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Are Western Muslims Becoming Right-Wing? The Emergence Of A Politically Mature Community With Agency



Are Muslims dangerously flirting with the conservative right? This is the question Wajahat Ali asks – and answers in the affirmative – in his recent New York Times op-ed. Ali observes, with an air of indignation, that the recent joint letter of Muslim scholars in the US against ‘the promotion’ of LGBTQ lifestyles to Muslim children plays into a broader culture war inspired by white supremacists. In other words, Muslims were pawns in a greater cultural and political project. He was particularly exercised by the apparent alliance with the right who had, until recently, maligned Muslims and sought to designate them as enemies within. Rasha Al Aqeedi, writing in New Lines Magazine, suggests a “moral bankruptcy” of contemporary Muslim proselytization in the West. She cites emerging influencers like Andrew Tate, who make common cause with a right-wing platform, echoing a shopping list of disgruntlement played out in ferocious battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tate, who converted to Islam last year, recently sat down with the doyenne of the right, ex-Fox news rabble rouser Tucker Carlson. No stranger to the American Muslim community for his repulsive Islamophobic rants, Carlson found a common cause with Tate’s newfound spirituality and appeals to traditional masculinity. On migration, Carlson was gushing in his praise of Tate’s analysis; “third-world migrants” that come to Europe, in Tate’s words, “would import high testosterone men” who could act as “fearsome predators” in an “emasculated West”. The language mirrors The Great Replacement Theory, which places migration as a liberal plot to consolidate a project to dilute white civilization. With a nod to Carlson’s obvious subtext, Tate gives succor to this twisted narrative shared by white nativists across the US.

The claim thus is that Muslims are at one with the right, are cynically being used by the right, and may have even adopted normative Islamic positions that ingratiate them with the right wing. The recent salience of LGBTQ lifestyles in school curricula is the latest visceral example where Muslim communities across the West contest mainstream liberal norms. Muslim parents in Canada recently solicited the ire of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who claimed Muslim parents were being duped by the American right and coopted into a conflict through “misinformation” about what was really being taught in schools.  Some have gone as far as to accuse the religious American Muslim leadership behind the Navigating Differences letter of making overtures to the Republicans ahead of next year’s elections. A similar theme emerges in the UK and Europe: formerly avowed far-right activists have softened their views on Islam. Some have even embraced the faith, like Joram van Klaveren, citing traditional Islam’s opposition to liberal modernity. With this apparent prima facie evidence, it is easy to conclude that Muslims are becoming more right-wing. But are they?

Moving Beyond Lazy Narratives

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I found a far more nuanced narrative in my extensive discussions with Muslim leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. The Muslim communities in the West are moving beyond the securitized straitjacket of the War on Terror and are carving out space for their principles. In the process, they have become wearier of the demands of both the left and the right. Although progressive voices like Wajahat Ali and right-wing influencers remain, of which Andrew Tate may be placed, a greater non-aligned mainstream is forming. Observing trends in these communities through a prism of left and right culture wars does a disservice to the kind of debate taking place in mosques and community centers across the West. It also pushes a skewed narrative where Muslims lack agency and whose motives can only be examined through the ideological paradigms of others. What we are seeing is a community that is maturing politically.

A prominent signatory to the Navigating Differences letter, Dr. Omar Suleiman resists claims that it is somehow a nod to the right. This is not a political realignment; he argues Muslims have been at the receiving end of animus from both sides for many years, “one side seemingly wants to annihilate you, and another side that only accepts you if you’re willing to assimilate”. Equally prominent, Dr. Yasir Qadhi rebukes the left’s criticism, “we were tolerated as long as we were a feather in the cap of diversity… but when we want to enforce our own personal values in our life, we are no longer tolerated. It was a façade”. But at the same time, he warns against the apparent pragmatism of the right, some of whom may have softened their stance towards Muslims. He puts this down to party politics, “when one is in the ascendency, their malign programmes towards Muslims become clear. In opposition, they temporarily build bridges”, he points out. When I recently spoke to Dr. Qadhi, it was clear he was looking beyond the left and right constraints. The letter has taken its toll; many on the left had barraged him with accusations of bigotry and betrayal. The feeling within the left is that there was a presumed quid pro quo after 9/11; we back your claims, and you back ours.

The Liberal State

Right or Left

PC: Kelly Sikkema (unsplash)

Imam Tom Facchine, a recent entrant to the Islamic scholarly community in the US, is unencumbered by a post 9/11 angst that, understandably, made Muslims self-censor in pursuit of acceptance and security. Relatively young, a convert to the faith, and armed with a political science background, Tom represents a new generation of imams, comfortable with maintaining a connection to the tradition whilst presenting Islam with intellectual heft. In a lengthy interview, he spoke to me about how he analyses the designs of the liberal state that looks to “secularise the Muslim community”. Under the guise of toleration, liberalism “presents itself as a neutral arbiter to the claims of what is a good life, but instead, it endorses a universalism that seeks to dilute comprehensive doctrines, like Islam”. The argument is one that many post-liberals in the USA and beyond make, but Tom is cognisant that this is not merely a critique of the big-L liberal left. “Both the conservatives and liberals demand concessions from the Muslim community”, but they differ on the criteria of what a “good Muslim should look like”.

My conversations with mosque leadership in the United States and Britain solicited similar responses; a Muslim community coming to terms with the Faustian pact associated with getting too close with the left and right. But why has sexuality become an issue now? Imam Zaid Shaker from the US-based Zaytoona Institute argues it has nothing to do with the right wing, “it is the shortsighted, heavy-handed overreach of the LGBTQ movement that has created the circumstances generating a counter-movement.” He is incredulous about the claims that Muslims are unwitting pawns of white supremacy, “you have white folks trying to impose a Euro-American ideology on black and brown folks accusing those opposing it of white supremacy!” Joseph Kaminsky, Professor of International Relations at Sarajevo University, points out that the left’s accusation against Muslims who are animated by the recent intensification of the teaching of sexuality in schools is based on a “false binary… The idea is to guilt people into thinking that if they support traditional Islamic gender norms, by default, they are Trumpers.”

Another important ground voice is Mobeen Vaid, a public intellectual and activist who for years has voiced his concerns about the steady incursion of sexually permissive attitudes in school curricula. He has recently worked with Christian groups in Maryland to protest LGBTQ material and teaching in schools. I asked him whether this alliance comes at the expense of acquiescing with the right. He told me that the media had incorrectly framed such alliances as some form of Republican plot. In reality, the protests have been “exclusively Muslims and Ethiopian Christians… hardly a right-wing group”. He tells me that the aggressive promotion of LGBTQ has helped Muslims re-evaluate their political stances in recent years, “it is good to have that degree of political independence”.

Apprehensions With the Left

If the apparent break with the left is not caused by an appeal of the right, what has caused it? Of course, Muslims are not a monolithic group, and many, especially young Muslims, remain politically aligned with left-leaning progressive parties. However, prominent traditionalist scholars, activists, and intellectuals have become far more critical of the left. This may be down to a realization that the left has sought to manage the tone and content of Muslim political and social attitudes. Moazzam Begg, from CAGE, a UK-based civil liberties group that has maintained a strong relationship with human rights groups, many of them attached to the liberal and progressive left, talked to me about the realization that red lines needed to be drawn in the relationship. “The catalyst was the Syria conflict, and later what happened in China, with East Turkestan [the Uyghurs]”. Many on the left were too ready to embrace an anti-US imperialist narrative and thus denied genocide and mass repression. “In the end”, he told me, “We have to remember we are neither left nor right.” I found the same sentiment from Dr. Azzam Tamimi, who in 2003 had worked closely with the hard left and trade unions in Britain to organize the anti-Iraq war demonstration, the largest protest Britain had ever seen. He told me that the Arab Spring was the turning point. “They failed to see that the people of Syria and Libya were genuinely rising against a dictatorship” and instead superficially characterized Arab dictators as standing up to Western imperialism.

It is in social issues where the battleground is particularly pronounced. Many Muslims are today worried about what they see as the “imposition of social mores that are out of sync with Islamic normative positions”, and this, according to Istanbul’s Thomas Abdul Qadir, has provoked an active movement to migrate away from the West and back to the Muslim world. Thomas is the ex-president of the Majlis Istanbul Muslims, an organization catering to the needs of English-speaking migrants (he refuses to call them ex-pats). The migration discussion is actively discussed at dinner tables and family gatherings across the West. I have met dozens of young Muslims this past year who have moved away or planning to do so, helped by the flexibilities a post-covid remote working world offers them.

This raises unsettling questions about the success of often paradoxical policies to integrate Muslim communities in the West. Muslims have become far more intellectually and politically savvy. The experiences of the past two decades and an apparent waning of the War on Terror have helped to presage a more confident, self-reliant community.



Moving Beyond The Left-Right Culture Wars: A Dilemma For Muslim Communities In The West –

A Path Forward For American Muslims: A Response To MuslimMatters Article “Moving Beyond The Left-Right Culture Wars.” –

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Muhammad Jalal is a lecturer in Politics and hosts the podcast The Thinking Muslim. He delivers a regular course for young Muslims exploring the thoughts of Islam and Liberalism, and is currently working on developing content on the same subject for the Sapience Institute. He writes for numerous online journals including Traversing Tradition and CAGE. He can be found on twitter @jalalayn.



  1. Paul Williams

    August 21, 2023 at 5:07 PM

    A brilliantly nuanced and insightful article!

  2. Joe Sefcik

    August 24, 2023 at 9:58 AM

    I’m a Christian and find it amusing that just because Muslims assert their religious teachings that have remained unchanged for over a 1,000 years that they’ve magically been tricked by the right. Just because we may differ on a myriad of issues does not preclude sharing some commonality in areas of basic morality (and even basic science).

  3. Tami

    September 3, 2023 at 11:29 AM

    It’s the money people are chasing after their temporary livelihood, even if it goes against Islam.

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