Muslim punk music: A 9/11 story

The Kominas

Image of The Kominas by KaitlinFoley via Flickr

Around the world, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is always pause for reflection – a chance to commemorate the innocent people who lost their lives eight years ago, a chance to reassess the impact of the most cataclysmic event in recent history. Last night, hours before the anniversary, a student at the University of California at Berkeley told me he was researching the post-9/11 phenomenon of Muslim punk-rockers, a group that emphasizes hardcore riffs and Islamic identity. After returning home, I did computer research on these musicians – only to find this news headline when I checked my email: “For Muslims, backlash fear builds each 9/11.”

The story was about U.S. Muslims and how they often face derisive comments (and more) on the 9/11 anniversary, but the UC student’s thesis was more telling to me than the media report because it revealed a trend that’s often overlooked in any discussion of Islam in America: Young Muslims are openly seeking refuge in rebellious music.

The Kominas, a Boston-area group with South Asian roots, is one of the Muslim punk bands that has made a name for itself – and raised eyebrows among other Muslims who question the music’s religious appropriateness. This video captures one such debate:

[youtubevid id=”dROPwJF_O9Y”]

Last week, I did an onstage interview with Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, who said that American Muslims will eventually become accepted in the United States for who they are: A religious group with as many complexities as other religious groups. Five decades ago, Aslan reminded people, John F. Kennedy’s allegiance was questioned (would he be more loyal to the Vatican than the U.S. constitution?) during his presidential run for the White House. It’s a sign of how far U.S. Muslims have already come that “Islam” and “punk music” can be mentioned in the same breath.

Photographer Kim Badawi has taken images of young Muslim women in hijab dancing to Muslim punk music. At one web site, the images are labeled “Snapshots from the Muslim-Punk Underground,” but – thanks to YouTube and media reports of The Kominas and other groups – this “underground” is becoming more mainstream, just eight short years after 9/11.

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