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Is Appropriation of Religion Going Too Far?

Religion and religious symbols are increasingly being toyed with by those who disregard the idea of religious importance. An individual wearing a symbol or manipulating holy words that have no significance to them is very problematic, and many have recently taken to social media to suggest why they believe that it should not be tolerated. Critics of religious appropriation argue that such actions undertaken by naive individuals are deeply disrespectful.

For many people from different religious groups, it is evident they are under pressure to explain why appropriation, when it concerns religion, is wrong. Yet, there are still a few who do not understand the common frustration of many people who feel the need to defend themselves, and argue against appropriation. 

“Why is it wrong?” those who don’t understand ask with an innocent look in their eye. They chuckle softly in a way that is mocking, but do not realise what they are doing. I’ve encountered individuals who are often stuck on the other side of an incessant list of questions like these, who feel almost convinced that they should in fact be the one to harbour a feeling of guilt for defending themselves.  Religious individuals are made to feel like this after hearing questions such as “what is so wrong, about me wearing a scarf or a hat on my head like all of you, or a cross around my neck?”

“Nothing” is what I’m sure many of us want to say, “If you don’t laugh as you do when you put them on. Or if you don’t put them on social media to achieve your five minutes of fame instead of trying to achieve solidarity with this religious group. Nothing is wrong with it.”

I understand that people from all religious and secular backgrounds who have symbols of similar value to them also yield to placate others for fear of coming across as ‘sensitive’ or ‘unkind’. Unfortunately, many cannot always argue why appropriation is wrong. However, those who do tend to use social media to argue their views. In a New York Times report (2020), it was stated that a large population of Hindus were angry with the K-pop group, ‘Blackpink’, and their decision to have the Hindu god, Ganesh, featured in their music video. Eagle eyed critics pointed this out online and a fan from Delhi expressed their thoughts about it on Twitter: “No hate to the artists but our Hindu religion and Gods aren’t a toy/prop/aesthetic for pop culture music videos to use.”

A similar view is being shared across the globe, as narratives about famous celebrity icons appropriating religion have come to light. Recently, pop singer Rihanna has taken the Islamic ‘Hadith’, a form of sacred text, and edited the Arabic version, reverted from an original transcript. She then put this audio piece into a song. Her and her producer used this remix at a fashion show where Rihanna’s models could dance to the song involving the holy words in a sexualised context. Though an apology has been issued, many speculators ask themselves that if Rihanna didn’t know of the meaning behind the Hadith used, why would she have used the words in her song at all. The event has caused backlash and a rise in criticism from people of all religious and social groups wanting change. Critics were angrily tweeting regarding how the issue has not been getting enough media coverage. Their comments draw light to their plea for more caution when handling things such as these.

Many believe that change is within reach and that we can enforce it by amplifying voices which are often unheard,  by using social media or by protesting. They argue that we cannot rest on our laurels and wait for society to understand the issues with appropriating religion but rather that we should make society understand such issues. 


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