UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Arabian Knights : punk Islam and selected works of Michael Muhammad Knight Amoui Kalareh, Kurosh


This thesis is an analysis of Michael Muhammad Knight’s works with a particular focus on The Taqwacores, Blue-Eyed Devil, Osama Van Halen, Impossible Man, William S. Burroughs vs. the Quran, and Tripping with Allah. It differs from earlier critical writing on Knight by taking a Bakhtinian approach to his ground-breaking first novel The Taqwacores and its attempt to open a dialogue on reforming American Islam, focusing on Knight’s relationship to the Beats and their often overlooked Islamic discourses as his ideal model for this artistic/social reform, and tracing a shift in his work from reformist, documentary fiction to self-focused, “cool” autobiography. It argues that what enables Knight to initiate a punk reading of Islam, to cut-up the Quran, and to prescribe ayahuasca (a psychoactive vine native to Amazonian Peru) to pilgrims going to Mecca is his interpretation of the famous statement attributed to Hassan Sabbah: “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Meanwhile, Knight’s approach differs from that of many writers from Rabelais and Dostoyevsky to Nietzsche and Burroughs who have cited or paraphrased this statement. While these writers describe how devastating it would be to live in a godless world where everything is permitted with no hereafter, Knight stresses a vague “coolness” in Sabbah’s statement which he uses to guide his own style of living. This is a criticism, not of his belief, but of its consequences. What is absent in Knight’s works is a consideration of the matter of death, and this absence opens a space in which everything is permitted since there would be no final judgment. Moreover, although Knight has successfully brought some marginalized narratives of Islam to public attention, his disrespect towards mainstream, middle class Muslims, whether orthodox or progressive, in his recent works closes off the dialogue which seemed to open with the publication of his first book.

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