reportage and fiction, in ways that can be jarring to some readers but, taken together, have a huge amount of coherence and integrity.

    “The Taqwacores” is a fantastic, rollicking read, highly recommended, though also very much a first book, raw and silly. I agree with Amardeep and Basim that the memoirs are particularly strong; “Blue Eyed Devil” is my favorite, though “Impossible Man” will tell you the most about where Knight’s own interests and obsessions come from. Later this year his new memoir comes out, in which he talks about his return to Pakistan, his growing interest in Sufi thought, and also his pilgrimage to Mecca.

  26. Mike, I ran into John and Billy at Wegmans and as usual asked about you. I really hope you get this as I would love to speak with you on the phone. I always knew there was a deep kid in there. Remember when we used to “tag in” and “tag out” when yo reading in front of the class. If you get this write back or find mein a search in canandaigua ny phone directory. I tried calling a number that I thought was yours, but it did not answer andno machine to pick up. Also could not get registered for facebook as they kept saying my e-mail address was no good.

    Charlie Plyter