The one thing rather evident in the Muslim community is the paucity of religious leadership; I’m not referring to the personable local sheikh who provides fiqhi or spiritual assistance but those who are able to offer overarching insights and instruction that in some consistent fashion straddles a judicious line between religious adherence and dealing with modernity. Often well-meaning people become caught in the quagmire; sound direction often isn’t so sound and less so coherent. In the midst of all of this, competing agendas – whether sectarian or political, are often thrown into the mix. So in the end we’re left asking more questions than we began with.
How times have changed. The words of the learned who were very much integrated and integral members of society resounded with upright readings, shrewdness and empathy. But these are the days of confusion, the ignorant speak and the learned are few and far in between. There are those with principles but who lack empathy, others confuse understanding with laxity and fail to muster principled and godly methods of reasoning.
The latest malarkey that has been the Happy video has exposed much about us, from a lack of tolerance and etiquette, religious ignorance and spiritual misguidance, to conceit and self-interest. Each one of these things have stood as problematic on their own, with the common theme throughout the entire affair the audacity of the unversed to proclaim absurdities in public without fear of recrimination. It has always surprised me how bold people are when dealing with matters of faith but how reserved they become in other realms, fearful of a strong riposte and the subsequent embarrassment.
The nonchalant attitude of some involved in the initiative has been alarming; although it may have started as well-meaning and a bit of fun by a group of youngsters, malicious responses towards critics has caused antipathy and distrust, bickering and offence, and has done nothing to achieve its original aim. In fact, the aim has throughout been somewhat unclear; at first it was merely a show of diversity, cosmopolitanism, and fun. Then it became about rehumanising Muslims in the face of aggressive Islamophobia. Similarly, Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad first told us via the Independent ‘that it cuts the Muslim community free of the negative images which oppress it’ but then in response to critics the makers quoted him as saying “no one will produce a Sharia argument against jumping for joy.” Beyond this bizarre response that refused to engage with the context of discussions and respond to the astute and rather secular reservations people had, the idea that there could be no conceivably legitimate religious misgiving to the video betrayed even the most menial amount of shar’ii knowledge. Imam Abu Hanifah considered listening to music a major sin opining that it is impermissible in all religions. Imam Malik said: ‘Is there a sane person that says music is truth? None do that amongst us except the depraved.’ In his opus al-Um, Imam al-Shafi’i opined: ‘music is detested speech which resembles falsehood, whoever listens to much of it is to have his testimony rejected.’ Imam Ahmad held the opinion that music sprouts hypocrisy in the heart and quoted the aforementioned statement of Imam Malik. The later leading jurists from all four schools either disparaged all types of music or the majority of its forms, those such as Qadi Iyad, al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajr (both al-Asqalani and al-Haitimi), Ibn Rajab, Ibn Qudamah, and Ibn Abideen. Whilst there is a nuanced discussion to be had on ghina’ (forms of singing) and ma’azif (musical instruments) – and I have translated both as music for the sake of brevity, popular music as we know it today, including that used in the video, undeniably includes both. My point isn’t to shut down debate but to highlight that antipathy is neither extreme nor rare.
However, in his most recent announcement, Shaikh Abdul Hakim informs us that rather than being emancipatory, the video was an affirmation of the makers’ love of life and of Islam which he wanted to be witness to, ‘without in any way approving in any absolute way of anything at all’. He then went on to tell us, rather confusingly, that he knew little of the video but didn’t see it as ‘preachy’ (how would he know then?), and that while he holds musical instruments (ma’azif) to be forbidden based on sound hadith, he was unsure whether synthesizers fell into the same category.
Beyond the seemingly evolving rationale for his limited support, it seems very clear that Shaikh Abdul Hakim has failed to actually keep abreast of what he’s supporting. God instructs us about news: “check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done.’ The video did not showcase a love for Islam, clearly it wasn’t meant to, but people simply dancing in the street and miming Pharrell’s lyrics. To attribute godliness to it would be a profound perversion of true spiritual expression. His partial endorsement of their sentiments didn’t serve to endear within the young video makers an inclination to orthodoxy where they tacitly acknowledged those things that are improper, but instead served to legitimise their methods. The notion that the project wasn’t preachy was betrayed by the makers themselves who offered the most absurd comments to the national press: “Lots of people have an idea of Islam that you have to conform to prescribed rules to be a good Muslim, but to us, as young second and third generation British Muslims, that’s not the case.” Surely tarbiyyah, no matter how empathetic, is about pinning down some principles.
The video, as was to be expected, met with disapproval from some quarters. We were privy to the usual haranguing of internet trolls who clearly do not know the shar’ii considerations to enjoining good and prohibiting evil, yet there have been many voices in the Muslim community offering nuanced responses ranging from social insights to political opinion. Many profound points have been raised, from questioning our acquiescence to imposed stereotypes to the contentious appropriation of popular culture that stifles analytical consciousness of the world around us. On Islamicate, Yasmin Jamaludeen offered a well articulated view that has yet to be robustly challenged. Nonetheless, powerful views such as hers have been dismissed or ignored.
One of the participants in the video, Adam Deen, did just that and superficially opted to complain about the trolls. His response was amateurish and in keeping with the boorish methods of his former associations (al-Muhajiroun), he offered pseudo-jurisprudential fallacies about legal reasoning and the position of Islamic law on music that looked like an erratic cut and paste from Google. However, the most offensive imprudence was his imbecilic claim that those vocal in their antipathy to the use of music were angry puritanical hardliners. Given Abdul Hakim Murad’s explicit articulations on the prohibition of musical instruments, what does that say about him then?
Equally, the makers of the video were sure to profess to the Independent that they were challenging the puritanical lot and their hostility, ‘the critique of which comes from a baseless place.’ This grandiose religious claim continued with another participant in the video, Remona Aly, who wrote in the Guardian, ‘The responses have been overwhelmingly positive, with thousands of messages of support, though soured on occasion by the “Haram Squad” (Muslim killjoys who are quick to label everything as “haram” if they don’t agree with it).’
Now for a bunch of people irritated by ‘wahhabis’ and ‘puritanicals’, their own intolerance speaks volumes. They are the mirror image of what they condemn; they speak of rabid salafis yet demonstrate a bigoted militant (religious) leftism just as extreme and belligerent in its approach. Rather then accept the difference of opinion they call for they would rather demonise critics by concocting the nefarious narrative that “the fundamentalists have it in for us.” Their methods are Quilliam-esque: name-calling political demonisation married with the habit of taking an ongoing intra-religious debate to the national media and screaming ‘extremism’, assuming that wider non-Muslim support offers them religious legitimacy.
With everything that’s been going on, the elephant in the room seems to be religion itself – this naive attempt to normalise our religious identity is farcical, specifically because such behavior isn’t normal. Our religious aspiration to be a godly people means we see dancing in the street as quite immature – and if this is a claim about religious happiness then the need to show it in this way is suggestive of a spiritual malady; have we assumed that our manifestation of religious happiness must conform to the standards set by those outside of our religious tradition, and a hip hop artist who has perpetually been involved in the objectification of women at that? In a state of appreciation and happiness for being bestowed John (Yahya) we are told about the Prophet Zacharias and his family:
They were always keen to do good deeds; they would call upon Us longingly and out of subdued awe, and humbled themselves before Us.
Besides, our happiness is tempered with our understanding of reality. The Prophet said, ‘If you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much.’
The idea that we must tap into popular culture to somehow evidence the existence of human intelligence and emotion betrays the normalisation we seek. Perhaps it’s the surreptitious effects of secularism that as believers we turn to treating religion as a social institution rather than as objective truth. Rather than being a social group seeking communal belonging we are a number of conscious intellects that share the same creed and ethical code. In this context being happy is wonderful, but shows of happiness are inherently cultural human expressions, not religious, and so the use of religious identity is obfuscation of sorts. Even if one were happy to be a Muslim, the emotion that arises isn’t the type of euphoria that abstract happiness signifies (such as that expressed in the video) but a sense of relief that there exists some hope of eternal salvation. Put plainly, happiness as related to religiosity it not the ‘wave your hands and wiggle your bum’ sort but rather more a reserved smile – grateful for divine guidance but mindful of the human proclivity to err and fall from grace.
One of the ideas that comes across with the sentiment of this new militant Muslim left is that the religious community shouldn’t be viewed as religious, in fact there is the implicit assumption that religious authority comes out of religious democratisation and the galvanisation of mass opinion. On the back of this, British Islam is being misappropriated. The crystallisation of an indigenous religious practice is constantly ongoing, yet the Independent’s interview with the makers of the video would have us believe that British Islam actually has little to do with Islam and rather more about the need to prove our Britishness through embarrassing performances. The Independent tells us a good Muslim doesn’t need to conform to rules (I wonder if that goes for being a good citizen as well). In fact we should be thankful that our faith gives us the room to be British and Muslim.
While people involved in this initiative may have fallaciously assumed that being British somehow implies a complete approval of everything western, we must be vigilant in recognising that the proper crystallisation of a British Islam is not one which is arbitrarily permissive but rather an astute conceptualisation of how faithful adherence to revelation may sit within the contours of western culture. There are in fact a number of facets for consideration, such as how cultural manifestations meet shar’ii requirements in things like clothing, food, and entertainment; or how fiqh is shaped and which ethical laws are prioritised in view of Muslims living as a minority. Clearly these are very much scholastic undertakings, and the idea that you’re not western merely because you abstain from actively listening to pop music, going to a bar on a Friday night, or anything else you deem to be impermissible is idiocy at its finest.
Conversely, we mustn’t assume that any discussion on religious manifestations within western cultural realities is inevitably going to be one which discards important facets of our faith – these are important discussions we need to have because without context it is difficult to envisage faith altogether.
We wish happiness for all people, in fact it is a core Islamic philosophy that happiness and security remain the fundamental ingredients for the spread of Abrahamic monotheism. Pharrell would have you clap if you know happiness is the truth. I say venerate the Most High for He says,
“That is because God is the Truth, and that which they call upon other than Him is falsehood, and because God is the Most High, the Great.”
 see: al-Alusi’s Ruh al-Ma’ani
 see: Tafsir al-Qurtubi
 see Ibn al-Jawzi’s Talbis Iblis.
 Quran 49:6
 See: http://adamdeen.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/happy-muslims-angry-puritanical-muslims/
 Quran 21:90
 al-Bukhari and Muslim; reported by Anas b. Malik.
 Quran 22:62