Published at Huffington Post, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Religion News Service
By Omar Sacirbey
Posted: 08/30/2012 8:53 am
(RNS) The Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world this week (Aug.
27) when they beheaded 17 people, allegedly for the crime of dancing at a
Which prompts the question: Does Islam forbid dancing? While Islamic
scholars are divided on the answer, it's easy to find Muslims in America
and abroad who love to boogie down.
"Even though there are scholars who forbid dancing, there is a long
tradition of dancing in Muslim cultures," said Vernon Schubel, a Muslim
and professor of religious studies at Kenyon College in Ohio.
There is no mention of dancing in the Quran, which serves as Muslims'
primary source of guidance. There is a story about dancing in the
hadith, or collected stories about Islam's Prophet Muhammad, which are
the second-most important source of guidance for Muslims.
The story, which can be found in the hadith collection of Imam Ahmad
ibn Hanbal, a 9th-century Islamic scholar, said that one day Prophet
Muhammad and his wife Aisha saw a group of Abyssinian Christians
performing a modest dance inside a mosque, and watched without
A majority of scholars who cite that hadith say it permits dancing
under certain conditions: no alcohol, no gender mixing, no effeminate
moves, and don't do it excessively.
"As long as these four conditions are met, then dancing is
permissible," said Imam Omar Shahin, secretary of the North American
Imams Federation and an Islamic law lecturer at the Graduate Theological
Foundation in Indiana.
even within the imams' umbrella group, opinions are split. Imam
Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, the group's president and also head of the New York
chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America, said dancing is
prohibited because Muhammad never danced, and therefore Muslims should
"Many people think if it's not mentioned in the Quran, it's OK. No.
You follow Allah and you follow his messenger. If he didn't do
something, you don't do it. If he did something, you do it," Khan said.
Other scholars said dancing is forbidden only if it leads to indecent touching or movements.
"It's not dancing that's unacceptable, it's the way of dancing," said
Imam Talal Eid, the Islamic chaplain at Brandeis University near Boston
and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious
Within the Sufi order of Islam (representing about 5 percent of
Muslims), some schools believe dancing is an integral expression of
devotion and a way to connect with God. The most famous group of dancing
Sufis are the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.
Dance has long been integral to many Muslim societies, including the
Filipino Muslim dances of Singkil and Pangalay; belly dancing in the
Middle East; and the long dance parties that precede Muslim weddings in
Aasif Qureshy, a computer engineer in San Jose, Calif., grew up in
northern India and recalled going to many weddings as a youth and seeing
men and women boogieing to modern Bollywood pop music.
"Nobody felt it was wrong. We were aware that there were mullahs who
objected, but nobody listened to them or took them seriously," said
Muslim immigrants brought these dance traditions to America, where
their children have kept them alive while also getting into American
dance. Dr. Sofia Shakir, a pediatrician in suburban Chicago and
observant Muslim, has enrolled her children in ballet, hip-hop and dance
"Humans have a need to move," said Shakir. "Dance fulfills this desire for self-expression."
Khadija Anderson, a dancer for 35 years, learned about Islam through a
Senegalese dance class she took in Seattle, and converted to Islam in
1993. Believing it violated her new faith, Anderson gave up performing
for 10 years but continued taking classes.
She gradually became less conservative and in 2003 took up Butoh, a
Japanese dance form that she said conformed to her Islamic values
because it is not about attractive body movements but activism. On Aug.
9, for example, she performed a Butoh dance to commemorate the 67th
anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki.
"For Muslims, intention is everything," Anderson, who now lives in
Los Angeles, said. "I use the art of dance for social protest. I'm not
out there to show off my body and say look at me."
A famous Pakistani song and dance steeped in Islamic traditions. The battle between the song and dance of Islam continues...