Review of the Year April 2014: Happy Muslims divide opinion

Happy Muslims

In April 2014 British Muslims – some quite prominent – took part in a music video which showed that Muslims could be happy.

The video, which featured lots of happy-clappy Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit song, went viral on YouTube.

Its supporters said it was a warm-hearted affirmation of positive energy and made a pleasant change from the negative stuff Muslims are usually associated with. Its detractors, on the other hand, said it was cringeworthy in the extreme and another example of how British Muslims are desperate to appease the non-Muslim mainstream.

On a more serious note, Dr Mohammed Naseem, the founder and chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, passed away aged 90 in Birmingham on April 22.

Dr Mohammad Naseem
Dr Mohammad Naseem

Dr Naseem was one of the most outspoken and sometimes controversial leaders of the British Muslim community over many decades.

Born in 1924 in India, Dr Naseem was a former GP. He was educated mainly in Pakistan and then in England where he trained to become and served as a GP for many years.

Dr Naseem was also no stranger to controversy. Following the 7/7 bombings he criticized the security services and police. He then compared Tony Blair to Adolf Hitler and expressed scepticism over the official version of the 7/7 events.

On the frequent terror raids in Birmingham he commented: “Muslims are persecuted unjustly. The German people were told Jews were a threat. The same is happening here. This is a persecuting course of action that the government has taken. They have invented this perception of a threat. To justify that, they have to maintain incidents to prove something is going on.”

Shaista Gohir of the Muslim Women's Network backed the police campaign
Shaista Gohir of the Muslim Women’s Network backed the police campaign

Also in April, British Muslims expressed scepticism over a new police campaign which encouraged Muslim women to urge their relatives not to travel to Syria to fight.

The national campaign followed a string of deaths of UK men who joined the war against President Assad’s government.

Security chiefs think hundreds of people have travelled from the UK to fight in Syria, some of whom have returned. As of the end of April, 40 people had been arrested over links to “Syria terrorism” and reports suggest up to 20 men from Britain had died in the conflict.

Authorities also urged British Muslims not to travel to Syria on aid convoys and instead tried to persuade them to donate to the larger, established agencies already working in the region.

Advocacy group CAGE said it viewed the campaign with grave concern and scepticism.

In a statement it said: “The campaign ostensibly appears to be motivated by compassion for women from the Muslim community who believe their loved ones have traveled or wish to travel to Syria. In reality, CAGE believes that it is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to engage vulnerable members of the Muslim community in surveillance operations.”

World news

In Lebanon Omar Bakri Muhammad – once one of Britain’s most outspoken “radical preachers” – was reported to be on the run after authorities raided his house as part of a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli.

Muhammad was among around 200 individuals wanted by the authorities in Tripoli for their alleged role in the ongoing clashes in the city, as well as car bombs and the targeting of civilians and army members.

In recent years there have been deadly clashes between the Sunni majority and minority Alawite community in Tripoli. The two communities are deeply divided over the war in neighbouring Syria, where they back different sides.

Omar Bakri Muhammad
Omar Bakri Muhammad

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite and is backed by minorities in the country as well as many Sunnis. On the other hand, the country’s majority Sunni community has also been at the forefront of the uprising against the state.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia construction began on what will become the world’s tallest building.

Once finished, the Kingdom Tower will stand a staggering 1km (3280 feet) high – four times taller than The Shard and over 500 feet taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the current record holder.

Costing a total £780m, the tower, located in the coastal city of Jeddah, will take five years to construct. It is expected to use half a million cubic meters of concrete and around 80,000 tons of steel.

The finished building will cover a total area of over 500,000 square meters and have 200 floors. There will be 59 elevators, including five that are double deckers. Those that take visitors to the observatory will travel at 10 metres per second.

Opinion and analysis

Discussion in April was dominated by the viral Happy Muslims video.

Journalist Hasnet Lais asked that with all the injustices taking place in the Muslim world and the never-ending demonisation of Islam at home, did Muslims in Britain have much to be happy about?

He wrote: “The grim context in which this video was produced hardly calls for celebration. The happiness experienced by Muslims owes absolutely nothing to citizenship. Why? Because the oppression inflicted on us at home and abroad occurs under the watch of British institutions – from the Monarch’s endorsement of the War on Terror, the army’s human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the evident bias against Muslims in the Crown Prosecution Service and the Islamophobic leviathan which fittingly describes large sections of the British press.

“In light of this backdrop, our public figures ought to be far more judicious when appealing to certain emotions, or otherwise risk making a dangerous misrepresentation of the mood prevailing in our community. You can have as many sheikhs and mullahs grooving to a summery vibe but that will not cloud the reservations which so many victimised Muslims have with this notion of ‘Britishness'”

A number of prominent Muslims appeared in the "Happy Muslims" video including Salma Yaqoob
A number of prominent Muslims appeared in the “Happy Muslims” video including Salma Yaqoob

On the other hand, journalists Nina Arif wrote that since the “Happy Muslims” video went viral, a lot of unhappy Muslims had emerged from the woodwork. The video and the frenzied reaction to it, exposes the very sad state that British Muslims are in.

“Watching some familiar faces from the Muslim community dancing and clapping to Pharrell’s “Happy” song made me cringe,” she wrote.

“I thought most of the people in the video looked quite silly and that it was unnecessary for Muslims to show that they too were normal and happy by behaving in that way. I also don’t agree with Pharrell’s standards of morality in general (he’s the guy that produced Blurred Lines – the song which has topless women dancing in the video).

“But despite my dislike of the video, I ironically found myself defending those in it as a means of countering some of the hateful and predictable reactions to it. The dominant anti-“Happy Muslims” voices stemmed from the belief that the video is haram and part of an agenda to destroy Muslims, to the belief that British Muslims don’t have anything to be happy about.

I share none of these views, as they cannot be substantiated and there is too much evidence to the contrary. Rather, I find it abhorrent that the mob mentality among many Muslims in Britain is in such full force and ready to pounce on any other Muslim who does not support the notion of Muslim hegemony.”

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