Happy British Muslims, a parody video of Pharrell’s “Happy”, released by an anonymous group called The Honesty Policy, is approaching 350,000 views in just over a day. It has sparked heated discussions and controversy amongst Muslims. Some love it while others hate it. I belong more to the first group.
When I first watched the video, it did exactly what I presume it set out to achieve: it made me happy and, in fact, made my morning. The halal/haram debate didn’t enter my mind until at least a few minutes after I’d finishing watching the video. “Oh, hold on” I thought, “I wonder if everyone will feel the same way?”
Many people, not surprisingly, took it differently: it made them feel uncomfortable and they found it distasteful. Of course, the religious permissibility of the video has nothing to do with my subjective feelings. Neither does it have anything to do with the way it made certain conservative Muslims feel.
We are not scholars, so we can’t judge this to be right or wrong. But from a very human level, most Muslim’s common sense and natural sense of judgment, seemed to indicate that this video is, for the most part, harmless. Some would even go further than that and say this video was, in fact, a good thing: it was a well-spirited video that got Muslims smiling, made them happy, gave them something to be joyful about (and it takes a lot these days to make so many Muslims feel happy).
Some of the critics of the video were quick to ask: what have Muslims got to be happy about with all the terrible things happening in the world? Yes, there are atrocities happening right across the world. And yes, of course we should be doing all we can to help. But burying our heads in our hands and being miserable, stern and angry isn’t going to change anything. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was sad on occasions, but was also happy and light-hearted on others. Life is about balance.
For me, the video just seemed like Muslims having some fun (is there anything wrong with having fun?) If “having fun” is against our Islamic principles, then, yes, it’s wrong. We can all agree on that. We can probably all agree that unnecessary free mixing between Muslim men and women is wrong. That the vast majority of modern day, pop music is abhorrent. And that the sexually exploitative, degrading and reckless dancing we see in music videos has taken our society a step backwards.
However, this video was pretty good. The free mixing was very limited. The men and women who were together were, as far as we can tell, (and if we can’t tell, we should give the benefit of the doubt) married. The song is also as harmless as you’ll get these days, it’s about happiness. Music with good, positive messages, according to many scholars, is fine. And lastly, the dancing we see in the video is, on the most part, extremely sober, mild, tempered and calm. There is clicking of the fingers (is that haram)? There is clapping (is that haram)? There is some swaying (is that haram)? These all seem like natural, human movements that are neither sexual in nature nor suggestive or provocative (unless you have a weird, depraved mind). It really is just Muslims jumping in joy, literally.
If you watch the video without any sound, it becomes even more clear how sober the so called dancing is. The truth is, there are probably very few Muslims who have watched this video who have never danced before. So don’t be hypocritical. If the problem is dancing in public, then maybe you have a point. But if we were to see a group of Muslims swaying and clicking their fingers on the street, minding their business, looking like they are just messing about, most of us wouldn’t think anything of it, we would probably laugh it off, or smile at them.
I do, however, understand the objections against the video. After all, there has to be. If we casually allowed videos like this without any objections, Muslims would start to push the boundaries even further. So, it’s always a good thing that there are objections: it shows that Muslims care about their faith and will do all they can to protect it against certain dangerous modern, secular ideas.
However, what is problematic is the dogmatic mind: those who are convinced they are right, insisting there is no room for disagreement or discussion and are quick to judge others. In this video, there are many well-educated Muslims who are informed about their faith. They knew what they were doing and, according to their understanding, there was nothing wrong with it.
The majority response seems to be one of relief that something like this has come out. It provided a nice, mild and dare I say it, Islamic, form of entertainment and escapism. To put it simply: it was a cute, little video that brought smiles to Muslim’ faces around the world. It may have even got some non-muslims to look into Islam.
Those objecting are in the minority. This says something. And the fact they are in the minority goes some way in explaining why they are so adamant about how haram this video is. (Those small in numbers often shout the loudest).
And to those who say we are playing into orientalist stereotypes or keep saying stuff like: ‘what this video really tells us is…’. No, it should be what this video tells *you*. You are projecting your own thoughts onto the video.
Myriam Francois Cerrah, who featured in the video, said this: “It’s not really that profound. It’s just a bunch of us having a laugh.” And there we have it. The video summed up in two sentences.
As for those who complained Muslims need to maintain their identity, and not become like everyone else. This video showed that we do have our own identity: it showed Muslims unified, happy, wearing Islamic attire and displaying brotherhood and sisterhood. As Muslims we have to be both distinct but also part of the society we live in, this is how we find peace within ourselves and find peace with those whom we live with.
Also worth reading: UK Muslims dance to Happy: Why Not?