Copyright © 2003-2011, Aishah Schwartz. Permission granted to circulate among private individuals, groups, or in not-for-profit publications in full text and subject title. All other rights reserved.

May 12, 2014

Happy Videos: More Than One Message? An American Muslim's View by Aishah Schwartz

I wouldn't be so adventurous as to even attempt to disparage the message of good cheer that the recent Happy dancing videos have generated, however, I do believe that it is incumbent upon the Muslim community to look before they leap.

As Muslims, and writers at OnIslam, we go to great lengths in defending and clarifying our religion and beliefs because it is a moral obligation upon us not only to give dawah (invite to Islam), but also to police our own selves.

Our Duty Towards One Another as Muslims

Commanding the proper and forbidding the improper (amr bi alma 'ruf wa nahi 'an almunkar) is one of the most important Islamic principles, stressed again and again in the Qur'an and Hadith.

Abu Sai’d, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet (SAW) said in a sermon: "Verily, fear of people should not stop a man from speaking out the truth he knows." Upon hearing this, Abu Sai’d wept and said: "By Allah, we have seen things (for which we should have spoken out the truth) but we were silenced by fear (of people)." Reported by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.

Noted Islamic scholar, Dr. Ahmad Shafaat wrote, "Commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong provides a mechanism whereby the Muslim Ummah can fight off various social, moral and spiritual ills and maintain a healthy and dynamic life. For an individual, too, the practice of this principle provides both a source and an indication of spiritual and moral health. If we ignore this principle and in the face of wrong we do not react in any way, then this means that in a spiritual and moral sense we are dead. `Abd allah ibn Mas'ud was once asked, "Who are the living dead?" and he replied, "Those who never command something good and never forbid something bad".

Islam, through the Quran, hadith and sunnah, provides Muslims with guidelines to distinguish believers from non-believers. And this is why I felt compelled to address the issue of Muslim participation in producing covers of the Pharrell Williams 'Happy' video.

Wisdom in the Words, Look Before You Leap

According to the website "We Are Happy From", upwards of over 1,550 covers of the seemingly innocuous 'Happy' video have been tracked across 139 countries, including predominantly Muslim nations across the Middle East and North Africa – all climbing on the proverbial 'Happy' bandwagon.

Without a doubt the 'Happy' video event has taken its place in mainstream music history, but was it really necessary for Muslims to jump so quickly to participate with their own cover versions of the video?

Reading the comments to the initial videos published readily affirms that the question is not ill-conceived; in fact, viewer comments were neck-in-neck pro and con, as were the countless article headlines shared across social media platforms as the videos went viral – with one thing resounding loud and clear.

Was it the sound of happiness, or a Muslim Ummah divided, once again?

What I hope to convey here is that it is imperative for the Muslim community to tread with caution when appearing to join in the support, collaboration and propagation of projects produced by the mainstream music industry and it artists, whose beliefs, actions and public statements are oftentimes contradictory to the teachings of Islam.

That said, I don't believe anyone has necessarily misconstrued the intention behind the Happy video's purported message of sharing happiness, however, Muslims must look before they leap.

The 'Happy' Beat Goes Awry 

It wasn't long after British Muslims produced their cover of the 'Happy' video before U.S. Muslims climbed on the proverbial bandwagon spreading quickly across the globe.

Salim Alchurbaji, who works at the U.S. Department of Commerce and was one of the participants in the American Muslim Happy video, expressed the hope that "people do not read too much into it."

The Independent reported that the point of the first Muslim cover of the 'Happy' video, produced in the U.K. by an anonymously led group known as The Honesty Policy, was simply to show that British Muslims are, "just as happy, eclectic, cosmopolitan, diverse, creative, fun and outgoing as anyone else."

"It's part of something that we as Muslims could find ourselves relating to: happiness. We, too, are happy people, and we promote a message of happiness," an Honesty Policy spokesperson stated.

The group, reported to be comprised of men and women from all Muslim branches, puts its "message before any identity".

Isn't that message in conflict with being Muslim in the first place?

Happy: More Than One Message? 

No one, that I'm aware of, is refuting that there is a positive message in the propagation of happiness, but shouldn't Muslim community members at least examine the 'Happy' song's lyrics and a take a moment to scratch below the surface to see another message?

Pharrell Williams Happy Lyric excerpt:

Here come bad news talking this and that
Yeah, give me all you got, don't hold back
Yeah, well I should probably warn you I'll be just fine
Yeah, no offense to you don't waste your time
Here's why -
Because I'm happy

Is this the message of Islam; to heck with the rest of the world because you're happy?

The Islam I know does not propagate blatant selfishness and lack of regard for others.

Abu Hurayrah (ra) narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: "In order to be a Muslim wish for your fellow Muslims that which you wish for yourself." [Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Ahmad]

The song features guest vocals from American rapper T.I. and American singer and producer Pharrell Williams; all three share writing credits on the song, while adding producer to the list of credits attributed to Williams.

Were Muslim community members consciously aware that Pharrell Williams is the same recording artist singing alongside the now infamous Robin Thicke in the March 2013 video (also co-written and produced by Williams), 'Blurred Lines', banned by a reported 20 different universities in the U.K. based on allegations that it promoted a culture of rape and various other sexual overtones; including the appearance of naked women.

At the University of Exeter the song hasn’t been banned, but students voted for it to be condemned.

In a statement the Students’ Guild, said: "A song that implies a woman is ‘an animal’ and who ‘wants it’ because of the way she is dressed is not acceptable. The language within the lyrics and the images within the promotional video are utterly degrading to the female subject. Any song that expresses an author’s frustration at ‘being sick of blurred lines’ is beyond unacceptable."

Which Pharrell Williams should we believe? The one that sang those lyrics, or the one who claims his CD GIRL, is dedicated to and in support of girls?

Did the Muslim community consider that in April 2014 Pharrell Wiliams' publicly supported homosexual marriage in a recorded interview during his appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show?

And finally, as a matter of copyright, for those who have not escaped the radar, each cover version of the Happy video uploaded to the internet is clearly marked by the artist's name, Pharrell Williams, directly associating unwitting Muslim community members to beliefs and practices contrary to the teachings of Islam.

In support of Muslim participation in the Happy Dance video propagation, Hoda Elshishtawy, from MPAC, told Al Arabiya News: "Often, the images of Muslims and Islam in the media are not very flattering."

I would contend that there are other ways to resolve the matter of how Muslims are perceived in the media.

There are over 2 billion Muslims worldwide. Don't you suppose if the Muslim community really wanted to present a clearer image of themselves in the media that they couldn't figure out a better way to do it if they really wanted to?

Homosexual Marriage and Islam

It is not for anyone to even consider that what the Quran defines as marriage, what is halal or haram, can be made right on a whim.

Homosexual marriage is totally prohibited in Islam as well as in all the divine religions. Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts nor in any way indulge in their propagation.

Allah says, "Those who love (to see) obscenity published broadcast among the Believers will have a grievous Penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: Allah knows, and you know not." (An-Nur: 19)

Same-sex marriages between two Muslim believers are "haram" (not permitted by Islam), according to a public statement from the Assembly of Islamic Researchers of Al-Azhar University of Cairo, Egypt, one of the leading cultural institutions in the Muslim world.

"Same-sex marriage is depicted as contrary to Islam and all religions," stated Assembly chairman, Sheikh Ahmad Altayab.

Dr. Muhammad M. Abu Laylah, professor of Islamic Studies and Comparative Religions at Al-Azhar University, stated for that same sex marriage is, "against the ordinances of Allah and against the law of nature."

A report in the Telegraph set out the names of 537 British Muslim leaders reaffirming that the Islamic definition of marriage is contrary to homosexual marriage.

Ibrahim Ali, an independent member of Malaysia's parliament and leader of a rights group for the country's majority Malay Muslims, stated, "They can practice this in America if they want, since it's their right, but we are still very concerned, because whatever America practices, it often wants other countries to follow suit."

And although the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin, it does consider homosexual intercourse as sinful.

In another article Tariq Ramadan is quoted as stating, "The moral condemnation of homosexuality remains the majority opinion of all religions, and Islam is no exception. It would be senseless to wish to deny the facts, to contradict the textual sources and to force believers to perform intellectual contortions so that they can prove they are in tune with the times."

Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed of the Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc. provides a well documented analysis of same sex marriage and marriage in Islam for further reading.

The bottom line is that Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts, nor in any way indulge in their propagation.


The BBC Asian Network held a vigorous debate asking whether the video was halal (an action that is permissible to engage in).

"The issue with this video is that it touches on a lot of deeply entrenched issues within the Muslim community," stated an unnamed Honesty Policy spokesman.

"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. We're thankful to have grown up in a British society with freedom of expression... And we're thankful that our faith gives us the room to be British and to be a Muslim. Some people don't see that. They don't see Islam as pluralistic [as we do]."

There is nothing wrong with being British – or of any other nationality for that matter – and being Muslim. However, there is a problem with the notion that simply being of the second and third generation of Muslim youth circumvents what is prescribed by Islam with regard to Muslim adab (conduct).

"… Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety (righteousness or virtue); God is All-Knowing, All-Aware." (Qur'an 49:13)

"We just want to give the normal person a voice again," a spokesman of the Muslim led Honesty Policy added in The Independent's interview.

How exactly are Muslims not normal, or happy for that matter?

Not only are Muslims as normal as anyone else, Allah (swt) makes it clear that the only criterion for superiority is piety and righteousness; virtues that only He can judge.

"Whosoever does good – whether male or female – and is a believer, will enter the Garden (of Paradise)." (Qur'an 40:39)

Regarding happiness, "I believe happiness and wellbeing is not about a short video that makes you feel good for a few minutes, but is more about a sustained way of life and then we are not just Happy British Muslims but real happy Muslims," stated Saiyyidah Zaidi, a Positive Psychologist and Business Coach based in London.

Zaidi added, "True happiness comes from contentment and reflection. It is not simply being grateful or forgiving or experiencing a moment of joy, it's a combination of these things and happiness and contentment based in a strong positive mindset create lasting and sustained happiness. And I believe that this is what God has given to us. It doesn’t matter what your situation is, your outlook will either make you grow as a result of it or suffer."

How can Muslims let people know they're happy? Easy enough: smile, it's even a charity!

"The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) never refused to see me from the time I became Muslim, and whenever he saw me he would smile at me…" Narrated by Jarir ibn Abdullah Al-Bajali (Ibn Majah, 159)

In Conclusion

As a result of its participation in the propagation of homosexual marriage and sexual objectification of women under the banner of Pharrell Williams' version of 'Happy', members of the Muslim community at-large have been blinded into lending their seal of approval with each new video published bearing the artist's name.

How could members of the Muslim community allow themselves to be duped into believing that their participation in producing covers of the 'Happy' video would change the perception of Muslims in mainstream media for more than a heart-beat when the end result, as evidenced by social media and video comments, in addition to scores of other articles, is simply this: Muslims continue to be divided.

"This worldly life has been made very charming and alluring for those who have adopted the way of disbelief." (Al-Baqarah 2:212.)

Copyright © 2014

Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.

Originally published at May 12, 2014. went offline in December 2015.

Aishah Schwartz, an American Muslim revert to Islam since April 2002, is founder and director of the 2006 established, internationally-based, Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA), and a retired nearly 20-year career litigation legal assistant. Ms. Schwartz is also a published freelance non-fiction writer and photo journalist whose aim is to counter misconceptions regarding the Islamic faith and members of the Muslim community. As a woman traveling in the Middle East, Ms. Schwartz's role as a civil and human rights activist has focused on the rights of Muslim women and the plight of the Palestinian people affected by the Israeli imposed illegal embargo on Gaza. She has also been reporting on revolutions in the Middle East as a Demotix photojournalist since January 2011.

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