There was a time when the words "Muslim radical" painted a clear enough picture – a young man strapped with explosives, perhaps, or a bearded cleric calling for Sharia law from Land's End to John O'Groats. But things have changed. The protestors of the Arab Spring are both Muslim and radical, as are the bungling jihadis of Chris Morris's movie Four Lions. And now a new film, The Taqwacores, attempts to further stretch the definition.
The film's set up sounds familiar enough – a meek Muslim student named Yusef joins a hardcore Islamic commune in upstate New York and becomes radicalised. But this time, "hardcore" refers to punk rock. This is a commune where one Muslim, Jahangir, sports a red mohawk and announces morning prayers with an electric guitar. Another member is gay and wears a skirt and makeup. The bands that congregate there have names such as Osama's Tunnel Diggers and Boxcutter Surprise. They drink beer and smoke pot, and among them is a spitfire feminist in a burqa – complete with a Dead Kennedys patch – who freely redacts chunks of the Qur'an with a marker pen. "That ayah advises men to beat their wives," she says, about a contested verse in the holy book. "So what do I need that for?"
It's a budget production, at the cheap end of indie, and the story is simple enough. There's a fundamentalist faction in this commune that is at odds with the punk renegades such as Jahangir, and their battle comes to a head in a raucous final concert. Even though The Taqwacores received a mixed reaction when it was released in the US last June, the Hollywood Reporter championed the film's originality, and on this front, it is out on its own. To say nothing of its extraordinary back story: a movie based on a book based on a purely fictional punk rock scene that then spawned an entire music scene from scratch.