‘The Catcher in the Rye’ for Young Muslims

Yesterday’s NYT featured a story about a book that is characterized as “The Catcher in the Rye for young Muslims.” The Taqwacores, by Michael Muhammad Knight, is about a fictional Muslim punk-rock band in Buffalo, NY and has given a name to the actual Muslim punk-rock movement. A low-budget film  based on the book will be released next year.

The NYT says Knight

…wrote The Taqwacores to mend the rift between his being an observant Muslim and an angry American youth. He found validation in the life of Muhammad, who instructed people to ignore their leaders, destroy their petty deities and follow only Allah.

If you’re having trouble imagining Islamic punk rock, the following seven-minute feature from Al Jazeerah helps bring it to life. It includes interviews with Knight and the cast and director of the movie. Great quote, “It’s about challenging the orthodoxy of punk as well as the orthodoxy of Islam.”

After being self-pubbed, it was released in 2004 by Autonomedia. It has not been reviewed and some, but only a few libraries, own it. The full text of the book is also available on the Web.

A new edition is coming in January from Brooklyn-based indie publisher Soft Skull Press. Requests for review copies can be sent to Soft Skull Media.


The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight

  • Paperback: $12.95; 256 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press; Revised Edition (January, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1593762291
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593762292

Soft Skull will publish a total of five books by Knight next year. The following information on those titles is from the publisher. For more information on upcoming titles from Soft Skull, check their catalog


Michael Muhammad Knight

April 2009; $14.95; 978-1-59376-226-1

When Michael Muhammad Knight, the author of The Taqwacores, founder of American Muslim punk, and leading nontraditional scholar of Islam was six years old, he asked his single mother about his absent father. His mother answered that his father “got sick and ran away.”  Several years later, he learned the true story: how his father, a paranoid schizophrenic and white supremacist, alternately convinced that Michael’s mother was in league with the devil and that she would give birth to a line of superhuman rulers.

This is the story of a teenager’s troubled pathway toward maturity and the influences that steady him on his way to adulthood. Knight’s encounter with Public Enemy and The Autobiography of Malcolm X leads him to embrace Islam with all the unbalanced overzealousness and naiveté of a disturbed adolescent in search of salvation. His affinity for Islam deepens and at age 17 he travels to Faisal Mosque in Islamabad to study his adopted religion, putting him on track similar to that of Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber. For all its extremes, Impossible Man describes a universal journey: a wounded boy in search of a working model of manhood, going to outrageous lengths to find it.


Michael Muhammad Knight

May 2009

Knight embarks on a quest for an indigenous American Islam and for the true story of Nation of Islam mystery-man, W.D. Fard, in a series of interstate odysseys. Traveling 20,000 miles by Greyhound in sixty days, he squats in run-down mosques, pursues Muslim romance, is detained at the U.S.-Canadian border with a trunkload of Shia literature, crashes Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conventions, stink-palms Cat Stevens, and limps across Chicago to find the grave of Noble Drew Ali, filling dozens of notebooks along the way.

The result is this semi-autobiographical book, with multiple histories of Fard and the landscape of American Islam woven into Knight’s own story. In the course of his adventures Knight sorts out his own relationship to Islam as he journeys from punk provocateur to a recognized voice in the community, and watches first-hand the collapse of a liberal Islamic dream. The book’s extensive cast of characters includes anarcho-Sufi heretics, vegan kung-fu punks, tattoo-sleeved converts in hardcore bands, spiritual drug dealers, Islamic feminists, slick media entrepreneurs, sages of the street, the grandsons of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, and a group called Muslims for Bush.


July 2009

Michael Muhammad Knight

Amazing Ayyub, an Iranian Shi’ite skinhead, and burqa-wearing punk Rabeya have kidnapped Matt Damon, and are holding him hostage. They demand that Hollywood depict Muslims in a positive light—“just one movie where we’re not these two-dimensional al Qaeda stereotypes.” But Damon’s concerned they’re playing into that same terrorist paradigm and furthering a neo-conservative perception of Islam.

Meanwhile, Ayyub embarks on a mission to rid the taqwacore scene of a Muslim pop-punk band called Shah 79. Along the way, he makes himself invisible, escapes punk-eating zombies in a mosque off the desert highway, and runs into some psychobilly jinns. Things turn existential when Ayyub finds himself face to face with his creator—no, not Allah, but the author. This riotous journey of enlightenment reads like a religious service for teenagers on Halloween. But it isn’t all raucous fun; written into his own novel, the author finds he is at the mercy of his creation


Michael Muhammad Knight

November 2009

Most hajj narratives are written as glowing religious propaganda, painting a utopian and simplistic image not only of Mecca but Islam itself.  Knight’s personal experience with Islam is very complicated; he has traveled the extremes of both blind faith and apostasy, and currently stand somewhere between.  Embarking on the Hajj, then, touch on Knight’s confusions, wounds, conflicts with religion and with the Muslim community at large.  Examining the historical background and origins of Islam, as well as the inherent challenges of organized religion, Knight asks the hard questions.  What does the Qur’an mean to me?  What do I know of Muhammad?  And does sacred history have to be fact to be valid? He also asks, Who funds the Hajj? What role does the Saudi government play? What role does the bin Laden family play? 

Says the author, before leaving for the Hajj four weeks ago: “These are the two voices that I bring with me to Mecca: Kerouac, the earnest writer-as-spiritual-seeker, and Thompson, gonzo journalist, exposer-of-hypocrisy.”

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