On Friday, Rihanna put on a virtual Savage x Fenty fashion show and for a fleeting moment, all was well in the world. And then just as suddenly, it wasn’t. One scene from the show featured a track titled “DOOM” by French producer Coucou Chloe, which sampled a highly synthesized and remixed version of a recitation of an Islamic Hadith—a saying of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) which is considered to be sacrosanct within the religion—and once Muslims on the internet identified it, they immediately brought it to Rihanna’s attention with a slew of angry tweets explaining the offense.
By Tuesday, both Chloe and Rihanna had apologized for the use of the Hadith, each citing that they were unaware of its meaning. In an Instagram story, Rihanna wrote, “We understand that we have hurt many of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and i’m [sic] incredibly disheartened by this! I do not play with any kind of disrespect toward God or any religion and therefore the use of this song in our project was completely irresponsible!” As a Muslim, I’m glad both artists chose to apologize for what was an avoidable mistake, yet the degree of ire that the song drew is—and I know this will cost me my Muslim card—wholly unnecessary from a theological standpoint.
Ignorance of Arab language and religious recitation from Coucou Chloe, and to a lesser extent Rihanna, led to a kind of cultural appropriation when Chloe decided to use a sample that featured a Hadith recitation in Arabic despite Chloe not speaking or understanding the language. (Chloe clarified on Twitter that she had in fact sampled the Hadith-quoting track from an unnamed Brazilian baile funk track she found online, adding another layer to this irresponsibility.) It’s fair for anyone to be annoyed over the fact that Chloe and Rihanna didn’t take a moment to do the bare minimum and pass the sample through Google translate to understand what they were using. As an act of contrition, Chloe tweeted that she is having the song removed from streaming platforms, which seems like a fair trade-off. But the accusations levied against these women take it a step further, claiming they purposely disrespected the Muslim religion by misusing a portion of Hadith. However, for me, the argument that the stunt was besmirching the faith just doesn’t hold an ounce of water.
At this point, all three of the Ibrahimic religions have been absorbed as a part of pop culture whether the faithful like it or not, which has left them open for ridicule, criticism, and even entire fashion galas from people outside of the religions. When it comes to public consumption, very few things get to remain sacred—least of all a sacred text that few take the time to understand. But the use of Hadith is particularly non-threatening for one key reason. The Hadith, as important as they are, are not the confirmed word of Allah but are instead the words and behaviors (sunnah) of the Prophet (PBUH) a flawed human being who sinned just like the rest of us. So if sampling that Hadith is not technically an affront to God, and cannot be an affront to a man who is long dead, then what is the offense?
Although the sects of Islam have a plethora of nuance, the general teaching is the same: That there is only one god, and to put anyone or anything on the same level as god is to commit idolatry. There is a reason that before becoming Muslims, we must admit and adhere to “There is no god but God.” I hate to break it to my brothers and sisters, but to equate the words of the Prophet (PBUH) as sacrosanct and untouchable is borderline idolatry—and to a lesser extent, an overreaction. It’s also incredibly hypocritical, when just a week ago, Joe Biden was being praised for saying “inshallah” during the presidential debate. Is inshallah, which in English translates to “if God wills it,” not as sacred or important as a phrase a man allegedly said a little over 1400 years ago?
There are so many other things that are actual attacks on the Muslim faith that aren’t part and parcel of a meaningless but still entertaining lingerie show. The persistent depiction of Muslims as terrorists on television, for instance, or the death threats against Muslim congresswoman that have gone unpunished, or the literal Muslim ban. Far be it from me to yuck anybody’s yum on what they want to rage tweet about, but Muslims are being murdered or forced into re-education camps and the musical stylings of a bra and panty show don’t need to be at the top of the stress list!