The Taqwacores: Dominic Rains on punk rocking in a Muslim world
From Clash, June 2011
The identity struggle of being a young Muslim in contemporary America is the central theme of The Taqwacores, a brilliant and controversial film that follows the experience of student Yusef as he moves into a house of Muslim punks lead by the idealistic Jehangir (Dominic Rains).
Born in Tehran and based in Los Angeles, Dominic Rains was initially sceptical about the film’s provocative extremes when he first received the script. “I was thinking it wouldn’t be right for me to do this,” he admits. “I have an obligation to my parents, I have an obligation to Islam to a certain degree and to Iran, maybe they’d never let me back in. All these thoughts kept going in and out of my head.”
It was a meeting with Michael Muhammad Knight, the author of the book upon which the film is based, that changed his perspective. Born in America to a family with an Irish Catholic, Knight converted to Islam and engaged upon a lengthy journey of studying the Muslim faith and examined how it affected him. His subsequent inner turmoil led him to write The Taqwacores.
“He’s vulnerable to his own thoughts and observes himself in a manner in which he sees thing as they are as they’re happening,” says Rains with evident admiration. “He’s not afraid to expose them to search for the truth.”
Rains describes his character Jehangir as possessing an “extreme love for people.” He continues: “If it was up to him, he’d throw the punk aside and throw Islam aside as none of this even matters. These are just cloaks, exteriors that we wear. If we’re talking about a sense of connection and understanding between all of us, we’ve got to go beyond this. It seems to me that he’s taking aspects from punk and Islam so he can bring forward his power within a culture that he feels is disenfranchised and lost.”
Ultimately, The Taqwacores is about discovering what spirituality means to the individual and being aware of its fluid nature. “There’s a level of impermanence in this film,” he concludes. “Spirituality I think is the observation of what’s happening in one’s mind. The mind, being the sixth sense, is something that’s connected to that essence of spirituality, that extension of a higher power; whatever you may call it, something that we’re all a part of. We perceive reality as what we taste, touch, feel. It’s an ever changing thing.”