OpinionReligion

Peeking inside TikTok’s Quran book club

Some of the new converts are donning hijabs. Others are not. Some are running to their local mosques. Others are doing this all online.

An edition of the Koran. Credit: Sayyed Shahab-o-Din Vajedi/Wikimedia Commons.
An edition of the Koran. Credit: Sayyed Shahab-o-Din Vajedi/Wikimedia Commons.
Matthew Schultz
Matthew Schultz

On Oct. 18, Aurora Birdy, a trans influencer, posted their first TikTok about the war in Gaza, accusing Israel of apartheid and genocide. 

By Nov. 25, they had started reading the Quran. “It blew my mind,” they raved. “Did you know that Allah is beyond gender?” 

Aurora is not alone on their path from outrage at Israel to curiosity about the Quran. A search on TikTok for the phrase “Quran Book Club” reveals a whole mini-movement of young Americans—mostly women—who have started reading the Quran and are actively converting to Islam or considering doing so. 

Some of the new converts are donning hijabs. Others are not. Some are running to their local mosques. Others are doing this all online. Many come from the progressive vanguard of the American left and many others are ex-Christians. 

Despite this diversity, however, one thing seems to unite them all: Their decision to convert is rooted in their political feelings about Israel and Palestine. Their profiles are decked out with Palestinian flags and watermelon emojis. They are more likely to talk about decolonization than they are about dua

These extremely-online converts look to Muslim influencers to explain their new faith to them in terms amenable to American progressives. One such figure is Misha Euceph, a Pakistani-American content creator currently working on a book (forthcoming from Little, Brown) which she states “will unveil a progressive, largely ignored vision of Islam which is not only compatible with modern ideas around sex, politics and everything in between, but informs them in ways we’ve never considered before.” 

Euceph is intelligent and charismatic. Watching her clips, I was reminded of some of my favorite progressive Jewish influencers—people with the ability to condense the moral message of an ancient faith into a social media post in a way that’s both accessible and deep.

Many of the new converts on TikTok, however, display a different sensibility. A far cry from Euceph’s progressive Islam, these proselytes are more reminiscent of a Hamas cleric.

Megan Rice (@megan_b_rice) had never read the Quran before Oct. 7. Today she wears a hijab and regularly makes TikToks about Islam and anti-Zionism for an audience of nearly a million individuals. In one post, a gum-smacking Rice muses about ways that anti-Zionists might infiltrate Israel to take the land and kill Israeli soldiers.

TikTok user @openingmyheart24 reads a quote from the Quran about eternal scorching hellfire, suggesting that though it sounds harsh, it’s a fitting punishment for Israel and its inhabitants.

Ex-Christian convert @femmeslibre reads a quote about “those who spread corruption in the land.” She doesn’t explicitly state who “they” are, but her meaning is not lost on her followers in the comment section.

A constant refrain, repeated verbatim by almost everyone involved in TikTok’s “Quran Book Club,” is that they were “inspired” to convert “by the faith of the Palestinians” in the face of great hardship.

If this is true, one might ask why we didn’t see a similar wave of conversions in solidarity with the victims of the Syrian civil war, or why there was no wave of Catholic conversions inspired by the plight of Central American refugees, or, for that matter, a rush on AME churches during the summer of 2020.

What is it about the “faith of the Palestinians” specifically that has progressives ordering hijabs on Amazon? 

After all, Gaza is a strip of land dominated by an extremist, jihadist iteration of Islam. It was this faith, not Misha Euceph’s “progressive, largely ignored vision of Islam” which burned in the hearts of Hamas militants on Oct. 7 as they slaughtered over 1,000 innocent people in the most gruesome ways imaginable.

Perhaps, for some of these converts, this is precisely what they find so inspiring.

If that sounds like an uncharitable interpretation, remember who we’re dealing with. Anti-Western, antisemitic and violent rhetoric has become de rigueur for the anti-Zionist left. BLM Chicago has lionized the paragliding murderers who invaded the Nova music festival in southern Israel, and it was only a few weeks ago that young anti-Zionists on TikTok were praising Osama Bin Laden for his “Letter to America.” 

To be more charitable, many of the new converts seem motivated by genuine spiritual and intellectual curiosity as well. Aurora Birdy’s enthusiasm is undeniable. It is also—for me—quite familiar. I was raised in a completely secular home. Judaism was something that I embraced in college, and I remember well the thrill of encountering its depth for the first time—especially having grown up in a culture which is quick to dismiss Abrahamic faiths as retrograde and simplistic.

In “the Madness of Crowds,” Douglas Murray writes about the collapse of society’s grand narratives—frameworks of understanding the world that were traditionally rooted in religion. 

“It was inevitable that some pitch would be made for the deserted ground,” he writes, “People in wealthy Western democracies today could not simply remain the first people in recorded history to have absolutely no explanation for what we are doing here, and no story to give life purpose.”

In recent years, social justice movements have stepped up to fill this void, offering adherents a moral map to the universe and a guide to their place within it. 

Actually changing one’s identity for the cause is a newer phenomenon. Moreover, it’s an option that was notably unavailable when the focus of the movement was race in America. Not for lack of trying—a number of activists and left-wing professors such as Rachel Dolezal, Jess Krug and Raquel Saraswati masqueraded as racial minorities for years. When they were discovered, however, they were shunned—not praised.

Unlike changing one’s race, changing one’s religion is possible, creating a legitimate path for zealous activists to center themselves in a faraway conflict and ritualize their social justice commitments.

There is a lesson here about the ravages of the internet on our culture, but the more important takeaway has to do with meaning and identity. Our steady abandonment of religion as a society has not quashed our yearning for transcendence and meaning. Nor has it made us a nation of free thinkers. Rather, it’s made us a nation of easy marks, ready to be duped by the first influencer who tells us who we are, what we should believe, and who we should hate.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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