I’ve never taken any drugs, nor plan to. I feel like I should make a mention of that as I start writing about this book I just read – Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing. Written by the prolific writer and current Vice columnist Michael Muhammad Knight, Tripping with Allah follows the author on his journey of seeking out ayahuasca, the psychedelic tea made from a vine from the Amazon, hoping to seek a religious experience.
Tripping with Allah is the first book I’ve read by Michael Muhammad Knight, author of the punk Islam novel The Taqwacores. When I first heard about that particular book ages ago, it was in an article about how there was this guy that was changing the face of Islam in America with his book on punk rock Muslims. The article went on to mention how bands emerged as part of the Taqwacore movement, like The Kominas. However, because of the graphic content of the book, I had no interest in seeking out and reading it. No offense.
I thought I would check out Tripping with Allah because I’ve been intrigued by some of Knight’s articles on Vice.com and one of his columns stated something along the lines of him not really being the same person who wrote The Taqwacores 10 or so years ago. Also, he’s written a number of books since then and is in a different place in his life and so I figured I should to try out his work.
AND I found out there was a chapter on coffee.
My decision to read Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing was made.
For Knight, obtaining ayahuasca and whether or not he has a trip and what he sees or doesn’t see shapes the content of the book. This isn’t just some stoner book though as Knight, who at the time of writing this book was finishing up a Masters at Harvard, infuses his book with history of drugs, religion, with commentary on historical figures and conversations with different characters in his life. The book is also interspersed with chapters that seemingly have nothing to do with his quest for ayahuasca, like the chapter on coffee and one on wrestling.
After all that is said and done though, I enjoyed the book, which sometimes read as a collection of essays. I’ll admit, I’m pretty sure he won me over right in the beginning with his deconstruction of an episode of Transformers. I learned a lot and through his honest reflections, got insight on the path that he has taken these past years, seemingly away from the person who wrote The Taqwacores all those years ago.
This book does contains a few references to his previous life as a, um, I don’t know, a misfit? That just conjures up in image of Jem’s* nemesis band so maybe not. Yet despite those moments, I have no qualms in saying how much I liked Knight’s writing style and his depiction of the evolution of the process of writing this book, which he includes as part of Tripping with Allah.
I may not agree with everything he says or does – thinking this book is good is no way an endorsement from me to try hallucinogens, but I can respect his need for seeking out the tea in the first place while reconciling it with his clean, sober, drug-free life, especially because of what it ultimately does for him and his relationship with Islam and God.
Further Reading – check out my commentary on the movie version of The Taqwacores.
*It strikes me as funny that the first genre listed for Jem on Wikipedia is “Science Fiction”