Clap Along If You Feel That Happiness is Halal

For anyone with a couple of dozen Muslims on their newsfeeds, any time some event of great importance breaks out somewhere in the Independent Republic of the Internet, you can guarantee that you’ll be exposed to a glimpse of that little-documented creature: the Muslim Troll.

Its natural habitat being under large rocks in urban vicinities, the Muslim Troll is a natural mimic of the Muslim Scholar, adopting a studious expression, self-consciously arranged ensemble of ‘Islamic’ clothing, and many Arabic expressions to pepper his speech. This he does whilst simultaneously eviscerating dozens of fellow Muslims online every day, condemning them to burn in the deepest reaches of hell for posting that video of the cat with the weird miaow.

Fortunately, I do not add suchlike to my friends. Were a Troll to scheme his way in I would promptly unfriendify him. Am I acting against freedom of speech? No, I am acting for freedom from speech. Hate(ful) speech, that is. There is no reasoning with people who say that it is disbelief to use a string of beads to enumerate the names of God, whilst reading Qur’an off their iPads and setting an alarm for Fajr on their iPhones.

So when The Honesty Policy’s effervescent vid Happy British Muslims (one of the global Pharrell Williams covers that have taken YouTube by storm) appeared on my Facebook feed, all that I could see in response was enthusiastic. Muslims of all colours, ages and styles of dress, bouncing around the screen in a state of pure unadulterated elation, without a single news reporter or crime scene in sight? What’s not to like?

Then I came across one woman’s impassioned comment about how ‘this isn’t the sort of da’wah we should be doing’. She seemed genuinely upset that despite all her efforts to maintain her deen (practice) the way she felt it should be, people like this kept on appearing to shatter her resolve. Her plea touched me deeply, but I couldn’t help wondering why something so infectiously cheerful should leave anyone feeling down.

Is the main problem that they’re bopping about to a Western pop song? If that is the case, then all of us who grew up in the West (or are 100% genetically one of ‘them’ – I even did a DNA test to see if I had any Asian, African or Middle Eastern in me; not a drop) are doomed. Much as I love to dance to Berber music or Qawwali, I like a good shimmy to Blondie as much as the next Essex girl. And frankly, most nasheeds are the musical equivalent of a large bag of candyfloss: nice for a while, but leaving you with a hankering for something a bit more substantial.

Music cuts across racial, religious, gender and class boundaries. You might not agree with people dancing for a camera and being broadcast to the world, but listen to a song that gets you jumping and the stress of being categorised falls away. You stop thinking, something that is anathema in our hyperelectric world. Besides, Muslim women often suffer from serious health problems as a result of having little encouragement – or opportunity – to exercise. Dancing is by far the best all-round tonic for the body; you don’t have to go raving to enjoy it.

(The only examples of belly dancers I could find that weren’t wearing exotic dancing gear. Take note of the irony, dear readers. Muslim Troll would be apopleptic.)

Is the issue the idea that we are pandering to Western ideals, trying too hard to prove ourselves by the criteria of ‘them on the other side’? Perhaps. As a minority that is often publicly maligned, we have a tendency to be touchy. British Muslims have a field of paranoia surrounding them, unless they are extremely careful about transcending it.

But we’ve been so immersed in ‘their’ culture, and for so long, where can you honestly draw the line where ‘we’ end’ and ‘they’ begin’? Many of us have no other place to call home than Europe, or the States. In any case, Islam didn’t emerge into a void; names, habits, even acts of worship (such as circumnambulating the Ka’aba) were carried over from before, wherever they were deemed appropriate. This supposed gulf between West and East is absurd: if you go far enough around the globe you come out the other side.

If Islam is as inclusive and atribal as we believe it to be, then being British or American, whether in heritage or culture, can be no barrier to belief.

If the worry is that women shouldn’t be filmed bouncing around on a screen, I can understand why people wouldn’t want to be captured personally and spliced into a video clip, and that out of respect for the privacy of women others might find it disagreeable that women should be shown on a website accessible to billions. But good golly, they’re hardly grinding the air in a leather bustier and thigh-high boots to the strains of some half-witted, semi-pornographic R’n’B tune. (Or shaking their tinselled butts to bellydancing music, for that matter.) Innocent, ebullient joy still exists; we need to be reminded of it before the skepticism sinks in too deep.

And innocent joy isn’t limited to certain groups of people. There is a lingering idea, I fear, that to be a ‘good’ Muslim one must look, speak, and behave a certain way, yet that gingerbread man shape seems to be shrinking all the time. Imam ‘Abdal-Latif Finch said something very powerful in a seminar he gave last summer: “Accepting Allah’s Will means accepting ourselves as we are.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t leave room for change, but it does mean recognising that this is our culture, this is our home, this is our vernacular. I feel that British Muslims have a pressing need to develop this sense of a home-grown Islamic identity, one that doesn’t require unrealistic expectations of piety or borrowing the trappings of foreign ‘Islams’.

Crowd of miscellaneous people listening to Firdaus Ensemble at South Kilburn Studos. Courtesy of Rumi's Cave

Audience at concert by Firdaus Ensemble at South Kilburn Studos, London. Courtesy of Rumi’s Cave

What’s wrong with us incorporating elements of our home cultures into our identities? Trying to squash yourself into a hopelessly ambitious mould of foreign-looking piety is a pretty sure guarantee of making yourselves feel like a failure, and might just end up with a massive, plate-smashing, snot-flying breakdown. Not very spiritual, unless you consider it a ‘breakthrough’.

I suspect that part of the objection that some people have to the Happy British Muslims video is that it expresses an aesthetic that doesn’t meet their ideals for an Islamic nation, rather than being a serious query of the piety of those involved. Sheikh ‘Abdal-Hakim Murad was in it, for goodness’ sake. If that doesn’t give it the seal of approval I don’t know what does.

“Abundance of worldly wealth is not happiness; real happiness lies in contentment of heart and a care-free nature.” (Hadith from the collection Sahih Muslim)

“The most beloved of religions according to Allah the Most High is the ‘easy, flexible religion.’” (Hadith from the collections Ahmad and Hasan)

“The best of all deeds is that you bring happiness to your Muslim brother, pay off his debt or feed him bread.” (Hadith from collection Ibn Adiyy and Hasan)

“O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. Say, ‘In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice; it is better than what they accumulate.'”
(Surah Yunus, 10: 57-58)

So here goes…I’m HAPPY for the blessings of my children, my family, my husband, my friends…for the homes and jobs and projects that have fallen and continue to fall miraculously into my life, dispelling my fears and neurosis about provision and confirming the Divine statement “I am in the opinion of my slave”.

I’m HAPPY for all the flowers and leaves and healing materials that grow so bountifully within reach, for the needs that are met almost before they’ve been articulated, for the abundance that comes purely out of knowing from what Source they are emanating.

I’m HAPPY for the opportunities to learn that come with every challenge, for how beautifully choreographed they are, for how the discomfort lessens as the lesson behind it is revealed.

I’m so blimmin’ HAPPY these days I don’t know how I haven’t made a Happy video myself.

Tell me what makes you happy, too!

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/pharrell-williams-happy-british-muslims-dance-to-song-in-video-9265188.html

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23 thoughts on “Clap Along If You Feel That Happiness is Halal

  1. Hear, hear! There are many Muslims in the States sharing this because it is, I think, a pretty good representation of Muslims in the West. Some wear hijab, some don’t, for example. I loved it myself. Thanks for writing this article; it needed to be said. 🙂

    • Thankyou Julie, so glad this topic has touched so many people all over the world! I am astonished at the amount of traffic it’s generated…1,500 views today so far, more than tripling my previous record…thankyou so much to everyone in the Independent Republic of the Internet!!

    • Yes indeed Ms Amblings, it’s such a shame that so many of us have been pressured into believing that we ought to show our love for our spiritual path by frowning, attacking others and generally raining on everyone’s parade! Thanks for stopping by =)

  2. A perfect riposte ! There is truly a need to define a middle path that marries British culture and Islam …anything else is bound to fail in the long run.

    • Thankyou Raashid, it’s a subject I have inherited with my genes it seems, this strange but really quite ordinary balance between being British (or English) and being Muslim. There’s a lot of work to be done, as everyone keeps saying, but I think we can make it a whole lot more enjoyable if we think positive =)

  3. errr sheikh abdul has publicly disassociated himself from the video stating he was unaware that it would be free mixing and people dancing around. there can be no one genuinely eductaed scholar that would deem this halal. but im sure you will be happy to discredit them all and follow your own desires. as for happiness then giving someone alcohol would make them happy so maybe we should do that.. in the name of happiness of course. Prophet Muhammad pbuh said there will be people who will make zina, alcohol and music halal.

    • Thanks for your comments Bill, however I’m afraid it was a little premature…the article on ShaamPost was a hoax. Sheikh ‘Abdal-Hakim Murad issued a statement which he asked to be published on The Honesty Policy’s website, which I’ll paste below:

      “I’m delighted to see the outcome of the Happy British Muslims video, which has unlocked a remarkable tide of goodwill around the world, and significantly tilted the image of Muslims among many sceptics. Islamophobes must be grinding their teeth to see Muslims of different races and age-groups united by happiness. No-one will produce a Sharia argument against jumping for joy! I look forward to working with The Honesty Policy on future productions.”

      There is a very clear difference between natural joy (which I’m afraid that many people are lacking in) and the kind of giddy pleasure produced by alcohol etc. as you mentioned in your comment. I hope that everyone has the experience of this natural joy and does not let themselves be bullied into believing that it is against our law.

      • Excellent reply… I didn’t see anything in the video that offended me as a Muslim. I don’t believe we should be freely mixing, etc etc but this video is pure bliss and a positive PR tool in my opinion.

  4. I posted this in the Honest Policy website but they deleted it (why? Don’t they believe in “freedom of expression”?):
    I’m all for happiness and I’ve got a question: how does women dancing in the video compare to the women Sahaba (like sayyidah Fatima (RA), or the other female companions that were not from the Ahlul Bayt)? Did they have happiness? Did they dance in front of non-mahrams? How does their modesty and actions compare to this video? Did they appear to non-mahrams without the hijab? Would the Noble Prophet be happy with this video? Who is our role model?

    • To be honest (talking of honesty policies), I have no idea. We don’t have nearly as much information about the daily lives of women of the First Community as I’d like, only odd snippets relating to this hadith or that hadith. I wonder how they dealt with menstruation in a desert climate, for instance, what childbirth was like, who midwived them, how they felt about sharing their husband, and so many other questions.

      The main thing that stands out for me is that we live in almost unbelievably different times. The Prophet (s.a.w.s) never sat at a table or on a chair, never wrote or read, never used a fork…the simplest aspects of our lives, socially, technologically and so on, are widely divergent to the lives they led. Even in the course of that early history, things also changed radically. Women and men initially prayed side by side, but later were obliged to move to the back of the mosque. Was this because this was where they genuinely belonging, or due to concerns about safety, space, or anything else?

      It is impossible to know what he (s.a.w.s) would have thought about people dancing on a YouTube videoclip. This is where we have to use our intellect, intuition and imagination. We have the spirit and we have the letter. If you live by the letter, without trying to grasp the spirit, you end up with a complicated set of rules that governed lives of people in a very different country over a thousand years ago, and which have largely not been touched for centuries. Meanwhile human life has changed almost beyond recognition.

      My own intuition tells me that he (s.a.w.s.) would have been far more preoccupied with getting people off fossil fuels, helping them to becoming independent from banks, eliminating political corruption and widespread drug dependency – all symptoms of a general spiritual morass – than something like whether or not people were dancing in a video on the internet. If you weigh up the relative pros and cons, and the time spent debating issues which are, for me, minor in comparison with the frankly depressing challenges we face in our quickly disintegrating post-industrial world, I feel that we need every chance we can get to keep our spirits up and be proud of being Muslims. Thankyou for your thoughtful comments.

      • Wonderful, I had a great laugh at your comment about “mensuration” don’t forget bathrooms in the dessert because they certainly did exist in the house. You are an excellent writer thank you for the laughs.

      • Hehe I do wonder about these things! If anyone knows of any research done on the everyday lives of women at that time I would love to hear about it! Thanks for reading and commenting =)

      • dear Cavemum, thank you for this wonderufl reminder, in your reply above. it really makes a lot of sense. i think i see in my own self that i hang on to what are really only snippets of the message, due to my own inability to see the larger picture = i can see the larger picture of my own time, but it’s my own shortcoming that when it comes to the Message, i can grasp only small parts, transferring them onto the areas they cover (also small) in the current larger picture, and then feeling quite helpless at the rest of teh current large picture.
        i thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing this to our attention.
        BarakAllahu fiki.
        i admire your writing and your way of thinking a lot; may He bless you and your loved ones infinitely. asking your dua,
        a sister

      • JazakAllah Khair kid sister for your beautiful comment! I pray for blessings and understanding on all things for you and your lives ones and all beings, Amin.

  5. Pingback: Pharrell – Happy British Muslims Video Start Controversy | Islamicevents.sg Editorial

  6. Agree with cavemum .. We have far greater issues (fighting corruption ) that has spereaded like cancer within the muslim nation , than few cheerful girls jumping in a YouTube video.

  7. Pingback: Happy Muslims | Reading, Reflecting and Rejoicing

  8. Pingback: Thoughts on the ‘Pharrell – Happy British Muslims’ Video | Imagine

  9. Pingback: The Culture of My Category | Cavemum

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