Will Islam Make a Man Out of You?


Terry Holdbrooks Jr. is a former Guantanamo guard who, he says, was so impressed with the faith and perseverance of the detainees that he converted to Islam in 2003. Now he makes a living traveling around the country telling dubious and lurid tales of Guantanamo tortures for the Muslim Legal Fund of America, and explaining why he converted. “I had all the freedom in the world,” he says. “But I was waking up unhappy while these men were in cages, smiling and praying five times a day.”

For Holdbrooks, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. Before his conversion (and for some time after it, until he rededicated himself to Islam), he was drinking, smoking, using drugs, and indulging in promiscuity – in other words, he was a relatively typical, rudderless early twentieth-century American male. The Army gave him an honorable discharge in 2005 for a “generalized personality disorder.” But then he renewed his Islamic commitment, and, according to the New York Daily News, “found discipline in prayer.”

Discipline. The Islam4theWorld website explains: “Islam is a complete way of living. Unlike other religions, Islam is not a religion consisting of a few rituals, which are to be practiced occasionally. Islam covers every aspect of life.” This is no exaggeration. The Union of Islamic World Students elucidates exactly how Islam covers every aspect of life:

Islam has rules of etiquette and manners covering every aspect of life. These are applicable for the whole society, the old and the young, men and women. These manners cover even minor acts such as entering or exiting a bathroom, posture while sitting and cleaning oneself.

The same site then approvingly quotes a hadith in which “one of the polytheists” ridiculed the Muslims, telling one of them: “Your prophet has taught you everything, even the manners of going to the toilet.” The Muslim, however, affirmed that that was indeed true:

Yes, the Prophet forbade us from facing the Qibla [the direction toward Mecca] when urinating or relieving oneself. The Prophet asked us not to use the right hand when cleaning ourselves and to use at least three stones for cleaning.

Islam, indeed, has a rule for everything that a human being could imaginably do, with the horrifying punishments of hellfire awaiting those who fail to observe them. So why would a smokin’, tokin’ American boy choose a belief system in which everything he does is regulated, and he has to devote the bulk of his time learning the arcane rules of Allah for brushing his teeth, trimming his beard, and how many stones to use when going to the bathroom?shutterstock_33963151

The answer may lie precisely in those regulations. Islam, of course, with its polygamy, easy divorce for men, divinely sanctioned wife-beating, inheritance rules that favor sons over daughters, and much more is very oriented toward the earthly comfort and satisfaction of males – and that has attracted numerous male converts. At Guantanamo, however, Holdbrooks would not have seen that play out. He did, however, see the detainees’ resignation to the absolute will of Allah. In Islam, everything, even the individual’s determination of whether or not to accept Islam, is in Allah’s hands: “If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! (Qur’an 10:99) – but Allah does not so will, and instead will “fill hell with Jinns and men” (Qur’an 32:13). With Allah having such absolute power over everything, it is useless to chafe at one’s situation in the world: if a believer is in Gitmo, Allah wants him in Gitmo.

This is fatalism, not serenity. Holdbrooks, however, raised in our aggressively secular and morally relativistic society, was unable to discern the difference. He had been a spiritual seeker, but without an informed sense of perspective:

As a teenager, Holdbrooks had searched for truths in several different religions. He came to Guantanamo convinced that all monotheistic religions were evil.

Lost in a haze of drugs and meaningless sex, Holdbrooks (like so many of his generation) was seeking – and of course not finding — in hedonistic pleasures the key to what it means to be a man in the world. He even went to Guantanamo because he thought it would be an easy gig: “Gitmo was supposed to be a cushy deployment since we were just going to babysit detainees,” he explained. “But it changed me.”

Adrift in our weepy, feelings-oriented culture of sentimentality, Holdbrooks saw the certainties of Islam the way a drowning man would eye a piece of driftwood.


The problem, however, is that Islam’s vision of masculinity is chimerical. It offers absolutes and certainties not within an atmosphere that fosters maturity and discernment, but within the context of “slavery to Allah” – a slavery that robs the slave of everything that would make him a functioning adult.

Even Holdbrooks’ allegations about Guantanamo atrocities sound like the lurid imaginings of a sexually conflicted and confused adolescent:

I saw people put in stress positions for eight hours until they defecated themselves. Then the guards would come in and emasculate them.

He also claimed that menstrual blood was “smeared” on the faces of detainees. Whatever the truth may be about these claims, it is striking how closely they echo those made against American troops by al-Qaeda detainees in Iraq – reflecting a peculiar and immature (and, in Islamic supremacist literature, recurring) fixation with sexual humiliation and bodily fluids.

Said Holdbrooks:

The Qur’an is the simplest book in the world to read. It doesn’t have magic. It doesn’t contradict itself. It’s simply an instruction manual for living.

Indeed, that is what it claims to be. But Islam, unfortunately for Terry Holdbrooks, with its minute regulations and absolute control of every aspect of the believer’s life, doesn’t make a man out of you. That kind of hyper-regulation doesn’t create men. It creates slaves, and slaves are, perpetually, children.


images courtesy shutterstock / AntonSokolov / Dim Dimich