You are sitting comfortably in an assembly of Muslim men. Women are, as usual, segregated and safely secluded in a different room – as far as possible. Conversation is flowing with endless cups of chai as you begin to listen carefully to this fairly representative sample of Muslim masculinities. What are you going to hear? The discussion would inevitably focus on Islam with, as in any human gathering, a host of different views and positions. But there will be a certain variety, Little Big Men Little Overblown, who will be jostling each other to claim that they are the only true representative of God on earth. So here is a list of the type of Muslim men you may encounter in a typical gathering anywhere on the planet.
1. Preacher Man
Harbouring an unhealthy obsession with ‘infidels’ and all things kafir, products of grimy unbelievers, the excruciating agony of the hellfire dominates the fire and brimstone televangelist preacher’s every thought. In an effort to save souls he rails against the decay and degradation of Western society and can often be found regaling simple fellows of the joys and superiority of a certain kind of Islam, while attacking other faiths and denouncing women. His every sentence is punctuated with quotations from the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. Although physically a mess, he is also quite imprudent. He will not rest until Shari’a is implemented on the planet, for which incidentally he needs to become a citizen of the US or Europe with attendant social housing and state benefits.
2. Rocky, the Fighter
Rocky, the Fighter (henceforth known as a Salafi) constitutes a subset of Preacher Man. He imbibes all of the latter’s (un)qualities with the addition that he would dearly like us all to return to the purity of an imagined formative period of Islam, exemplified by the first generation of Muslims, the Salaf. The Salaf, we are told, were clones of the Prophet, copying how he dressed, ate, slept, and so on. Today’s Salafis go to great lengths at such imitation and are savvy users of technology. Laser-scanners can ensure beard-lengths are accurate to the nano-metre, and music, sorry, MP3 players can recite the Qur’an on a continuous loop. Strangely, the Prophet’s other virtues (compassion and kindness, for example), are absent from the Salafi playbook. The Salafi male’s main habitat is likely to be a Saudi-sponsored mosque, where Salafis of the senior species can be identified by the numbers of wars they have fought in. There is also a lesser form of Salafi who wakes up all set to fight the jihad, but, upon landing at Kabul airport, misses the creature comforts of home so much that he becomes an aid worker-cum piety policeman, chasing after the sisters with the intention of ‘educating’ them as to appropriate Islamic behaviour such as the correct length of skirt.
3. Tambourine Man
Islam’s ‘happy clappy’ tradition has roots in a north Indian town called Bareilly in the nineteenth century and its followers are known by their enemies as Barelvis. Tambourine Men need no excuse for a song, or a dance at the mosque. If you’re lucky you might even witness spontaneous performances of the Harlem shake as worshippers jive in rapture to devotional music. Tambourine Man’s copy of the Qur’an is to be found on a high shelf in his home and wrapped in a silk, gold scarf. It is kissed before and after recitation. He also has a fondness for graveyards and a Goth-like reverence for all things death-related. The demise of a near and dear, twice-removed cousin-in-law requires him to drop everything that instant and travel 250 miles across the country to express his condolence (afsos, as he calls it) to the bereaved. If you, too, can weep uncontrollably at the mere mention of the Prophet’s name then do consider membership of this large and expanding club.
4. The Orthodox Man
As Newton pointed out, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of the Barelvis, it comes in the form of Deobandis, the followers of the Deoband seminary in Uttar Pradesh, India. In some circles, he is also known as Wahhabi; either way, he is an ultra-conservative orthodox man who hates women, secularism, and Salman Rushdie. But most of all he hates the Barelvis, and lives in constant feigned horror at the activities of his Barelvi neighbours. He promotes campaigns such as ‘No to Graveyard Worship’ and his favourite term of abuse is to call something shirk (idolatry) or biddah (innovation). But he is not against all innovations – he is happy to divorce his wife via a text, use television for dawa (literally ‘inviting to all that is good’, but in his case good is not a moral but an instrumental concept) and issue truly dumb on-line fatwas. The highlight of his calendar is the anniversary of the Prophet’s death, not to celebrate it but to make a big point of NOT celebrating it. He has a prurient interest in the personal lives of others and wants to dictate everything from personal hygiene habits to the rules of the marital bedroom. Anything remotely fun is strictly forbidden and having a sense of humour is a sure-fire way to be consigned to the depths of Hell. He would prefer that women stay at home. In fact he would prefer if women did not exist at all but life is not perfect and that is Allah’s will.
5. The Puritan
We have our Puritans, and none more so than the tablighis, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Muslim world. An off-shoot of the Deobandi school, the movement was started in 1926 in India to invite people to ‘the way of Muhammad’. If you are a Muslim, sooner or later you will find a tablighi knocking on your door to ask if you are familiar with the basics of Islam and know how to pray properly. Tablighis are obsessed with the minutia of rituals: is your beard the correct length, how far you must wash your elbow during ablution, which direction you should face during sex – that sort of thing. Prayers must be performed at the appointed time, regardless of where you might be or what else you might be doing. Driving on a motorway? Then pray on the hard-shoulder. Playing an important international cricket match? No matter. Mecca cannot wait. The tablighi’s idea of a spiritual retreat involves abandoning his family for months at a time to do God’s work. This all-male affair involves going from mosque to mosque, to eat, pray, and invite Muslim men to do the same. It is, in effect, an extended alcohol-free stag-do. One of the six tablighi principles includes ‘honouring other Muslims’ – but this does not include women, presumably because they do not have beards.
6. The Exceptionalist
Islam is a broad church, encompassing many sects and nationalities. That is in effect a licence for males of any nationality to assume that their Islam is superior to any other. The Exceptionalist Arab never fails to remind you that he speaks ‘the language of the Qur’an’, has an innate and superior understanding of the Sacred Text, and his Islam is superior to all others. Urdu-speaking males from Pakistan will insist that theirs is the language of Heaven. It’s the same when it comes to clothing, food, and national cultures. The Shalwar Kameez, according to its wearers, is more ‘Islamic’ than the jalabiyya of the Arab world – and both are infinitely preferable to anything emanating from the Western world, except men’s shoes, which seem to have transcended both religion and nationality.
7. Movement Man
Movement Man exists solely for the purpose of achieving a utopian Islamic state under Shari’a. Islamic movements include the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and possibly Turkey’s Justice and Development party, too. Movement Man believes in slogans such as ‘the Qur’an is our constitution’ and ‘Islam is the Answer’ even though he has no idea what question ‘Islam’ is in fact responding to. Feminists, secularists, nationalists, modernists and all other ists (except Islamists) are abhorred equally. Governments led by men from Islamic movements tend towards a kind of totalitarianism à la Iran, with its infallible Supreme Leader and an Impeccably Pious ‘Council of Guardians’ at the helm. Mercifully, not many Muslims want to vote for the Movement Man.
8. The Zealous Convert
‘Convert’, ‘revert’, or, simply ‘New Muslims’ – more and more men seem to want to adopt Islam by choice. Scientists have been unable to work out a reason or formula, except that converts are as likely to be rich bankers as they are likely to be guests at Her Majesty’s Pleasure (possibly both). Male converts do have one thing in common though: a healthy scepticism of their brothers and sisters who take the lazy road to ‘choosing’ belief because it runs in the family. A male convert’s first goal after conversion is often to find a nice, uncomplicated, passive and obedient Muslim wife. But he soon discovers that such a person exists only in Orientalist fantasies. His second objective is to convert more men to the cause, including lazy ‘born’ Muslims. He feels he is a far better Muslim than them, indeed he is more Muslim than the Muslims themselves, and hence in a natural position to be a leader.
9. The Conspiracy Theorist
By means of intuition and with the aid of esoteric knowledge, our Conspiracy Theorist Muslim man has access to truth at a level far beyond the merely factual. So, for example, where others see hapless and incompetent politicians failing to run national and global affairs, the Conspiracy Theorist sees the work of phantoms menacing and controlling the world. His most prized possession is a well-thumbed copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Beyond that he cannot get enough of Internet searches for The Bilderberg Group and the Illuminati. In the world of the Conspiracy Theorist, there is no such thing as responsibility: everything is always someone else’s fault.
10. The Pious Package Holiday-maker
He regularly forgoes family holidays in order to top up his savings in the piety bank to go for pilgrimage (hajj), or lesser pilgrimage (umrah), to Mecca. Or rather, the pilgrimage is a holiday trip where the highlight is the family bucket meal at the KFC in Mecca. He is thrilled with the construction of five-star facilities in the Holy City and thinks that the Clock Tower in Mecca is the epitome of style and taste. After all, we have to move with the times and pilgrims, like other consumers, need a little luxury when performing their religious duty. His twenty-something daughter who would have baulked at a hole in the toilet floor can now be persuaded to join him and his wife next year. Some years, he will perform hajj or umrah on behalf of a deceased relative or a member of a family unable to afford the trip. But it never occurs to him to lend them a financial hand to make the trip themselves.