While moderate Muslims generally don’t object to music and dancing per se, a large portion of the faithful view sexually suggestive movement,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 South Asia.
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 Qureshy.
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 classes.
“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.”