Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Happy,’ which I love, is everywhere. The phenomenon of groups of people (often by city) filming themselves dancing to the song has spread around the world, and the world’s Muslims and Middle Easterners are not to be left out. Of course, much like that now-infamous ‘Mipsterz in America’ video that featured trendy American hijabis posing and dancing, the Muslim and Arab communities have not let the joyful videos pass by unscathed.
Iranian authorities arrested 6 young people for filming an Iranian take on the video. Even though the video was filmed primarily inside an apartment and on a private rooftop (some snippets appear to be filmed in a deserted alleyway) the video became public consumption when it was posted on Youtube. These youth must have known what was (probably) going to happen: a video of men and women mingling and dancing together, the women wearing hip clothes sans headscarves, would certainly anger the moral police in Iran.
“#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” 29/6/2013″ Iranian President Hassan Rouhani re-twittered an old tweet after the youth were arrested. Although it is kind of hypocritical for him to show such solidarity, given that it is his government that arrested the group and which rules against things like dancing, mingling and fashion, it is nevertheless a mark of changing times in Iran. Maybe they should film another video, this time with loads of people in the streets?
Saudi Arabia, often bedfellows with Iran over human rights abuses, did not prosecute the men who made their own version of Pharrell’s Happy, but that’s likely because there are a) no women in the video and b) no dancing. Nothing is worse than men and women dancing together, right? The video is really funny and involves a crocodile:
Disalata put together a massive ‘Happy’ video in Egypt, just one of many Egyptian versions to pop up on Youtube. Multiple versions came out of Morocco as well; one video that compiled footage from Casablanca, Rabat, Jdida and Sale showed participants at famous monuments such as the Hassan Tower in Rabat, dancing atop the stones. An excellent version from Jordan also showed off some Roman ruins, great dancing and two fabulous older men sporting red fez hats. All videos I watched showed both girls and guys dancing, some with children, and, interestingly or not so interestingly, a girl in hijab only popped up once or twice in all the videos [from the Middle East].
In the West, however, hijabi’d girls are quite prominent in the videos, which could suggest several things-that Western hijabis wear the hijab and are ‘modern?’ That they are not as devotional as stereotypes would assume? I’ll save that analysis for another day. Chicagoan Muslims danced to ‘Happy,’ as did Muslims in Britain. ‘Happy British Muslims,’ created by Islamic group The Honesty Policy, became a controversy among religious conservatives who found the video haram, echoing the Iranian authorities by citing the music, dancing and mixing of the sexes.
The controversy just highlights a continuing issue: whose version of Islam is ‘right?’ These Muslims are following their own (stricter? looser? modern?) interpretation of Islam, one which does not see these things as haram. The Chicago video also incited a similar mixed reaction, with commentators arguing that Muslims shouldn’t have to prove their happiness and ‘normalcy’ by dancing to a song to prove that they are not terrorists and strict. They don’t have to prove anything–but a little good PR in the evil, stereotyping media never hurt anybody….
“You would have to be deeply unreasonable to see it as immoral,” ‘Happy British Muslims’ participant Mohammad Ansar is quoted saying in The Economist; I absolutely agree, but here we go again: what is unreasonable? What are the boundaries and limits of unreasonableness? Who decides what is unreasonable? Does everyone agree? Just like religion and human rights and everything else under the sun, unreasonable is subjective. I’m beginning to feel that religion is an extension of philosophy and word debates, or vice versa.
Religion aside, the videos no doubt brought joy to those who participated, and that’s all that matters. Out of all the ‘Happy’ MENA/Muslim videos, I feel the Iranians win the award for best video, what with their cool outfits and moves. Next stop, MTV?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUJ-jZVBsFw Egypt Disalata
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOOlFOildI0 Official Morocco multiple villes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHBrrEAWK9g Saudi Arabia Helfaz