Finally! Mecca2Medina responded and now Sami has. Thanks to hahmed.com for letting me know.Â Updates: After 70+ comments, I had to rant off on the haters.
From Sami Yusuf to Yvonne Riddley
Peace and blessings of God be upon you.
Your recent article on ‘Pop Culture in the Name of Islam’ has been brought to my attention. I commend you for voicing your opinion and raising some very important issues – albeit in a very provocative manner. I thought it would be useful to share some of my thoughts with you on this matter.
As a Muslim artist, I regularly seek clarification and advice from world-renowned scholars on art, music, singing and culture. Be informed that the subject of music is one of the most controversial topics in Islamic Jurisprudence. I respect those who consider music to be haram. Yes eminent scholars of our past have opined such. However, I respect and follow the opinion of other eminent scholars – classical and contemporary, who permit singing and the use of musical instruments. The well-established jurisprudential rule states that ‘in matters where there is ikhtilaf (differences of opinion) there is to be no condemnation of either opinion.’ This is from the beauty of the religion of Islam. The diversity of our cultural, legal and social traditions is something we are in dire need of celebrating not condemning. So let’s agree to disagree on this one.
The obsessive fascination of fans towards any celebrity – be it in arts, music, politics, media, etc – to the point of hysteria and hero-worshipping is definitely unhealthy not to mention un-Islamic. Of course, as Muslims, we are required to abide by certain etiquettes in whatever situation we may find ourselves in. However, I definitely did not see girls dancing or behaving indecently in any of my concerts. To state otherwise is a gross exaggeration if not an outright fallacy. And if indeed that did take place then let’s deal with it in the true Prophetic tradition – a tradition that imparts love, mercy, tolerance and wisdom. Let me share with you the story of the Bedouin who came to the Prophet’s mosque and started urinating in the mosque itself. The Companions rushed to grab him and give him a ‘good beating.’ But the Prophet did not allow them to do so and told them to let him be. After the Bedouin had urinated, the Prophet asked his Companions to bring a bucket of water and wash the place. Afterwards he called the man and with gentleness and affection explained to him that this was a place of worship and that it should be kept clean. Though I have to say that had the Bedouin been around today he would be lucky to get away with just a ‘good beating’!
Indeed the state of contemporary mainstream music is one dominated by celebrity worship, materialism and the constant promotion of a consumerist culture that seeks only to derive instant emotional and physical gratification. The arts industry in general – and the music industry specifically – is being commercialised at the expense of art itself. We don’t value good art or good music anymore – it’s about what can sell most in the market. In the midst of all this, it is upon all conscious and responsible artists who look beyond the commercial to work in refining arts and music. Apart from entertaining audiences, music is a powerful medium to communicate values and social messages. In these times where heinous crimes against humanity are being committed, we as artists – Muslims or non-Muslims, British or non-British – have a duty to use this medium to bring some sanity to this world of unrest, fear, violence, terror and war. Human life and dignity are values that should be cherished and championed by all. Had you listened carefully to the songs in my latest album which is actually entitled ‘My Ummah’ before hastily passing judgements, you would have noticed my modest attempt at addressing issues facing the global Muslim community – such as regaining our lost legacy in all spheres of human life, oppression in different parts of the Muslim world, Aids, landmines, poverty and freedom to wear the hijab.
This leads me to another important issue which you raised – that of identity and culture. Who are we? How do we define ourselves? What do we stand for? Let me remind you again – I am a British Muslim. Proud to be Muslim and proud to be British! Why? Because this is what Islam teaches me to be – loyal towards my faith and my country. Throughout our rich history, wherever Muslims settled they adopted and fused the best aspects of the local culture/society with Islamic teachings and traditions. As Dr. Umar Faruq Abdallah, a leading American Muslim scholar and thinker writes in ‘Islam the Cultural Imperative’:
In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African. Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places, and different times underlay Islam’s long success as a global civilization.
At a time when leading Muslim scholars and thinkers have reached an advanced stage in crystallising theories of citizenship and positive integration into Western societies, any discussion of renouncing parts of our identity is simply ridiculous, dangerous and destructive – especially for someone who has no other homeland. Such emotional fist-pumping and chest-pounding about renouncing our British identity may seem attractive to a minority of Muslim youth, but as Muslims in positions of influence like yourself, we should not play to these base instincts. Rather, we should try to be more far-sighted and responsible in our discourse and not sacrifice this in the pursuit of tabloid-style sensationalist journalism.
Do you not see the Prophet of Islam shedding tears whilst migrating from Makkah – his beloved homeland to Madina despite the persecution he suffered at the hands of its people. Britain is my home. I was raised here as a child, I went to school here, most of my friends – Muslims and non-Muslims – are British and my earliest as well as fondest memories are rooted here. Does being British mean I take pride in the oppressive and exploitative colonial past of Britain? Does it mean I support the British invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq? Does it mean I support the Anti-Terrorism Act? Does it mean I support the erosion of civil liberties and human rights? Of course not! But Yvonne, let us be fair and not forget that it was in Britain that the world witnessed the largest anti-war demonstration – a testimony to the moral consciousness of the British public. I too was in that demonstration voicing my discontent over the foreign policies of our government. Although we have our fair share of racism, Islamophobia, discrimination, under-representation – and in no way am I claiming that we live in a utopian society, but I still believe that British society is amongst the most tolerant, open, liberal, multi-cultural and inclusive societies in the world. We don’t need to go far but Muslims in the Continent would envy the liberties and opportunities that British Muslims take for granted. Actually the real debate that needs to take place is how are we to shape this emerging British / European / Western Muslim identity and what direction it should take. I see my work a humble contribution towards that end.
You are critical of my mention that the Metropolitan Police is inclusive of Muslims. By God, who are you depending on to protect and safeguard our streets? Yes, there is no doubt that the Metropolitan Police have committed a series of grave mistakes and blunders – the recent Forest Gate incident is one such example and the Police must be held fully accountable for their actions. But we as Britons and Muslims have a religious and civic obligation to help maintain a safe and secure Britain. This actually raises serious questions about the participation of British Muslims not just in the Metropolitan Police but in mainstream civil society. We have three options as a community:  To assimilate and lose our cultural, ethnic and even religious roots.  To ghettoise and divorce ourselves from society and face extermination.  To positively integrate and contribute to society whilst remaining loyal to both faith and country. I – like the vast majority Muslims – have chosen option three. We need to build trust and partnerships with civil institutions and engage with them. This path entails that we be active members in our communities and societies; that we participate at all levels of society from politics to sports, from academia to arts, from business to media; that we reserve and exercise the right of dissent and criticism; that we join our fellow citizens in building a safe, peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic society that embodies the values of freedom and justice. Thus I commend you for standing in the last European Elections, General Elections and the recent Council Elections as a candidate in order to get your views heard, to make an impact, and to represent British people – although I hope you have better luck next time. Positive engagement – not anarchist ranting -– is the path we must tread.
It is true that the state of the global Muslim community is saddening but are we meant to live in perpetual grieving and lamenting and dress in black? Despite all the oppression and persecution suffered by the Prophet, he would always find time to celebrate the different joyful moments in life such as marriages, births, Eids and other happy occasions. He, peace and blessings of God be upon him, also found time to enjoy poetry and even had appointed a personal poet – the notable companion Hassan ibn Thabit.
Maintaining balance and adopting the middle way is the key in these troubled times of ours. Extremism and extremists have no place in Islam and in our civil societies. “Perished are the extremists” is a famous Prophetic tradition. Extremism is not a problem unique to Islam. Every religion, every way of life, every ideology has its puritans and those willing to distort and misinterpret it to meet their own agenda. And these are no different to those that commit acts of terror, who preach extremism, and who sow seeds of hatred in the name if Islam. There is no denying that Muslims in places like Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir and Chechnya are facing oppression and tragedy every day, and both the Muslim world and the West need to come together to solve these problems in the greater interest of humanity. Western governments in particular must understand that to help the majority of Muslims defeat the minority of extremists, they must assist us in eradicating the daily humiliation faced by Muslims across many parts of the world. Ending this humiliation is the only way forward for us.
You have every right to criticise and disagree with me or anyone else for that matter, and I always welcome any advice and constructive criticism for I know my defects and shortcomings are many. I am guided by the ancient wisdom which states ‘May God have mercy on the one who shows me my defects – for that is the best gift he could give me.’ However, in the Islamic tradition there are adab (ethics) of criticism and disagreement. I know you wrote your article with sincerity and zeal, but on a more personal level, I was deeply pained and saddened by the hostile tone and the vulgar style of your language that was brimming with sarcasm and was clearly un-Islamic, indecent and a gross violation of the beautiful teachings of our beloved Prophet who said “I was not sent except to perfect your manners.” Using words such as “astagfirullah dude,” “lap-dancing,” ‘whooping and dancing,” and describing the volunteer stewards as “pipe cleaners” and “bulldozers” are inappropriate to say the very least. What shocked and even angered me was the way you shamelessly insulted our pure innocent sisters who were supporting a charity concert by describing them as “fluffers”! (Incidentally, these very sisters managed to raise over £100,000 for orphans all over the world.) I – like the vast majority of those who read your article – was blissfully ignorant about the very existence of this disgusting obscene word, and I would question the wisdom of introducing it to the vocabulary of your readers. As to my performances, I always consciously endeavour to be responsible, respectable, modest and dignified on stage.
It has been my approach that whenever personal criticism is levelled at me I ignore it and get on with my work, as my philosophy in life is to build and not destroy, and to unite not divide. However, on this occasion I felt duty-bound to respond because of the dangerous ideas and notions contained in your article. Yvonne, let us work together as fellow Muslims and Britons in building a better future for our community and all human beings and strive to make our world a safer, more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous place.
Link here: Open Letter From Sami Yusuf to Yvonne Ridley