'Punk Islam' creates a buzz at Montreal fest

Omar Majeed's label-defying feature documentary

MONTREAL -- Turns out angry, young Muslims aren't drawn to religious extremism, after all.

It's their inner punk that grabs Muslim misfits, judging by Omar Majeed's label-defying feature documentary "Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam," the buzz film at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal.

Montreal director Majeed has taken the usual teenage territory of angst over high school and parental control and turned it into a dialogue by young Muslims on how to embrace Islam on their own terms as they rock the Casbah for Allah.

"Punk music is perfect for helping young Muslims channel aggression and anger in a positive and natural way," Majeed explained.

"Taqwacore" documents how a 2003 novel by disillusioned American Islamic convert Michael Muhammad Knight about Muslim skinheads in upper-state New York produced a movement of Islamic punk bands and their fans finding each other on MySpace and Facebook and at frenetic concerts.

Majeed and his camera board the bus with a Boston-based punk bank, The Kominas ("bastards" in Punjabi), whose provocative song titles include "Sharia Law in the USA" and "Suicide Bomb the GAP."

If it all sounds subversive, Basim Usmani, frontman of The Kominas, smiles broadly. He laces his controversial lyrics that repudiate conservative Islam and western permissiveness with a healthy dose of sarcasm and satire.

"We want to own our own story," Usmani insists.

The documentary follows The Kominas to Pakistan, where their American brand of Islamic punk bombs with local yuppies, but appeals to lower class Pakistani youth disaffected by corrupt police and religious authority.

Of course, the Kominas steer away from slamming Islam during their Lahore gigs after warnings by local toughs. "They frankly scared the shit out of us," Basim recalls.

Kinosmith, the film's Canadian distributor, got the film into Montreal after a world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival to build heat before mid-October theatrical releases in Toronto and Montreal.

Majeed and "Taqwacore" next have festival dates in Sheffield, U.K. and Amsterdam, and a U.S. theatrical release, either through a distributor or a self-release.

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal continues to Oct. 18.