Thoughts on the #HappyMuslims and #Mipsterz Commercials

Whenever I'm at the mall, it never fails that my field of vision is forced to pinball from one area to another, bouncing around erratically, attempting to avoid either mall posters or styling and profiling female shoppers.  I bear neither the businesses nor the shoppers any ill will, and it's my hope that the message of Islam will reach them, but suffice it to say, I'm responsible for my own spiritual well-being, and I take it seriously that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to lower our eyes in the Qur'an, and that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has commanded us to look away after the first glance.

When the #mipsterz video came out, I really wanted to understand what all the fuss was about, but couldn't because the same mall girl styling and profiling was occurring in the videos.  Hijabs don't halalify second, third, and fourth glances at sisters attempting to perform some type of “cat walk strut” for all to view.  Within a few seconds of turning it on, it was back off as there was no point in watching it from the edge of my peripheral vision.

The #happymuslims video wasn't as bad from this perspective, but again, watching women dancing is something I wouldn't do if I encountered nonhijab wearing women in the mall, and if our sisters were to follow the agreed-upon shar'i requirements of head cover, loose-fitted clothing, and not enhanced with cosmetics, that still wouldn't give me a green light to check them out, whether they were doing something as unarousing as the robot (yeah, you know who you are), or something beyond that.

I'd be lying though if I didn't mention that there was a part of me that enjoyed seeing people smiling and happy in the #happymuslims video, despite my religious reservations on music and concerns regarding hayaa'.  Social media is often nothing but an onslaught of bad or worse news, and Muslim leaders on my newsfeed are more often than not sharing new problems or delivering passive-aggressive sound-byte shame grenades on everything imaginable and then wondering why no one connects with them.

Discussing the Discussion

As is often the case with Western Muslims, I grew up in an environment of unrestricted access to the Western experience, be it on the entertainment side of things or social relationships with women, irrespective of religion.  Later in life, my understanding of religiosity changed and I became the person who, as one family member put it, you could not hold a civilized conversation with on religion.

What's interesting is that one thing never changed—as an ignorant free spirit or as a rigidly conservative individual—I always considered myself to be a decent person of good intentions, someone who doesn't harm anyone, a person who properly believes in His Creator and mostly worships Him correctly.  I also didn't understand where differing religious perspectives came from.  Before studying our faith academically, the other guy was too restrictive.  After studying and attempting to practice the faith more consciously, the people I left behind were intentionally lax and simply following their nafs.

carlinfastslow

It's my personal belief that most of the discussions that have occurred on these videos have caused more harm than good.  I emphasize here the discussions, and not the videos themselves because what I see from both sides are the same problems that plague our community during other controversial fiqh discussions.  We continue to talk past one another as though we are enemies with the objective of being right.  We continue to bash and backbite one another rather than looking for solutions that are inclusive and bring more of us together and minimize spiritual decay.  We have no intent to try to understand one another authentically from that person's perspective rather than a caricature of “the other”.

Some of the areas of concern I see coming up repeatedly are as follows:

1. Everyone has an Amazon Intention Reader

Isn't it interesting that everyone is saying, “we're not a monolith” or “we're not being understood” or “you guys are caricaturing us”.  Isn't that why the videos were made in the first place, to address stereotypes and bad publicity?  Speaking for myself, I do follow what many would deem a stricter interpretation of faith, but I'm not sure I'd call myself angry, puritanical, or the “Haram Squad“, or someone who is silent on issues like FGM or fighting against the cultural dehumanization of post-relationship Muslim women.  I'd venture there are many Muslims like myself whose only concern here is that we don't displease Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  Other than that, who doesn't like music, dancing, and otherwise having a good time?  Who doesn't like to style and profile a bit, dress well, and send pics to family and friends to see us in good health and spirits.  Selfies do have some value.

Likewise, I don't believe that when a group of people put together a media campaign to create a more positive image of Muslims in the West among our fellow nonMuslim community members, this doesn't imply they are insecure, or that they're brown nosing, or anything else that conjures images of rear end smooching.  I don't believe the men and women who put the #mipsterz video did so with an intention of exploiting the sisters they recorded, and I do believe that the people working on these projects are not only well-intended, but they do not see what they are doing as a violation of any tenets in our faith.  They're looking to put their creative talents and personalities forward in the service of our faith and helping the general Muslim community, and rather than demonizing them for the manner in which the message is delivered, we ought to at least validate the effort from their perspective, not our own.  This doesn't mean we can't criticize the work itself and offer naseehah (advice), but it should be done in a way that doesn't put others on the defensive.

I recognize that humanizing an opponent and attempting to empathize with their intentions can be hard for both groups, so if it makes you feel better, put a #myjihad hashtag somewhere within reach and try to put your best self forward again.  If you can't do that, then just walk away, knowing that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has stated Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will create a home in Paradise for the one who leaves an argument, even when they know they are right.

2. Conflating the Trolls with the Everyone Else

I really hate using a negative name like “trolls” to describe any of our siblings in faith, but there it is.  There are some people who are on the extreme fringes of our community, and they are not only ignorant that there may be other ways of looking at a problem besides what they know, they are rather obnoxious about how they go about sharing their views with the rest of us.

These types of people exist on both sides.  Often they are laymuslims, but there are plenty of obnoxious accomplished bloggers, academics, and yes, even Muslim scholars.  People who will state that differences of opinion are to be respected only to follow that up with telling you the difference you follow is wrong, backwards, antiquated, prehistoric, from the times of jahiliyyah, and decontextualized, nonwestern, and then some.  I've seen it happen more than enough times that I'm jaded, but these troll-like inconsistencies are not Muslim problems so much as they are human problems.

The silent majority and all sides of these discussions are not throwing flames back and forth.  We want people intelligent enough to lead our community out of the darkness of disagreement and into the light of unity.  Let's not make everyone who holds an opinion to simply be another manifestation of the troll who blows his or her stack around the internet. Instead, let's take the time to understand where the other person is coming from and reflect on their views, demonstrate that we understand where they're come from, and then share our views.

For example, when someone doesn't understand why you believe music is prohibited, it's possible they never knew such an opinion even existed to begin with, or that they don't understand how religious law is derived.  When I was told music was not allowed in my high school years, it sounded like gobbley-gook to me.  I didn't have a sense of grounding in the sciences of our faith enough to understand how such could even be.  I again emphasize, take the time to understand people and their level of knowledge – don't assume everyone knows what you know.

3. Not Understanding What Constitutes Good Leadership

What I have to say next will hurt a lot of people, but it has to be said.  The majority of academics, Muslim scholars, activists with position titles, and more are not leaders.  More accurately, they aren't good leaders (since they likely have followers), let alone great leaders.

Great leaders will sacrifice their personal preferences in favor of moving the ball forward.  They may hold positions, even strong positions, on certain issues, but that won't stop them from turning down the volume on their own emotions about an issue and working with those they disagree with, trying to come to a proper resolution so that the rest of the community leaves aside the tabloid social media microcelebrity discussions and returns to more important priorities we all agree need work, whether it's tending to our spiritual maladies, community service, or international humanitarian crises that we can affect positively for the better.

If you want to really understand who the great leaders are in our community and model them, take a look at the most successful organizations in terms of the spiritual and community benefit they bring with them.  Whether you agree with everything they do or not, those are your best candidates for modeling success.  Take a look at a person like imam Siraj Wahaj, no doubt a great speaker, but more importantly, look at the congregation he started with, the benefit he's brought to his neighborhood, what the Muslims and people of other faiths say about him, and his impact on the national Muslim community – that's leadership.

Long story short, if all you read from someone is vilification about the “other” and they're unable to break the cycle of finger-pointing, or are unable to articulate their views without thinking about the potential negative implications and blowback stemming from how they are dialoguing, we  shouldn't follow them on this issue, if not others.  After the fatwas come down from on high disagreeing on what is and isn't lawful, the rest of us have to live in the real world and determine practical, workable solutions that bring us together despite our differences.

As we are creating videos that humanize us to the West, we ought to consider how we can humanize ourselves to one another when we differ.  Ivory tower bloggers, debaters, academics, and scholars who are unable to appreciate this point are poor leaders and should not be followed until they develop the maturity to see outside their own boxes.  This again applies to all sides in many of these debates.

My Personal Disagreements with the Videos

A good deal of criticism has been thrown the way of the videos, but personally, I thought they beat around the bush.  In summary, my own dislike of it stems from what I have been taught on the issue of music and the concept of hayaa' as it relates to our sisters and what I may view of them.

On the issue of music, I follow the opinion that it is prohibited with some exceptions, and if anyone wants to understand what research I did and why I came to the conclusion I did, they can read the following book which discusses in detail the ruling of the majority, the minority opinion of past and present scholars which allowed all types of musical instruments, and discusses questions about the minority opinion for which I haven't seen answers.

On the issue of hayaa', I do believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) holds both men and women to a higher standard than the rest of society.  While it is true that both men and women are told to lower their eyes in the Qur'an, the teachers I've learned from explained this emphasis is stronger on men more than women.  With respect to dress and conduct, my understanding from the verses which speak about women's dress as well as the hadith which further explain this and the use of make up while both genders should be modest according to what is defined, the emphasis is more on our sisters with respect to dress and conduct that can draw attention.

There is no implication here that either men should stay home so they see nothing nor is there an implication that sisters stay home and become invisible so as to escape the notice of any man who may find any movement desirable.  The idea is that both should be doing their part to avoid finding or causing sexual attention while going about their daily lives.  What each gender does is complementary to its opposite, and it is when both take responsibility in fulfilling their side of the bargain that a synergy is borne from that cooperation.  That synergy is a barakah that results in a respected, honorable, upright, ethical, and dignified community of both Muslim men and women.

Proposed Solution: The Coca-Cola Classic Happiness Machine

The #mipsterz and #happymuslims videos reminded me of those Coca-Cola Classic commercials where a bunch of people are in the middle of some action, dancing and having a good time, every other frame jumping from one group of young people to the next enjoying their bottle of coke in hand while in the midst of an everlasting party.  The sun is always setting just right, and the hope is, via classical conditioning theory, that you'll associate fun, youth, and happiness with Coca-Cola when you go grocery shopping, eliciting not just the mental image of the commercial, but the positive chemical reactions you felt will also be conditioned into you so that the next time you see that Coca-Cola classic.

With our own videos, the true goal isn't to show women dancing, or to play music for the sake of it.  The true intent of these videos is to humanize Muslims, to show them as contributing members of society, and to create those same positive associations (with good intention, no doubt).  Can we do it without causing concern for hayaa' in a sizable portion of the conservative community (I say conservative knowing full well many of you who participated in the video consider yourself conservative, don't mind the generic terminology, you know what I mean ;) and without music?

Here's another example from Coca-Cola Classic known as the Happiness Machine, which went viral in 2010:

YouTube Preview Image

No dancing, styling, profiling, or music in this video.  If the Coke Company can do it, can our brothers and sisters in faith find their way towards creating viral videos with the same parameters?  Because honestly, the videos that were put out were professional quality (from my layman's perspective of videography, anyway), and I know a bunch of us would love to be able to watch it minus our conscience pricking at us, making us wonder if we're displeasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in the process.

On the music side of the discussion, I think it's a great stride that #happymuslims used “Happy” because the lyrics are clean.  And yes, that is progress because even those who permit musical instruments do so with the caveat that the songs don't call to immorality, or are performed in a licentious way (i.e. vast majority of pop music, good-bye Wrecking Ball).  But can we push the envelope a little further to voice-only acapella if we absolutely have to have something in the background?  There are many examples on YouTube of artists performing covers of Top 40 songs as well as creating originals with nothing except their voices.  I'd love to see more #muslimacapella artists, and their vocals providing the backdrop for a video of Muslims bringing happiness to their communities.

Concluding Thoughts

Disagreement is an inevitable part of the human experience.  We can certainly disagree by venting and going for the jugular, or we can take strong principled positions, stay true to ourselves, AND work to bring about solutions that allow us to accomplish our goals and bring together the greatest number of people.  While I don't expect that what I've proposed is the one-and-only solution, I hope we can move beyond the tabloid nature of such discussions, leaving behind caricatures and stereotypes in favor of solutions that allow for respectful dialogue, whether we end in agreement or not.

What do you think the way forward is?

44 Responses

  1. The Salafi Feminist

    Creativity exists in our community, we just need to ensure that it’s coupled with originality (i.e. not simply joining existing trends and ‘Muslimizing’ them) and, of course, Islamic ethics (and rulings because *gasp*shock*horror* halaal and haraam are actually really concepts that are meant to be applied and not just theorized over!).

    The tangent about leadership deserves an article in and of itself… there’s a huge difference between academics and leaders of organizations, and those who are leaders truly in spirit and who are spending their daily lives creating and fostering their communities.

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  2. MoMo

    Mashallah. Very balanced and well written piece. I’d read the lyrics again though before you praise the song choice.

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    • Siraaj

      Which lines did you specifically find problematic? I don’t recall seeing any when I read it, but maybe I read them from a different source…? Thanks for the comment otherwise =)

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  3. Mahmud

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Mahmud

      Lol at the negs…..it was a question, I don’t know how men and women are held to a higher standard than the rest of society….unless I’m missing something, there is a mistake in this sentence.

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      • Siraaj

        It means the standard of hayaa’ that is required by the rest of society is lower and less strict than the standard of Allah (swt) =)

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      • M

        From what I understood, the author is saying that Allah SWT holds men and women to a higher standard than what society (us, basically) hold each other to.

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  4. ZAI

    Br. Siraaj,
    Good piece and agree with everything you said about tolerance for different opinions,
    thinking well of others intentions, not denigrating dissenters with labels, etc.
    Agree with everything until the end, i.e. the Coke Solution. Voices only acapella and hayaa concerns of the so-called “conservatives”? That’s not a compromise…That’s just giving
    them everything they want and given that the makers, Honesty Policy, explained
    pretty bluntly in their self defense, that they hold different opinions than the conservatives and
    feel they have every right to speak and live those differences…I don’t see how so-called moderates
    and liberals are going to go for that. They won’t view that as a compromise, but conceding defeat to conservative pressure and outcry.

    Some kind of accommodation and compromise will have to be reached between Muslims
    in the real world public space perhaps….everyone shares it. But when it comes to media such
    as books, internet, videos, television, movies, etc. I don’t think so-called liberals or
    moderates are going to compromise…They’ll say no one is forcing conservatives to watch, listen
    to or read it…so click on the ‘x’ button. A major part of their contention is that conservatives
    will not define, dictate or enforce conservative opinions on them…so why would they give in to
    what the so-called conservatives are demanding about music or “proper” behavior of women in the
    public sphere? in their minds, they give in on one thing…and next mawlid is haraam, niqab and beards can be enforced, chess is haraam, women to their houses altogether, and on and on. That’s exactly what they don’t want: to be pressured or forced into giving in to conservative opinions.

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    • Siraaj

      If we want to pigeonhole ourselves according to those labels, we might find it difficult, especially if we view the world from the lens of PR (“we’re not giving in to the conservatives”) rather than principle (“what can bring our community the most benefit?”) I’m not saying what I’ve proposed is necessarily that, it could be something else.

      On the other hand, if we can view ourselves as people providing feedback in the way customers provide feedback about what they like / dislike, it’s stops being “us vs them”, but rather all of us sitting on the same side and looking at an issue and trying to understand how we can work together to provide a solution that is more inclusive.

      I think we can get there, but we first have to be able to put aside our cynicism and make the attempt with the best of intentions and the best of manners.

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      • ZAI

        Brother,

        What is the ultimate goal of feedback? To gauge the majority opinion? How should this be done? Should that majority opinion be enforced? What if the minority or a significant plurality does not agree with the outcome? How is there room for diversity within this paradigm?

        If this is about reaching consensus, then how will all sides be satisfied? I agree we shouldn’t engage in a broad “us vs. them”, but even as individuals on a case per case basis, we will line up on one side or another with an ISSUE.

        Insofar as consensus, It will almost always be that the conservative opinion is adopted as “least offensive” or “least divisive”, therefore bringing the community the most “benefit” because conservatives will not compromise what they feel to be a religious mandate, whereas moderates/liberals compromising and NOT doing what they feel they can do is more of a choice of leaving something aside. In other words, NOT dancing or NOT listening to music is not haraam, so the onus will be on them as the so-called conservatives. will.not.compromise.

        It is possible to bridge some divides.
        For example, in regards to female education: Liberals can give up some symbolic pretenses and agree to segregation in class rooms to preserve the peace. What matters is the girls get educated. Khalaas.

        There are other issues however where there is no middle ground. You either believe musical instruments are permissible or you don’t. You either don’t have a problem with women doing certain things or you do. Feedback will not change this, not is there any middle ground to reach here. Working together will produce what in these unbridgeable cases? Nothing short of adopting the conservative opinion will make conservatives happy.

        Example:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0c9DWVuOHI

        That was the conservative “solution” to the video bro.
        Just negate and get rid of the women. Abra cadabra. Poof! Gone.
        Are non-conservative Muslim women going to be happy with this?
        Heck no.

        There are limits even to consensus brother. There are some things
        in which it isn’t possible. Our various schools and scholars recognized
        this very thing and left room for diversity, did they not? If we have tolerated
        diversity and various opinions for so many centuries, I wonder why conformity
        has become so important now? We’ve become less tolerant is why in my opinion.

        Honestly, I think the solution is just that people need to be more tolerant
        of each other and learn to tolerate things they themselves might not agree with.
        I do not say that only to the conservatives..but also the others whether they call
        themselves moderate, liberal or whatever. For instance, I found Honesty Policy’s defense of the video to be obnoxious in claiming to be the “true Islam”, etc. Just as obnoxious as that claim would be from a conservative. Consensus or compromise is not possible with all issues. Chasms are too great or require one side or another to be suppressed.

        Tolerance. Tolerance. Tolerance.

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      • Siraaj

        Salaam alaykum Zai,

        Great questions. My thoughts are post-video, and this is for future video-makers to consider. What I’m asking them to do is consider the various strands of the community and see how they can accommodate them for maximum benefit. They may not do it in a way that includes every single person, and I agree that there will always be people who gripe, but with tweaks you can include more.

        For example, with respect to music, do you believe music like Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America” is appropriate? Although there is a difference of opinion on music, there is no difference of opinion on songs taking on the role iblis in proxy and calling to what is spiritually prohibited – here is an area we can agree and make some changes. What if instead of “Somewhere in America” we changed in something either with clean lyrics, or something from Muslim nasheed artists?

        As for what women can and can’t do off-screen, I would like to sit with my brothers and sisters who put together this video and understand with whom they consulted that told them it’s ok for sisters to dance publicly or on video, and understand their point of view, and I’d like to also have them talk with scholars of our faith who can explain their thoughts better on this. To my knowledge, among Muslim scholars, this isn’t an issue of the difference of opinion you’re talking about. In theory, among the different schools of Islamic fiqh there is a tolerance for different opinions, but those differences also need to be considered legitimate – not all differences, even from the Companions, are considered legitimate.

        There is a difference of public opinion though, and this is where I see the main issue. There’s a gap between the the knowledge of the community on the women dancing issue and there is also a gap on the music issue, even with those who think it’s halal, between what is sanctioned by scholars vs what is understood by the community. Because we’re not able to dialogue properly with one another, we’re not bridging those gaps and coming to understanding.

        In any event, I’m not the one to litigate the fiqh difference (if it exists), but I’m sharing what I know of the issue for now. I share it as a brother in faith concerned for the effect on our community because if there truly aren’t scholars of the faith who allow for this, then it should be considered. I’ve seen nothing except unity from Muslim scholars and imams against the women dancing, and I haven’t yet read any support from any who have completed traditional studies. There may be some out there, but whoever they are, their voices are not being heard (or I’m not hearing them, anyway).

        But wherever you fall on this issue, as I said earlier, we can’t fall into thinking in dichotomies, either / or thinking. We need creative individuals to find ways to think with “and” solutions – we can do x and y. The fatwas may exist both ways, but we should also be thinking for the good of the community. I don’t expect everyone will be included, but I hope that as new videos are considered, we find ways to include others, given their concerns.

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  5. Samia Ali

    Well written piece. I didn’t understand what you mean by ‘profiling sisters’? Would that include video interviews in which sisters are zoomed when they are talking? I don’t quite understand. I hope you can clarify. Thanks again for the excellent article.

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  6. Safa

    Jazakah Allahu khayran. Well-written, covered almost all the issues brought forth from the discussions buzzing around, & finally proposed solutions.

    May Allah unite the Muslim community on that which is right & good, reconcile the hearts,and guide us to the straight path. Ameen

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  7. Bint Amjad

    With all the frenzy surrounding the video I think you’ve written a beautifully balanced article mashAllah. It states the points, honest reflections and doesn’t attack anyone in the process. Jazak’Allah khayr.

    Perfectly sums up all the disjointed thoughts in my own head that I couldn’t string together.

    May Allah guide us, strengthen us as an Ummah and put between us love and compassion.
    Ameen

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    • Siraaj

      ameen, it’s my hope that we can strike a conciliatory tone more often than not when the next internet crisis strikes =P

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  8. SabrTruth

    jazak Allah khayr for a well-written, thoughtful and balanced article.

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  9. Fatima Asmal

    Siraaj; as salamu alaikum. I liked the tone of this piece. It’s respectful; ma sha Allah and whilst I don’t always expect us ‘lay people’ to be free from emotion when discussing issues we differ on; I do expect those whom we perceive to be leaders/scholars to conduct themselves with the utmost of adab in doing so. I’ve been disappointed with the reactions of the relatively learned amongst us. And I’ve found that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have given rise to a kind of blind following of personalities. In regard to the Coke idea; well women on screen will still pose the lowering the gaze issue. It also needs to be considered that within someone else’s reality music is permissible and they too may have done their research in this regard; may be following a scholar’s opinion. At the end of the day irrespective of whether ppl acknowledge it or not Muslims are diverse in their contexts; the interpretations of Islam and scholars they follow and I don’t think the Happy Muslims warranted the mass negative reaction it attracted. My apologies for the disjointed comment.

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    • Siraaj

      Walaykum as salaam Fatima,

      Thanks for the feedback, I think social media is just a stage that magnifies what has historically been occurring for centuries, and I think sunshine is the best disinfectant for these issues, so to speak.

      As I mentioned earlier, there are the fiqh issues, and then are practical ways to consider how to do things best for the community. on the fiqh side, while there may be a difference on musical instruments, there’s no difference on vulgar lyrics, so as a starting point, we should not have videos with such in the background – the #mipsterz group was nice enough to replace the original with a censored version, though the song itself, even with expletives, was unbecoming.

      You’re right that men should always lower their eyes and look away, irrespective of circumstance. However, there are legitimate places for women to be (the masjid, the public, etc) where there is no issue for them to be out and about, and men must hold themselves to account. In the West, majority of teachers and scholars have no problem with women in pictures and videos. We have numerous videos of sisters with or without hijab in videos with music in the background (such as islamic relief videos, cair videos, and so on) without much discussion. I believe what has caught everyone’s attention in the two videos in question is the nature of the way the sisters were part of the video.

      I think the reason it received that negative backlash is because we are not mature enough to discuss differences of opinion among scholars or differences in the gap of understanding between scholars and what society understands of right and wrong. What must happen is the problem must be recognized and acknowledged and the cycle must be broken by people who will not respond in kind to criticism, but will respond with something better as the hits keep coming in their direction.

      Siraaj

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  10. tawfiq

    You lose all credibility to me when you quote george carlin to prove any point if you are using religious grounds. I love his comedy but you are throwing stones from a glass house who has the 7 dirty words you cant say on television for your argument

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    • Siraaj

      Salaam alaykum Tawfiq,

      The George Carlin quote wasn’t to make any religious assertions, only to point out a foible of human nature – that no matter who we are, we always think we’re the one who is “balanced” and that everyone else is not.

      Truth can come from any quarter, even Iblis himself, who taught one of the Companions that the way to repel him was with Ayat ul-Kursi (which the Prophet (SAW) confirmed when asked about it).

      Siraaj

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  11. Saif

    Finally, some nuance and balance. Thank you so much for this!

    My two cents:
    The traditional method of dealing with ‘shadh’ (weird/unheard of) opinions among Muslim scholars is to always tread with caution and suspicion. The Shari’ah-trained scholars in the West who’re supporting the Happy Muslims video in toto (not just the idea but everything it entails) know very well that the majority of the seniormost Fuqaha from all over the world (and from different orientations) do not view women dancing in front of men as conforming to the Islamic code of modesty. (And it is not just a cultural difference, it is a mainstream academic-Islamic position.) Therefore, the least that should be expected from such Shari’ah-trained scholars is the intellectual honesty to acknowledge their opinion as ‘shadh’ and not reflective of the majority of past/contemporary Muslim scholars.

    Having said that, I understand and appreciate the good intentions of the people who made the video (including the religious scholars), but if good intentions alone were enough to please God and lead our lives according to His wishes, we wouldn’t need Fiqh at all.

    At the same time, it is also important for us to acknowledge movements and trends that exist within the Muslim community, and figure out a balanced way for mainstream Muslims to collaborate in the good they do while simultaneously critiquing whatever is shady and grey.

    IMO, since the PMUNA’s version of progressive Islam was too radical and distant from mainstream Islam for most Muslims, it prompted the formulation of what is now being termed by some as the “New Amercian Islamic Renaissance.” Some proponents of this discourse propagate a watered-down version of the same kind of progressive-liberal values loosely interspersed with Islam and Muslim cultural identity. Critical engagement of mainstream Muslim scholarship with this phenomenon and its cultural products is an absolute necessity in order to clarify the key differences it has with classical, orthodox Islam (in all of its different variants).

    Just like the young Muslim generation in the West is fed up with the cultural baggage of immigrant communities being projected on to Islam, it is equally important to consider the repercussions of replacing that cultural baggage with some of the more contentious aspects of American culture. ‘Urf and culture are good, but only when they beautify the faith and don’t distort it.

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    • Siraaj

      That tends to be the trend, that a group within it’s culture sees itself as normal, balanced, and just while the rest as something else mixing a foreign culture with religion. Those of us raised in the West should continuously check ourselves against the text rather than the text according to modern-day values as there may be some intersection, but there may also be values that look good on paper, but are not really in keeping with the shari’ah.

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  12. Ayatullah Elzhi

    May God bless you for telling Youths to not Drop Camera’s but also providing solutions which was for me the MAJOR issue from the ‘People of the RIGHT’ argument. I refuse to believe a group of Youths came out to disobey God and while i found Mipsterz defying my Common sense, I had Happy Muslims give me a smile for the fact that it was JUST Pointless(yes only Tim Winter passed a Message) and it seemed like just a group of Muslims trying to be Creative Not Mipstering.
    I think the issue of understanding ‘Modesty’ may Turn into the Music issue because it simple isnt understood and is frequently used in different contexts(My the Ulamas). I would have been offended if It had a prolonged segment of JUST Muslim women Dancing but I wasnt because it just felt(to me) like it was capturing reactions from different Muslims(which some wearing realistic ofcourse because they were Just imitatiting the Pharell video as it was the Goal for some). Where I also was disappointed were the accusations that ‘they were free mixing’ which begged the question as Tim Winter also said that there are no chance of a Muslim man and woman being together in a viral videa and that they CANT be Mahrams to each other?

    AM really surprised and disappointed this article isnt viral yet and I hope it does as it separates it from everyother one i have read. I do hope there is a Happy Muslims Acapella video with a meaningful Sunnah message(like that of Tim Winter) and i believe HonestyPolicy ushered the pathway for youths to have a rethink of Moderacy. May Allah Bless your Efforts

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    • Siraaj

      Ha, well, there are a variety of factors that make an article viral, and some of that relates to the author himself and how known he is in the internet community. I’m relatively unknown and that’s ok, I’m just happy that this post has struck a chord and brought a conciliatory perspective to a contentious issue, and I hope it remains a future reference for when the next crisis hits.

      Siraaj

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  13. Grey Crayon

    Jazak Allahu Khair for this post Bro… your outlook is refreshing and expresses what i cannot :)

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  14. shaker elsayed

    Islam must be the standard, then everything may follow. When people produce a product that scientists have serious disagreements over, the product will forever become controversial. I’d hope that creative and talented people, likewise business enterprnuers would put forth and upfront religious scholarly position they use to at least be clear for the consumers of their products, rather than creating contraversies with their products. Even though contraversies are not all bad to have, but less of them and more creativities will be much better.

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  15. JessiF

    Very well-written. I appreciate the balanced, intelligent approach. Your detailed explanation is so much more helpful than just saying, “IstagfirAllah!! Haram!!”

    Also, some would simplistically suggest the solution is to just keep women out of online videos. This only marginalize women further and discounts their existence. I like how you don’t suggest to remove women completely from the picture but for them to dress and act appropriately and for men to do their job as well.

    I, too, look forward to our talented young Muslim Americans using their skills to create content we can truly feel peace about watching.

    Jazak Allahu khairan.

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  16. gunal

    I enjoyed reading this post. Expresses very valid concerns. There is so much I would like to comment on and will enjoy participating.

    Siraaj, you said (in your post) “We can certainly disagree by venting and going for the jugular…” After reading that I can only assume that when you called certain group of people “trolls” and some other ones “not leaders”, you (yourself) were intentionally going for the jugular/ backbiting, perhaps to get a point across. I am sorry, because English is not my first language the point wasn’t so clear to me.

    I remember a commercial a long time ago by either Pepsi or Coca Cola, during the month of Ramadan in Turkey. I was so moved by the commercial. The way it explained what Ramadan should be about -thinking of each other, caring for each other, and uniting under one glorious religion which makes this all happen. They researched well to ensure they capture every Muslim’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for our own people. Usually it is either my way or no way. Total arrogance. Then again, it is only fair to point out that those companies have financial gains at stake.

    Perhaps the real problem is, (just like the example you gave Siraaj), when we are told music is forbidden, we never truly understand why it is forbidden. And if we are seen asking questions in order to understand why it is forbidden, we may be seen as challenging the religion (trying to disrepute it). Then nobody tells us anything as if we cannot be trusted with the truth… This must have been going on for such a long time that I think there is nobody alive who knows the truth (why music is not allowed) anymore. Maybe the reason was all gobbly gook in the first place. We might never know.

    I had received a personal message on my facebook earlier. A good friend of mine sent me a talent show video from a Muslim country (at the time I didn’t know it was from a Muslim country), with a note attached; “I thought you might like this”. It was a video of very talented man and woman dancing. I replied to my friend asking why he thought I might like this? Also wrote my opinion of it; “very talented couple but too erotic for my liking!” To cut the long story short, people think my religion suppresses me, as a woman. People don’t, and, I strongly feel, will never understand why us (Muslims) see certain things as threats to our end mission (which is to get rewarded in the afterlife). I am at a stage that I don’t see these as threats only to myself any more. I see them as threats for my child and his generation too. To be honest I don’t see this problem being the problem from the West.

    Recently, a cricket game played in Abu Dhabi (I think). They had cheer leaders and every few minutes they were on the screen dancing… For me these are double standards. Unacceptable. It confuses people. It makes others question our motives when we say respect our religion because we are trying very hard to get our people rewarded in the afterlife.

    Here in UK everyone is encouraged that each culture is respected. If someone says our culture does not permit hand shake, then people will respect that and will not get offended if handshake is not offered or refused (though for me refusal is a little hurtful).

    So, really, most people are capable of understanding differences when you explain them clearly.

    I would most probably agree with the message (that religion suppresses us women), if I were much younger and/or not have come to the “understanding of religiosity” in your terms Siraaj. Our peers and friends who seem to care about us pressure-claim that we are suppressed, not allowed to express our individuality (whatever that means (to me it means not allowed to express our sexuality to please their eyes)). I can see not being able to understand why loose clothing is essential, and why must not move about in a way some people may find erotic and cause them to have wrong thoughts and therefore sin.

    One of my suggestions, hopefully, without bringing about defensiveness:
    Let’s not forget that even in a Christian society if a man has sexual thoughts about a woman (other than their own spouse), claimed to have committed adultery. This, we should be telling our younglings. So that they can overcome, which is nothing but peer pressure they are feeling. But what we must NOT do is accept what they are thinking as correct. Because their dress code is provocative to some, movements are provocative to some. Disrespecting other is wrong in any religion. And they must not, in the name of modernity, disrespect people who are trying hard to lower their gaze. InsaAllah once these younglings reach the maturity of coming to the ‘understanding of religiosity’, they will understand what we meant! If they were genuine in their message -that they are seriously concerned about the issue rather than it was just a way to make money by exploiting the issue, then, I have lost my argument with the artists but hopefully won a few Muslim sisters who can see my point. Zai is right in highlighting the problem with feedback –most of the time pointless. Nevertheless, if I save one life, the feeling I get is as if saved the whole world! Anyhow, there can never be total consensus.

    Coming to understanding of religiosity doesn’t happen overnight! I find myself make a mistake that I knew of someone who made the same mistake before me, even I may have made the same mistake before, yet did not prevent me from making the same mistake (again). On numerous occasions I wondered if it is even possible to learn from our mistakes. I am still doubtful in my case for sure. What I mean here br. Siraaj, you seem to put too much trust in what others had interpreted what your religion should follow and not follow. And what is worse you continuously expect those interpreters take charge and teach what they have said your religion must follow. Their way of teaching has never been effective and never will. If you want to teach someone effectively, you have to know what will motivate your students to learn and then direct them to the various sources (not just to the ones you agree with) and let them find out and learn for themselves. Our society does not need great leaders; just effective teachers.

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    • siraaj

      Salaam alaykum gunal, thanks for your excellent and well thought out comment, appreciate your thoughts.

      In putting out the idea of trolls and poor leaders, what I wanted to point out is that there are negatives in these discussions we can do without, and all of us should recognize them. With respect to trolling, on both sides of the discussion there are people who comment or write posts expressing their views in an unbecoming matter. Sometimes these people are leaders, and they are leading towards disunity. Going for the jugular isn’t about discussion differences so much as the manner we discuss them. One group is pro video, how are they talking about those against and vice versa.

      About learning religion, I agree with your sentiments about having a skeptics mindset, a “trust but verify” approach, and I keep this in mind for all people because we are human and make mistakes and can be affected by culture and other competing personal and social interests. At the same time, eventually I do have to make choices, and so when I shared the link on the discussion on music, it was a comprehensive discussion, and I have also researched and read from the scholars who are pro music and personally found either misrepresentation of the texts, poor research, or equivocation to make the difference look bigger than they are, and this is rather disheartening, but I can take the approach of calling out such people, but what good would it do? No one would understand, and even if I was right, few would care. There are other ways to win this battle against music, inshaAllah.

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  17. karimahscuisina

    Shyness hyaa is one branch of the islamic character not all of the branches like some brothers and sisters would lead us to believe.In too many cases shyness is social construct not an islamic one, used to manipulate women

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