October 22, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5492

Rihanna Photo Shoot In Courtyard Of UAE Mosque Sparks Media Uproar

October 22, 2013
The Gulf, United Arab Emirates | Special Dispatch No. 5492

On October 20, 2013, during a visit to Abu Dhabi as part of a concert tour in the UAE, the singer Rihanna sparked outrage by posing for photos in the courtyard of the emirate's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Though she was dressed modestly and wearing a hijab, the mosque authorities ordered her to leave, deeming her conduct inappropriate to a holy site. The photos were posted on Rihanna's Instagram account.

The incident was widely reported in the Arab media and social networks. Twitter users even launched a "Rihanna Defiles the Sheikh Zayed Mosque" hashtag, which saw a remarkable amount of activity. Reports published in the Arab media likewise criticized Rihanna for this incident, and also for her immodest performance in her Abu Dhabi concert later that day.

The following are excerpts from reactions to the mosque incident and to Rihanna's concert.

The Mosque Authorities: Rihanna's Behavior Was Inappropriate

A message issued by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center following the incident stated that the American singer had entered the site as a private visitor, without prior coordination, and was asked to leave after she posed for a photo shoot that was incompatible with the mosque's holy nature. The message stressed that the mosque is open to visitors of all nationalities, who come singly or as part of a group to appreciate the unique treasures of Islamic art and architecture that can be viewed there; however, the center management acts to ensure that visitors do not engage in behaviors unsuitable to the holy nature of the site, such as taking unsuitable pictures or striking inappropriate poses. The singer, said the message, left without entering the mosque itself, because she was asked to do so after taking pictures that violated the site regulations.[1]

Photos posted on Rihanna's Instagram account (

Reactions On Twitter: Criticism Alongside Support

The news of the incident, and the publication of the photos, sparked many reactions on Twitter, both negative and positive, many of them posted under the hashtag "Rihanna Defiles the Sheikh Zayed Mosque." Some cursed and threatened the singer, decried her desecration of the mosque and called to investigate the incident and punish whoever allowed her to enter the compound. Others praised her for respecting the site by wearing a hijab, and attacked her critics, pointing out that there are much worse acts that require condemning. The following are several examples:

"Steps must be taken to prevent such disgraceful incidents in mosques and to impose strict supervision. We are all Muslims and we condemn this action"

"That woman did a photo shoot next to a mosque! What about those who blow themselves up in mosques in Iraq and Afghanistan? Which of the two acts are we more obliged to condemn?"

"Is everyone who enters a mosque an honorable and trustworthy person? Don't murderers and criminals pray at mosques too? How can we determine the honorable [character] and morality of those who enter a mosque?"

Emirati Singer Ahlam To Rihanna: You Ugly Infidel

The Arab press reported savage criticism of Rihanna voiced by Emirati singer Ahlam on her Twitter account, in which she accused Rihanna of defiling the mosque. In one tweet she addressed Rihanna as follows: "I wish you had broken your legs and were unable to enter the mosque." In another she wrote: "...This matter is prohibited, Rihanna. You ugly thing."

The singer Ahlam

After encountering angry responses, Ahlam deleted all her tweets on the subject, apologized for her statements and asked her fans not to respond to the accusations. However, immediately afterwards she posted another tweet in which she called Rihanna an "infidel".[2]

Tweet by Ahlam: "You abuse and curse me for condemning an infidel who entered a mosque (October 20, 2013)

Criticism On Websites: Rihanna's Concert Was Also Far From Modest

Many websites and newspapers reacted to the singer's musical performance in Abu Dhabi later that day. Rihanna began the concert wearing a long coat, but later discarded it; she also retained her raunchy dance style. The women's website wrote about the concert under the headline "Photos: Rihanna on the Abu Dhabi Stage – Far From Modest." The article said: "After photos of her at the Sheikh Zayed [Grand] Mosque were published and sparked controversy, thousands of fans of the international [pop] singer Rihanna gathered to see her performance. The singer, who is known for her loose morals and finds nothing amiss in disrobing, is well aware that Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, which is a Muslim country, and that a clear dress code exists there... Therefore she selected [her] outfit sensibly. However, though her outfit was restrained, it would appear that her body resisted [adopting] the same modesty as her clothing, and her dance was described as nymphomaniacal, as if she was refusing to make any concession to the local culture in her performance on Saturday."[3]

Photos that accompanied the report.


[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 21, 2013; Al-Imarat Al-Yawm, Al-Bayan (UAE), October 22, 2013.

[2] Sayidati (Egypt), October 21, 2013., October 21, 2013.

[3], October 21, 2013.

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