Political activity is often addressed in terms of rational actor theory (RAT). We review RAT's psychological assumptions and highlight the neglect of collective identity. In turn, we view the perception of ‘interest’ as contingent upon constructions of identity and explore how different characterizations of collective identity are organized strategically so as to shape people's understandings of their interests and how they should act to realize them. Using examples taken from a study of British Muslims’ political activity we emphasize the contested and strategic dimension to identity construction and analyse how activists addressing the same constituency construe Muslim identity in different ways so as to promote different conceptions of collective interest. Specifically, we explore the contested invocations of Prophetic example in the definition of Muslim identity. The broader thrust behind this work is a critique of the sharp dichotomization of Muslim and non-Muslim political activity. We maintain that essentially similar processes of identity construction underlie all attempts to organize collective sentiment and political action (including that comprising so-called ‘conventional’ electoralist politics in the West), and that conceiving of identity as a site of political struggle underscores the inadequacy of Orientalist characterizations of Muslim identity in terms of a singular, transhistorical essence.