What’s Wrong With This Picture? Rihanna’s Trip to Abu Dhabi

Rihanna Kicked Out of Mosque

The Answer: A lot of things.


Rihanna Kicked Out of Mosque

In case you haven’t already heard: this Saturday, pop-star Rihanna was asked to leave the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi after staging an impromptu photoshoot on its grounds and posting the photos on instagram.  Naturally, when the mosque released a statement regarding the incident yesterday morning, the response went viral and suddenly everyone had to voice their opinion (whether positive, negative, or indifferent) on Rihanna’s controversial shoot.

Although I seriously doubt Rihanna gives two thoughts towards the cultural weight of her photos, or the implications of her actions, (…come on, her publicist had to know that the mosque would not be happy!) her Middle Eastern glamour shoot raises greater questions than merely speculating whether she’s guilty of trespassing on holy ground, or not—namely:

1. Where does the fine line between creating “art” and being disrespectful fall within cultural appropriation?


2. Does our Western glamorization of the hijab empower Muslim women or exploit them?

Rihanna Kicked Out of Mosque 

In response to the shoot, many people pointed out that had it taken place in front of a Cathedral or even a synagogue, the media’s response would not have been as strong.  It seems like every day in Lindsay Lohan is posing like Jesus for a magazine, a mainstream fashion designer crafts a line of clothing assaulting the Catholic church, or a musician takes a stance against organized religion.  It’s almost as if, as Westerners, we feel we can criticize Christianity without repercussion because it is “our own.” There is no denying that Christianity is greatly entwined within our cultural heritage—whether we observe the faith or not.  (ie…Christmas is about as mainstream as you can get.)

Also, we re-appropriate and secularize traditional Christian symbols without thinking much about it—such as an individual who is not religious wearing a cross as a fashion statement, or Dolce & Gabbana & Givenchy’s use of religious iconography within their Fall collection.  However, when it comes to cultural appropriationi.e. Rihanna donning a hijab (a signifier of Muslim culture and it’s epistemic value of modesty) although she does not practice Islam or align with its beliefs—where does the boundary lie between celebrating different cultures, and exploiting their differences?  Why is it “worse” to appropriate a culture we aren’t familiar with, than to re-appropriate our own?

This raises the topic of religion within art, and the boundary between creating work that is thought provoking versus outright disrespectful.  What makes Madonna’s Like A Prayer artistic and forward-thinking, while Rihanna’s poses in front of a mosque while wearing a a hijab are categorized as disrespectful to our Muslim sisters, and culturally backwards?   Could it be that Like a Prayer accepted because it deals with Madonna’s personal experience growing up as a Catholic and feeling oppressed by a patriarchal society?  Is it that we cannot relate to whatever message Rihanna’s is trying to convey, because she is an outsider and was not raised within the culture?

Rihanna Kicked Out of Mosque
On the other side of the topic—Is Rihanna’s western appropriation of the hijab promoting religious tolerance by showcasing and familiarizing the beauty of middle eastern culture, or objectifying it through re-appropriating it to enforce Western ideals of sex appeal?

Although I (obviously) do not take issue with Rihanna’s outspoken and bold mentality, I do think her misappropriation of the hijab, and blatant use of a holy landmark as a personal playground is completely inappropriate.  Through superimposing her “personal twist” on the religious garments by incorporating a bold red pout, and striking seductive poses in a figure fitting jumpsuit—she is hyper-sexualizing the burqa—ultimately eroticizing Islamic culture in a way that completely undermines the agency of Muslim women’s choice to express their sexuality through covering themselves.  Covering yourself is as much a personal choice, as exposing your body on stage.

In condoning Rihanna’s disrespectful behavior as a society, we are accepting the fetishization of Muslim women as status quo.  Our trivialization of the hijab as mere fashion accessory contributes to xenophobia towards Islam. Whether Rihanna was trying to make a cultural statement, or just wanted a pretty picture—it’s important to remember that feminists come from all different cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds, and it is never inappropriate to put down one group of women to advance your own agenda.

Rihanna Kicked Out of Mosque 

However, there is no right or wrong answer—what I wrote above is merely my personal opinion, and I would love to hear what you have to say.  Cultural and gender equality as well as religious tolerance are everyone’s issue.

In your opinion, Was Rihanna completely out of line?  OR In reprimanding her behavior, are we taking it too far and drawing an even bigger division between Eastern and Western culture?


all images courtesy of @badgirlriri’s instagram account


  1. My thoughts
    November 1, 2014 / 11:52 am

    I think she chose to take this picture because she wanted to. It’s very pretty. People in America who never even thought of Islam might take interest in the religion.

    The Muslim community is so offended and outraged they don’t see the benefits. This picture combined both western and eastern culture and I don’t see nothing wrong with it. She’s not Muslim but she’s forced to wear the burqa in Muslim
    Countries. It comes down to freedom. And I think the Muslim community looks at it as a threat. They are just worried that she will influence other women in that country to express themselves the way they want to.

    What’s wrong with wanting to feel pretty in a burqa. She made it stylish. Something that many women in the Muslim community wish they could do but can’t. There are also women who choose to cover themselves and hide their femininity. But they can cover themselves because they are allowed too. What about the women who wish to wear red lipstick and paint their nails. What about the women who want to wear a stylish burqa. They can’t. In Iran there are police that will ridicule you and threaten you with jail
    If you don’t abide to their strict rules. In Saudia Arabia you are harassed if you wear nail polish or stylish shoes. But men are allowed to dress up and express themselves.

    It comes down to-all humans are born with freedom. But unfortunately in some countries you’re freedom is taken from you and you have to suppress you indiviuality to appease others.

  2. October 24, 2013 / 4:19 pm

    This is a great article.
    I don’t know if these are all of the pictures, but I feel like she may have been asked to leave because of the amount of bystanders there are around. Did they get permission to include shots of the other women in the pictures? I’m thinking that since it was a spontaneous photo shoot that they did not. Nor did they get permission from the Mosque to shoot there. I think that the Mosque had every right to ask them to leave, just like the churches or temples would have the right to ask someone taking pictures of their spaces and people to leave.

  3. October 24, 2013 / 2:30 pm

    I think it’s wrong to make light or or insult someone’s religion no matter what they practice. As a devout Catholic, I have been offended when someone wears a rosary as jewelry, or makes pedophile Priest jokes. I don’t insult other people’s faith, and I expect the same respect. Great article!

  4. Erin
    October 23, 2013 / 12:04 pm

    I agree with your point that some Muslim women are expressing their sexuality when choosing to wear the burqa, but for just as many (if not more) the burqa is a forced garment specifically designed to reduce their sexuality and is a painful demonstration of the power of Muslim patriarchy. This representation may offend some who choose the burqa for reasons of personal modesty, but I can also see it as a powerful symbol for any Muslim woman who feels oppressed by the current cultural laws and standards of her society. In order to truly understand the complexity of the issue, we can’t reduce Muslim women to one large group, because Islam and Islamic culture spread across so many nations and regions.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought provoking post.

    • Christine Buzan
      October 23, 2013 / 12:09 pm

      Brilliantly said, Erin! All women are diverse INDIVIDUALS who cannot be reduced the stereotypes surrounding their cultural or religious practices and ethnicity. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your opinion. Keep on fighting the good fight! XxMO

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