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The Rise of the Muslim Incel: Ideological Victim Blaming and Its Harm to Muslim Women and Men

by in Identity on 24th October, 2022

The internet is a place of extremes. While the risks of a global information and communication system built on binaries has long been foretold, we are now fully down the rabbit hole of an increasingly disturbing phenomenon of anti-female sentiment in the shape of Red Pill and Incel movements.

Much like its political opposite of ‘woke’, the term Red Pill – a cultural reference to the fin de siecle blockbuster The Matrix – denotes a kind of social and political awakening. The Matrix itself (a film created during the end of a millenia when cultural anxieties are brought most provocatively to the fore) projects an alternative reality in which the main character is given a choice between swallowing a red pill that will allow him to learn the hard truth about the world in which he lives and a blue pill that will allow him to stay oblivious and return to his normal life. Similarly, proponents of these ideologies believe patriarchy is a social mirage that masks a deeply misandrist society. 

Conversely, these movements have constructed, and are now fully immersed in, a reality in which female privilege overwhelmingly shackles men to positions of disadvantage. According to Incel communities (the term Incel stands for ‘Involuntarily Celibate’ and refers to men who display romantic frustrations because they consider themselves unable to attract women ) that follow this inverted truth, the interests of women dictate social and political systems, leaving men marginalised and discriminated against. These cyberculture enclaves act as ideological havens for aggrieved men who believe they are downtrodden by the force of female entitlement. Worryingly, they have made violent protrusions into the real world in the shape of increasingly misogynistic attitudes, abuse against women and, at the extreme end of the scale, mass shootings and other violent hate crimes.

In reality, Inceldom and Red Pill thought is the result of the social anxiety that exists around the role of male identity in these volatile economic times. As the nuclear family, and the traditional gender and economic roles that define it, face threats from social, political, cultural and global shifts to its foundations, the gender orthodoxy which hallmark capitalist societies is left disfigured. 

Minceldom and Red Pill thinking in Muslim spaces

The binary nature of the internet, and the divisive social architecture it creates means the contrived male vs. female dynamic was always the most vulnerable to manipulation on digital terrain. Likewise, the age old trope of Muslim as ‘other’, provides the perfect blueprint for a dichotomous internet culture to so neatly map itself upon. As such, it is perhaps no surprise that Inceldom has found such healthy expression in the online Muslim world. While political powers hang upon a vilified Muslim identity in order to justify the industrial-complexes on which they depend, the Muslim identity will always be ripe for exploitation. This tortured social alchemy creating a proud army of Mincels; ‘Muslim involuntarily celibate men’.

There are a number of factors which result in young Muslim men being so taken by this inherently racist and sexist ideology which, not insignificantly, was borne from white, Christian, male culture- hitherto top of the global food chain – on niche internet forums such as Reddit and 4chan.

During these increasingly uncertain social and economic times, Muslim families – and questions pertaining to gender roles in the Muslim home- face similar contestations. This environment of uncertainty is similarly generating existential discomfort amongst Muslim men for whom bedrocks of masculinity such as marriage and economic primacy are no longer at arms reach, creating an identity crisis which sees Muslim men aggressively assume exaggerated and superficial qualities of masculinity as defence.  

Internalised Islamophobia is another significant driver of this currency of misogyny amongst young Muslim men; as the Muslim identity is increasingly problematised, Muslims by default are placed on the back foot,  qualifying Islam through a secular, non-Muslim lens; attaching it to symbols of perceived greatness to make up for its perceived deficiencies. With the racialised make-up of Muslims in the west, there are also many racial nuances that further complicate this unfortunate tendency – whitewashing for legitimacy is synonymous with secularisation in the Muslim world.

The validation that young Muslim men seek is satiated when WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture, and its most prominent media figures, wrongly attribute, and glorify, a whole range of racist, orientalist and Islamophobic tropes to Islam and Muslims. In effect, Muslim men have begun to accept false and crude stereotypes regarding Islamic masculinity that are being celebrated by burgeoning online communities, as they are reclaimed as part of Western tradition and heralded as the way forward. For a generation of young Muslim men, this represents a shift in a value system that has always had them in a chokehold, and which now present an opportunity for cultural redemption. Coupled with lazy political thinking which creates a false alliance between right-wing and Muslim interests in popular Muslim thought, the ground becomes fertile for the rapid growth of this ideology

The attention economy on which digital content thrives means that naturally, Muslim male influencers are now taking on and promoting the ideological cadences of this internet movement that glamourises sexual and domestic violence. The convolution between misogyny and Islam is so cemented in modern Muslim thought, that anti-female views become the basis by which social media influencers lay their claim to Islam – it has become a mark of Islamic authenticity in the Dawah world to speak disparagingly of the idea of female rights. These influencers, who are clocking up tens of thousands of hits and are increasingly legitimised, appear to revel in the subversive nature of their anti-female views, apparently unaware that the identity they occupy is just as much a making of secular ideology as the feminism they claim to be fighting a righteous battle against. As a community we appear to be willingly donning the monstrous mask of Islamophobic caricatures, now placated by social media influencers.

Muslim men who have been conscripted by this false doctrine are equally pacified by the reassuringly simple narrative that they propagate, and which provides a welcome distraction from the complexities of real life.

Real life examples of how this is harming muslim women and children are endless. Emotionally and physically abusive relationships are all but celebrated online – and disturbing narratives coming directly from Muslim men – who are expressly comparing women to Shaitan – are promoting the mistreatment of women, wrongly in the name of Islamic ideology. One haunting example includes a Muslim man who boasts about his partner serving him tea having just delivered their child, and revelling in the subjugation of a physically and emotionally vulnerable woman. Ironically, this attitude is antithetical to the Prophetic tradition that Islam is built upon which includes an honourable focus on empathy, compassion and charity – not to mention a whole moral code upon which marital relations and rights are honoured.

The construct of the punitive, harsh and corrective Muslim male in popular Muslim thought is simultaneously and contradictorily portrayed as both the result of divine law and natural order, and as a punishing measure for the straying of Muslim women. In reality, it is Muslim women that should be lamenting the loss of Islamic masculinity, through social tantrums, or otherwise. This emptying of Islamic masculinity is exemplified in how the terms of debate regarding polygamy are shaped entirely by male desire, and the social responsibility, which a majority of scholars classify as the purpose of multiple marriages, remains an invisible and neglected consideration. 

Miscategorisation of a growing problem

While the underlying reasons for the sprouting of Inceldom in Muslim digital spaces are many and complex, the insistence that we see within the Muslim community of those that recognise it harms, of lazily ascribing blame for the popularity of these movements to ‘feminism’ – in short, women – does nothing to address or remedy this distressing trend. In fact, it mirrors the wider pattern amongst the Inceldom beyond the Muslim world, where there is an insistence on portraying Red Pill communities as fighting a cultural war against feminism. We are effectively affirming their own deluded narrative.

In the eyes of incels, the feminist is the ultimate evil and the main cause of their social demise. Equally, amongst Red Pill apologists, the idea of the ‘feminist’/ liberal Muslim woman is presented as the sole driver for men involuntarily being pushed into hateful stances. Despite the recognition that Red Pill thought is antithetical to Islam, we are seeing this constant excusing of male behaviour.

This false equivalence between feminism and Inceldom is itself another contradictory dimension to Inceldom – the former is an intellectual, political and social movement spanning centuries and borne from an extended history of abuse and inequality – and which includes a whole spectrum of positions – and the latter an undesirable and unintelligible internet off-shoot based on self-victimisation. This posturing does little to address the gravity of the situation at hand.

Once again, the gender debates that occupy Muslim men and women are tellingly based on suppositions about our own religion, which are entirely reactive and false. Just like the answers to social unease amongst Muslim men cannot be found in secular or non-Muslim solutions, the expression of this social angst should unequivocally not mirror that of non-Muslim, or unislamic cultures like Red Pill. In the same way that conventional gender roles in Muslim and non-Muslim, Western culture are in no way aligned, Muslim men cannot hark back to a history of gender norms that does not belong to Islamic culture. They should not interpret Red Pill as a rallying cry of solidarity from men across the globe; their aims and motivations are not the same. Islamic masculinity comes from a place of security and Taqwa, not insecurity and panic.

Equally, the reductive and patently false flag of ‘Islam is a feminist religion’ itself does Islam a disservice – Islam, a divine moral code set by our Creator, will always be transcendentally and substantively more than any humanly defined phenomenon. Islam established women’s God-given rights as equal believers, and exists as a universal truth that outspans any earthly social movement and its claims to parity or equity. The need for muslim women to lay claim to feminism as a means of equal treatment speaks of the conceptual dwarfing of Islam in western intellect, and the mistreatment of Muslim women in Muslim societies.

If the Muslim feminist is continually touted as the ultimate evil, and feminism itself attributed to female ungodliness, then as a community we need to address why Incel culture is repeatedly spoken about as an inevitable response to feminism, and not men being just as prone to unIslamic ideologies. We need to think about why an entirely male phenomenon is being attributed to women. And why Muslim women clutching onto secular models of equality is not seen in the same victimised way – despite the shameful mountain of statistical evidence which demonstrates that a worrying number of women are on the receiving end of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse in our communities.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of argument which assigns no blame to men, implies that men are morally infallible, and women inherently corrupt. This reasoning reinforces the most ugly tenets of Red Pill thinking and creates the ideal environment for domestic and spiritual abuse of women to thrive. It is especially insulting given women are overwhelmingly the victim of Red Pill and Incel culture, not men; it is in essence ideological victim blaming. It shifts the onus onto women and encourages further self-victimisation amongst men who are developing increasingly warped perceptions of reality. 

The undercurrents of this thinking, the idea of the original female sin and the morally reprehensible woman, are as old as time and as alien to Islam as the Red Pill ideology they prop up and support. They demonstrate the disfigured, ahistorical Islam that is adopted by men in these movements, and are worsening a situation whose only cure is to return to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and for men to adopt the sense of responsibility, honour, accountability and kindness that characterised our Prophet .

While this apologism collectively allows Muslim men, and the hateful male spaces that exist within them, to evade responsibility – and does nothing to advance the lost masculinity they claim to mourn – individually it does young Muslim men a great disservice. It grants them an impunity that does them a disfavour as believers particularly, and denies them the opportunity for self-reflection and growth. When young men see prominent figures in the community defer accountability for the wrongs of Mincel onto Muslim women, they are effectively being told not to assume any duty or obligation as Muslim men – it is entirely emasculating.  In keeping with a more general trend in Muslim cultures of disburdening men from responsibility, it stunts their moral development and prevents them from reaching their potential. If our moral well-being depends upon an unadulterated  relationship with reality and our own selves – what might cultural and religious leaders be doing in cushioning men from these social, economic and personal blows? 

Unfortunately it is in keeping with the ideological migration we see of furthering away from the Sunnah. While the grounds of the debate continues to shift to more extreme positions, we risk alienating more and more women, while they face further individual and collective scrutiny in demanding their basic rights as believers. Muslim men need to understand that misogyny, the ideological bedfellow of Islamophobia, is a characteristic of the forefathers of anti-Muslim sentiment, the Quraish, and should be eschewed by the inheritors of our faith. It is without doubt an inherent trait of the Jahil. 

Moving forward

What we need to see is Muslim men unequivocally denouncing this movement which is part of a larger, unrelenting course of punishing Muslim women that exists beyond our faith community and appears to have no geographical borders or limits. If Muslim women are the ideological punch bag of world leaders, domestic policy, and the wilderness of internet discourse and its material impact on our homes – what hope do we have of moving forward as a community? Who can muslim women turn to if we are both the cause and victim to our apparently justified abuse?

The countless examples of the Prophet’s love, mercy, kindness, compassion and tenderness to the women in his life and in society at large should be the basis by which we begin the conversation on gender relations, given the wider climate. The well-known example of Banu Qainuqa, a Medinian tribe that dishonoured a Muslim woman and against whom the Prophet lay siege for 15 days as a result, goes some way in demonstrating the tradition of respecting and upholding the dignity of Muslim women in Islam. 

There must be a concerted effort to finally decouple misogyny from Islam as it now exists in the mind of Muslim men, and to understand Islam not as an endorsement of or reaction to modern or pre-modern eras, but a timeless ideology which stands independently and which wholly recognises men and women as twin halves in faith. Muslim men need to be educated on our history, to fully recognise that misogyny is not a Muslim trait, and never has been. In the conventional social hierarchy, changes to which birthed this screaming and distressed Red Pill movement, Muslim men sit far below the white men who promulgate this view. A defining feature of racist ideology is the pandering to men of colour who they deem as inferior, when it suits their misogynistic agenda. Muslim men, like women, are no more than a tool in the broader Incel manifesto. 

The idea of Muslim women’s rights, based on Islamic tenets and not lies we are being told about our own religion needs to be reestablished amongst Millennial and Gen Z Muslims in an uplifting, non-condescending way, we are not lollipops and we need to jettison the fable like narrative of femininity that infantilises us as less than male believers in the eyes of our Creator.

And while hairs will be split about the tone women take as we are crushed under the heel of a rampant misogynistic Islamophobia, I only hope men will pause to reflect on our actual call. Only when men approach the table with a sense of the Prophetic qualities of humility are we in a position to have a meaningful conversation and a necessary departure from the deadlock we are in. There are countless nuanced debates about how women can better themselves as believers and armour themselves against thinking and practice that is unIslamic in nature – where are these conversations taking place in Muslim men’s spaces? Where are we seeing religious and cultural figures making critiques which centre men’s agency and accountability in a movement which is openly violent against women? The answer to these questions that are generated in the male Muslim community lie exactly there, and as believers in Allāh, Muslim women have to have faith that they will be answered, by the will of Allah.

Mariya bint Rehan

Mariya bint Rehan

Mariya is a 33-year-old mother of two young girls with a background in Policy and Research and Development in the voluntary sector. She has written and illustrated a children’s book titled The Best Dua which is available internationally and in the UK. IG: @muswellbooks