Andrew Tate and the Moral Bankruptcy of Muslim Proselytization

Even though his lifestyle is directly contradictory to Islam, the convert's fan base turns a blind eye and embraces his far-right message

Andrew Tate and the Moral Bankruptcy of Muslim Proselytization
British-American former professional kickboxer and controversial influencer Andrew Tate (L) clutches a copy of the Quran as he leaves the Bucharest Court of Appeal with his brother. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images)

At first glance, Andrew Tate is easy to dismiss as a product of an online culture that packages inflammatory anti-women narratives with quick buck hustling and aggressive gym bro culture. However, Tate — who, despite his global platform, is now languishing in a Romanian jail — has succeeded in bringing together an unlikely alliance from across the global political, ethnic and religious spectrum, both online and offline, that has come to his defense against various controversies.

Tate has made headlines for many reasons, but two incidents in particular stand out: his conversion to Islam and his recent arrest in Romania on rape and human trafficking charges. His defenders immediately cast doubt on the legitimacy of the allegations, pointing fingers at the so-called “matrix,” an allusion to the international system, which they say fabricates accusations in order to silence Tate from telling the “truth.” These defenders reflect a growing ideology rooted in misogyny, homophobia and transphobia that has brought together groups historically pitted against one another, such as the far right and Muslims. Now, these identities are coming together to rally against their common enemies of feminism, liberalism and “wokeness.” Their rallying cries have become widespread through influencers like Tate, whose popularity shows that these ideas are no longer on the fringes of society and can spread like wildfire.

Even though Tate has been part of the online “manosphere” for several years now, it was only last year that he went viral on various social media platforms. This was no coincidence. Through Tate’s “Hustler University,” an online training course that claims to teach people how to be successful and wealthy, subscribers are encouraged to promote short videos on apps like TikTok to rile up viewers by broadcasting some of his most inflammatory statements, such as justifying the physical abuse of women. Tate has mastered the science of manipulating social media algorithms to broadcast his message, which is often countered by users who respond or “stitch” the videos with their disapproving reactions. This cycle of controversy and outrage keeps his name trending and generates curiosity among viewers.

In 2022, Tate announced that he had converted to Islam, indicating a cross-cultural appeal that makes him stand out from others. Coinciding with a growing distrust in institutions and mainstream media across fringe groups (including far-right, far-left and nonpolitical conspiracists like anti-vaxxers), these groups were drawn to Tate’s content, often for similar reasons rooted in mistrust and anger at mainstream society.

The intersectionality between elements of the manosphere and far-right extremism has been documented by groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and researchers across the globe. Last year, my colleague Lydia Wilson wrote about the popularity of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson among many Arabs and Muslims, noting that his conservative, father figure and family man persona resonates with many who hold traditional values dear and are increasingly wary of liberalism gaining traction in their communities. Many women in patriarchal settings appreciate Peterson’s approach to gender roles, marriage and family no less than men do. Muslim scholars and fans alike had openly encouraged Peterson to embrace Islam, claiming that he was already Muslim but “just doesn’t know it yet.” His lectures praising patriarchal systems echo much of what scholars and preachers in the Muslim world have been saying for decades. But, as Wilson noted in her essay, Peterson’s flirting with the far right and Christian fundamentalism did not appear to bother his Muslim fans. To the contrary, his religious devotion, even if not to Islam, endeared him to many Muslims at a time when the idea of a global war on religion waged by secular forces is growing.

Along with the perceived collapse of traditional values, there is a widespread belief that domestic policies worldwide are pushing for the abandonment of religion by refusing religious classes in public schools — what conservative communities believe is the indoctrination of liberalism.

Matt Walsh, an American journalist, is another conservative commentator gaining traction among Muslim communities and online religious preachers. Segments from Walsh’s documentary on gender issues, “What Is a Woman?” with Arabic subtitles have been making the rounds in WhatsApp chat groups in the Middle East. Candace Owens’ conservative commentaries on gender roles are also endorsed in chat groups and circulated widely among traditional Muslims. The common themes raised by Walsh and Owens that resonate with certain audiences in the Muslim world are the outright rejection of transgender individuals and the use of nonbinary pronouns as well as criticism of feminist and women’s liberation movements. The political views and affiliations of this brand of conservative commentators are often anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, but that does not appear to affect their growing popularity. The acceptance of this narrative among Muslim preachers is not surprising, but their overlooking of condescending views regarding Islam is interesting, because it changes the enemy from the usual Jewish and Christian suspects to the new liberal world order.

Tate is different from Peterson, Walsh and Owens in that he embraces what is usually considered depravity in Islam. He boasts about having an endless series of girlfriends and has acknowledged that he has used women to create adult content for profit. In summary, Tate represents everything that Muslim preachers warn against and consider the epitome of social decay. Nonetheless, Tate’s conversion to Islam was welcomed by the same preachers, who disregarded his behavior by either implying he is a new Muslim and will learn in time or by not discussing it at all. Meanwhile, Tate’s far-right followers in the West, many of whom have a record of Islamophobia, largely ignored his conversion, and he lost no support from the majority of them, such as the British alt-right commentator Paul Joseph Watson and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Tate’s effect on young Muslim men is worth noting, particularly because a different section of the West’s manosphere has appealed to various sectors of the Muslim world before. In a Canadian high school, an Islamic studies teacher was shocked when one of her 10th-grade male students argued that women belonged in the kitchen. The teacher, who wears a niqab — a conservative Muslim face cover that reveals only the eyes — had not heard this before from her students. Upon inquiring, she learned the student was inspired by Tate. To understand this phenomenon better, I approached some of Tate’s most avid Muslim defenders online. They ranged in age from 21 to 32 and agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

“Look, we know it’s not ideal and what he has done in the past is sinful, but he is a new convert and will learn in time,” one of the young men said, speaking of Tate’s exploits and vices. “Nothing he was doing or is doing now can be worse than kufur,” he continued, using the Arabic word for infidelity. “Islam forgives everything but kufur, and all new converts must be welcomed.”

I struggled to understand the cognitive dissonance before me. While it is true that, from the religious perspective, new Muslims must be welcomed, repenting for one’s sins is also a vital part of converting to Islam — and Tate has never once indicated any desire to repent. Defending Tate as a recent convert goes beyond typical double standards; the same men who chastise Muslims like Egyptian soccer star Mo Salah for decorating a Christmas tree in his home somehow have no vocal objections to another Muslim man who still openly describes himself as a “pimp” and exploits women for money.

In these conversations, there was an interesting, albeit inaccurate, comparison made between Tate and early Muslims from the conquest era. “Muslim men have historically had women on the side and found ways to justify it,” said another respondent. “Look at the concubines! Owning them as war spoils was permissible in Islam. Men used them for entertainment purposes. They used to buy and sell them. That tier of women is not different from the ones in Andrew’s webcams. The rules that apply to these women are different from the ones that apply to the women in our families, like our sisters and potential wives.” There is an entire scholarly body of work to explain the concubine tradition in Islam from the seventh to the 18th centuries that is beyond the scope of this essay but, regardless of how we feel about it from a 21st-century moral standpoint, the contexts are drastically different.

The baseless comparison does, however, reveal one of many overlapping ideas between Tate’s Muslim supporters and the far-right movements in the West: how they define depravity. The threat is not nonmarital sex and adultery (when committed by a man), nor is overindulgence in earthly pleasures the source of the decay in civilization. Rather, the threat is the new wave of feminism and liberalism that influences the kind of women who these groups would rather keep in traditional gender roles in order to uphold the traditional, patriarchal order — which permits a man to indulge in whatever pleasures he desires, while expecting chastity and submission from the women in their direct circles. It is reminiscent of the Jezebels in the popular television show “The Handmaid’s Tale,” where an entire secretive nightlife exists in the pious, God-fearing Republic of Gilead made for the high-ranking ruling men. Sex with the Jezebels, the fallen women, is abundant. But outside this secret world the wives, sisters and daughters of these men could be executed for engaging in as much as an affair.

After Tate’s arrest, I reached out to the Muslim men whom I previously spoke to for comment, and only one agreed to speak to me. “It is all lies. They are coming after him because he is now Muslim and because he is exposing the matrix,” a 23-year-old told me. “The red pill wave will continue no matter what they do.” This was another overlap with the far-right manosphere: the conspiracy of the red pill.

To understand Tate and the larger manosphere requires knowledge of certain key terms used to explain the ostensible dangers of the feminist and woke movements, many of which go back to the blockbuster 1999 film, “The Matrix.” In the movie, characters are given a choice between a red pill that exposes the real world as a machine-controlled reality that has enslaved humans, and a blue pill that allows them to remain in the comfort of their ignorant bliss. Alluding to this, Tate and other manosphere influencers refer to the “matrix” as the new liberal order and the “pill” as the choice to face (their) reality or continue to ignore it.

In an example of how fringe groups are moving closer together despite fundamental ideological differences, this same language is used by both the far-right commentator Tommy Robinson and the Muslim preacher Mohammed Hijab. Tate’s newfound faith does not seem to be an obstacle to supporting Robinson, who is known for using inflammatory language against Muslims and Islam. Now, the perceived attack on masculinity has made feminism and woke culture a common enemy for Muslim preachers, Islamists and Islamophobes alike. Many Muslim preachers have long believed in their own version of the matrix, in which the West conspires to destroy Islam through depravity and progressive lifestyles. In more recent times, these “matrices” appear to overlap in the belief that a new liberal world order is out to destroy all religions and impose new values that contradict tradition, and that secularism has infiltrated all religions except for Islam.

The intersectionality of homophobia, transphobia and feminism has helped create an alliance of ideas. Tate’s recent arrest has vindicated the belief that those “exposing the matrix” risk losing their freedom. Abdul Aziz al-Ansari, a Qatari preacher with more than 600,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, believes Tate was arrested because he challenged the liberal world order by converting to Islam and exposing the hypocrisy of the West. Even before his conversion to Islam, Tate had praised the religion and described it as the only successful one.

The Egyptian preacher Dr. Haitham Talaat, a physician-turned-online-preacher, published a long video on his YouTube channel (boasting 406,000 subscribers) praising Tate, while claiming that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the anti-Islam, pro-secular project in the Muslim world through networks supporting feminist movements, LGBTQ rights and national identity politics. According to him, all of these had disintegrated in a few months at the hands of a “charismatic young American man named Andrew Tate, who has fought secularism in the West and has now converted to Islam, the last true religion to reject secularism.” Alt-right commentator Mike Cernovich flirted with this idea in 2019, when he tweeted to his 1.1 million Twitter followers that Islam was perhaps the West’s last hope in the face of wokeism. The tweet reads illogically, but examining the context further reveals that the message is not too far-fetched. Reactionaries who believe there is a war on masculinity are looking for a place where the “tough guy” is accepted. A superficial understanding of Islam and Muslims provides just that: a religion with a global following that rejects progressive values, preaches intolerance of women’s and minority rights, and responds to any criticism with violence.

The very Islamophobic stereotypes that many Muslims have fought against are now attracting the toxic masculinity types to Islam, and the Muslim community is not only unfazed but has embraced them.

Muslim preachers have always used mosques to spread their messages in Friday sermons. Since the 1970s, they have been expanding into many other spaces with each technological development, from TV channels and cassette tapes to YouTube channels and social media platforms. Guidance and self-help gurus in the Muslim world are rarely secular, and preachers have often played the role of spreading religion and social guidance with conservative lenses. The common theme shared among generations of preachers is the need to fight back against the Western depravity infiltrating Muslim communities. In the 1950s, the prominent Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb noted the sexual freedom he saw in the town of Greeley, Colorado, during his time as an exchange student. He returned to Egypt adamant on rejecting the West and sticking to conservative Islam. Since then, this theme has been a constant in conservative religious preaching with an emphasis on women’s role in luring men into sin and women’s responsibility in maintaining chastity to help their male counterparts live a life free of sin. This responsibility was not only embodied in women committing to modesty but also accepting traditional gender roles, including staying at home to serve the family. The double standards toward men and women have always been there, but preachers have rarely, if ever, endorsed or accepted a male figure whose hedonism violates basic Islamic norms. That was, until Tate converted.

Other common themes that Muslim preachers have traditionally encouraged and praised are modesty, humbleness and asceticism in lifestyle choices, traits that completely contradict Tate’s world, where mansions, yachts and luxurious sports cars reflect a status that all young men should aspire to. Tate defines success as being outrageously wealthy and believes that being poor is the ultimate failure.

A friend of mine who lives between the Middle East and Europe and preferred that her name remain unmentioned shared a personal family story with me related to Tate’s influence on young Muslims. One day, her young adolescent son suddenly began expressing frustration at his family being “cheap” and “poor.” My friend is by no means cheap nor poor and does not live as such. Her family’s lifestyle, indeed, could be described as wealthy and upper-class. “He would angrily ask his father and I why don’t we have more modern cars and show off our money. It was all so odd, because that is not how we raised him,” she told me. After some research, the mother learned her son and his friends had recently discovered Tate on YouTube and were agreeing with his every word. Tate’s recent move to the United Arab Emirates and endorsement of the stereotypical Gulf lifestyle had influenced the teenage Muslim boys.

Contentment and not chasing what is often described as earthly distractions such as wealth have traditionally been core components of preachers’ sermons. There is no indication that Tate has altered his lifestyle. On the eve of his arrest, he was recorded alongside his brother, Tristan, partying with a crowd of scantily dressed women and drinking alcohol. Despite that, none of the Muslim preachers who have welcomed his conversion have called attention to the fact that he continues to boast about his wealth and sexual adventures.

Another value that most Muslim preachers espouse is the importance of earning a livelihood through what is considered a lawful and honest means of labor. Though scholars consistently debate what constitutes unlawful, some of Tate’s sources of income are unquestionably prohibited in Islam, even by the most lenient scholars. The most egregious example is hiring young women for his webcam studio, which provides sexual services to clients. While Tate claims that the girls are scantily clad but never nude, the ongoing investigation has indicated that the webcam studios provide adult content for clients. Neither the aforementioned Muslim preachers, nor Tate’s Muslim fans, mention any of these outright violations of Islamic law.

After declaring his conversion to Islam, Tate stated he was already collecting bricks to stone his partner if she ever cheated, alluding to the Sharia punishment for adultery. He explained that Islam’s appeal lay in the fact that there are consequences for being critical of traditional values, and many of these values — namely gender roles and the belief in the superiority of men over women — align with his personal beliefs. But this interpretation of Islam is a far cry from the message of kindness, modesty and honesty that the Prophet Muhammad espoused to first spread Islam. As kids, we all learned these values in our Islamic classes as the most important attributes that a Muslim can possess and promote. We learned stories about how Islam entered lands like Singhasari and Majapahit (Indonesia today) that highlighted generosity and morality, not bullying and masculinity — even when the history was more complicated than this depiction — as the driving force behind the gradual conversion of entire peoples.

There is a void in Islamic preaching, especially as the public spheres in places like the Middle East are tightly controlled and policed by autocratic regimes. It is not only the absence of heroes that has allowed individuals like Tate to emerge as role models but also the inability to create an appealing Islamic narrative that can realistically address the allures of consumerism and earthly desires. Now, this void is being filled by any self-proclaimed preacher who can set up a YouTube channel and podcast. As Hijab, the British-Egyptian YouTube preacher and debater with more than 650,000 subscribers, said, “[Tate] is the most-Googled man on the planet.” For him and many other Muslim preachers, this seals the deal on why Tate must be accepted — not because he is “a good man” but because he is “the most-Googled man.” Tate knows how to maintain this support by playing on the heartstrings of this particular demographic of Muslim followers. He quotes Ibn Taymiyyah, the controversial and ultraconservative 13th-century Muslim theologian, in his tweets. Tristan Tate, Andrew’s brother, recently said that none of his Christian friends had supported him after the arrest, whereas his brother’s Muslim friends and followers have defended him and stood by him.

Another aspect of Tate that has resonated across both the Muslim world and the West is his explanation of the frustration of young men who feel disenfranchised in the world’s liberal order. It seems to them — and to Tate — that society has set the bar for success, especially in dating, unrealistically high and fails to provide them with the necessary tools to thrive. Consuming this discourse feels like another moment of cognitive dissonance. If anything, global patriarchal systems have ensured that men of all ages require less effort to succeed in comparison with girls and women. This fear of being marginalized is reminiscent of the justifications of the far right’s appeal as a reaction to growing immigrant populations or advocating for ethnic and religious minorities. It is the fear of being equal to those whom they see as less advantaged and losing their privileges that is driving young men to inflammatory narratives. No one is taking anything from them, but plenty of influencers, like Tate, are emphasizing their entitlement instead of teaching them acceptance and tolerance.

While the concept of “incel” (involuntary celibate) has a very different meaning in the Muslim world than in the West, the underlying message of entitlement is similar. In the West, it refers to a man who cannot attract a sexual partner despite his belief that he is entitled to one (on the sole basis of being male). But, in the Muslim world, the social constructs of gender roles, tradition and family mean that marriage is more important, and any man, regardless of his financial situation, status or physical appeal, can find a wife. Yet there is a chance that he does not find a wife in a social class higher than his, or one who fits his idea of physical attractiveness. Similar to the way that incels in the West lash out at women whose standards are “too high,” any ideas that show women that they do not have to settle for marriage without happiness and love are extremely dangerous to the patriarchal status quo.

Tate is no genius and offers nothing original to the worldview made up of conspiracy, misogyny and red pills. He follows a long tradition that has grown and thrived with online subcultures. But his conversion to Islam is telling — not for understanding the milieu he comes from but for the reactions from Muslims, who might have been expected to stand against most of his views and behavior. The fact that they have overlooked his involvement in racy adult video content, accusations of rape and human trafficking, financial gain from his investments in gambling and casinos — all considered grave sins in Islam — to claim his righteousness about women and minorities shows just how desperate some preachers in the Muslim world are for any legitimation and popularity, however toxic.

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