I live in an alternate universe, so I had no idea what the song “Happy" was. Although I do know who Pharrell is thanks to Daft Punk - and the fact that he’s a never-aging vampire. However, before I got a chance to listen to the song, I was confronted by an ugly “controversy” involving Muslims. As the song reaches the heights of popularity, more and more people are making videos with the song and dancing and well… being happy! So some Muslims in the United Kingdom decided they, too, wanted to express their happiness and made a video of themselves dancing.
And all hell broke loose.
The participants in the video are being condemned left and right by every kind of Muslim, from the ordinary to respected religious leaders for this flagrant “satanic” act. Not surprisingly, the women in the video are especially targeted for their indecency. What got my attention was a long Facebook post by a certain Muslim scholar who recently had to apologize for sexism. The post is disgusting and as my friend Imran Garda put it so brilliantly, “Dawkins should stop tweeting and just link to this post whenever he wants to convince people to become atheist.”
This rant was just a microcosm of what’s being spewed online about the video as I looked and looked, so I decided to watch the video and listen to the song for the first time.
As I watched the video, wallahi, I started crying. Here was everything that’s good about Islam crammed into a four minute video. It succinctly expresses what Islam stands for: diversity, equality, respect, compassion, caring… above all, happiness. To see men and women, black, brown and white, young and old, rich and poor all stand together and expressing their oneness is the closest you could come to telling the message of Islam to a wider audience. As I wiped away my tears, I was struck by how offended I had been by the responses to the video after watching it.
There are so many things wrong with the responses that I could write a book about them, but let me just dissect some of the statements from the post I referenced above to explain why the responses are so troubling. I would add that I don’t know the author of the post personally, I’m just offended by what he wrote and the only reason I’m taking his writing to explain this is that it’s representative of almost the entirety of responses. Also, I’m withholding his name, but I’m sure most of you know who I am talking about. So here’s a point by point rebuttal:
1. The music is catchy because Iblis might have personally helped create it.
Loud and clear, brothers and sisters: If it makes you happy and makes you want to dance with happiness, beware, it’s Iblis. I guess than if something makes you upset, cry or wail, it comes from Allah - rule of opposites?
2. “My first reaction when I saw sisters dancing like that was just how much these ladies love to talk about objectification and being stereotyped and feminism and all that bakwas, but they play a different game in real life.”
Bakwas in Urdu (the national language of Pakistan) loosely translates to bullshit. So feminism is bullshit. Complaining about objectification is bullshit. Being upset about being stereotyped is bullshit. Simply because some Muslim women were happy and decided to express their happiness in a couple of casual dance moves. This sort of a mindset doesn’t come after watching a four minute video. It comes from deeply-rooted misogyny and the inability to empathize or even listen to Muslim women and their legitimate demands.
3. “The image which came to mind after a few moments was of slave masters watching their slave girls/boys amuse, dance and entertain them as they twirl their moustaches happily. Yes this is a metaphor and our brothers and sisters are not slave girls, but what is worse is when a Muslim makes that conscious decision that what they have from their Deen and their values just isn’t “good enough” and thus “let’s use the medium of popular culture instead regardless of whether it fits an Islamic ethos or not”. This is of course the real slavery. The slavery of the mind. The music etc wasn’t so depressing for me; it was watching a people fall even more into subservience.”
This conjecture is not only deeper than it should be, it expects something from Muslims that is entirely unreasonable. Critics basically want 1.5 billion Muslims to be a giant monolith where there is no individuality, no creativity and no personal difference of opinion. It’s not that we are slaves to a White master - American culture, especially American music - owes a great debt to African-American music and the singer of this song himself is an African-American. It’s that the critics want us to be slaves to a few muftis, mavlanas and sheikhs whose opinions are to shape every decision we ever make.
This is the slavery of the hanging sword of the fatwas and internet opinions. Whenever a Muslim or a group of Muslims expresses themselves in any way, they’re judged directly or indirectly by every Muslim who has a mouth and increasingly, a Facebook account and fingers. We’ve almost completely given up self-criticism in favor of criticism of the other. Instead of every Muslim asking him/herself how they can be a better person, many of us spend our time online, belittling other people for their choices.
This is entirely moronic.
We make up more than 20% of the world’s population and come from different cultures and different parts of the world. Being Muslim is a great part of our identity, but we have other identities and affinities as well. To attempt to force us all to look like mirror images of each other in every way almost sounds scary.
4. Any women who claim that females dancing is not provocative or sexual, is either naïve or just plain miskeen. And any man whom claims the same, is, well, lying. Ladies, you could dance like Peter Crouch and men would find that sexual! Men don’t think like you. You lift an elbow out and just wiggle your head forget about anything else and you just provocation-ed off the provocation-meter. You want to do that, keep it for your fella’s eyes only please.
This is the part that truly disgusted me. Let me put this simply: what people espousing this idea are telling you is that men are all hyper-sexual hyenas so you have to hide from us. Now some might say, “But he’s only talking about dancing!” Friends, a while ago, I wrote an article about sexual harassment, here’s a comment a Muslimah wrote under my article:
"The most astounding experience I have ever had was in the Holy city of Mecca while praying to Allah around the Holy Ka’ba’. I was sexually harassed in the one place where both men and women can worship together which is while walking in Tawa’af around the Ka’ba. If a man resorts to perverse thoughts in such a dignified and Holy place which is said to be the Home of Allah Almightey, then why would he refrain from doing so in his day to day life-regardless of whether the women are wearing hijab or not."
The problem isn’t that some Muslim women dance or sing or don’t wear the hijab and awaken the sexual predators in some of us. The problem is that some men are sexual predators. They will prey on Muslim and non-Muslim alike no matter what they wear, what they do and where they are. The idea that somehow all men are that way is a clever trick. An infuriating deceit that some men have perpetrated for centuries to keep women confined to their homes. They make women fear all men - regardless of who we are and how we act - as a way to make them afraid of leaving their homes to study, to work, to be part of a profession.
This dirty attempt at victim-blaming is even more hurtful because that’s what Muslim men and women face already from Islamophobes. To see Muslims themselves claim that Muslim men are so sexual they can’t stop sexualizing all and every woman is beyond disturbing.
5. It’s amazing just how strong that feeling of inferiority amongst liberal and secular Muslims is. That is definitely the major concern here, not the music or dancing. Folks used to call it a inferiority complex. That’s outdated now. We need to call it an “inferiority crisis”.
So Muslims just being normal people is an “inferiority crisis”. I have read other responses that are attempting to make it look like the participants in the video were attempting to educate people about Islam or Muslims. Why can’t Muslims just be? Why should everything we ever do has to be viewed in the prism of everyone’s version of Islam - which as we all know there are thousands of and each one claims to be representing the “true” Islam.
I’d like the people saying this to say this to the African-American Muslims in the video, dancing to the music of a fellow African-American and ask them, “Brother, do you feel inferior to White people that’s why you are enjoying your own culture?”
6. “We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
This is another standard response. “OMG! Your hijab is all wrong!”
What exactly is that to you or anyone else? Who died and made you the “Hijab Police”? Wallah billah thuma tillah, if Muslim men just stopped writing about what Muslim women should or shouldn’t wear, we could probably build the Great Wall of China ten times over in a week. However, since this issue came up, it suffices to post this video by a brilliant Muslim woman who has finally found the solution to our hijab-related problems: watch this three-minute video on how to make the PERFECT Hijab and keep reading:
I hope that solves that forever.
7. “I love seeing happy people. I loved their smiles in this video. I just wish I could see them so happy without the music and dancing. Surely we can do that? Although in fairness, perhaps some folks can’t? Genuine question.”
Here comes the controlling Muslims. “I want you to be happy, but I want you to be happy the way I tell you to be happy.” Also, who said they’re showing their happiness to you? If you can’t appreciate their happiness and be happy for them, go do something that makes you happy instead of attempting to ruin their fun. I guess your happiness comes from making other people feel miserable.
8. “The Yanks are looking at this video and thinking, “Erm, so what’s exactly the issue here folks? Who did what wrong?!””
This response basically attempts to ridicule by proxy. “Oh, look, the Americans are laughing at how weird my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters look…” So far I haven’t seen a single “Yank” respond to this video in a negative way - only Muslims.
Also, as someone who lives in America, I find this sly stereotypicalization of Americans insulting. Whatever happened to respect being a Muslim trait?
9. “To those who are disappointed with all this, don’t even try for a second to criticise music and dancing. Once you’ve gone down that route, it’s more than just a poisoned chalice. It’s professional suicide. Everyone is so happy inside, and suddenly you’re telling them they shouldn’t be? You will NEVER win this argument, and frankly it’s no biggie anyway. Emotional ignorance of the rules of Allah is the most difficult to discuss, so don’t waste your time on it.”
Emotional ignorance of the rules of Allah? Let me relate a story to you.
There once lived a man who had lived a life so full of sin that anyone who knew him had no hope for his salvation. It happened that one day, he was passing through a desert and got to a well. He saw a dog, dying of thirst next to the well so close to water, but unable to reach it. The man’s heart melted. He attempted to draw water from the well, but there was no rope or bucket. He opened up his turban, tied it to his shoe, lowered it in the well and drew water for a dog - a dog, brothers and sisters. He quenched a dog’s a thirst and in return, Allah was so pleased with this single act of kindness that all his sins were forgiven.
What you see, brothers and sisters, is a singular focus on music, dancing, hijab, movies, clothes, beards, caps, tasbeehs… you name it. Little do I see from these internet preachers about racism. About misogyny. About institutionalized injustice. About poverty. About child labor. Islam didn’t just come here to ban things. It came to tell us to treat our neighbor like ourselves. To not see our brother as black or brown or white, but as a human being. It came to tell us that we should prefer going hungry while sharing food with the poor over stuffing our bellies with fried chicken while our neighbor’s children cry for a mouthful of boiled rice.
Emotional ignorance of the rules of Allah? How about ignorance of the problems facing Muslims? Our problem isn’t music or dancing of a few Muslims. Our problem is systematic oppression against us in countries where we are the majority. It’s the threat of racism that is dividing us amongst ourselves. It’s the threat of poverty that takes thousands of Muslim lives each year. It’s the police harassing us and bugging our mosques in the West. The list is too long.
Why can’t we spend more time on those?
10. “For those who say that scholars says music etc is good and allowed: firstly forget all the so called scholars and Shaykhs and Imams in the West who are not much more than transmitters of fatwas and opinions. No disrespect to us all but let us all recognise our reality. If we were to see the actual real scholarly voices that permit the use of music, and you would be able to count them on one hand frankly and that doesn’t diminish our respect for them by the way, then I say this: from this group would be Shaykh Abdullah Judai’ and Sh Yusuf al-Qardhawi. I would love to see their reaction to seeing what happens in this video and then ask them, “Shaykh, we make stuff like this because we follow your fatwa that music is allowed.” I think you’d better prepare to get slapped lol.”
Yes, Muslims are children - the whole 1.5 billion of us. We cannot read the Quran. We cannot understand the Ahadith. We cannot read opinions of Ulema. Better yet, we cannot make up our own minds about what Islam says and doesn’t and how we should live our lives and how we shouldn’t - even in our personal lives.
Instead, let’s listen to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, who is a guest of the government of Qatar and lives on their dime. The same government of Qatar that’s hosting the 2018 Soccer World Cup for the construction of which, thousands of poor people from South Asia will die in the next few years - 900 already have, and many of them Muslim. Instead of preaching to us, al-Qaradhawi should die of shame.
Or should we listen to the Ulema that live on the dime of the King of Saudi Arabia who treats a country of 30 million people like personal property? I think the point is taken? Or maybe we should listen to internet preachers who victim-blame our sisters and claim that all men can do is lust after women and never respect them?
11. “I love creativity. I think Muslims have so much to offer. I just hope and pray it can be done without the need to have to use what everyone else values, as opposed to what WE value. Or at least SHOULD value I guess I should say.”
So to these people, Muslims are culture-less drones. We’ve never created music. We’ve never created dance. We’ve never painted. Never written poetry. Never taken part in creating any form of art. All art is “other” and if we attempt to express our happiness or sadness through any art form, we’re just imitating them. What bakwas is this?!
12. Remember that above all, the resulting video is one which involved *personal* sin and it was concerning *fiqh* as opposed to anything else more serious. This is most definitely not belittling sin by this statement, but just reminding us all that we do have much bigger problems amongst Muslims to focus on such as what we actual believe in, and whether we consider Allah’s requirements to be divine enough so as to be protected from our desires and flawed intellects. There is a chasm between saying (a) Allah couldn’t have said this or made that halal or haram, and saying (b) I know Allah said that but I’m struggling with it.
Struggling is good, keep up that struggle. Denying is bad, drop that bakwas otherwise you’ll be dropped in the next life. No, you won’t be dropping it like it’s hot. You’ll be *dropped* somewhere hot.
May Allah protect us all and forgive us and guide us all, my sinful self before anyone else. Ameen.
It’s the same mantra - focusing on personal as opposed to wider, societal ills that are plaguing all of us - as usual. Anyway, here’s another story.
They say early Muslim scholar and Sufi Rabia al-Basri was once walking towards an unknown destination outside the city of Baghdad. Eminent Muslim scholar and her disciple Hasan al-Basri - Yes, Hasan al-Basri was a woman’s pupil! - saw her and approached her. As he got closer, he noticed she was carrying a torch in one hand and a cup of water in another. Puzzled, he asked her where she was going and what were the torch and water for?
She replied: “I’m going to burn Allah’s paradise with this fire. Then, I’ll extinguish the fires of hell with this water.” Further puzzled, Hasan again inquired as he figured there would be some hikmah in this, “But why would you do such a thing?”
Rabia again calmly replied: “Because people have turned the love of the divine into a business. We don’t love our creator or obey his rules because we love him. Rather, we are afraid of burning in hell and missing out on paradise so we do what we do towards that end.”
When everything else fails - from calling all men hypersexualized hyenas, to ignoring societal problems, to making a mountain of a mole, how about some hellfire to make you tremble to your core? This is what today’s Muslim preachers and internet scholars have turned into. Businessmen of our religion who’ll tell you what to do and what not to do and then resort to moral authorities who live in comfort, thanks to money flowing from the Gulf’s petrodollars.
I’m sure our creator prefers one Rabia over 1.5 billion of us.
13. Whatever is sinful or potentially sinful or at least doubtful, should be kept to yourself. Sing with your hairdryer in the mirror. Dance your socks off in the privacy of your bedroom. Chill at home as undressed as you want. Allah is covering you right at that monent.
But once you bring it out like this, go public, and be happy about it, then Allah has uncovered you. And thus you have lost protection. And once you lose HIS protection, then, well, Allahul-Musta‘an.
The pedantry at display here regarding dancing and music is so exceptional that I am no longer going to skirt around the issue. However, before we talk about the “satanic” singing and dancing, let’s read a Hadith, which is narrated by Hazrat Aisha and recorded by Imam Bukhari:
"Allah’s Apostle returned from a journey when I had placed a curtain of mine having pictures over (the door of) a chamber of mine. When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he tore it and said, "The people who will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection will be those who try to make the like of Allah’s creations." So we turned it (i.e., the curtain) into one or two cushions."
Now, please tell me why this scholar has a picture of him plastered everywhere? Does he not fear losing the protection of Allah? What about the thousands upon of thousands of eminent Muslim scholars who go on television and similarly take and post their pictures on and offline? Even the most fundamentalist of Muslims these days - including the Taliban and al-Qaeda - do not shirk from it. Do they not fear hellfire? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t know Islam well enough to pay attention to everything.
Though, the better answer as to why this is is: besides building idols, pictures were one of the ways early pagan Arabs depicted their gods and goddesses. In fact, the walls of Ka’ba had many such paintings before the Prophet removed them after the taking of Mecca. The prohibition on pictures of living things was more to stem the tide of returning to the religions before Islam as well as safeguarding Islam from becoming like those religions.
Now as to singing and dancing. The prohibition on singing and dancing itself came about because early Meccans, especially the very rich leaders of Mecca, were very fond of wasting wealth on alcohol, singing and dancing. So pervasive was this practice that when the 1,000 Meccans came to fight the 313 Muslims of Medina at al-Badr, they had with them singers and dancers and alcohol. They partied all night before they went to fight the Prophet and his companions. We know the result.
These singers and specifically dancers, were women. Islam wanted to elevate women from poverty, lack of rights and discrimination back then. Many of them like many today, faced with systemic injustice, were unable to feed their families without giving in to the whims of the ultra-rich men. Islam also wanted to encourage Muslims to spend their money helping the poor and needy and not on partying. Hence, the ban and also, hence, Islam attempted to give women a share of the property, banning the killing of young daughters and encouraging Muslims to marry widows.
That’s why even today, I don’t judge a woman who sells her body or dances naked in front of the gawking eyes of drunk men to feed her children or herself. God knows, we’ve constructed societies where poverty, discrimination, and systemic and systematic misogyny closes all doors in the face of women and racism and bigotry do the same for men. The result is violent crime on the part of the men and prostitution on the part of women.
Even if they’re doing it because they have fun, I leave judgment to our maker. I am and you, too, should be concerned more about our own actions, our own short-comings and our owns sins. Before we attempt to impart judgments based on the Quran and Ahadith regarding personal shortcomings and what we owe our maker, let’s make sure we’re not being judged by our maker because of our actions. Let’s focus on what we owe our fellow brothers and sisters as Allah might forgive us for shortcomings towards him, but it is up to our brothers and sisters whether they will forgive us for the sins we commit against them.
May our maker give us all the strength to be like the brother in the ad I’m posting below, for truly, if we could follow the actions shown by him, salvation will not be far.