'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube but has been criticised by a vocal minority
They are male and female, young and old, black, white and Asian, with hijab and without, but they are all Muslims. And they are all happy.
That's the message of a new video which shows dozens of British Muslims dancing their hearts out, laughing, singing and smiling along to Pharrell Williams' hit single "Happy".
Produced by a group of young Muslims called Honesty Policy, the four-minute video is infectious and its unashamedly positive message has gone viral more than 300,000 hits (and rising) on YouTube this week. Just try and watch it without smiling – you'll fail.
Aside from making you grin, the point of the video, according its creators, is to show that British Muslims are just as happy, eclectic, cosmopolitan, diverse, creative, fun and outgoing as anyone else. "This video was joining the global movement of happiness inspired by Pharrell," the Honesty Policy group tells me in an email. "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."
That happiness movement and Pharrell's happiness day collaboration with the United Nations last month inspired Honesty Policy, which closely guards the identity of its members, to hit the road and film ordinary "happy Muslims" from all over the country dancing to the hit.
"We've been completely blown away by the positive reaction," says one of the Honesty Policy team in a telephone interview with The Independent. He declines to give his name, adding that the group, which is made up of men and women from all Muslim branches, puts its "message before any identity".
The group admits it expected "a backlash" from some quarters, but the feel-good project seems to have struck a chord with the majority of the 300,000 viewers so far on YouTube, with Tweets and Facebook messages of support from celebrities, MPs and the wider public.
That hasn't stopped a vocal minority attacking the project as haram (an Arabic term meaning sinful), though, and yesterday 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," adds the group's unnamed 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]."
One high-profile contributor to the video is Timothy Winter (he's the chap pictured above holding an "I'm happy" sign), who in the Muslim community is more commonly known as Sheikh Abdul-Hakim Murad. He's one of country's foremost Muslim theologians and lectures at Cambridge University.
Within days of the video first appearing online, a post appeared on Muslim news website Shaam Post claiming that the academic had distanced himself from the video and labelled it improper.
According to Honesty Policy these reports are "untrue". The mysterious spat deepened further when Winter himself told The Independent that he was "happy to be involved" in the project, which he said cuts the Muslim community free of the "negative images which oppress it".
Shaam Post did not respond to emails yesterday and many other posters continued attacking the video online, but Honesty Policy says it is "careful" about "responding to negativity".
The spokesman did say this though: "Most of the critique of the video comes from a baseless place and by responding to it we'd just adding fuel to the fire… Many in the Muslim community can feel disempowered in the face of this; we just want to give the normal person a voice again."
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