Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Muslim Cults

The word "cult" is used by theologians and psychologists in completely different ways. Theologians mainly consider doctrines while psychologists and sociologists mainly consider practices. So, theologians consider that cults are heretical religious groups. Psychologists and sociologists consider that cults are mind-controlling, authoritarian, abusive, and deceptive groups.

From the point of view of Christian theologians, Islam is a heretical group, and thus they tend to consider Islam to be a cult. For example, Walter Martin in his book The Kingdom of Cults includes Islam into his list of cults.

From the point of view of the majority of Muslim theologians, such groups as Ahmadiyya and Baha'i are considered heretical. I am not sure if Muslims use the word "cult", they usually use different terminology. However, in principle, Ahmadiyya and Baha'i are cults from the point of view of most Muslim theologians.

From the point of view of psychologists and sociologists, some groups, including some religious groups are cults no matter of their doctrines. They divide religious cults into Bible-based (both abusive churches and cults of Christianity), eastern (Buddhist, Hinduist), new age. However, I have never seen them considering Muslim cults or including them into their classification.

Probably, hearing about Muslim cults, most Western people think about Islamic terrorists and extremists in Palestine, Afghanistan, and other Muslim regions. However, there are millions of Muslims who live in Western countries. Some of them are emigrants, but some of them are typical Western people who were converted into Islam.

Muslim cults not necessary should be terrorist or political. They may not attract much attention to themselves. However, who knows how many Muslim cults are in the world and in the Western countries? Who knows how many people are involved there? Somehow, this problem is neglected by the anti-cult community.

Probably, many people tend to think that Muslim cults are Wahhabi groups. However, there are also Sufi cults and probably other Muslim cults. Actually, there are some traits in Sufism that can be used by cultic leaders. For example, Sufis are supposed to submit to their shaiks (religious leaders) and respect them. This is considered to be very important for their spiritual progress. There are Sufi cults, but this problem is completely neglected.

I will just give one example. Some time ago, I read a book Sufism & Psychology: A comparative study of Western Psychology and Sufi Psychology written by Lynn Wilcox. She has Ph.D. in counseling psychology and is professor of California State University. She is also a practicing Sufi. In this book, she makes a comparison between the western psychology and Sufi psychology and makes a conclusion that Sufi psychology is better.

However, there are some things in that book that bother me. She presents her Sufi group as the only true Sufi group. She also presents their leader as the only good Sufi shaikh. She quotes only her leader and his father and no other Sufi shaikhs. There are many branches and groups in Sufism. However, in Sufism, a person can chose a shaikh. Sufi branches are considered as more or less equal. In addition, there are many famous Sufi shaikhs who are respected by most Sufis. So, Wilcox's Sufi group is different from the traditional Sufism. In addition, this group is Shia while most Sufis are Sunni.

"Elite thinking" is one of the signs of cults. So, I suspect that this group may be a cult, though I am not sure in that. Ironically, it is possible that Lynn Wilcox knew Margaret Singer and worked together with her because Dr. Margaret Singer also was a psychologist and professor of California State University.

Well, I am not sure if that group is a cult or not. However, I know some Western people who report that they left Sufi cults. I think the problem of Muslim cults is underestimated in the anti-cult community. There is practically no information about Muslim cults in Internet.


Bernie said...

You may be interested by a page I wrote using Introvigne's use of Lifton's new criteria (not the old 8 ones) and related mostly to Islam-based fanaticism, at http://bernie.cncfamily.com/acm/terror_in_manhattan.htm

Borz Löma Nal (Lema Nal) said...

Thank you for letting me know.

Ex-Tariqah said...

I think that Sufi groups in the West do, for the most part, have some strong cult-like components, and some of them are outright cults. The isolation or alienation of Muslims from the mainstream society encourages this behavior. Religious Muslims are, in a sense, forced to rely on shaykhs and such people, although most people do not join tariqahs (brotherhoods). Based on my experience, the majority of members are second generation children of immigrants and
Western converts to Islam. The stricter, Islamically, the cult or tariqah is, the more it seems to attract the young adult children of Indian and Pakistani immigrants, while the more liberal ones attract more European (white) converts. This is a generalisation, of course. There are racial and ethnic mixtures in these groups.

Thankfully, this past year, 7 years after 9/11 and a growing sense of victimisation, indignation and isolation in Muslims seems to have turned somewhat, and though small in numbers still, there are people leaving these cults and speaking out about them.

In 2001, there were people who left the Shadhili tariqah of Sidi Jamal of Jerusalem, although precious little is left online about their experiences. In 2007, there was a swarm of young Westerners who left Damascus and the Shadhili tariqah under Muhammad Yaqoubi. In 2008 until now, there have been quite a few young Westerners leaving Nuh Keller, an American Sufi shaykh in Jordan. They have not been quiet as far as writing on blogs about some of their experiences, and I think we will see more with both the Shadhilis and people continuing to leave other culty tariqahs that recruited heavily in the West, such as the Ba'Alawiya and the Naqshbandiya, as well as the more liberal tariqahs that place far less emphasis on Islam and attract upper middle class non Muslims.

My hope is that someday, there is a book or guide of some sort out there for Muslim survivors of Islamic cults, and that others out there can recognise that Salafismand Wahabism are not a cult in the same way that Sufism is - they are religious / political movements that do not center on a charismatic leader, for example - and that some attention can be focused on the cults of Sufism.

And if any survivor of these tariqahs reads this - know that you are not alone. There are others out there, and they can be found.

Borz Löma Nal (Lema Nal) said...

It might be that Sufis in traditional Muslim countries and regions where there are many Sufis are better protected from abuses of shaykhs than in non-Muslim countries. In Sufi literature, I often found warnings against false and self-proclaimed shaykhs. Shaykhs are supposed to have a special permission to be shaykhs that they get from their own shaykhs. Also, in this literature, it is mentioned that all the tariqah are considered equal in their purpose, but different in their practices. So, murids are allowed to change their tariqah or their shaykh. It is similar with madhabs. All the four Sunni madhabs are considered orthodox in Sunnism, and Muslims is allowed to change madhabs either for a long time or just for some actions.

Of course, I do not think that in Muslim countries, including those where there are many Sufis, there are no Sufi cults. I think it very much depends on shaykhs. In my opinion, it is a problem that the figure of shaykh is very important in Sufism and that murids have to depend very much on their shaykhs for their spiritual progress. When shaykhs are ethical, this might be fine. However, when they are not ethical, there are possibilities for many abuses.