Rihanna's Savage x Fenty Hadith clip was insensitive, but just an honest mistake

Rihanna's Savage x Fenty Hadith clip was insensitive, but just an honest mistake
4 min read
08 Oct, 2020
Comment: In a climate of rising Islamophobia, Muslims should feel free to speak up when something is offensive. Rihanna's show, though, was just an honest mistake, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
Both Rihanna and Coucou Chloe have apologised for the use of the Hadith [Getty]

My first reaction when I heard Rihanna had used a song remixed with a Hadith for her Savage x Fenty show was disbelief, followed by indignation.

For hours, social media was full of overreactions on both sides; people either calling the choice a continuous trend of Islamophobia and appropriation shown by Rihanna, or saying that the Muslims taking offence were being ridiculous and it was a storm in a teacup.

But what actually happened? 

Rihanna's Savage x Fenty fashion show premiered on Amazon Prime on 2 October. The lingerie show featured models dancing to a song by London based producer Coucou Chloe. Remixed into the song were words from a Hadith, specifically one that talks about the signs of the Day of Judgement. This is understandably shocking from an Islamic perspective and something that made me feel deeply uncomfortable. 

No sooner had the furore begun, Coucou Chloe deactivated her twitter account and a lot of the criticism was aimed at Rihanna, for both using a song with a Hadith remixed into it, and for previous events where she had used headscarves for the models. Shortly afterwards, Rihanna posted an apology to the Muslim community on the Savage x Fenty instagram feed, and Coucou Chloe reactivated her twitter account, also posting an apology.

First let's address the main point of the conflict on social media: Did the show's critics have a right to be upset? Absolutely. The use of such a significant Hadith in that context by a non-Muslim artist was a very problematic. Muslims have the right to express their disappointment and express why this choice was so offensive without being accused of being upset over nothing. It is also impossible to discuss this without mentioning the wider context of being a Muslim in the West right now. Islamophobia is on the rise, whether in France or the UK or the United States, and as a result we often see signs of it in popular culture.

Muslims have the right to express their disappointment and express why this choice was so offensive

This brings me to my second point: Was Rihanna being Islamaphobic? I highly doubt it. In my opinion this was an honest mistake on Fenty's part, and as pointed out by many, it's unlikely a non-Muslim would pick up on the fact the song used a Hadith at all.

The brand Fenty prizes itself on being a diverse and inclusive space in reaction to a famously narrow-minded industry. Rihanna, describing her aim with the brand, said "I want to make stuff I can see on the people I know, and they come in all different shapes, sizes, races, and religions." With this in mind and her apology, I'm very much prepared to take her at her word.

The producer of the song, Coucou Chloe, has also apologised, and it is fair to state the responsibility for checking the Arabic sample in the song is more that of the creator, than anyone using it. It has also been pointed out that the title of the song is "Doom", and the Hadith was specifically about the Day of Judgement.

This may just be a coincidence, and since the artist is now removing the song from streaming platforms, it is probably best to accept this as fact.

In a less chaotic world the story would end here with a mistake admitted, and an apology accepted. But the conversation seems to have spiralled into territory which has nothing to do with the use of the Hadith at all.

Read more: Rihanna faces backlash for using Islamic Hadith clip in raunchy fashion show

Some are claiming that Muslims shouldn't even be watching a lingerie show, or bizarrely connecting the incident to sexual repression in religion, a topic that is completely removed from the point.

I believe this was an error which got blown out of proportion. But Muslims have the right to tell brands when something is offensive, especially at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise.

If people hadn't taken to social media to criticise the show en masse, then the song would still be in use. It is important though, to realise when we really are facing active Islamophobia, and when we are seeing the results of just an honest mistake.

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.