Based on a cult novel by Michael Muhammad Knight (who also co-wrote the screenplay), The Taqwacores stars Bobby Naderi as a shy, devout young engineering student who takes a room in a Buffalo boarding house filled with people who share his Muslim faith, albeit in decidedly unconventional ways. Some drink or take drugs; others rip pages out of the Koran if they disagree with the doctrine. And they all listen to punk rock, letting that scene’s DIY ethos and spirit of communion inform their vision of Islam as a religion that welcomes misfits.
When Knight first wrote The Taqwacores, his idea of “Muslim punk” was pure fantasy, but since the book came out in 2004, an actual scene has emerged across the country, and some of those Knight-inspired bands appear in the film, in a climactic sequence that sees the housemates hosting a rowdy, divisive Taqwacore show. That literalizing of the imaginary is somewhat problematic. Because The Taqwacores isn’t played for farce, some of its more outrageous elements—like the sight of a radical lesbian in a burka—come off as jarring, when they should be at least a little comic. Also, the acting and directing is often amateurish, and the story slow to develop.
But The Taqwacores deepens as it plays out, and rewards viewers who stick with it through the clumsier passages. The film is moving and thought-provoking, both in its plea for universal inclusion and in the way Knight and writer-director Eyad Zahra seriously consider how sects within sects continue to bicker and belittle each other over the finer points of their beliefs. The Taqwacores is impassioned, in other words, and passion goes a long way toward redeeming the rickety.