April 22, 2014
A young man drummed on a bucket as a portable speaker played the uber-upbeat song “Happy,” Pharrell Williams’s anthem to joy and to the pure communal value of boogying in the street that has engendered countless copycat videos across the globe.
Because I’m happy — Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth . . .
Malik, 39, and Salma skipped through a gantlet of applause and cheering.
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you . . .
Jamal, wearing a thobe, and Kareem, in jeans, performed a high-stepping routine of their own. Behind them and in front of them, husbands and wives, parents and children, and total strangers bounced and shimmied and twirled as curious passersby stopped to watch and the camera rolled.
They were brought together by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which advocates for U.S. Muslims, and which last week announced a plan to help steer susceptible members of their communities away from radical Islamist ideology, and Make Space, a Washington-area organization for Muslim professionals and youth.
The video comes on the heels of a version depicting British Muslims that has garnered 1.2 million YouTube views. Like that one, this will show Muslims old and young, male and female, wearing headscarves or letting their hair flow freely — all embracing the concept of happiness.
“It sort of happened in a grass-roots sense — a couple of days ago I posted on Facebook and we put the word out yesterday,” Hasan Shah, Make Space’s board chairman, said Tuesday. “It was something that everyone wanted to do, because it could be done within the boundaries of our religion. It’s not provocative, it’s not risque in any sense.” After all, he said, happiness “is neither Eastern nor Western, it’s universal.”
Still, the British version, called “Happy British Muslims” has been controversial in some circles, underlining the challenges Muslims can face when trying to create art in a Western context.
While many Muslims were elated by the video and wanted to copy it immediately, some said it violated Islam’s law or at least its spirit of modesty, particularly with women dancing and singing in public. Others felt it was humiliating and unnecessary to prove that members of the planet’s second-largest religion are, in fact, happy.
But the 50 or so Muslims who gathered at McPherson Square were hardly encumbered by these concerns — though the organizers did remind them to limit their gyrations to the upper half of the body.
The song’s contagious popularity seemed like a perfect vehicle for that, said Haris Tarin, the D.C. director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Since this song has gone viral, we thought, why not take advantage of it? It may be a little wacky, a little out of the ordinary . . . but it gives that idea of the American Muslims in the public square.”