I write to you in disappointment…


Dear Editor,

I write to you in disappointment, shock, and absolute fury. I enjoy Rihanna’s music as much as the next person- and though I might not admire her comeback after the Chris Brown fiasco, I’ve now more reason to feel annoyed.

I don’t know what possessed me a few nights ago to go over her older videos on YouTube- and there it was. In Hard, at 1:57, “Inna Lillah wa Inna Ileyhi Rageoon” (“To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return””) stands out clearly in bold Arabic letters.

It’s not problematic the first time you see it, unless you hate Rihanna anyway. The video has her performing dubious but overtly sexual acts in mud, on cannons, and war trucks (whatever they’re properly called), all of course semi-naked with R-rated lyrics tumbling out of her pretty mouth. And that’s okay. Her video, her music, her body.

The line painted on a wall in the middle of a desert is from the Holy Quran: “Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.”” (2:156). My outrage on having this line in an overtly sexual video with absolutely no relation to what Rihanna is saying stems not only from the fact that it comes from the Holy Quran, not even as much that as a Muslim, this is the word of God to me, but also because this line is used by Muslims- and even non-Muslims- when loved ones pass away; at funerals, at terrible moments in people’s lives to console one another. It is blasphemous, offensive, disrespectful and intolerably ignorant to have this line associated with Rihanna finally managing to afford Louis Vuitton and girls from high school trashing her behind her back. And even though this might not be as overt, I realize this is not the first time anyone has wrapped up sexuality and religion: Madonna, with her Like A Virgin and Ray of Light videos, created much controversy and greatly upset the Christian and Hindu communities respectively.

Sacrilege sells, I understand. But if you’re good, you’ll sell without offending a third of the world’s population, and without abusing your source of inspiration. And some people may not care- and this might not really be an issue, since it’s only part of the background. But it’s always the beginning. At that moment, I felt my religion being ridiculed, and reduced to the equivalent of make-up and toy guns- the same way many Christians probably felt when Madonna danced half-naked around a burning cross.

Forget decency. There has to be respect. There has to be an understanding that religion should not, cannot, and will not be used as a marketing strategy in pop culture. You are offending institutions which define people’s entire lives- this is more than race, sexuality, creed, gender, disability. I speak as a Muslim when I say that my religion defines me- every little action that I do, every step that I take, I am conscious of my religion before anything else. And for anyone, anyone at all to even casually abuse that, whether meaning to or not, is not okay. It is never okay.


Mariya Hassan