"THERE IS A COOL ISLAM... you just have to find it." So states Michael Muhammad Knight, the painfully sincere subject of the punk-meets-Islam documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. Knight, an Irish Catholic who converted to Islam as a troubled teen, made a name for himself in the early '00s after self-publishing The Taqwacores, a novel about a group of college-age anarcho-punk Muslims living in upstate New York. Shot some four years after the novel's publication, Taqwacore earnestly follows Knight's ill-advised attempt to contrive a real-life counterculture based on his fiction—tracking down a handful of otherwise unrelated American Muslim punk musicians, cobbling together a politically and spiritually confused punk tour, and selling it all as the unified, organic product of something he essentially made up.
The Islamo-punk agenda is ambiguous at best: It's difficult to discern whether these bands are raging for or against the Qur'an, or even if any of the musicians are even practicing Muslims—at no point does the film make any political or spiritual aim clear. It is interesting to note, however, just how much these Islamic punks resemble their novel-to-no-one Christian punk rock counterparts: Knight's image of "cool Islam" directly mirrors the young, liberal Christian brand of "cool" Christianity—one that is progressive, permissive, and lets you listen to the Misfits.
Knight's resulting "subculture" is just as confounding as its Christian punk counterpart, and the film makes no honest attempt to examine it. What could have been an interesting survey of Western pop culture's infiltration of Islamic ideology is instead a rudderless, narcissistic mess (the less said about Knight's misguided trip to Pakistan for some master's-level cultural and spiritual tourism, the better). Taqwacore is little more than a pitch-perfect love letter to every annoying punk undergrad who ever read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and decided to change his middle name to Muhammad.