In late October, a video went viral on Twitter, showing former British kickboxer Andrew Tate learning how to pray like a Muslim from a friend and fellow MMA fighter, Tam Khan. Days later, Khan confirmed Tate’s conversion to Islam.
It was a blow to Muslim women like myself, and to parents and others in the community who had been breathing a sigh of relief since Tate was banned across every major social media platform in August. Our big fear: this might cement his popularity with some Muslim men. It is a worry that has only been amplified by Elon Musk’s decision to reinstate Tate’s Twitter account.
In one of Tate’s most notorious videos, he talks about how he would respond if a woman was to accuse him of cheating: “It’s bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck. Shut up b**** … slap, slap, grab, choke,” he says. Tate has previously said in a tweet that “if you put yourself in a position to be raped, you must bear some responsibility”.
Comments like these have made Tate a central figure in digital red pill culture and its increasingly violent overtones. The term, “take the red pill”, is a pop culture reference taken from the 1999 sci-fi movie The Matrix; it means opening your eyes to the truth. What was actually a transgender allegory according to the film’s creator Lily Wachowski is now used to describe a digital movement of mainly white ultraconservative men who believe that they are victims of feminism and are mistreated by society.
What has been particularly worrying for many in the Muslim community in the West is that Tate has become a role model for some Muslim men, especially after expressing his admiration for Islam in this YouTube video. These men have taken to Twitter, in a corner of the social media platform that some in the community have nicknamed MT or Muslim Twitter, to align themselves with Tate and his views.
But many Muslims — both women and men — are also pushing back against this trend, warning of the risks involved if the poisonous material being peddled by the likes of Tate gains acceptance among broader sections of the community’s youth.
As secondary school teacher Nadeine Asbali wrote in the New Statesman in August, Tate’s content “has its hooks” into Muslim boys, some of whom share his content on social media. “Figures such as Tate even praise Muslims, inflicting their own patriarchal ideas onto a faith that is predicated on the very opposite,” she wrote.
Prominent Muslim intellectuals in the West — such as author Khaled Beydoun and Shabana Mir, professor at Chicago’s American Islamic College — have also publicly expressed worries about the rise of red pill culture among young Muslim men.
Others have been more direct in condemning the misogyny of men like Tate and in explaining how their words and actions contradict the teachings of Islam.
Bilal Ware, professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara, posted a series of Instagram posts criticising da’wah influencers who have been hosting Tate on their podcasts and in YouTube videos. “Giving platforms to unrepentant misogynists, whether converts or lifelong believers sends a clear message: abusers welcome.” He also took a stance against toxic masculinity by saying, “The Muslim ‘manosphere’ has become a preserve for emasculated, intimidated men to play tough by bullying women. This is not Islam.”
Joseph Lumbard, an associate professor of Quran studies at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, has been tweeting to challenge the suggestion that by converting to Islam, Tate’s reputation is fully rehabilitated — despite no denouncement of his violent misogyny. “Too many Muslim men are seeking to give him a pass, claiming ḥusn al-ẓann [having a good opinion] and that Islam wipes away all sins,” Lumbard tweeted on October 29. “These are indeed important Islamic principles that apply in the vast majority of cases, but not when they are employed to excuse violent misogyny, grifting, and all manner of fisq [wickedness] and fasād [corruption] that AT’s [Andrew Tate’s] social media platforms continue to promote.”
This pushback from within the community — and especially from teachers and scholars — is critical because Tate’s popularity represents a broader trend of red pill culture taking hold among some Muslim men.
In recent years, digital platforms like Twitter and Reddit have given rise to what the Muslim online community calls “mincels” – Muslim incels. They use Twitter and Redditt threads to troll Muslim women online, blaming single mothers for the ills of society, saying that a man has the right to beat his wife, and calling for the return of female concubinage and advocating a “no-strings-attached nikah”.
The irony is that many of those spreading red pill culture online belong to a white, ultra-far-right worldview that is often openly Islamophobic.
I am both wary and sceptical of Tate’s conversion, because I question what it was that attracted him to my faith. Consider his earlier video, where he reacted to Will Smith’s “red table talk” with his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith regarding her infidelity by saying that watching the clip had made him want to convert to Islam because in a Muslim country she would have been stoned to death. I suspect that it is white Islamophobic and Orientalist misperceptions of Islam as being a religion that permits violence towards women that are the basis for Tate’s conversion. “I am going to find myself a nice Islamic-a** wife, and build up a big pile of rocks in case she gets fresh,” Tate says at the end of the video.
I worry that Tate is taking advantage of his popularity among alt-right Muslim men to rehabilitate his image and rebrand himself.
We as a community have to acknowledge that we also hold part of the blame for Tate’s popularity among some of our male youth. Our madrassas, Saturday schools and households are often lacking when it comes to educating our Muslim youth on healthy relationships and on respecting girls and women from a young age.
We need more and more Muslim men to join us in pushing back on misogyny in all its forms — online, on campus, at home, on the streets, and in the masjid.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.