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The Commodification of Islam

Introduction:

The rise of Andrew Tate and his swift acceptance by the Muslim community made two disturbing realities shockingly clear to me. One, much of the world, but specifically the Muslim community (Sunnis and Shias) hold shockingly anti-women views and are relatively uneducated about what the religion actually says in regard to women (more on this later). And two, and the topic of this particular post, how I’ve seemed to notice a strange trend of Islamic commodification. Before I continue, like any essayist worth their salt, first, I must define terms.

On Commodification:

What I mean by commodification is the act of transforming something, be it a value, idea, person, or service into an object of trade and exchange. Commodification is a phenomenon that many are familiar with. It happens with athletes and models, and probably, at least to some extent, is unavoidable with most things in market society as we know it today. In the age of social media, knowledge is becoming more and more readily available and access to anything is incredible. Making money has probably never been easier than it is now (not to say it isn’t hard, sometimes unjustifiably so for those less fortunate). Unfortunately, at least as I read it, it has led to something that I never thought I would see. It feels as if people are now commodifying religion, and the religion of choice seems to be Islam at the moment. 

As a Muslim media consumer and creator, myself, it might seem hypocritical that I’m talking about the commodification of Islam while engaging in content production related to Islam, but to me, there seems to be a slight, but very important difference. Perhaps this won’t be all that convincing but, in my mind, there seems to be a difference between someone who makes content and is Muslim, someone who makes content for Muslims, and someone who uses Islam as a currency of exchange itself. Now, this is probably confusing and admittedly isn’t the clearest idea I’ve ever had. Honestly, I’m still working out the idea, writing is part of helping me do that, but in an attempt to clarify it seems as though there are at least three groups. 

Distinguishing the Groups:

Group One seems very easily separable from groups two and three. For example, someone who makes content and happens to be Muslim is no different from someone who codes and happens to be Muslim. Their product or service isn’t bound up in them being a part of any religion. 

Group Two consists of Muslims who create content or offer services specifically to meet the needs (or perceived needs) of other Muslims. They are driven by a genuine desire to serve their community and provide value within an Islamic framework.

Group Three consists of Muslims who leverage Islam as a currency of exchange itself. They prioritize personal gain, using the religion as a vehicle to attract attention, increase followers, and generate financial profits. While it may be challenging to definitively determine the motivations of individuals in this group, there are indicators that suggest the pursuit of self-interest outweighs genuine service to the Muslim community.

Now, admittedly, determining who is a part of which group can be challenging, and it’s probably more of a subjective distinction rather than something I can prove with concrete evidence and examples, outside of the most obvious cases. One reasonable critique against this (theory? Framework? Idk) might be that even individuals in the second group are ultimately serving their own interests. After all, if there were no potential for monetary or other personal gains, would they produce content or offer services at all? 

In response, I think it is possible that there is some overlap or the existence of a quasi-group displaying traits from both categories, but I’d argue that most probably don’t fall into it. Speaking as a content creator myself, I would say that, if, for example, I didn’t see a need for my podcast, Thoughtful Banter (plug) to exist, I probably wouldn’t have created it. With that being said, I also believe that while this may be true for some people, there are factors that can help differentiate between the second and third groups. 

Attempting to Un-Blur the Lines:

As I said before, the distinction between Group Two and Group Three may appear blurry at times. Both groups engage in activities closely linked to their religion, and both may seek monetary rewards. However, there is a question that might be relevant in distinguishing between the two: did becoming Muslim or (loudly) proclaiming Islam as their worldview and religion increase their reach, influence, and/or money?

Take for example Mr. Bugatti, Andrew Tate, or his protégé, The Sneako, or the infamous marriage account Marriageishalal. Once they started saying wildly incorrect, misguided, or very obnoxious things about the nature of Islam, and specifically its “view” on women, they began to amass pretty big audiences of Muslim viewers who they didn’t previously have access to. From a business standpoint, it seems like a no-brainer. 

Not only does the religion as they understand it appeal to them, but it also brings them more attention, bigger audiences, and more money. Now, it may very well be that it happened in reverse. Perhaps the Muslim community’s reaction to something that they said caused them to research more and they were genuinely moved by the religion. I am not a mind reader and have never spoken with any of these people personally. I’m not making a definitive statement that any one of them falls into the third category, but I am saying that given the affirmative answer to the questions in each of their cases, it seems that they could fall into this category.

Conclusion:

To be clear, the three people I mentioned are only examples. I don’t mention any of this to cast doubt on the intentions of anyone who may fall into the third group, rather I say it to drive home the point that where and who we get our information from and shape our worldview based off is important. Perhaps there is no motive. But history isn’t irrelevant. The things people subscribe to and have espoused, past or present, carry weight and can have negative implications. It cannot and should not be forgotten. It is crucial for individuals to discern the authenticity, truth, and sincerity behind statements made within the context of Islam. Proper vetting and critical analysis are essential to ensure that the beliefs and perspectives we adopt are well-founded and promote the well-being of the Muslim community. By being mindful of our sources of information, we can contribute to a more informed and responsible discourse within the Muslim community.

If you got to the end of this article and feel like it's missing some meat, trust me, you're not alone haha. This is just the very beginning of an idea and I'll likely be making a part two sometime in the future when I get some clearer thoughts on it. Thanks for reading this far!

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