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To counter stereotypes, Chicago Muslims dance in ‘Happy’ video

WATCH: The "Happy Chicago Muslims!" video
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Updated: May 29, 2014 6:14AM

A video of Chicago area Muslims dancing and smiling to Pharrell Williams’ smash hit “Happy” has struck a chord, attracting more than 50,000 views on YouTube.

Chicago resident Rayyan Najeeb, 22, created the video, which pictures a diverse group of Muslims dancing, smiling and clapping their hands to the song in Chicago and the suburbs. It was produced in part to help counter stereotypes of Muslims, he said.

“This is a video about Muslims in Chicago being happy. It [counters the] stereotype that all Muslims are miserable and angry,” said Najeeb, a native of Milwaukee who has Syrian and Palestinian roots.

The video also seeks to highlight the diversity in the Chicago Muslim community.

“That was extremely important to me,” said Najeeb, whose video features Muslims from the African-American, Hispanic, Arab, and other communities, and includes immigrants and U.S.-born Muslims, some wearing and some not wearing traditional Muslim attire.

Among the scenes featured on the video are a hijab-wearing woman dancing up an escalator, a bearded man swaying to the song with his baby, a woman tapping a bald man’s head in time with the tune and shots of young boys and men showing their freestyle moves.

Najeeb, a recent Northwestern University film graduate, got the idea to do the Chicago “Happy” video after viewing a Muslim British version created by the website The Honesty Policy.

He made an appeal for Chicago-area participants through his social network, and others also helped spread the word.

“The response was absolutely overwhelming,” said Najeeb, who works as a health care strategy consultant.

In just 12 hours of getting out the word, more than 150 Muslims agreed to participate. Thirty-six hours later, the video was complete, he said. It went up last Monday.

The video has sparked debate, with some Muslims cheering it, while others contending it’s sinful and forbidden, particularly the scenes showing women dancing.

That mirrors some of the criticism generated following the posting of the British version, which garnered more than 1.3 million views. But the overwhelming response to it has been positive, according to The Honesty Policy’s website.

“In our tradition, there are different schools of thought and interpretations of the . . . teachings of the prophet,” said Najeeb, who doesn’t view all music and all dancing as sinful.

He added: “I know what I believe in. I have teachers that I trust who also agree with my way of thinking. I’m very confident in the decision that I made and the direction I went with this video.”

Regarding one critic who said Muslims shouldn’t have to prove they’re happy, he responded, “In an ideal world, we don’t have to worry about other peoples’ perceptions because other peoples’ perceptions would be accurate. But the reality is we don’t have a very good perception in the media. Using . . . the Pharrell Happy [video] to reach across the world, basically showing that Muslims are happy is probably one of the best ways to counteract the negative media attention that Muslims get.”

Najeeb said most of the responses he has gotten have been positive, and he’s not dwelling on the negative. One of the positive posts, said “Lovin’ Happy Muslims of Chicago from Happy Muslim in London!!”

“My bottom line is I’m happy,” Najeeb said with a laugh. “We did strike a chord.

“In our tradition, we believe that a smile is charity, that we get reward for it,” he added. “It is a blessing being able to spread cheer.”


Twitter: @KnowlesFran

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