The first time I really realized I was Muslim was September 12th, 2001. I remember fear filling my belly, a flustered confusion, the heat of my face in the back of our blue Dodge minivan after listening to news of retaliatory hate crimes on the radio. I remember my mother getting a stern phone call from my little brother’s school about his “insensitive, concerning remarks” about the attacks. His name is Muhammad. He was seven. Sixteen years later, I wake up in Trump’s America amidst a circus of spectacles under the tent of “Islam”. On one side, Muslims are terrorists that should be barred entry into the country, surveilled, assimilated, or deported. On the other, the stark iconography of an American flag hijab, alongside countless articles informing you, well-meaning reader, that actually Muslims can be good people too: patriotic, nonviolent, they can even be gay! Muslims in the U.S. navigate difficult choices around safety and visibility which can often involve performing a kind of legibility for non-Muslims, to explain who we are to ease fears and suspicions. Yet this practice of constant forced explanation can obscure the reality that in a religious population that numbers over one billion globally, there never has been and never will be a homogenous “we”. There are as many ways to be Muslim as there are Muslims.
Cue “Muslims at the Mall” a track by a new Durham-based Black and brown queer Muslim punk band, simply called “The Muslims”. 20 seconds of hardcore instrumentals end with their lead singer (who goes by Qadr) yelling out “Muslims at the Mall!” Somehow this combination of crashing noise and relative incoherence makes more sense than every “Muslim” story I see on CNN. I sat down with The Muslims at one of their practices in Durham to hear more about their project. Each of them chooses to go by a band persona name, “Qadr” is the lead singer, “Farah Bahbah” plays drums, and “Abu Shea” plays bass.
Can you tell me a bit about your origin story, where the name came from and how you all found one another?
Qadr: I’ve dreamed about having a punk band for a very long time, and eventually the idea came that it should absolutely be a Muslim punk band, so then last year I put out a call on Facebook. The whole idea came out of this strong desire to have something rageful; either I’m going to start fighting white people or I’m going to start a really rageful queer hilarious Muslim punk band.
Farah BaHbaH: I feel like there are a lot of bands called “The ___________” and just with all the ideas that came up, the most nonsensical, I-don’t-really-care-just-shut-up name that came up was The Muslims.
Abu Shea: My grandma constantly calls us The Young Muslims.
The whole idea came out of this strong desire to have something rageful; either I’m going to start fighting white people or I’m going to start a really rageful queer hilarious Muslim punk band.
Do you have an intended audience for your music?
Q: Anyone who wants to come get this, our only disclosure and preface is that this music is for everybody, and we hate our fans.
FB: This music is about all our personal discharge about everything that we hate and so the fans then absorb that; deep down our audience is irreverent-ass Muslims—who we were when we were younger.
How do you all navigate the whiteness of the punk scene, is it something that you all talk about wanting to explicitly challenge or do you feel like the music itself is a challenge or confrontation of whiteness?
Q: If it wasn’t for white supremacy The Muslims band wouldn’t exist. We literally have a song called “White Guys” that changes every time we play it live because we get mad and that informs how we play it.
FB: What happens in our shows is some white people leave, and most of the white folks stay, and also there’s a filtration process where the people of color always come right to the front and then want to hang out; which chews on the tension that everyone can already feel in the space. I would never play in any of these spaces unless it was with the Muslims.
Have you all been influenced by Taqwacore? (a subgenre of punk music that relates to Islam, conceived in a novel, The Taqwacores, by Muslim scholar Michael Muhammad Knight)
AS: As a non-Muslim, I saw their documentary in high school and that was my first insight into non-traditional Muslim culture, specifically with punk music, and I was like fuck yeah that’s awesome. I remember the week after that feeling really immersed and just really in love with that anarchy.
Q: Taqwacore—like so many other [movements] about fringe people that get amplified— is often dude and cis centered, it’s still folks that are living at the intersections of all of those identities that often don’t get covered and don’t get play. I also recognize how trailblazing they were, and yet there is still a higher plane it needs to go through. We don’t play Taqwacore. We love all Muslim punk bands that are shitting on white supremacy but when it comes down to it we are bringing different, unique, bastardized tater tots to the table.
How do you think your sound interacts with Southernness since you all are based out of North Carolina and live and play in the South?
Q: The South has birthed a lot of brilliant music, and consistently birthed sounds for political resistance. Though punk is more commonly associated with NY or northern cities, this form and quality of resistance is Southern as shit. As kids of the [Palestinian and African] diaspora, our communities, cultures, and sounds are spread everywhere. Like there’s bomb-ass sounds coming out of every orifice of this continent because of POC fucks like us. We’re adding to a rich tradition of musical resistance in the South, it just happens to be punk as shit.
“The South has birthed a lot of brilliant music, and consistently birthed sounds for political resistance. Though punk is more commonly associated with NY or northern cities, this form and quality of resistance is Southern as shit.
What brings you the most joy in being part of this musical project?
Q: The Muslims is the therapy I needed growing up— the sound I was looking for in every white boy song. And it just didn’t exist. This band is also sweet, tender, and loving…and that’s why we rage about the things in the world that have tried to crush, harm, or silence us. I love building family with these queers and sharing that with anyone who wants it.
What’s next for The Muslims?
FB: The Muslims will be the source for the most unfiltered anti-racist garbage in your face in the greater Triangle area, and [we’re] going to continue to make devastating-ass memes.
Q: We are about to release an album, we have stickers on Abu Shea’s ass on Instagram, battle of the bands next year; we won’t follow you back.
Queer, rageful, and hilarious is a fair summary of The Muslims. With satirical Arabic-sounding names for their band personas, and tracks waving a middle finger to Trump and religious respectability at large, The Muslims isn’t your dad’s queer Muslim punk band.
Listening to their music and watching them practice feels like witnessing an inside joke with insurgent possibilities. In one of their first music videos “Muslims at the Mall” blazes in the background while queer Muslim artist Saba Taj wears one of her textile art pieces: a burqa sowed with fabric mimicking popular Southern prep brands, and walks around a North Carolina shopping mall. The result is a modern spectacle of Muslimness on their own terms—loaded, absurd, insightful. Pop punk nostalgia, unapologetic anti-racism, fearless humor, and their undeniable musical talent creates something simultaneously familiar for us “irreverent-ass Muslims” while also manifesting something that still feels refreshingly original.
This new punk formation bubbling in North Carolina offers the liberating reminder that Muslim people still don’t owe you shit—not even an explanation.
For so many young Muslims who grew up in the wake of 9/11, exploring counter-culture has often existed as a double-edged sword. While we might attempt to enter counter-culture to escape and rebel against the alienation of a nation that hates us, we often also face simultaneous alienation from conservative members of our own diasporic Muslim communities, who prioritize strict mainstream readings of Islam while navigating the traumas of displacement and state violence.
But many of us did not grow up merely apologizing for our existence; after 9/11, many of us became louder, politicized, went to protests and punk shows, and stopped operating as professional respectable Muslims. I wish a band like The Muslims had been around when I was growing up, to fully affirm that angry Muslim weirdos are out here. In a time of intensified political crisis under a white nationalist regime that regularly demonizes Muslims while demanding unquestioned obedience, this new punk formation bubbling in North Carolina offers the liberating reminder that Muslim people still don’t owe you shit—not even an explanation.