Of ‘Bints’, ‘Simps’, ‘Compassionate Imams’ and ‘Akh-Rights’: Some Thoughts on Iḥtisāb and Intra-Muslim Polemics in the Internet Age.

September 24, 2023

Anwit Shahi is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He has done his master's degree in history, specializing in medieval Indian history from Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His main area of interest is Islamicate South Asia, especially religious and mystical traditions in South Asia, and ethno-histories of South Asian Muslim communities.

This highly opinionated tweet, poignant as it is in its observation, accurately captures the mood of many an onlooker watching the unfolding of a great polemic, fundamentally rooted in an epistemic divide within the modern Muslim world, within the Anglophone Muslim social media spaces. This friction has generated, inter alia, humorous (yet significant) neologisms and patterns of online behavior. This is a phenomenon which many of the readers with a social media presence, and sufficient exposure to it, will find only too familiar. Yet, as the above- quoted tweet pointedly (and rather humorously) observes, there is more to this development than the merely spectacular. It has its antecedents and consequents. The two broad warring camps- one seeking to recast the faith in their rather debonair socio-intellectual imagery of ‘progressiveness’, and the other seeking to combat the perceptibly aberrant influence of their ideological opponents inspired by the religious injunction of ‘ᶜamr bi’l maᶜarūf wa nahy ᶜan’il munkar’ (‘enjoining the good and forbidding the evil’) – have caused winding and meticulous discussions regarding and naṣīḥah to move on to, and to increasingly revolve around interaction in the cyberspace. Exciting as this phenomenon is, it is difficult to be an unthinking onlooker, and what I propose to do here is to pen down some of my loosely-knit (but not altogether unrelated and discordant) observations about this phenomenon. After introducing the theme, I shall offer my thoughts on how this new pattern of online behavior fares against the traditional and normative Islamic injunctions on the ādāb of iḥtisāb and naṣīḥah, and finally conclude with some remarks on which direction(s) the discourse around this phenomenon could take.

In a war of words, linguistic missiles are fair game. Both sides of the spectrum in this polemic- those seeking to recast Islam into their ‘progressive’ vision, and those striving to preserve the faith in its ‘pristine’ form as they understand it- have come up with linguistic missiles, comprising neologisms, to hurl at each other. Indeed, it is imperative that to make sense of this discourse, these labels be understood at least in a working manner.

The ‘progressive’ opponents of the ‘traditional’ and ‘neo-traditional’ constituencies have begun to use the label ‘akh-right’ in order to caricature their detractors. Being a strictly contemporary phenomenon, the label itself, and its associated thought and behavioral patterns lack sufficient academic analysis. Those few studies that do deal with the phenomenon, undertaken by researchers associated with national and supra-national establishments and think-tanks in the West, have taken a rather grim and sinister view of the development, linking it to online subcultures of extremist and terror outfits and their sympathizers.[1] Mainstream media coverage also links the term with ideas and exponential figures of the ‘Red-Pill’ movement, another largely online subculture spearheaded by social media influencers, seeking to revive traditional masculinity among men as they envision it, in reaction to Third-Wave feminism.[2]Etymologically, the neologism visibly appears to be a spin-off from, and meant to have phonetic congruence with the term ‘alt-right’; its component term ‘akh’ (meaning ‘brother’ in Arabic) is also a visible allusion to two other internet terms- ‘dude-bro’ and ‘bro-code’, pejoratives recast into meanings distinct from their original ones in ‘progressive’ usage, meant to lampoon overtly masculine and gang behavior in young men. The connotations of this term, therefore, link it at once to subcultures of right-wing extremism, and those of ‘Red-Pill’ neo-masculine hyper-masculinity, which, ironically for the ‘akh-right’s’ insistence on a ‘pristine’ and ‘traditional’ conception of Islam, has its roots more in Social Darwinism and elements of modern Western pop- culture than in actual Islamic precedents . Consider, for instance, the usage of the term ‘alpha-male’, adopted into the akh-right lexicon from the ‘Red-Pill’ and ‘Manosphere’ vocabulary. The ‘alpha-male’ or ‘chad’ in neo-masculine and akh-right verbiage, much like its animal counterpart, embodies domineering, ‘tough’ and aggressive behavior. Besides the fact that the term ‘alpha-male’ itself lacks a semantic or conceptual counterpart in early Islamic literature, the pursuit of the aggressive and domineering alpha-male ideal downplays the great store that the Islamic ethics lay on ḥilm (forbearance) and controlling one’s anger.[3] In sum, the religious Weltanschauung of the akh-right, that is, their conception of Islam, is centered around a defense of what they perceive to be a ‘traditional Muslim masculinity’, combating feminism, and combating what they regard as secular-liberal (especially feminist) capitulations to the detriment of a ‘pure’ and ‘authentic’ form of Islam. There exists no concise description- academic or otherwise- and no ‘manifesto’, so to speak, containing the akh-right conception of Islam, but the same is aptly conveyed through an illustrative incident. In July 2021, Muslim public figure Gabriel al-Romaani had , in a video, lambasted the well-known cleric Mufti Ismaᶜil Menk for posting a video of him knitting. Menk, Romaani alleged, had created room for feministic influences to creep into Islam by indulging in what he thought was a feminine pastime- knitting. Menk, Romaani maintained, should have instead encouraged ‘manly’ pastimes such as archery, horse-riding, swimming or boxing, which in his view are more in-line with the sunna prescriptions. By violating the purported sunna ideal, Romaani complained, Menk had hurt the cause of traditional Muslim masculinity.[4] The central themes of the akh-right religious conception- commitment to combating feminist onslaughts on ‘traditional’ Muslim masculinity and combating aberrations from a purportedly ‘pristine’ religious ideal- are palpable in this instance.

The ‘akh-right’, in their turn, have come up with their own set of linguistic missiles to deride their ideological opponents. Various shades of ‘progressive’ departures from their understanding of orthodox Islam are sought to be represented through this new internet taxonomy. Among this, the term ‘simp’, for example, although defined by the mainstream as an abbreviation for ‘simpleton’[5], has come to acquire a different meaning; in the novel internet colloquialism, it refers to a male overtly submissive and conforming to feminine caprice, generally in the hope of reciprocal sexual or romantic favors.[6] This neologism has been readily adopted into the Anglophone Muslim cyber-spatial lingo. ‘White Knight’, ‘cuck’ (abbreviated from ‘cuckold’ in Old English) and ‘dayyūth’ (in Arabic, a shameless male who lacks a protective sense of honor, and is willing to put up with display of indecency and immodesty by his womenfolk) are also substitute terms for ‘simp’ in this discourse. Likewise, the term (lit. ‘girl’ or ‘daughter’ in Arabic), used as a pejorative within British colloquialism since the last century, has been turned into a novel kind of derisive, and is now used to refer to Muslim women with a feminism- infused worldview, representative of which are the terms ‘bint fiqh’ (denoting feminism-infused readings of fiqh) and ‘meta fiqh’, the latter term denoting fiqhī revisionism to suit modernist sensibilities, and also being accepted by the ‘progressive’ camp in its discursive usage. The term ‘Compassionate Imams’ refers to the demographic among the clergy who have capitulated to the modernist ‘progressive’ worldview and now seek to validate it through religious justifications.[8]

This mishmash of neologisms and new behavioral patterns, all in the name of combating and correcting allegedly mistaken views, calls for an appraisal in the light of normative Islamic positions concerning the fiqh and ādāb of iḥtisāb and naṣīḥah. The cyber-armies comprising e-polemicists from both camps regularly clash across social media platforms; both hurl derisive linguistic missiles at each other; both claim to combat the alleged deviation of the other camp from their ideal image of what and how Islam is supposed to be in this day and age. Yet, how does their conduct and modus operandi fare against the standards set by the religion itself? Given that this phenomenon cuts across confessional boundaries, it would be worthwhile to evaluate it in the light of both Sunni and (Twelver) Shiᶜi normative ādāb and fiqhī .

The ‘akh-right’ e-polemicists are often castigated for their ‘juvenile’ behavior, and representing a demographic that is yet too young, to inexperienced in the ways of the world, to immature to understand the nuances of a given situation, to be able to judge the religious conduct of individuals; these ‘self-righteous teenagers’, ‘terminally online kids’, or ‘anon post-teenagers’ (as the tweet above describes them), it is said, are not qualified to rebuke others for the way they practice religion. Here it may be conceded that being bāligh and ᶜāqil (adult and mentally sound)-  in other words, physical and mental maturity- are legal conditions for iḥtisāb; yet, in certain circumstances, iḥtisāb is permissible for children and adolescents as well.[9] From a fiqhī point of view, the ‘juvenile’ akh-right thus get a leeway. ᶜAdl (justice, or integrity of character) being a legal condition for iḥtisāb is also an issue over which there is ikhtilāf (scholarly disagreement) among the ᶜulamaᵓ, and one opinion considers iḥtisāb permissible even for the fāsiq (one whose sinful behavior is apparent and known).[10] Thus, in online polemics, the adage of ‘fixing oneself before fixing others’ gets set aside, and all and sundry get a leeway to censure others.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to assume that iḥtisāb is a free-for-all, no-holds-barred activity. Too often we see instances of vicious trolling, cyber-bullying and even outright violence being deployed against those seen as ‘deviants’. A particularly illustrative and sordid instance of the last mentioned category of behavior is the attack on the Birmingham residence of the reformist cleric, Mufti Abu Layth al-Mālikī, in May 2021 over his allegedly pro-Israeli remarks.[11]Moreover, discussions and debates on sensitive issues such as the ḥudūd (punishments) for irtidād (apostasy) and ṣabb (blasphemy), polygamy, riqq (slavery) and jihad in classical fiqhī discourse, which have come to assume increasingly vexing concomitants in the light of present-day secular-liberal sensibilities, are often carried out in these gladiatorial theatres of e-polemics in a manner that does more harm than good to the individuals’ faiths, to communities and to the faith’s popular image itself.[12]Here, the injunction of the law is that not only is iḥtisāb impermissible if it leads to fitnah (social strife)[13], but even in situations when it ends up doing more harm than good, it is not to be done.[14] Nor is engaging in naṣīḥah to be made a mask for indulging in holier-than-thou posturing, or for fueling the ego. This is because iḥtisāb, in the event that it leads to ᶜujb (conceit), also becomes impermissible.

Given the immediacy and polarized nature of this debate, any pretense to objectivity becomes untenable. But fairness must remain the standard to strive for. In so far as their questionable adherence to the fiqh and ādāb of naṣīḥah and iḥtisāb is concerned, the ‘akh-right’ guardians of religious orthodoxy have so far evaded any concrete and convincing response, instead merely laughing off their critics as ‘ādāb police’. On the other hand, the question also remains how much leeway should be given to positions and opinions that are patently incorrect and disingenuous? While it is true that the ignorant Bedouin urinating inside the mosque deserves to be corrected with consideration and gentleness, does the same apply to the patrons of a Masjid al-Ḍirār? There also remains the patent danger of vested interests instigating and exploiting these clashes and divisions with mala fide intent- a possibility that is increasingly being realized.[16]Ultimately, which side this polemic steers the Anglophone Muslim cyberspace remains to be seen, but as far as the current manner of online engagement and disputation in these spaces is concerned, it leaves much to be desired.


[1]  Moustafa Ayad,Islamogram(London: Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), 2021),  20-21.  https://www.isdglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Islamogram.pdf. See also “From the Vicious Cycle to Ideological Convergence: How Islamist extremists and the violent right wing interact and influence each other”, Jakob Guhl, Moustafa Ayad and Julia Ebner, Vox Pol (a European Union subsidiary), January 26, 2022https://www.voxpol.eu/from-the-vicious-cycle-to-ideological-convergence/.

[2] “Andrew Tate’s Muslim fanbase is growing. Some say he’s exploiting Islam for internet popularity”, Sana Noor Haq, CNN, February 16, 2023. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/02/16/world/andrew-tate-muslim-men-manosphere-intl-cmd/index.html.

[3] I owe these insights to Bilal Muhammad’s lecture on the topic. See “Sacred Masculinity? A critique of neomasculinity”, Bilal’s Boulder (YouTube), last accessed September 19, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfgkT2oc9HQ

[4] Sahar Ghumkhor and Hizer Mir, “A “CRISIS OF MASCULINITY”?: THE WEST’S CULTURAL WARS IN THE EMERGING MUSLIM MANOSPHERE”, ReOrient Volume 7 (Winter 2022): 135-136.

[5] “Simp”, Cambridge Dictionary, accessed August 10, 2023https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/simp.

[6] “Simp”, Dictionary.com, accessed August 10, 2023https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/simp/.

[7] “Bint fiqh”, urbandictionary.com, accessed August 10, 2023https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Bint%20Fiqh.

[8] “Blood Brothers #39: “Compassionate imams” and Muslims allying with LGBTQ groups”, 5Pillars, June 28, 2020 https://5pillarsuk.com/2020/06/28/blood-brothers-39-compassionate-imams-and-muslims-allying-with-lgbtq-groups/. See also “Compassionate Imam or Scared to Speak the Truth?”, Saajid Lipham (YouTube), accessed August 10, 2023https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74F9NFtgYdc.

[9]Dihalwī, Shaykh ᶜAbd al-Ḥaqq Muḥaddith, Ādāb al-Ṣāliḥīn, Urdu tr. Mawlānā  ᶜAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī (Delhi: Adabi Duniya, 2006), 213.

[10] Ibid, 214-217.

[11] “Moment armed gang burst into Castle Bromwich home of imam as kids and family inside”, Birmingham Live, May 18, 2021 https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/moment-armed-gang-burst-castle-20622946. See also “Thugs record themselves breaking into house of Muslim YouTuber over ‘fake’ video”, Hillingdon & Uxbridge Times, May 17, 2021 https://www.hillingdontimes.co.uk/news/asianspotlight/spotlight/19308410.thugs-record-breaking-house-muslim-youtuber-fake-video/.

[12] See, for instance, “There Will Be No Winner in the Daniel Haqiqatjou – Yaqeen Beef”, The Muslim Theist, April 25, 2020 https://themuslimtheist.com/there-will-be-no-winner-in-the-daniel-haqiqatjou-yaqeen-beef/.

[13]Dihalwī, Ādāb al-Ṣāliḥīn, 218.

[14]Sīstānī, Sayyid ᶜAlī al-Husaynī, Islamic Laws (London: The World Federation of KSIMC, 2023), rulings 1868 and 1869, 451.

[15]Dihalwī, Ādāb al-Ṣāliḥīn, 219.

[16] See, for instance, “RAND Corporation’s Ungracious Strategy For Islam”, Javeed Akhtar, IslamiCity, April 30, 2004 https://www.islamicity.org/2296/rand-corporations-ungracious-strategy-for-islam/. See also “Rand Corporation’s new recipe to handle the Muslim World”, Abdus Sattar Ghazali, Milli Gazette, April 7, 2007 https://www.milligazette.com/dailyupdate/2007/200704211_Rand_Corporation_Muslim_World.htm.

Published Date: September 24, 2023
Type: Essay

Anwit Shahi

Anwit Shahi is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He has done his master's degree in history, specializing in medieval Indian history from Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His main area of interest is Islamicate South Asia, especially religious and mystical traditions in South Asia, and ethno-histories of South Asian Muslim communities.
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