The high-profile conversion of kickboxer and global influencer Andrew Tate to Islam may at first glance seem to be yet another silly example of the contemporary obsession with celebrities becoming Muslim. However, the reactions of certain Islamists to Tate's decision, regardless of the motivations behind it, confirm a shift in Islamism as its proponents focus on denouncing feminism and "'LGBTQ rights" while hoping to appeal to the far-right instead of advancing more traditionally Islamist political objectives.
Tate has become infamous for his misogynistic views that he promotes through YouTube. In his videos, according to The Guardian, he "talks about hitting and choking women, trashing their belongings and stopping them from going out." He also offers courses for a fee through his "Hustlers University 2.0" that allegedly brought him $11 million in revenue in one month.
In a recent and much awaited discussion with Islamist preacher Mohamed Hijab about his conversion, Tate explained that he had "been very respectful of Islam for a long time" and described Islam as "the last religion on earth." He dismissed Christianity as being "not a real religion" and praised Islam for having a "god that you fear and can't be mocked." When asked about his numerous critics, Tate claimed they were "psychopaths" who had been trying to "cancel" him as retaliation for his "trying to stick up for the baseline morality of humanity."
Tate's conversion resulted in a spectrum of reactions. Osman Umarji, writing for Muslim Matters, explained that "we have a faction of people who are ecstatic and anticipating Tate becoming the 21st century [companion of Islam's prophet Mohammed, and second caliph] Omar bin Khattab and another faction of people seething with anger that such a person became Muslim or is even welcomed by the Muslim community."
This second faction might have included anti-Israel activist Hebh Jamal who stated "if we see a Muslim woman killed by a Muslim man in the West who meticulously followed Andrew Tate, do not say we didn't warn you. The fact that Muslim women are screaming into the abyss about femicide is maddening." She was joined by leftist activist Darakshan Raja who called on God to "protect women and girls from Andrew Tate and his Muslim Incel Movement followers." She wrote that "looking for a new lucrative market, [Tate] found Muslim men thirsty for approval from White men and those who explicitly engage in and defend abuse and violence against women."
This view was shared by journalist CJ Werleman who posted a video on "Muslims [being] the target of Andrew Tate's latest get-rich-quick scam." Pointing to a post by Tate advertising his online program after his ostensible conversion to Islam, he accused him of "scamming new followers into his fraudulent pyramid scheme." Tate's conversion did not prevent him from "tweeting" pictures of himself in the UAE with women whose skimpy outfits wouldn't be approved by many of Tate's new coreligionists. (His account has since been closed by Twitter.)
Some Islamists also expressed skepticism. Omar Chatila, a Salafi who previously led an Islamic school in Florida, warned that Tate "must seek knowledge and rectify himself before he would then be considered fit to be talking about the [religion] to the masses." Ismail Royer was more aggressive, stating that "Andrew Tate is himself an argument for [the West being a failed society] in that a hedonistic sex trafficking pornographer is seen as a guide from whom to take life advice." Royer added that "any [conversation between] a Muslim & Tate should be framed as a debate over his falsehood, not as seeking his insight."
Others were thrilled by the news of Tate becoming a Muslim. Hardline preacher Daniel Haqiqatjou praised Tate's conversion as an inspiration for non-Muslims whom he described as just "[needing] a little nudge" and concluded that it's an "absolute win." Haqiqatjou claimed that only hypocrites would "work hard to cancel [Tate], diminish the significance of his conversion [and] continue to attack him" as revenge for his "correctly [critiquing] feminism and aspects of the liberal establishment." In an explanation that was strikingly similar to Tate's, Haqiqatjou claimed that the new convert's detractors oppose him "because he is not a leftist" and is not "onboard with leftist politics."
Zafer Iqbal, who is ideologically close to the extremist Hizbut Tahrir movement that seeks to establish a caliphate, described Tate as representing "a widely needed and welcomed reaction, critique and correction to feminist diatribe that has overreached and underdelivered." This resembled the view of British Islamist Abu Yusuf Al Hanbali who noted that Tate was pulled to Islam by "Muslims' uncompromising stance against toxic feminism, lgbt and the liberal world order."
Umar Rumi, a hardline Islamist close to the Deobandi movement, praised Tate's conversion as likely to have "a huge impact on the demographic in the west ('alt-right') which has the most chances to embrace Islam." Umar Rumi contrasted the apparently inspiring alt-right with the "bulk of Western Muslims" that, according to him, "keeps trying to please and running behind the corrupt degenerate leftist liberal elite."
In the past few years, classical Islamist divisions over theological issues such as the correct understanding of God's attributes, legal questions including whether or not voting in elections is forbidden, as well as broader interrogations about Muslim political participation and the necessity of a caliphate, have come to seem almost quaint and symbolic of a past era. Those subjects appear to have been mostly replaced in Western Islamist discourse by the more widely controversial issues of feminism, abortion, LGBTQ rights, that allow hardline Islamists to portray themselves as the moral and authentically Islamic alternative to the corruption that they see as inherent to alliances between Muslims and the Left.
The Islamist response to Tate's conversion is only the most recent example of this shift.
Martha Lee is a research fellow of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.