Fight­ing Re­li­gious In­tol­er­ance with 'Punk Mus­lim'

A new gen­er­a­tion of In­done­sian Punk Mus­lims might give con­ser­va­tives a slap in the face, but some think they are ex­actly what the na­tion needs right now.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - By Caranissa Djat­miko

RE­CENTLY, IN­DONE­SIA HAS SEEN A NEW PHE­NOM­E­NON THAT COULD RE­DE­FINE ITS IS­LAMIC YOUTH CUL­TURE. A group of ‘Punk Mus­lims’ was wit­nessed chant­ing the words “Prophet Mohammad for­ever” while throw­ing a con­cert in Ban­dung in April. The songs are loud and raw as any punk rock mu­sic should be. But the fact that punk Mus­lims in Ban­dung are pro­mot­ing re­li­gious val­ues of­fers a new twist on the tra­di­tion­ally coun­ter­cul­ture, anti-es­tab­lish­ment mu­sic scene.

For the world’s largest Mus­lim na­tion, Punk Mus­lims do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent a group that is cel­e­brated. That said, the ar­rival of such a move­ment has po­ten­tial to cre­ate lasting im­pacts in In­done­sia. Many of them were once street per­form­ers and ju­ve­nile delin­quents. Judg­ing by their ap­pear­ance, they still look like ev­ery­thing we as­so­ciate with the punk scene: sport­ing typ­i­cally provoca­tive mo­hawks, leather jack­ets and ripped up clothes.

Yet if you pre­sume their ac­tions are driven by the spirit of re­bel­lion and free­dom, you are wrong. To th­ese peo­ple, the Punk Mus­lim move­ment is about peace and the labour of love. Mem­bers are not only in­ter­ested in pro­mot­ing pos­i­tive val­ues through their mu­sic, but also in ad­dress­ing im­por­tant so­cial is­sues that con­cern the global Is­lamic com­mu­nity, such as the war in Pales­tine.

In this way, the group hopes to slowly de­bunk com­mon stereo­types that say the punk mind­set is about mis­con­duct and crim­i­nal­ity.

Lo­cal Mus­lim punker Reza Pur­nama re­vealed that join­ing the group has changed his life for the bet­ter. He is not only mo­ti­vated to bring about change through mu­sic, but he and his friends also aim to help one an­other walk to­wards a more pos­i­tive di­rec­tion in life. For ex­am­ple, some mem­bers of the move­ment have be­gun to quit drink­ing al­co­hol and in­stead choose to fo­cus on writ­ing lyrics.

Punk Mus­lim aims to give its mem­bers the com­pass to nav­i­gate be­tween punk ide­ol­ogy and re­li­gion, while also redefining what it means to be a Mus­lim. “We can re­di­rect our­selves to bet­ter, more pos­i­tive things,” said one of the move­ment’s founders Ah­mad Zaki as quoted by Chan­nel News Asia.

Punk Mus­lim was once fic­tion

When the term ‘Punk Mus­lim’ was first in­tro­duced by Mus­lim con­vert writer Michael Muham­mad Knight, it im­me­di­ately spawned a world­wide move­ment that in­spired young Mus­lims to look at them­selves dif­fer­ently. It all started when Knight wrote the fic­tion novel The Taqwa­cores in 2004 that imag­ines an Is­lamic punk rock scene in the US. At the time, Knight de­cided to con­vert to Is­lam as an act of re­bel­lion. But soon he found him­self ques­tion­ing the val­ues and teach­ings of the re­li­gion, in­clud­ing its at­ti­tudes and sen­ti­ments to­wards women and gay peo­ple.

He later came up with the idea of build­ing a fan­tasy world where Is­lam was free from an ab­so­lute def­i­ni­tion and gave Mus­lims the power to de­fine the re­li­gion them­selves. In 2010, a movie was made based on the novel, un­der the same ti­tle. The film cen­tres upon Yusef, a quiet Mus­lim stu­dent, who be­comes rad­i­cal­ized after join­ing an Is­lamic punk com­mune. The film in­tro­duces de­viant char­ac­ters from the group, in­clud­ing a gay per­son who wears a skirt and makeup to school and one with an iconic mo­hawk who plays an elec­tric gui­tar to an­nounce morn­ing prayers.

Soon after, The Taqwa­core’s fic­tional uni­verse be­came a re­al­ity. Across the globe, peo­ple started join­ing the Punk Mus­lim move­ment by form­ing mu­sic bands that could chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and give voices to mi­nori­ties. In the US, bands like The Kom­i­nas from Bos­ton and Althawra from Chicago be­gan to take off. In Canada, an all-fe­male band Se­cret Trial Five was born and a few oth­ers in Pakistan and In­done­sia also be­gan to emerge.

This phe­nom­e­non in­stantly gave birth to a new kind of Is­lamic youth cul­ture that al­lowed Mus­lims to ques­tion re­li­gious con­ven­tions and not take the re­li­gion at face value. Punk Mus­lims fol­low­ers are also known to be es­pe­cially tol­er­ant to­wards women and the LGBT com­mu­nity.

This is the kind of at­ti­tude that Mus­lim con­ser­va­tives across the ar­chi­pel­ago do not nec­es­sar­ily share.

Lo­cals should em­brace Punk Mus­lim

Within the lo­cal con­text, the emer­gence of Punk Mus­lim at this mo­ment could po­ten­tially be a pow­er­ful rem­edy to counter In­done­sia’s cur­rent dilemma of wide­spread re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance.

For the past year, there has been an on on­go­ing de­bate about so-called re­li­gious ar­ro­gance. A se­ries of con­tro­ver­sies have gripped the na­tion when it comes to re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and race. All of th­ese things have led to a ris­ing trend of pub­lic hate speech, of­ten prompted by Mus­lim hard­lin­ers.

Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, we have yet to prove that the ar­chi­pel­ago is in­deed fac­ing a cri­sis of re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance. I my­self, as a lo­cal Mus­lim, am start­ing to feel dis­turbed by those who be­lieve Is­lam is the supreme re­li­gion.

The prob­lem with some con­ser­va­tives is their in­abil­ity to lis­ten and ac­cept the fact that there is no such thing as ‘the best re­li­gious faith’. Faith is not some­thing that we win or lose on or need to brag about in pub­lic. It should not per­mit us or give us the right to dis­crim­i­nate or hu­mil­i­ate oth­ers who have a dif­fer­ent set of be­liefs. Sadly, this is what has been hap­pen­ing to our so­ci­ety lately. It is not the kind that I want to be a part of in the long run.

The rise of Punk Mus­lim in In­done­sia could be used to bal­ance the scales of re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance. What is in­ter­est­ing about this move­ment is how it re­lies on a genre that is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with de­struc­tion and chaos to unite peo­ple and de­liver a har­mo­nious mes­sage. At the end of the day, what might ap­pear to be a hard­core and rad­i­cal move­ment may turn out to be an ef­fec­tive strat­egy which shows us that faith should never pull us apart.

Im­age via Punk Mus­lim

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