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.
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.