Rihanna’s Oct. 2 Savage X Fenty show won raves for its diversity and inclusion (including from us), but several Muslim viewers maintain one aspect shouldn’t have been included. A segment of the hourlong production was set to a musical track that reportedly included an Islamic Hadith—otherwise known as a “record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, revered and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance, second only to the authority of the Quran, the holy book of Islam,” according to Britannica.com. Vocal samples of the Hadith had been sped up and layered over a dance track for the song “Doom” by London producer Coucou Chloe.
Several understandably offended and, in some cases, absolutely outraged Muslim commenters called attention to the sacred Arabic text, which reportedly references “judgment day and the end of times,” according to Newsweek and multiple commenters online. No doubt the juxtaposition of the track under visuals of lingerie-clad models and Drag Race veterans Shea Coulee and Gigi Goode voguing down the runway added fuel to the fire; while many of us celebrated the representation and freedom of gender and sexual expression in this and other scenes throughout the Savage X Fenty show, all run contrary to traditional Muslim values.
That aspect aside, as critics pointed out, the use of sacred teachings in an obviously secular context would’ve been inappropriate, regardless—in fact, it was mentioned that the incantations might even be considered inflammatory or threatening if spoken aloud by actual Muslims in mixed company.
“i think the person who created the song knew what they were doing,” wrote one commenter. “that is a very specific hadith. U have to go looking to find it. It’s not something non-muslims know unless they research. So the fact that the song is called Doom & the hadith is about the end of times? @rihanna?”
Another commenter wrote (h/t Newsweek):
“okay the fact that rihanna’s show was supposed to be a keystone for ‘inclusion’ while she completely alienated the Muslim community by disrespecting a Hadith recitation is the perfect showcase of how fashion brands & the media have never considered us as a part of their audience.”
To be fair, Rihanna has previously been praised for including hijab-wearing models in her campaigns for Fenty Beauty, including top American Muslim model Halima Aden. Additionally, Rihanna was in a lengthy relationship with Saudi businessman Hassan Jameel which reportedly ended early this year, making this particular lapse in judgment from the notoriously hands-on mogul perhaps especially striking.
In fact, while it is entirely plausible (and highly likely) that Rihanna was entirely unaware of the meaning of the Arabic included in the song chosen for her show, some might feel she’s become a bit too comfortable in her proximity to Islamic culture. As another commenter pointed out: “i can’t let Rihanna have a pass w appropriating Islam like for her first show the models wore a scarf around their heads and it looked like HIJAB and her second show she used a track that remixed a HADITH....why is no one talking about this, my religion is not y’all’s aesthetic.”
Rihanna and her team have yet to release any public statement on the controversy and have not responded to Newsweek’s request for comment. We will update this post should they do so, but it is important to recognize that despite our deep and abiding love for all things Rih—and whether or not anyone deliberately used that particular piece of Arabic content, this unfortunate incident does fall squarely within the boundaries of “when appropriation goes wrong.”
“i feel like islamaphobia is so normalized to the point where people are calling us dramatic for being mad when our religion gets disrespected?” a commenter wrote (h/t Newsweek). “hadith are sacred words of the prophet, they’re used to guide muslims & are second to only the Quran. rihanna should know better.”
Updated: Tuesday, 10/6/20 at 8:58 a.m., ET: Rihanna has spoken; on Monday night, the star confirmed that she was, in fact, unaware of the lyrical content of the song used in her show. Posting an apologetic response to her Instagram stories, she expressed sincere regret for what she termed “a careless mistake.”
I’d like to thank the Muslim community for pointing out a huge oversight that was unintentionally offensive in our Savage X Fenty show.
I would more importantly like to apologize to you for this honest, yet careless mistake. We understand that we have hurt many of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and I’m incredibly disheartened by this! I do not play with and kind of disrespect toward God or any religion, and therefore the use of the song in our project is completely irresponsible! Moving forward, we will make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Thank you for your forgiveness and understanding, Rih.