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Rihanna sparks outrage after using Islamic hadith in lingerie show

Singer accused of using Islam as an 'aesthetic' after catwalk song appeared to sample a Kuwaiti preacher
Russian model Irina Shayk at the launch of Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Show Vol 2, which aired on 2 October 2020 (AFP)

Rihanna has come under fierce criticism after lingerie models at her latest fashion show danced to a song which appeared to remix an Islamic hadith. 

On Friday, the Barbadian singer launched Savage X Fenty Volume 2, the second edition of her lingerie line, accompanied by a pre-recorded fashion show which aired on Amazon Prime.

Social media users noticed that in one segment of the show, models danced to a song called “Doom” by London-based producer Coucou Chloe. The song samples a narration of a hadith - a saying by the Prophet Muhammad which Muslims use as guidance.

The hadith in question appears to have remixed a recitation by Kuwaiti preacher Mishary bin Rashid Alafasy.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike took to social media to criticise Rihanna, accusing her of disrespecting Islam by using the sacred text in a sexualised context.

The singer has since apologised for the song, calling it an "honest, yet careless mistake" in a statement posted to her Instagram stories. 

Some have noted that Rihanna has used "Doom", which appears to draw on the theme of judgement day in the hadith segment, in another fashion show three years ago.

Chloe's most recent Instagram post - ironically captioned "stress zero" - has hundreds of users criticising her track on it. Her Instagram has since limited interactions, while both her Facebook and Twitter accounts were deactivated.

On Monday, she reactivated her Twitter and posted an apology. 

"I want to deeply apologise for the offence caused by the vocal samples used in my song 'Doom'. The song was created using samples from Baile Funk tracks I found online. At the time, I was not aware that these samples used text from an Islamic Hadith," Chloe wrote. 

"I take full responsibility for the fact I did not research these words properly and want to thank those of you who have taken the time to explain this to me. We have been in the process of having the song urgently removed from all streaming platforms."

Rihanna has often been praised for her championing of diversity and inclusivity. 

The Savage X Fenty launch last week was commended for including models of different races and sizes - something lingerie brands such as Victoria's Secret have been criticised for not doing in the past. Rihanna’s line earned particular plaudits this year for including plus-sized male models

When it comes to the representation of Muslims, the 32-year-old singer and businesswoman has a mixed record. 

Rihanna included hijab-wearing model Halima Aden in the launch of her cosmetic brand Fenty Beauty in 2017. She also promoted Fenty sunglasses last year with a hijabi model.

However, she has also been accused of appropriating Islamic dress. Last year’s Savage X Fenty lingerie launch featured women, including Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid, with their hair covered in a way that some interpreted as similar to hijab. 

In 2013, Rihanna was asked to leave the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi after posing for photos in a way that was deemed inappropriate.

"She was asked to leave before entering the actual mosque (she was in the courtyard taking pictures), after taking some photos that did not fit within the rules and regulations set out to preserve the sacredness of the centre," the mosque said in a statement at the time. 

The singer later posted pictures on Instagram covered head to toe in black, including one post with Muslim women in the background, captioned “Bitch stole my look”. 

The latest controversy raises yet further concerns about Rihanna’s perceived use of Islam as an aesthetic. 

She is certainly not the first hip-hop star to utilise Arabic or Islamic phrases in music, with singer Drake most recently doing so

Drake’s use of the word “Inshallah” (God willing) in the 2018 song “Diplomatic Immunity” prompted music publisher Genius to track the history of Arab and Muslim references in hip-hop, including from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Jay-Z. 

For many, however, the use of prophetic Islamic text in a lingerie show has been seen as a step much too far. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.