Jewish Journal

Punk like Muhammad

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 20, 2008 | 3:32 pm

Photo: Rolling Stone

I’m sure my non-Christian friends were confused in high school when I talked about going to Christian punk rock shows. I found the idea of Christian hard core even odder. As Cartman says in the clip from “Christian Rock Hard,” after the jump, “Yeah, you guys are real hard core”—to which the drummer of Sanctified responds, “You bet your goshdarn rear-end we are.” And then there is the prevalence of heavy metal in the Muslim world.

But what in the world is Muslim punk? The Los Angeles Times mentions this music genre in a good contribution to stories about the emerging identity of Muslim American teens. The feature focuses on Hiba Siddiqui. Here goes:

Hiba slips out of the white T-shirt with black letters that read “HOMOPHOBIA IS GAY,” which she wore to Kempner High School, where she is a junior. It’s one of a collection of slogans the 17-year-old has silk-screened on T-shirts in her bedroom, unbeknownst to her parents, both Muslim immigrants from Pakistan.

There are other aspects of Hiba’s life lately she thinks they might not approve of either, like the Muslim punk music she has been listening to with lyrics such as “suicide bomb the GAP,” or “Rumi was a homo.” Or the novel she bought online, about rebellious Muslim teenagers in New York. It opens with: “Muhammad was a punk rocker, he tore everything down. Muhammad was a punk rocker and he rocked that town.”

This much Hiba knows: She is a Muslim teenager living in America.

But what does that mean?

It is a question that pesters her, like the other questions she is afraid to ask her parents: Can she still be a good Muslim even though she does not dress in hijab or pray five times a day? If Islam is right, does that make other religions wrong? Is going to prom haram, or sinful? Is punk?

Hiba loves Allah but wrestles with how to express her faith. She wonders whether it is OK to question customs. Behind her parents’ backs, she tests Islamic traditions, trying to decipher culture versus religion, refusing to blindly believe that they are one.

“Isn’t that what Prophet Muhammad did?” asks Hiba, raising her thick black eyebrows and straightening her wiry frame, which takes on the shape of a question mark when she stands hunched in insecurity. “Question the times? Question what other people were doing?”

Not sure about that. I guess the same argument could be made for Jesus. Or Judah Maccabee. Certainly, they were revolutionaries; they challenged authority; they weren’t phonies. But saying that has a parallel in punk rock is probably a stretch. The important thing is Hiba, like Hytham Elsherif, is asking these questions of what it means to be Muslim in America.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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