DVD Review - The Taqwacores

Bobby Naderi (left) & Dominic Rains in "The Taqwacores"

Based on the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight, and coming on the heels of a documentary about the same thing by Omar Majeed, director Eyad Zahra's film centers on the year of the life of a Pakistani-American named Yusef who is introduced to a subculture among Muslim Americans that is informed and heavily influenced by punk rock music.
This subculture is known as the Taqwacores. The year of Yusef's life takes place in Buffalo, New York, yet the film could have taken place anywhere. The Muslim population in America is large enough and diverse enough that this film could be a reflection of many towns or cities in America. To that fact, the audience starts to disavow or cease to care it's Buffalo or any place in upstate New York when a shirtless character remains shirtless all year long even when it's allegedly winter.
Yusef, played by Bobby Naderi, an Iranian actor, is introduced to five characters. One of whom is a shirtless, Shi'a skinhead named Ayyub whose not unlike many college-age, boozing, sex-loving skater boys. He's loud, crude and vulgar. Ayyub is not as straight-laced as Yusef who is an engineering student. Yusef might be described as a nerd or geek. He's also very devout to his faith of Islam, almost in a Pollyanna way.
He's certainly not a fundamentalist or a strict interpreter of the Qur'an. That is more akin to Umar, played by Nav Mann who is of Indian descent. Umar is a hardcore Sunni. Umar likes punk rock, but he's more of a straight-edge guy. When Yusef arrives in Buffalo for school, he doesn't stay in a dorm. He stays in a house that Umar manages. Again, Umar likes punk rock, but he's more of a stern father figure to those who live in his house.
Not that most people would know what to imagine when asked to envision the poster boy for Taqwacores, but the guy who is literally that is Jehangir, played by Dominic Rains who is also of Iranian descent. Rains, not that long ago, co-starred in the American soap opera General Hospital. He played an uptight doctor. Here, he's almost unrecognizable from that with a tall, red, spiky mohawk, tattoos, leather jacket, and the whole punk rock vibe.
Jehangir starts a band, a punk rock band, and his band member is Fasiq, an Indonesian skater, played by Ian Tran, of Vietnamese descent. Fasiq has a mohawk too. He also smokes marijuana or pot, which upsets Umar, but Fasiq knows the Qur'an and isn't against challenging Umar on his strict interpretations of the Qur'an. Neither is Rabeya, a feminist but burqa-clad, riot girl, played by Noureen DeWulf.
Rabeya interprets the Qur'an the way she wants. She merely crosses out passages in the Holy Book with which she disagrees. On one hand, she ignores surahs or chapters in the Qur'an that tell her she has to obey what men say. On the other, the only time she ever takes off her burqa is for times of fellatio. It's ironic that DeWulf won Maxim magazine's Hot 100 list of 2007 because her burqa-wearing ensures we never see her. We do get a dose of her fiery personality.
We also get two doses of the fiery personalities of Rabeya's friends, Fatima, a feminist too but sans the burqa, and, Muzzamil, a gay Muslim boy with a veil, a white frilly blouse and fishnet stockings. Jehangir later tells the story of Fatima and the "jihad between his nuts." Muzzamil talks about liking a group of guys known as the "Guantanamo Bay Packers." Needless to say, both Fatima and Muzzamil have challenging sexualities.
But, in several ways, this movie is about challenging sexuality, as a way of also challenging faith. For example, Yusef meets Lynn, a white girl who is known as a revert. She didn't start out as a Muslim, but is now down with Islam. Yusef likes Lynn and she reciprocates, but, when they finally come together, she chastises him for his apparently virginal status.
Watching this movie, you definitely get a sense of the diversity among the Muslim community, especially this young Muslim community. In many ways, it's not unlike the young communities of any group in America. They're the same as any college-age kids in this country. The only difference are some superficial ones, including some words. As you listen to this film, there are some words one might not recognize. For example, the characters here frequently say, "Insha'Allah," which means, "God willing." Another thing that pops up on occasion is "Haraam," which means, "Forbidden." One that you may hear once or twice is "Kafir, "which means, "Non-believer."
But, beyond some Islamic words, and a few cultural differences, I think there's a lot for people with which to relate. The movie is fun and sexy. The deleted scenes on the DVD, however, are curiousities because I can't see why they were deleted. One deleted scene, in particular, is a bonding scene between Yusef and Umar that could have filled a lot of holes in that relationship. Nevertheless, Zahra directs this movie with the awareness that there are ignorance and prejudice against Muslims, but this pack of rejects and screw-ups helps to bridge the divide.
Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.


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