For those who haven’t seen it yet, Deen Squad have just dropped their latest and most controversial music video to date:
The music video to their song, Jannah, a ‘Muslim’ version of Desiigner’s Panda, released yesterday, includes not just a full on hip-hop beat, but Jae Deen and Karter busting obscenely brave dance moves, too. It’s quite the spectacle and certainly unsettling the first time you view it.
Deen Squad, since rising to fame a year ago, have been on the radar of conservative and ultra-conservative Muslims who’ve criticised and often vehemently attacked the group for what they do. But will these Muslims now finally now lay off? Is there any more point? Have Deen Squad finally won?
It’s almost as if, the more they’re criticised, the more Deen Squad push the boundaries with even more controversial material.
Deen Squad, if you haven’t already heard of them, are a Canadian-based hip-hop duo, who are known for their Muslim covers of popular mainstream hits. They’ve caused a ruckus within the Muslim community for their use of music, dancing, certain lyrics (“72 wifeys, that’s why I be heading to Jannah/72, chillin, hoor al Ayn, women/ I got broads up in Jannah/ 72 in the after – note: these lyrics are taken from their original Panda remix, not the music video), as well as their general brashness, with fears they are misleading millions of young Muslims away from their faith. Interestingly, just as hip-hop originally emerged out of struggle and oppression, Deen Squad, it could be argued, are also emerging out of the post-9/11 context in which Muslims have had to struggle to find their place in the modern world, having faced demonisation and social injustice.
Deen Squad, as it were, are fighting back against the Islamophobes, challenging every stereotype of what it is to be a Muslim today. They are speaking to a new generation of Muslims in a way that nobody has done, or dared to, before. They are loud, bold, confident and, dare I say, cocky. Their music permeates various indirect but powerful messages to the collective Muslim psyche, one of which seems to be: be proud of who you are, your beliefs, cultures, ethnicities, even right down to your clothes.
But are they going about this all in the right way? Are they actually leading Muslims astray and can their music be outright classified as haram, or is there more to it?
To some, it seems obvious. Music is haram. Dancing is haram. Therefore what Deen Squad are doing, despite their lyrics being about the Islamic faith, is still haram. But we can’t deny that they have a huge and massively growing fan base, most of whom can’t see much of the other perspective, believing not only that Deen Squad are doing something permissible, but a great and honourable thing.
Saying Deen Squad’s music is haram is easy, and saying it isn’t haram is easy, too. They’re just statements. But we desperately need a mature discussion about it. Islam certainly isn’t black and white. The Sharia is flexible, nuanced and can be open to interpretation, especially in certain circumstances and different times. That’s not to say what they are doing is halal, but we should at least be willing to understand what Deen Squad are thinking, as well as – and I have no doubt about this – the other groups that will emerge as a result of being inspired by them.
Those who defend Deen Squad claim that people are converting to Islam because of their music, that young Muslims are being provided an alternative that are weening them off the filth that the mainstream produces, that it’s giving young Muslims a new sense of purpose, direction and identity that they can be proud of, and is providing a form of entertainment that, in some way, reminds them of their faith. If this is the case, and I don’t deny there is some truth in this, should what they’re doing be written off?
Again, this is not a justification or approval, but things we must talk about. Let’s say, for example, a whole ‘Islamic’ hip-hop industry emerges as a result of Deen Squad, whereby a whole generation stop listening to mainstream hip-hop and opt to listen to this new genre, isn’t it a step forward, or the lesser of two evils? Is listening to Deen Squad better than mainstream hip-hop?
If you watch Deen Squad’s music video for Jannah without the sound, you will see them smiling throughout and Islamic messages plastered everywhere. It’s not exactly a complete replica of the dark, misogynistic and materialistic music videos music fans are now accustomed to seeing with subtle and often explicit satanic themes throughout.
But the question is, what will they do next? If Deen Squad want to keep making money, they must keep things new and fresh. But how long can you maintain a hype and keep people interested if you don’t keep pushing boundaries, especially in our fast-paced world? The companies behind the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga et al realised this and that’s why they’re videos progressively became more extreme.
Will Deen Squad have hijabi women dancing in their videos? Will Karter take his top off? Will Muslim boys and girls mix freely?
I mean, how far do you go to compete with the mainstream, especially considering millions of Muslims are completely wrapped up in it? How far do you go to attract people to Islam, in particular, non-Muslims, who already have a negative impression of the faith? All of this is dangerous and dubious territory that I don’t think anyone has the answers to.
Deen Squad have flaws, major flaws. Their lyrics are often shallow, at times they perpetuate the stereotypes they should be trying to shatter (are you really trying to get to Jannah for the women?), sometimes they seem desperate for likes and shares and you know there’s something slightly wrong when they have to keep repeating that they are sincere.
Whatever we think of them, this is the just the beginning.