Confessions of a ‘heretic’

Published: May 10, 2011

Though I remained alive, the tragic ignorance of my own people killed me.

It was like a nightmare. Dark shadows, mysterious phone calls, dreaming of death -there should have been a reason for all of this, but there was none. I had been declared an accursed heretic.

I could feel them chasing me down, chopping me into pieces and celebrating wildly afterwards. I could sense the happiness they would gain from spilling my blood. The days were getting darker.

I was alive but there was a deadly silence around me.

Suddenly, my friends had stopped talking to me and so called ‘moderate’ art teachers started discriminating against me. My once ‘liberal’ social circle found some strange love for conservatism.

People stopped answering my phone calls. The threatening messages kept increasing every day. I felt isolated. They were getting closer. I realised how it feels to be dead when you’re alive.


I’m a documentary filmmaker and my sin had been to document some mohawked guys with tattoos and body piercings, playing loud riffs, singing Sufi poetry, and (also) offering prayers!

Ring any bells? They were the Taqwacores!

When we filmed Taqwacore – the birth of Punk Islam in Pakistan, things were peaceful. It was a spiritual journey of an American convert who presented the concept of a new subculture in his novel.  After his fictional writing, people from real life started following the idea that, more precisely, synthesised Islamic concepts with Punk subculture, which ended up as a new genre of Punk Rock music.

The Kominas were one of the pioneering Taqwacore bands. It was their story, a story of harmonising peace, a story of rebelling against both US imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, and finding a new voice, that was so radical in nature. Taqwacore reflected the identity crisis the Muslim youth is facing in the post 9/11 West. It challenged both, western stereotypes about Islam and the clichéd interpretation of violent Islam that is based on their preconceived notions.

But the clerics who declared me a heretic never watched that film.

They never witnessed the spiritual transformation of an American who rediscovered Islam in this land.

They never watched him going to the Sufi shrines in search of the missing essence of peace.

They were not there when the punks were shown walking on the American flag.


I am not being defensive here. All I’m saying is that rationality requires at least knowing about something before opposing it. Sadly, they don’t understand that.

They can impose a fatwa on anything that doesn’t fit in their narrow framework. They can kill anyone by assuming that they have a religious right to do so.

When young girls are forced to marry the Holy Quran for the sake of property, they remain silent.

When feudals continue their inhuman patriarchal norms, they remain silent.

When children are abused at madrassas, they remain silent.

When workers and peasants die due to oppression, they remain silent.

But if you play musical notes, they scream.

If you paint the beauty of life, they scream.

If you write songs of love, they scream.

They scream and we keep quiet. They scream and start killing us but we keep quiet.

They continue to kill with sinister smiles on their faces, and we keep quiet.

They wanted to kill me.

What difference would it have made? They have killed people earlier, and they will continue to kill – until we come forward and break the vicious circle of ignorance.

What really and most tragically matters is our silence – the haunting silence of the people.

We were silent when they killed Benazir Bhutto.

We were silent when they killed Salmaan Taseer.

We did not speak up when they killed Shahbaz Bhatti.

Though I remain alive, the tragic ignorance of my own people has killed me. They started feeling like sinners just for being around me.

This assassination of Osama bin Laden is meaningless unless each one of us kills the Osama within. Otherwise they will keep killing you, me and all of us.


Ammar Aziz

An independent filmmaker and political activist who teaches film theory at NCA. He blogs at and tweets at @ammar_aziz

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad Raza

    YawWWn … very very boring.. No offence intended even if it started very good but the formula ending and all the rythming made me feel drowsy…Recommend

  • ebrahim


    What you have expressed is the fear each and every one of us feels before we decide not to take the risk and just conform. Perhaps, you are braver than a lot of us. For you to feel so alone out there is a sad, sad omen for the future of this state.

    The younger generation has been crafty in snatching some freedom for themselves so they can date and party more freely, but no one wants to challenge the religious extremism for fear of the aftermath.

    Hats off to you for taking a stand and mustering the courage. May God be with you.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    @Fahad dude why do we want fun out of EVERYTHING? Somethings are not meant for fun. I love this post! Recommend

  • Khan

    Why do ppl sign petitions against burn Quran and Prophet Muhammad PBUH caricatures when they themselves tear down the authentic deen to fit their own personal desires… Its not the osama within that needs to be assassinated! Its the HYPOCRIT that needs to be up rooted… I dun get it! … With all the ideas in the world why do u guys want to punk up Islam… And where will be the end to ur creativeness/destructiveness??? … Would it stop u from punking up everything about Islam??? … maybe even making cartoons of Prophet PBUH???? … If u have got abilities then u got responsibilities… U do something which doesnt hurt someone else! … And if u are so highly literate then YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    A good post!!Recommend

  • Moderate

    If you are asked to refrain from something in Islam then dont do it. How hard it is to understand? Music is forbidden in Islam period. I am not in any way supporting the fatwa thing that they issued against you but Music is forbidden and you should know that. Saying that you do it for love of life or for fun is utter nonsense.Recommend

  • Atif

    Good post.. reflects the core of the problem that we are facing today.. ignorance and intolerance.. a lethal combination…Recommend

  • Asad

    Ammar — while I empathize with your post I will say that nothing is handed down to anyone, and one has to carve out a space for themselves in society through activism and public protest (the writing is a start but it is not good enough). As someone who follows punk and sufiism this should come as no surprise to you.
    Looking forward to reading more of your articles.Recommend

  • hadia khan

    @ Moderate: Kindly quote the relevant verses from the Quran which support your statemnet regarding music being haram in Islam. I will repeat “kindly only quote the Quran”.Recommend

  • Mustafa

    Y cant we all follow simple Islam rather then gettin into complications or making it complicated ourselves..y do u want to show punk’d Islam tht is not even Islam itself and not the right Islam. Y r u visiting shrines rather than mosque where u can meet the Supreme Creator directly?? U r no doubt an educated man but still ignorant of Islam. You dont have to go to Molvis for knowing it just take time to read Quran rather than listening to music. PeaceRecommend

  • CB Guy

    Here is my opinion on it (should it be posted unlike my last 3 very simple posts). The term PUNK comes from Popular culture, also known as pop culture. I can surely say one thing, pop culture is another one of the many ways used by capitalists to make more money. Not that i am against making money or coming up with new ideas to make money. But this culture, made out of no substance is taking money making a bit too far

    If you associate you Religion with something like the term Punk, which is ill-thought of even in the supposedly liberal societies, it will create issues. Islam is Islam, just simple Islam. It does not need to be associated with punk ideologies or even Sufi ideologies, a lot of which were shaped after these men passed away. Now you may have followed some one or based your work on some one’s actual journey of faith, you can, i am sure, come up with a better title. I would be offended if someone had a title like that, i would be offended if a term like that was used with any other Religion as well.

    So instead of going off on the Mullah’s for everything, do think about it. i am in no way defending them but a lot of the things you pointed out are simply no the responsibility of any one other then the state. Mullah’s alone can not make tyranny go away. State actors can. And you can play your part by highlighting these issues through your documentaries. It would be of greater service if instead of coming up with novel ideas you work on older ones for the general betterment. I think you will feel much better and your work would bring a positive change rather then just stress. Recommend

  • Ali

    Why is it so hard for you to understand that everybody is not so religious that they start following everything that the religion says. By the way music is NOT forbidden in Islam period. Recommend

  • CB Guy

    not a scholar but anything that takes away senses or exaggerates in praise of someone other then ALLAH, where there is no exaggeration is wrong and forbidden. Today’s music is full of shirk more often then not, This link will help.

  • parvez

    This write up is certainly an educational experience for me. Learning that people have the courage to explore a subject that is by any standards out of the ordinary and that too in a closed thinking society like we have in Pakistan, is definitely a revelation.
    I wish you well.Recommend

  • Humanity

    “Music is forbidden in Islam period. “

    Really? Says, who? Just because you say so does not make it word of God. The problem of Pakistan is that it has been overtaken by plenty of ‘gods, who are not good’.

    The first sound created by God was music and then He forbade it because of ‘fear’ of gods who know what is best for others.

    Get a life, Moderate!Recommend

  • pl/sql

    You seem like a reasonable guy. Why do you need to have a religion (esp Islam) at all?Recommend

  • Shiraz

    Well written article. We need to raise our voices…. Though the ppl here didnt understad the basic theme… But i must say we have to fight for our rights and for a better society. We must have courage to speak about truth like those guysRecommend

  • Babar

    @ Moderate, Sur se jise piyar nahin, woh moorakh insan nahin.Recommend

  • MHJ

    One hadith from the Bukhari Shareef, the most authentic Book of Hadith, confirms unlawfulness of music and singing :

    `There will be people of my Ummah who will seek to make lawful; fornication, wine-drinking and the use of ma`aazif ( musical instruments ).`
    Detailed analysis of the arabic word `ma`aazif ` shows that it refers to musical instruments, the sounds of those musical instruments and singing with the accompaniment of instruments.

    Closer analysis of the wordings of the Hadith establishes the prohibition of music. Firstly, the words `seek to make lawful ` shows that music is not permissible, as logically one can only seek to make lawful that which is not allowed. Secondly, if music was not prohibited, then it would not have been brought within the same context as fornication and wine-drinking.

    @hadia khan:
    Islam is not complete without hadith and sunnah.Recommend

  • MHJ

    And i can see most of people here are trying to declare music as lawful.
    I think if one can not give away unlawful things then atleast (s)he should consider it as unlawful instead of trying to declare it lawful.Recommend

  • Ahmed Aziz

    I hear you man! sad state of affairs.Recommend

  • Vincent Secret

    typical slimey outcry Who knows what is the truth and this chap not painting every thing black and white to fit his narrow interests while ignoring the grey. Anyone else’s fault does not make u justified. And similarly u should have the sense to research about something you are about to work on rather than making a mess of it and than crying foul like a kidRecommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    @moderate – not really moderate are you, music is ‘forbidden’…you think its forbidden, everything is no unalterable black and white ‘fact’….each and everyone in this country and any other has the right to live freely and profess whatever beliefs they see fit……they shouldnt have to submit to some halfwit mullah’s crazed dogmatic whimsRecommend

  • parvez

    @MHJ: I am not a religious scholar just a logical thinking person. Reading your explanation I realise that you rely heavily on the literal translation and do not allow your mind to explore anything further. Having confidence in your own ability to discern right from wrong is an essential part of gaining knowledge and is a good thing. Recommend

  • PostMan

    6:150 – Say: “Bring forward your witnesses to prove that Allah did forbid so and so.” If they bring such witnesses, be not thou amongst them: Nor follow thou the vain desires of such as treat our signs as falsehoods, and such as believe not in the Hereafter: for they hold others as equal with their Guardian-Lord.

    5:90 – O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

    God should have mentioned music if it were so bad.Recommend

  • Sehyr

    I AM SHOCKED THAT YOU GUYS ARE STILL ARGUING ABOUT MUSIC BEING HARAM / HALAL. SO SAD! Most of the people here are of the same mindset as the writer has talked about.. As far as this guy is concerned, a quick search on google clarified he’s a communist or something. The point is not about Islam or Punk or their fusion. The point is to reflect something as a creative person. It can be anything. We are no ones to make issues out of that. We should condemn those who harass artists and judge them according to their own faith. Recommend

  • Rukash Raza

    “Though I remain alive, the tragic ignorance of my own people has killed me.” my exact sentiment’s. Very well written.Recommend

  • rk singh

    Sad state of affairs. Islam has not progressed since AD 700. Period. No use of following meaningless dogmas. Reformers are desparately required. Otherwise the whole region will be one bg morass.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Shehr-e-janaan main ab baa-sifa kaun hai
    who is untainted in the city of beloved

    Dast-e-qatil kay shayan raha kaun hai
    who deserve the killers or executioners hand

    Rakht-e-dil bandh lo, dil figaro chalo
    get ready for the journey of heart, go wounded heart

    Phir hameen qatl ho aain yaro chalo
    let us go to be executed


  • Zeeshan

    “This assassination of Osama bin Laden is meaningless unless each one of us kills the Osama within” speaks alot. Recommend

  • shahzad

    @Moderate? and MHJ: If a thing as beautiful as music is haram in Islam then the best thing to do would be to abandon Islam immediately! But I wonder why God in the Koran (not in some concocted hadith) mentions King David SINGING to praise Him. And I see that you choose to drag out Bukhari in your anti-music defense instead of anything from the Koran. Probably because there is nothing in it which forbids music. I actually feel sorry for you guys. What barren lives you must lead without music. Next song please! Cheers! :)Recommend

  • patriot

    why do we have to prove others wrong? as long as nobody harms anyone physically, let others do what they want.if one muslim thinks music is haram and the other thinks its not, then let both of them indulge in what they believe…..
    the point of the article is intolerance, the comments are its proof!Recommend

  • patriot

    why do we have to prove others wrong? as long as nobody gets physically hurt, let people do what they want! if one muslim believes that music is haram and the other thinks its not, then let both of them indulge in what they believe!
    the point of the article is intolerance, the comments are its proof!Recommend

  • Malay Deb

    You have redefined the word ‘Moderate’.Recommend

  • praveen

    I completely support west on it path to put iron sceen against Islam. Only cult in the world which requires its followers to bury the brain and headbanging infront of a book. Great…Recommend

  • Sataish Zara

    okay this is going to sound really weird and irrelevant, but i think i know you :/Recommend