The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Happy Muslims: Should We Have Made a Song and Dance of It?

happy_feet-wideQuestion. Unfortunately I was unable to attend your talk last week about whether we should be making a song and dance about the Happy British Muslims video? I would be interested to hear what questions you raised during the talk and what your feelings are about the video?

Response: Bismi’Llah, alhamduli’Llah wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasuli’Llah. Thank you for your query. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, and for what it’s worth, the following points more or less capture my take on the issue:

1. Issues of this nature shouldn’t be blown out of proportion or become the basis for a campaign of incrimination; nor must it become a source of division or discord among Muslims. Healthy debate and courteous engagements are one thing: acrimonious and mean-spirited disputation is another thing altogether. We would do well to recall the Quranic injunction: Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner. [16:125] Unfortunately, some of the voices on both sides of the debate have neither been helpful, nor respectful.

2. One discusses these matters in the spirit of sincerity and brotherliness/sisterliness. One states their case (and position, if need be), and then moves on. Whoever accepts the view, all well and good; if not, one has done their ‘duty’ so to speak. The received scholarly wisdom in this regard is simply: qul kalimataka w’amshi – ‘say your piece and move on.’

3. That the video had a well-intended goal behind it shouldn’t be called into question. For aren’t we required to: Avoid much suspicion? [49:12] Having said that, we must also keep in mind that good intentions aren’t always enough to meet with Divine pleasure and acceptance (ridwan). Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, once put it like this: wa kam min muridin li’l-khayr lan yusibahu – ‘How many people intend good, but never reach the good.’ The Islamic validity of any act – that is, the act having its basis in either the Qur’an, the Sunnah, analogy (qiyas) or scholarly consensus (ijma‘) – is also paramount.

4. While various feelings for and against the video have been voiced, and praise and censure have been meted out to it in differing degrees, the main controversy concerns the question of singing, music and dancing. In the likes of such an issue, people are of two factions. Those versed in the ways of juristic inference and of weighing-up proof-texts, and those who aren’t. Those learned in fiqh and shari‘ah are, after a painstaking and thorough examination of all the relevant evidences, obliged to follow the result of their research. Those unqualified – well what can they really do? They could ask for a fatwa. They could try and gain an awareness of the issue via the internet. They could read and digest a book on the subject. But unless a person hasn’t examined both sides of the debate rigorously, from top to bottom, they are in no position to take a firm or principled stance. What they can of course do is follow the view of a scholar they trust or who is more practically accessible to them. They can also make others aware of the mufti’s view or fatwa, but without believing that it is irrefutably right: for without the required research, how would they know? Ibn Taymiyyah wrote about such muqallids; those not versed in fiqh and who are thus required to follow the fatwas or rulings of qualified scholars: ‘As for someone who knows the view of one scholar and his proofs, but not the other scholar or his proofs, then he is from the generality of the muqallids. He is not of those scholars able to evaluate or weigh-up [proofs].’1 The rule to follow here is: ‘The Muslims are unanimous that it isn’t allowed for a muqallid to declare that this is halal or that is haram, in those ijtihadi issues wherein he is a muqallid. However, what he can say is that this is the ruling in the school of the Imam he follows; or that having sought a fatwa, this is the fatwa he was given.’2

5. The issue of music is problematic in Islam, for it can seriously distract from prayer and remembering Allah; suggestively arouse emotions and passions; and significantly interfere with morality. A small minority of scholars have, nonetheless, argued for the allowance of listening to music; provided the above dangers are ensured against. For them, there is nothing definitive in Islam to prohibit music. If anything, they argue, there are hadiths where the Prophet, upon whom be peace, allows (encourages, even) singing and playing musical instruments. One of the main hadiths cited in this regard states that: The Lady ‘A’ishah said, Abu Bakr visited me while I had two young Ansari girls who were singing the tales of the battle of Bu‘ath; and they were not professional singers. Abu Bakr said: Musical instruments of Satan in the house of Allah’s Prophet! It was Eid day, so Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘O Abu Bakr, there is an Eid for every people, and this is our Eid.’3 This hadith, some advocates of music state, shows how the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not interfere with singing and music, letting the performers and the audience enjoy themselves. Reports from a few notable Companions and some of the Followers (tabi’un) are also used to show the lawfulness of singing and music. Although how authentic these are, or how applicable they are to the issue of music (as opposed to songs or poetry recitals), is questionable.

6. The majority of jurists throughout the ages insist music is haram. To them, music is objectionable, frivolous, more likely than not to lead to immorality, and an unworthy activity for believers. People are often incited to think illicit thoughts and driven to do illicit things by music. Such is its undeniable power. The majority voice forbids music based upon the following chorus of hadiths – the most famous of them being: ‘There shall come groups of people from my ummah who will declare fornication, adultery, silk, wine and musical instrument to be lawful.’4 This prophecy informs us that some people will soon appear who will philosophise away the above prohibitions, declaring the haram to be halal! Another hadith says: ‘Verily Allah has forbidden wine, gambling and drums.’5 In another authentic hadith, it says: ‘Indeed, I did not prohibit weeping, but I did prohibit two foolish and sinful sounds: the sound of merriment with Satan’s wind instruments, in times of blessing and joy; and the sound of wailing while tearing one’s clothes and slapping one’s face, in times of grief.’6 Other hadiths, along with a volley of Companion and salaf-reports, all act in concert to establish the prohibition of lewd, enticing or immoral songs and singing, and of musical instruments generally. The majority view has exceptions, such as a small one-sided drum (duff) at weddings and on Eid days: some scholars extend this to other occasions too. Likewise, innocent and decent singing, humming or chanting during weddings, Eid celebrations, or while travelling, during hard or monotonous labour, or to fight off boredom, have also been permitted by jurists. Finally, although some jurists cite a consensus (ijma‘) on musical instruments being unlawful (exceptions aside), a few have challenged this conclusion. In other words, the truth about the forbiddance of musical instruments, or ma‘azif, is that: either there is unanimity concerning it, or at the very least it is the view taken by the great majority.7 And Allah knows best.

7. In view of the above, if we cast a glance back at the hadith usually used to prove the lawfulness of music (the hadith of the Lady ‘A’ishah in point five), can it really be used to justify its permissibility? For these were young girls singing without the use of any forbidden instruments. The song itself was about heroics in war, and hence perfectly lawful. And the young girls were not professional songstresses, as the wording of the hadith indicates. Moreover, even if music were halal or allowable, the restrictions it is hemmed in by would most certainly put the music which is today so intrinsically part of popular culture, off limits. Given all this, the stiff opposition to, and strong censure of, the Happy Muslim music video should come as no great surprise. A certain display of righteous indignation for Allah’s sake, by those who believed that an act was being committed in opposition to a consensus or to the verdict of the Four Imams, is surely a sign of faith; isn’t it?

8. There was something else about the content of the video which caused eyebrows to be raised: the dancing. In the shari’ah, the ruling about dancing (raqs) – ‘movements of bending, swaying and straightening’ – is differed over by jurists. One group (Shafi‘is) deems it to be permissible (mubah); the other (Hanafis, Malikis and Hanbalis) says it is disliked (makruh).8 All scholars concur that dancing is expressly forbidden (haram) if women dance in view of men; if it excites passions; or if it is suggestive, seductive or sexually provocative – be it women dancing in front of other women, or men in front of men. Given that the Quran instructs women do not be soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspires to you, but speak honourably, [33:32] given also that they not stamp their feet in order to reveal their hidden ornaments, [24:31], the believing woman’s reticence and unassuming modesty would surely be compromised by dancing (even if casually, innocently and unsuggestively) where they may be seen by men? While some in the video were just jumping for joy, it could reasonably be argued that others were not. That the raqs caused a ruckus is again not surprising.

9. Away from all the fiqh and fracas, the video did force Muslims to again ask critical questions about their current standing in society and how they are publicly perceived: What of the growing public opinion which sees Islam and Muslims as being no more than embittered, angry and joyless (a ‘threat’ to society, even)? Don’t we Muslims have a duty to try and improve public perceptions? Shouldn’t we be taking positive steps to counter the bias, misrepresentations and smear campaigns against us by elements of the right-wing press? Shouldn’t we be putting serious efforts into tackling the climate of fear being created around British Muslims? Or do we let the deluge of propaganda, prejudice and anti-Muslim sentiments run their course, unchallenged and unabated? That a significant proportion of the British public hold negative views on Islam and, by extension, British Muslim communities, must be cause for concern. And whilst the Sunnah teaches that it is neither here nor there what others think about our religious practices (as long as we are on good terms with God), it does, nonetheless, allow space for taking public opinion into consideration. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was asked if Ibn Ubayy – whose hypocrisy, political treachery and secret dealings with the enemies were known to him – could be executed, he simply replied: ‘Do not do so, lest people say that Muhammad kills his companions.’9 This is one of a number of instances in the prophetic career where public opinion trumped religious desirability. The video, no doubt, was birthed from the idea to improve the public image of British Muslims. Does the means justify the ends? It would seem not in this case.

10. The ensuing debate over the video raised other key concerns: Does our practice of Islam help recommend it to others? Does our conduct reflect the truths, beauty and balance of Islam? Does our adherence to the faith reflect its universality; its relevance for all people, in all places, at all times? Or are we giving the false impression that the din is an Arab or Asian things, well-suited to bedouin or rural life, but not twenty-first century Britain? These aren’t the times where we can ignorantly, naively or recklessly speak or act as we religiously please, without wider considerations and consequences. That ship has, alhamduli’Llah, long since sailed. Above all, shouldn’t we be reflecting the prophetic concern for peoples’ spiritual and eternal well being – despite growing mistrust and negativity towards us? It was by the mercy of Allah that you [O Prophet] were lenient with them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. [3:159]

Conclusion: No doubt, the video’s intent wasn’t to pander to the crass pop culture of our time. It was about portraying a more joyful and welcoming image of Islam to the public at large (and to young Muslims who often feel that religion is made to appear overly prescriptive – to the point of not offering them any leeway, breathing space, or joy). The hadith which insists that ‘this is our Eid,’ highlights the need to make things easy for people (without declaring halal haram, or visa-versa), while they’re still trying to make their way to the joys of faith and to the sweetness of submission that comes about when religious practice and obedience are steadily internalised. One hadith lets us know: inna hadha’l-dina matin fa awghilu fihi bi rifq – ‘This religion is strong, so go through it gently.’10 To be connected to our Muslim youth, and to help steer them, is something we all need to be a greater part of. To engage their anger, frustrations and confusions is a right they have upon us and a duty we’re still not doing enough about. To help channel their talents and vibrant energies into lawful expressions of art and culture is something our learned ‘ulema need to give us far better guidance and clarity on. Service, or khidmah, is the key concern here. And in all of this we must remember that good intentions are to be seasoned with shari‘ah wisdoms. ‘To bring religion to the people is a fine and necessary undertaking, but this is not a situation in which the proposed end can be said to justify the means. The further people have drifted from the truth, the greater is the temptation to water down the truth.’11 It is a temptation, I believe, that we must resist.

Wa’Llahu a‘lam wa huwa wali al-tawfiq.

1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.

2. Bakr Abu Zayd, al-Madkhal al-Mufassal (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1997), 1:73.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.960.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.5649.

5. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.3698.

6. Al-Haytami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, no.4047.

7. The consensus on musical instruments being haram is mentioned in, among other sources: al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983), 12:383, where he said: ‘There is agreement about the prohibition of flutes (mazamir), instruments of diversion (malahi) and musical instruments (ma‘azif);’ and Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali citing Imam al-Ajurri, Nuzhat al-Asma’ fi Mas’alat al-Sama‘, in Majmu‘ Rasa’il (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2003), 2:244. A thorough discussion of both sides of the debate is given in al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Qayyim, 2005), 9:147-168, where he explains (p.167) that this is ‘an area of legitimate differing’, and points the reader to a treatise he wrote on the topic (Ibtal Da’wa al-Ijma‘ ‘ala Tahrim Mutlaq al-Sama‘) which shows that, although the majority prohibited them, there is no clear consensus on the prohibition of musical instruments. He concluded this fair and thorough discussion with the following caution: al-mu’minun waqqafun ‘inda’l-shubuhat – ‘Believers should refrain from doubtful matters.’

8. For the Shafii position, see: al-Shirbini, Mughni al-Muhtaj (Beirut: Dar al-Marifah, 1997), 4:573.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3518.

10. Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 3:199.

11. Gai Eaton, King of the Castle (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1999), 17.

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17 thoughts on “Happy Muslims: Should We Have Made a Song and Dance of It?

  1. AS WR WB, May Allah bless you and aid you in your incite and ability to aid us all. Ameen

    The opening of doors without care can potentially lead to places you never dreamed of ending up. I remember one of my mothers many mantras, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions…”. An seemingly odd statement that was thrown my way at the very thought of my oft tried procrastinations. Has Abdullah Hakeem quaffed too many single origin coffees I hear you ask!!! Just bear with me please, the modern day flow of Islamic thought is about as easy to understand as Nuclear Science in Mandrin Chinese and I believe it starts with trying to find the perferbeal needle in the haystack. Why oh! Why do we not leave the doors (her comes the purpose of the door metaphor 😉 ) SHUT and believe me those doors are only to be opened by those who own the keys to the doors. The tried and tested science of deducing knowledge from the “guidance” is locked up for good reason and I’ve opened those doors and found myself in many a dark room. Allah in His infinant kindness has gifted us the ability to know the key holders and by leaning on the Key holders both the “knowledge” and the “Muslims” remain safe and soundly wrapped up by Allahs mercy. Maybe the key holders need to sharpen their pencils again as we drift into uncharted territory and I do believe it is precisely situations like the “video” that indicates that Muslims are are in dire need of hearing those keys rattling once again……
    Ps My mothers statement is one I carry lovingly around my neck, those of you who are aware of Islams understanding of the mingling of intention and action will see my point, for those of you who don’t maybe you need to meet my mother 😉

    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

      That we have drifted into uncharted territory is why some feel we need to reopen certain closed doors, so as to give us the maximum options with which to pick from so as to forge ahead.

      That said, there is also the argument which insists that certain doors were kept closed for our own good, by minds possessed of greater wisdom, piety and insight than our current ones. It would be an act of immense hubris if we were to ignore such wisdoms, thinking that our modern minds always knows best; or that today’s “enlightened” thinking has insights into God’s purpose and law that were veiled to those before us.

  2. MashaAllah I found this to be a very balanced piece, clarifying many difficult issues. JazakumAllah khairan.

    • Thank you JG. If it is balanced, as you feel it was and as I hope it is, then I acknowledge it is from Allah. Given that this subject can be quite emotive, I’m not sure how many others will agree with you.

  3. london786 on said:

    Dear respected shaykh,

    Although you have tried to maintain a neutral stance it is far too soft. There is no scope for such rubbish as espoused by the ‘happy muslim’ generally in our religion. With regards to music the issue is very clear cut and bringing in extremely shaadh positions is very dangerous for the awaam. May ALLAH SWT reward the akabir of deoband and the mashaikh of the naqshbandi silsila who were far removed from such nonsense. May ALLAH SWT give us all the understanding of the haq.

    • “Neutral” is not how I would characterise the piece. The issue of dancing in public was, I believe, made very clear. As for music and musical instruments, the article made it clear that even if there was a difference about ma’azif, today’s music would certainly be impermissible. So where is the neutrality?

      And though I believe musical instruments are generally haram, the issue is: Is there a consensus about this, such that we can discard all other views as being anomalous (shadhdh)? Or is it a legitimate difference of opinion?

      According you the benefit of the doubt, I assume you are a seasoned scholar who knows with clear and learned authority that there is an ijma’ on the issue. The same holds for your view that all other opinions on the issue are extremely shadhdh.

      However, it is not a position I can hold with that kind of certainty. What I know for certain is that some scholars hold there to be an ijma’ on the prohibition of music (even more scholars if you define the agreement of the Four Imams as amounting to consensus).

      I’m also acutely aware of a significant number of jurists who have differed down the centuries (either allowing musical instruments for spiritual sama’ session, or for more general purposes). But even those that have permitted it, given the conditions they’ve generally mentioned for permissibility, would they allow most of today’s kind of music? Certainly not? But the point is, how are we to understand those views of allowance from some of the early scholars?

      If you’ve personally analysed each report about the permissibility, and have found clear-cut flaws in the narrations, and are convinced they all amount to no proof at all, or are all shadhdh, – then alhamdulillah, be as firm and principled as you like.

      If you haven’t, how can you make such an absolute judgement – except through taqlid (and the rues of the muqallid have been stated in the article). A muqallid stepping beyond his level could even be more haram than any amount of singing, dancing or jammin’. Wouldn’t you agree?

      Finally, while I do respect the scholars of Deoband, the fact of the matter is that we ask Allah to bless all the ulema; and not one particular faction among them. For whenever the ‘ulema are right in their judgements, they will get two rewards; if not, then one. There was no call to make du’a for only some. The same is the case for the shaykhs of suluk and ihsan. Our du’as are for them all. Our esteem does not decrease for them, and our love does not lessen for any of them, merely because they fall into slips and errors on some issues. To do so would be to fall into an ugly innovation, and be far removed for the spirit of ahl al-sunnah.

      However, I do accept one can be personally and practically attached to some, over others. But there can be a fine line, sometimes, between loving, honouring and serving our masha’ikh and between bigotry to them. May Allah grant us the grace for the former, and protect us against the latter.

      If you noticed, out of the ten points, only three or four focussed on the actua video. The bulk was about the rules of differing and what a muqallid can or cannot do in such matters. As you quite rightly said (and this is the crux of all things): may Allah grant us all the understanding of the din.

      Ps. I accept your criticism that the tone was too soft. You could be right (but I had concerns beyond the actual video itself). And Allah knows best.

      May Allah bless you for your comment and for your passion for not wanting our religious teachings and practices to be compromised in any way. May we all have such a blessed concern.

      • london786 on said:

        Dear respected shaykh. Jazakallah khairan for your detailed response. The issue I have is with regards to this ‘difference of opinion’. Samaa is a very complex issue and the naqshbandi imams were very strict with regards to it. There is some scope in the chistiya for it with strict conditions none of which as you’ve rightly mentioned are present today in most gatherings. It is however sad that certain quarters keep on bringing up these very isolated positions. Why don’t they bring up the isolated positions of some imams with regards to warfare, interaction with disbelievers or other such practices frowned upon today? Seriously this leftist leaning, hippy style Islam has done great damage. With regards to the love of mashaikh and bigotary then from a UK perspective the ulema of deoband and some of the naqshbandi mashaikh are the main people playing their part for deen in the country and Alhamdulillah we say this with pride. I would be interested to hear who you think is working on the same level in the country? I am sad to say but laymen will find it very very difficult to sift through your response to such issues. The mere mention of ‘difference of opinion’ gives a justification for modern day music. Was it not usama hasan and his ilk who use such ‘opinions’ to justify everything under the sun including evolution which you mashallah dealt with in your recent lecture. Please continue praying for me as well.

        • You’re right, the issue of sufi sama’ certainly does have its strict guidelines. The actual discussion wasn’t really about such sama’, it was about whether listening to music is permissible for mere relaxation or entertainment. Let’s be clear here, those who allow it (and there are a number of great religious authorities who did), have either (i) opposed a consensus or; (ii) have not opposed a consensus.

          If they have opposed a consensus then that view will be considered shadhdh (“irregular”, “abnormal”) and we assume one of two cases: (i) they were sincerely mistaken in doing so, or (ii) they did not believe a consensus existed.

          If they have not opposed a consensus, then their view is not shadhdh, it’s a valid difference of opinion.

          I think we are going too have to accept that there are some people who follow certain great religious authorities who believed that there was no consensus about prohibiting music. Instead, it was just the voice of the majority. And whether we agree with such people or not, we shouldn’t accuse them of bringing up shadhdh opinions willy nilly, or upon a whim.

          And while I also agree with you that this liberalising tendency is extremely alarming, we cannot paint people with the same brush just because they follow the allowance view on music.

          The scholars of Deoband have worked tirelessly, mashallah, for the din in the UK; and continue to do so. But I’m sure you’ll agree, the truth isn’t to be found in its entirety with just one single group.

          Finally, valid differences of opinion (khilaf that is mu’tabar or sa’igh) must be acknowledged and respected, and tolerated. That differences can be open to abuse is another issue entirely. Whether there is a verified khilaf in the issue of music, that is the issue at stake here. But to ignore the classical scholarly opinions, like Imam al-Ghazali, who allowed some forms while prohibiting most forms, could be to twist Islamic scholarship and even possibly drift into the realms of bigotry. That said, whoever believe there is an ijma’ on the subject is obligated to follow the ijma’ and will be sinful if they don’t. Why: because ijma’ is binding.

          So let us be firm on the stance we feel or believe is correct, but be a little more careful how we use our tongues to describe or talk about others. As for mere students of knowledge who are not seasoned at all in fiqh or usul al-fiqh, their words are never an authority in and of themselves, unless they are citing earlier authorities correctly and honestly and with the required level of academic integrity.

  4. Khalid on said:

    Salaam, and thank you for these sober thoughts. While I don’t have a problem with music as such I can see how it can be problematic. If we make music “haram” we are denied the beauty that lies in it. But I have also seen how making it “halal” leads Muslims to accept all forms of rubbish. I was astonished to see a prominent Muslim musician who has produced some wonderful nasheed in English paying tribute to Michael Jackson (that same Jackson with the infamous crotch-grab dance move). Our youth listen to rap full of obscenities and glorifying sexual promiscuity and gangsterism. Even mature middle-aged Muslims extolling the virtues of the Rolling Stones (have they listened to the words of Brown Sugar; do they know what the words mean?).

    So what is the point of all this?

    These Muslims were dancing to the Happy tune, authored by William Pharrell who also wrote the obscene lyrics to “Blurred Lines”; a song so outrageous that even non-Muslims found it offensive. Have we become so brain-dead that we are unable to make sensible decisions? Is our Islam becoming so prescriptive that we can only work in a world or halal and haram and are unable to distinguish between right and wrong?

    While the article above is sober, I can’t say it is balanced. The article has focussed entirely on the halal/haram nature of music and missed the elephant in the room: glorifying the work of someone whose work is the very antithesis of what Islam attempts to produce.

    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah,

      I’ve been meaning to reply to you for a while now, but just haven’t been able to get around to it. I do apologise.

      Concerning your main point (the right and wrong of it, as opposed to the halal or haram of it), I had considered that angle, as have others. But I dismissed it as a red herring. Let me explain:

      Would it really have made any difference if, instead of a Pharell track, the video was made to the soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel, the Carpenters, Cliff Richard, Don McLean, or any other easy listening, Radio 2 type of music? Would it have been ok for the video’s participants to dance along to an innocent Osmonds song, or to some Bob Dylan or Bob Marley protest song, or to some early 80s conscious-lyric rap song?

      The issue would still have been the same: how do we explain the condemnation of musical instruments in the authentic hadiths, and in the voice of the great majority of classical jurists. The rightness or wrongness of the video would have been tied, not so much to the moral integrity of the actual artist, but to the question of the halalness or haramness of music itself.

      Our books of classical tafsir, and sometimes our books of fiqh and theology, are peppered with citations from verses of pre-Islamic Arab poets whose morals were sometimes highly questionable or often clearly vulgar and shameless. And yet they are cited, not because of their possible depravity, but because of the usefulness of their poetry. Should our great Imams and classical scholars not have done so? If we follow your logic, they too would have missed the proverbial elephant in the room – in fact, they would have missed an entire stampede of them!

      Again, the issue should never have been about Pharell’s moral standing, or those of his discography of lyrics and videos; but of the question of the lawfulness or otherwise of music itself.

      How do those who find music to be harmless, a bit of fun, a relief, joyful, or whatever other emotional state it induces – how do they account for the presence of these apparently prohibitive hadiths? How do they account for the juristic opposition to it? Surely that is the real crux of the matter, my brother. (As for the article being imbalanced, then you’re probably right).

      While I see your ‘elephant’ argument, I hope you can see my ‘fish’ one.

      And Allah knows best.

      • Khalid on said:


        More fish! Yes, I see the fish.

        But I rather fear you have missed my point. Let’s take the women out of the video. And, for good measure, take the music out as well, so that the men are dancing alone to the rapped lyrics of Pharrell. Would it now be “halal”? Let’s for argument’s sake suggest that the situation has now become “halal”. But would it be “right”? My point is that it would not.

        Many years ago there was a programme called “Shariah TV” put out into the early hours of the morning. I recall a friend had asked the alims on that programme: “Consider an animal that has been cruelly reared for its meat and is then slaughtered in a halal fashion; would it’s meat be halal?”

        I recall how the experts missed the point of the question; they simply failed to understand what the questioner was really asking. They answered that, yes the meat would be halal if it has been slaughtered in the prescribed manner. This is the point I was trying to make in the halal/haram-right/wrong dichotomies. We can become so engrossed in the halal/haram issue that we fail to see the more important issue. The manner in which an animal is slaughtered was so important that the animal’s welfare became peripheral.

        Consider another example, from outside Islam (and which is where our prescriptive methodology is taking us). Men in Judaism are required to cover their head as a sign of respect to God. So what do we find today? Jewish men donning what amounts to a postage-stamp on their head. They fulfil the letter of the law, but have lost sight of the spirit. It may be “kosher”, but is it “right”?

        We see something of this amongst Muslims today. A couple of years ago I was bewildered by the sight of a hijabi Muslimah; above the shoulders, very modest; below the shoulders less so – she was wearing very tight leggings, all the way up to her waist, leaving very little to the imagination. Since then I have seen more examples of this moral confusion. And not just amongst our sisters. The sight of young Muslim men strutting down the street with their jalabiyahs the “proper” height above the ankles and the not so sunnah-compliant swagger is no less morally discordant. In their minds they have done the “halal”; but the right or the wrong of it seems not to have occurred to them.

        I take the point about the Jahiliyah poets; that had not occurred to me, and thank you for making it. However, I am not sure the comparison applies. I can appreciate the works of Steinbeck without endorsing his debauched life-style. I am even prepared to quote some unsavoury lyrics from Pharrell if they help me to make some ethical point.

        However, popular music is very different from literature; it is very difficult to separate the music from the person – they are a package, and the musicians promote themselves as a package: they and their music are one. To dance to Pharrell’s music is to endorse his lifestyle and his misogyny. The halalness of the music is not the issue; that is something over which there is a long-standing debate and one which has not yet been settled, if it ever will. There are the polar views with a spectrum of opinions in between ranging from the haram to the halal.

        Those who took part in the Happy-video clearly did not consider music or dancing as haram, otherwise they would not have done what they did. But they must have known who Pharrell is (I am the first one to admit that I know nothing about popular music, but even I know who Pharrell is); there are non-Muslims who find Pharrell’s misogyny so distasteful that they objected to his music.

        My point is this: are we Muslims unable to see a clear wrong where even non-Muslims can see it? What does that say about us?

        • I can’t help but feel you’re still conflating issues here. Your loathing for this particular person’s artistic output, and the vulgarity and debauchery it portrays, represents or even stands for, is being confused with the legality of his other more “innocent” lyrics.

          If we took the music and women out, then (barring the various views on men dancing), it would in all likelihood be halal. Your question about whether it is now “right” depends on how you are employing the term.

          If you’re suggesting that to use such a person’s lyrics and to increase his fame and royalties would be against the spirit of things, then you certainly have a point. But can it be sinful on just that account? And if it cannot, who are we to question the integrity and practice of those who commit no sin (according to the Islamic standard of judgement)?

          If by it not being right you mean the act is detestable (makruh), but not clearly haram; again, you may be right. But that is a juristic ruling which a jurist needs to verify and assert.

          If you mean that you find the whole thing distasteful, you are most certainly allowed to have a personal preference, but cannot then impose it upon others.

          That said, I too feel the exact same way as you about the difficulty of separating the artist from the whole package. Nonetheless, I feel I would need to discuss that with some of my teachers before taking a more concrete stance, or expressing it more publicly.

          Just as an addition, and if you allows me to indulge another of your examples:

          If an animal is cruelly treated, then ritually slaughtered according to shari’ah stipulations, then yes, the meat is halal – but something detested or forbidden has taken place prior to slaughtering. Nonetheless, the case of halal meat must also include how animals are reared and kept. To trivialise or downplay the issue would be a sore indictment of Muslim ethics (especially in these times).

          It is somewhat akin to the question: what if a Muslim man prays whilst wearing a gold ring on his finger; is his prayer valid? The answer is, providing he has fulfilled the requirements of prayer, then yes. But he has committed something haram in prayer, which does not nullify the actual prayer itself, but lessens its reward. And yet, if only the person kept in mind the whole spiritual enterprise of prayer (how it is a means to draw near to God through an expression of loving submission), it is unlikely he would ever have prayed wearing such an item.

          If we turn your example on its head; if the animal was reared and kept ethically, but slaughtered against the teachings of Islam, would the meat be halal? Absolutely not.

          Thus in our ethics, Allah has given us grades and priorities, which a thorough acquaintance of the Sacred Law would help us understand.

          And while I share your views about head coverings and hi jabs, and other oddities of religious practice (consuming more food in ramadan than outside it, filling gaps in rows to bring about more unity but physically harming or annoying others in the process, parking cars in front of other peoples’ drives to attend prayers or a talk in the mosque, etc.); and while I acknowledge that there is too much “letter of the law” practice, and not enough of the “spirit” in our practices, the elephant and the fish will, it seems, be locked in some kind of stalemate here.

          Your brother,
          Surkheel (Abu Aaliyah)

          • Khalid on said:

            The elephant and the fish clearly have very different perspectives on this. But at least they are in the same room and on the same page.

            I’ve been careful not to confuse the issues of Farrell’s questionable life-style and his “art”; I just happen to believe the two are tightly linked.

            Drinking sugary beverages may be halal, but is it “right”? Eating junk food may be halal, but does it make it right? (It could be argued that these things are not halal, because the Quran mentions “wholesome” with “halal” when referring to food). I would be loathed to say something is not halal (“Why do you prohibit what God has made lawful for you?”Q66:1) but I think we need to ask ourselves about the wisdom of our actions even when the actions’ “halalness” is not disputed.

            As abu Hamza points out, when young Muslims see Muslims dancing to Farrell’s music there will be a degree of validation taking place. And hence the wisdom of such things need to be considered.

            I am not, and would not, suggest that those who danced to Farrell’s music committed a haram act; however I question their wisdom in dancing to the music of one whose life is the very antithesis of Islam.

            • As I mentioned before, I share many of your concerns. The letter of the law (halalness or haramness) is indeed important to know and follow. But the spirit of the law (what is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do) cannot be ignored.

              But without the ahkam (religious rulings) as a framework, the spirit of the law, or its ‘righ or wrongness’ can become very nebulous and subjective. And though I agree we Muslims need to be responsible moral agents at the individual level, that morality must spring from the ahkam of our din.

              Ps. I love the part about the same room. May Allah bless you immensely.

  5. Abu Hamza on said:


    I can’t agree more with Khalid. The more thoughtful, considered and genuine condemnation of this video has nothing to do with music per se. The video needs to be condemned in as strict a manner as possible, not because of the fiqh around music or dancing but because fundamentally, through the video, we are promoting an individual and a culture which is the spawn of Shaitaan.

    When Muslim youth now Google or Youtube ‘Pharrell Happy’ looking for other ‘artistic forms of expression’ from this musician that Muslims have promoted, they will find nothing but vulgarity, obscenity and shamelessness. Pharrell has sung songs on the ambiguity of rape, on the gangster lifestyle and is actually well known for his music videos mimicking soft-core pornography. Who could have imagined that such a man would have his work one day advertised by a motley crew of brothers and sisters acting happy in the name of Islam?!? The shame.

    Unfortunately this cultural naivety of the participants and, very unfortunately, of the one scholar who did appear in the video needs to be highlighted in a stern but gentle manner so that we as an Ummah do not fall into such fallacies again.


    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      I pray you’re well, Abu Hamza. It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you. While I understand your sentiment, I probably will have to disagree with you on this one. My reasons for doing so have been presented in the reply to br Khalid, above. I hope it makes sense.

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