Monday, December 20, 2010

Jesus and LGBT People

Many Christians believe that the Bible condemns LGBT people. As I wrote in previous posts, the Bible passages that are used against LGBT people are misinterpreted and they actually do not condemn them. It is also remarkable that there is none of such passages in the four gospels. Jesus never condemned LGBT people and never said anything that could be possibly misinterpreted and used against them. Never.

Jesus often rebuked Pharisees. Perhaps, some modern readers of the Bible may conclude that Pharisees were gross sinners. It was not really so. The word "Pharisee" means "those who are set apart." Pharisees strictly observed the commandments of the Law of Moses as well as commandments of the oral law (which was later written down in Talmud). Outwardly, Pharisees were the most righteous people among all the Jews in Jesus' times. However, unlike common Jews, Jesus was not impressed with their righteousness. He rebuked them for self-righteousness, condemning other people, and hypocrisy (their outward righteous actions and inner evil thoughts did not match). Unfortunately, there are many Pharisees in Christianity. They think that they are righteous and better than others. They condemn other people whom they consider sinners. They are hypocrites.

Jesus associated with people who were rejected by others, for example, with tax collectors and sinners. He received them and ate with them, even though Pharisees did not like it (Luke 15:1-2; Mark 2:15-16). The fact that tax collectors are mentioned as sinners in the gospels does not mean that this job is sinful per se. The problem was that those tax collectors forced people to pay not only taxes for Roman authorities, but also some extra money for the tax collectors themselves. So, most Jews despised them. At least, one of the twelve apostles was a tax collector before Jesus called him. This was Matthew, the author of the gospel of Matthew. According to the Old Testament (Lev. 20:10), people who committed adultery were to be stoned. However, Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). He also forgave another woman who was known to be a sinner (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman, though most Jews completely rejected Samaritans (John 4:9). There were many women among Jesus' disciples (Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42; and other passages), though Jewish rabbis of his time never allowed women to be their disciples.

Jesus' attitude to people was acceptance and love, not hatred and rejection. It was very different from many of today's Christians. Would Jesus reject a person for being gay? I do not think so. Would he say: "Leave your sinful lifestyle and then come to me"? I do not think he would do so. If he were on the earth today, I would rather imagine him in the company of LGBT people or other despised and rejected people than in the company of today's self-righteous and hypocrite Pharisees.

Is it possible that Jesus was an LGBT person himself? Well, if it is wrong and sinful to be an LGBT person, of course, it is impossible. However, if it is not sinful and is normal (and I believe that this is the biblical position), then, it is possible.

LGBT theologians have, at least, three hypotheses regarding this. Jesus never got married and there are no indications that he had any romantic relationships with women. The Gospel of John (13:23; 20:2; 21:20) mentions Jesus' disciple whom he loved. Most theologians believe that this beloved disciple was John. On the basis of these three verses from John, some LGBT theologians say that Jesus and John loved one another as two gay men (which does not necessary mean that they had sexual contacts). According to another hypothesis, Jesus was transgender. These theologians point out that there are some passages in the Bible that indicate that God has some female traits, that is, that God is neither male nor female, but both. Since Christ is God, he also must have some female traits. They say that in some situations he behaved not manly enough, for example, he wept (John 11:35), cooked (John 21:9), washed disciples' feet (John 13:1-12). So, they make a conclusion that Jesus was a bigender, that is, both a man and a woman psychologically. There is also a hypothesis that he was intersex. Intersexuals are somewhat between males and females biologically. So, this hypothesis also has to do with the concept that Jesus had some female traits because God has them. Usually, men have XY chromosomes and women have XX chromosomes. Y chromosome is transmitted from the father and not from the mother because there are no Y chromosomes in females' organisms. However, Jesus did not have a biological father. So, he might have had XX chromosomes, although he outwardly looked like a man. This is a kind of intersexuality.

Most conservative Christians would probably strongly disagree with these hypotheses. I personally believe that there is a possibility that they are true, but they do not have a sufficient biblical foundation. However, there is still a question: Was Jesus heterosexual? The Bible never says that he acted as a heterosexual. Rather, he acted as asexual. Asexual is a person who is attracted to neither men nor women. Asexuality is different from celibacy. Celibacy is when a person suppresses his romantic or sexual desires. Asexuality is when a person does not have them at all. In 1 Cor. 7:7 Paul wrote that he had a special gift from God: he did not have sexual desires and thus did not need to get married. This gift is asexuality. If Paul had this gift, why Jesus could not have it? The phenomenon of asexuality is known much less then homosexuality and bisexuality. However, the thing is that some people are asexual and that asexuality is the fourth sexual orientation (the other three are heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality). Since it is the fourth sexual orientation (which is different from heterosexuality), asexual people are also sexual minority. Moreover, they are often considered to be a part of LGBT community.

For many people, asexual people are probably more "mysterious" than gays and lesbians. Some people believe that asexuality is a hidden homosexuality. However, it is not so. Some people are not aware that asexual people exist. However, they do. And there is a diversity among them. Some of them do have romantic relationships, but without any sex. Some do not have neither romantic relationship nor sex. They do not suppress their desires. They are just who they are. Asexuality as well as homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental disorders.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fanatic Atheists against Fanatic Christians

The Soviet Union was an atheist country. Religion was not fully banned there, but religious propaganda was. Since evangelicals believed in Christ's Great Commission, they preached the gospel and many of them were arrested and judged. In addition, many evangelical groups did not have official registration which was also illegal. Most people did not have their own copies of the Bible. It was very hard to get any evangelical theological education. Evangelicals in the Soviet Union almost did not have contacts with evangelicals in other countries. This was a very hard time for evangelicals. However, in my opinion, in these circumstances, it was very easy for evangelical groups to become fanatic.

Below is a video of lawsuit against three leaders (presbyter and two preachers) of a Pentecostal group (Assemblies of God) which took place in 1961. This video was made as a typical communist and atheist propaganda. Unfortunately, it is in Russian and no translation is available.

This video is full of communist and atheist rhetorics. One of the accusations against the Pentecostal leaders was that their literature (in Russian) was printed in the USA. In the Soviet Union, it was a serious thing because everyone who had any contacts with Western people was suspected to be a spy. I am absolutely against arresting and imprisoning people because of their religion.

However, there are two points in this video that cause me mixed feelings. One of them is a story of a woman who joined this group. Before she joined it, she was diagnosed with cancer in initial stage. In this video, it is stated that she could be cured if she had proper medical treatment. However, this group discouraged people from going to doctors. She did not have a treatment and died. Another thing is that it is stated there that one of the preachers refused to serve in the Soviet Army. Since military service was mandatory, he was convicted. These two stories seem to indicate that this group was too fanatic because as far as I know visiting doctors and military service are not against Assemblies of God teachings.

In addition, it seems that this group was not registered because their meetings were secret. They lasted many hours and sometimes from evening until morning. In the video, it is stated that this group recruited people who had difficult periods in life and young people.

It is well known that in the Soviet Union there were some thought reform techniques used. I think this group also used some thought reform techniques. What is better: to be under atheist thought reform or under religious thought reform? I do not know.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Cult Recovery and Religion

There are four main approaches to the post-cult recovery:
1. Purely psychological approach when the main goal is to address psychological and emotional problems caused by the cult involvement and a person's belief system is not affected.
2. Purely theological approach when the main goal is to change the person's belief system from incorrect (unorthodox, heretical) to correct (orthodox), but psychological and emotional issues are not properly addressed.
3. A combination of psychological and theological approaches that addresses both psychological and emotional problems and person's beliefs.
4. A combination of psychological and atheist approaches when psychological problems are addressed and a person is encouraged to leave religion completely.

I personally prefer approach that does not cause a person to change the belief system. I cannot agree with atheist/"ex-Christian"/"recovering fundamentalists" approach because of their atheist propaganda. They claim that any religion is abusive and promote leaving it completely. Ironically, their arguments very much repeat arguments used by communists. Communists also taught that any religion is abusive and promoted atheism. Was communist atheism less abusive? Of course, not. Atheism as well as religion may be very abusive.

The problem with theological approaches is the definition what is the correct and incorrect religion. In Russia, there are rehabilitation centers that have a goal of conversion ex-members of cults to Russian Orthodox church. Thus, they consider that a person is recovered if he or she joined Russian Orthodox church. There are evangelicals (in other countries) who believe that ex-cult members should be converted to evangelicalism and who consider that a person is recovered only if he or she was converted to evangelicalism. Who of them is right? It is hard to tell.

There is a difference between post-cult recovery and religious (or atheist) propaganda. I do not think that these things should be mixed. I do not think it is ethical to promote any religion or atheism to ex-cult members (especially newly exited) because of their vulnerability. So, I am against it.

On the other hand, ex-members of cults may have theological questions and issues. I think that in this case they may be benefited from theological counseling if the counselor does not promote his/her belief system and does not seek to change the ex-cult member's belief system.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Heresy of Mind Control and Homosexuality

Basically, I consider The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin as a helpful book because he uses theological arguments in order to point out that spiritual abuse and authoritarianism in Bible-based cults are not biblical.

However, there is one point in which I strongly disagree with him. In this book, on page 79 of the first edition (2007), on page 87 of the second edition (2009), and on page 87 of the third edition (2012), there is a paragraph:
In many cults, it is typical for the leader to have illicit sexual relations. Many cult masters, through their charismatic personality, cunning arguments, and purported “messages from God,” often convince the subordinates that having these sexual relations is right. But scriptures against this are plain: Have only one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6), “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18), and other kinds of sexual perversion and promiscuity (Lev. 18:22; Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20; Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4). Even if the subordinates know it is wrong, they often are too afraid or even ashamed to tell anyone that this is happening. The cult leader might even encourage such promiscuous sexual behavior among the members. Here too, the members may become convinced that this is right, or else they are afraid to resist or speak out against it because of potential punishment by the chief, or because they think no one else disapproves since everyone else is doing it.
Apparently, here, Stephen Martin writes about cult leaders. However, there is one serious problem with this paragraph. He writes "... and other kinds of sexual perversion and promiscuity" and then he puts a number of verses, including Lev. 18:22 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Many homophobic Christians use these verses to condemn homosexuality. Thus, Stephen Martin makes it quite clear that he considers homosexuality as "sexual perversion and promiscuity." Does the Bible say that homosexuality is sexual perversion and promiscuity? No.

Stephen Martin received his Master of Divinity degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary. The Church of Nazarene still holds very negative attitude to homosexuality which obviously affected him. In an official document of this church entitled Manual of the Church of the Nazarene: History, Constitution, Government, Ritual / 2009-2013 Edition, p. 57, it is written:
Homosexuality is one means by which human sexuality is perverted. We recognize the depth of the perversion that leads to homosexual acts but affirm the biblical position that such acts are sinful and subject to the wrath of God. We believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome the practice of homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We deplore any action or statement that would seem to imply compatibility between Christian morality and the practice of homosexuality. We urge clear preaching and teaching concerning Bible standards of sexual morality.
(Genesis 1:27; 19:1-25; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10)

So, I do believe that Stephen Martin views homosexuality as perversion as his church teaches and that this is his thought when he quotes Lev. 18:22 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11 in his book.

Most gay-bashing Christians do not know the context of Lev. 18:22 and will not be able to explain why this verse does not say anything about lesbians. Lev. 18:21-24 (NKJV):

21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. 24 ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you.
In Lev. 18:21, it is said about "letting children pass through the fire of Molech." In v. 23, it is said about bestiality. V. 24 says that the nations that lived in Palestine before Joshua led Israelites there practiced these things and that Israelites should not do the same. What do these verses have to do with v. 22?

Moloch was a pagan Ammonite and Canaanite god. Child sacrifices were one of the forms of worshiping him. Other forms of Canaanite pagan rituals included temple prostitution (both male and female) and bestiality. Canaanites believed that all these rituals would increase fertility of their land.

Deut. 23:17 (NASB) forbids cult prostitution:
None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute.
In this verse, there are two similar Hebrew words: qedeshah (female temple prostitute) and qadesh (male temple prostitute). In fact, they are two forms (masculine and feminine) of the same Hebrew word.

Since Lev. 18:22 directly follows the verse that forbids child sacrifice as a part of worship to Molech, there is a great probability that it actually forbids participation in male temple prostitution as a part of pagan rituals. Lev. 20:13 apparently speaks about the same and it is remarkable that chapter 20 of Leviticus begins with worshiping Moloch. V. 2-5 (NKJV):

2 “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name. 4 And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, 5 then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.
What do Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 say about homosexuality per se? Nothing.

Romans 1:26-27, the verses that are also often used to condemn homosexuality, also are put in a clearly idol-worship context (v. 23, 25). V. 20-27 (NKJV):
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
In addition, v. 26-27 speak about what is unnatural. Homosexual relationships are definitely unnatural for heterosexual people, but not for homosexuals. So, Paul was writing here rather about heterosexuals than homosexuals.

Now, let us look at 1 Cor. 6:9-11, the verses that also were mentioned by Stephen Martin. There are various translations of these verses. In NKJV, they are translated this way:

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Apparently, v. 9 forbids homosexuality. However, who are sodomites? Does this word means the same as "homosexuals"? If so, what is the need of putting these words together?

In the Greek text of 1 Cor. 6:9, the words for the people who will not inherit the kingdom of God are: "pornoi," "eidolatrai," "moichoi," "malakoi," "arsenokoitai." "Pornoi" means "fornicators." "Eidolatroi" means "idolaters." "Moichoi" means "adulterers." However, Bible scholars and Bible translators are not sure what the words "malakoi" (translated as "homosexuals" in NKJV) and "arsenokoitai" (translated as "sodomites" in NKJV) exactly mean. The singular forms of these words are "malakos" and "arsenokoites." The word "malakos" is used several times in the New Testament as an adjective, meaning "soft," but it is used as a noun only in 1 Cor. 6:9. The word "arsenokoites" is used two times in the New Testament: in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10. In both verses, its meaning is not clear. These two words were used in writings of Greek Christian authors only when they quoted 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10. These words were used in few non-Christian Greek writings, but their meanings are not clear there either. According to one of hypotheses, Paul invented the word "arsenokoites," composing it from "arsen" (male) and "koite" (bed). Both words were used in Septuagint in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13. So, according to this hypothesis, Paul was referring to these verses. However, this is just a hypothesis. Nobody knows what these words really mean. Some Bible scholars say that they refer to male prostitution or to male pedophilia. Both were widely practiced in the ancient world. However, there is no indication that 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 condemn homosexuality per se.

One more biblical passage I would like to mention is Gen. 19, the story of destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many people believe that these cities were destroyed because of homosexuality, but the Bible never says about it. In v. 4 (NKJV) it is said:
But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter.
Have you seen a city where all the inhabitants are gays? They have been minority in every society. Thus, most of the men of Sodom were heterosexual. What happened then was a gang rape. In Judges 19, there is a similar story of a gang rape, but the victim was a woman. The story in Genesis 19 tells not more about homosexuality per se than the story in Judges 19 about heterosexuality per se.

Jude 7 is sometimes used to "prove" that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. However, the context of this verse does not support this idea. Jude 6-7 (NASB):

6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.
What is "strange flesh" in v. 7? If it has to do with homosexuality, why the previous verse says about angels who did not keep their own domain? The most popular interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4 is that these verses speak about angels who had sexual contacts with humans. This is what Jude 6 is referring to. In v. 7, the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah is comparing to it. Sexual contacts between angels and human females took place before the flood. Could they take place after the flood? Gen. 6:4 says that as a result of sexual contacts with angels, women gave birth to Nephilim. When Moses sent twelve spies, they reported that they saw Nephilim in Palestine (Num. 13:33). Since Nephilim existed after the flood, it is possible that angels had sexual contacts with humans after the flood and that it took place in Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a hypothesis, but the fact is that there is no indication that "strange flesh" has anything to do with homosexuality.

Thus, the Bible never condemns homosexuality per se. It condemns some homosexual actions. In the same way, the Bible never condemns heterosexuality per se, but condemns some heterosexual actions.

Of course, Stephen Martin may have any view on homosexuality whatever he likes. However, the problem is that he is a staff member of Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. Since one of the editors-in-chief of his book was his brother Paul, the founder of Wellspring, I believe that the anti-gay position is the official position of Wellspring.

According to statistics, 5-10% of people are homosexual. There are LGBT Jehovah's Witnesses and ex-Jehovah's Witnesses: and LGBT Mormons and ex-Mormons: Obviously, there are LGBT ex-members of other cults. Gay and lesbian Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons report that they experience a strong conflict between their religion and their sexual orientation. This conflict leads many of them to depression, self-abhorrence. Some of them even attempt or commit suicides. If these people go to Wellspring, will it be helpful for them? I do not think so. I believe that their stay in Wellspring may only increase their conflict which they already have. This is why I do not recommend Wellspring for LGBT ex-members of cults.

In my opinion, LGBT ex-members of Bible-based cults should learn that not all the Christians condemn LGBT people. There are LGBT-affirmative interpretations of the Bible. To name just a few of them:
Another book which might be helpful for them is Steps To Recovery from Bible Abuse by Dr. Rembert S. Truluck.

In conclusion, two videos from "It Gets Better" project by Gene Robinson and Mel White. Both are Christian ministers and open gays.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Anti-Cult "Professor Moriarty"

Arthur Conan Doyle is one of my favorite authors. Especially, I like his writings about Sherlock Holmes. In The Adventure of the Final Problem, there is a famous character Professor Moriarty:

"You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?" said he [Holmes].


"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing!" he cried. "The man pervaded London, and no one has heard of him. That's what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime. <snip>

"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifted, a man to be removed - the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail of his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught - never so as suspected. This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up."

Since the organization created and headed by Professor Moriarty was criminal, the reason for secrecy was obvious. However, when somebody tries to create an anti-cult organization, using the same secrecy as Professor Moriarty did, the reasons for secrecy are not so obvious. In another post, I wrote about a certain person who tries to become an anti-cult leader. He uses some methods of Professor Moriarty, trying to create his own anti-cult organization. I do not mean that he tries to create a criminal organization. I mean his secrecy. He tries to keep in secret from everyone, except the people he tries to involve, even the fact of his creating his organization. He tries to keep in secret what he is doing even from people whom he actively tries to involve in it. And it does seem to me that he is going to lead his organization in a similar way to how Professor Moriarty did: "He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized."

Sherlock Holmes called Professor Moriarty a "genius." His anti-cult counterpart is not a genius. His results are much smaller than of Professor Moriarty. I doubt that he will ever be able to create a well-functioning anti-cult organization.

This anti-cult "Professor Moriarty" thinks that his methods are unique. However, there is a good verse in the Bible: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version)

In conclusion, beware of the people who act as Professor Moriarty in the anti-cult field. They are unable to create a well-functioning and effective anti-cult organization, but they are able to damage you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Therapeutic Relationship

Although I do not believe that all the ex-members of cults need therapy, I admit that some of them need. However, ex-members of cults need to be aware that some therapists may harm them rather than help them. Unfortunately, such cases happen.

Before hiring a therapist, I would recommend ex-members of cults to read the book “Crazy” Therapies: What are They? Do They Work? by Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich. There is an abstract of this book on ICSA website: “Crazy” Therapies: What are They? Do They Work? The Therapeutic Relationship.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I posted three polls in this blog (see the right panel). They are similar to those in my other blog.

The questions are:
1. Have you ever been involved in a cult or in an abusive church?
2. Has any of your family members, relatives or friends been in a cult or abusive church?
3. Have you got a therapy or counseling after you left a cult?

Unlike Wordpress, Blogger poll gadget does not allow to use "Other" answer option. Also, since I know that some ex-members of Sufi groups read my blog, I added a special option for them in the first poll.

All the polls are completely anonymous. Multiple choices are allowed. I will be thankful to all the people who will participate in the polls. Also, you can leave your comments regarding these polls. All the suggestions will be appreciated.

Update. I created a new poll. The question is: "What subjects are you interested in?" You can mark as many variants as you like. I am interested to know what subjects readers of my blog consider interesting and will greatly appreciate your voting.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anti-Cult Activism and Anti-Cult Leaders: A Warning

When I just began to communicate with people in the anti-cult community, I believed that all the anti-cult activists really want to help people. I was too naive. People who do anti-cult work may have various other intentions: to make money, to get leading positions (to become "anti-cult leaders"), and so on. Some of anti-cultists continue to behave as cult members. This phenomenon is known as "anti-cult cult."

There is a certain person who believes that only he knows what should be done in the anti-cult field and nobody else knows it. In principle, such statements already sound as a bad sign because there are so many people in the anti-cult field and it exists for so long time that it is hard to believe that one person can invent something really new. Of course, the statements that somebody knows something that nobody else knows are very usual for cults and cult leaders. This is why I consider this to be a warning sign.

This person who has the great and unique ideas about the anti-cult work tries to create a new anti-cult organization on the basis of his great and unique vision and condemns other anti-cult organizations. In principle, there is nothing wrong with creating a new anti-cult organization. I am definitely for plurality of opinions in the anti-cult community. However, there are some other warning signs with how this person is creating his new organization. I believe that when honest people invite others to join them in some projects, they first give the full information about their projects and then ask people if they want to join or not. The person I am writing about does not do that. Instead he tries to involve people into his organization without their informed agreement. He tried to involve me and, at least, one more person this way. He kept saying about his great ideas, but all his sayings were too vague. He asked me several times whether I would like to listen about his ideas and I always agreed. However, he never told me what his great plan was, just some vague words and "pieces" of the "full picture." Later, to my great surprise, I learned that he believed that I joined his project, although I never gave my agreement to join it. I just gave my agreement to learn what he could say about his project. There were some warning signs that he was using some manipulations in order to involve me and another person into his project and I did not feel good about it. Now I know that he did use manipulations.

Although he pretended to be a good person who cares for people, later, I learned many negative things about his behavior in the past and in the present. For many years, this person has been trying to gain a high position in the anti-cult community, to become "anti-cult leader." So, I believe that he attempts to create a new organization in order to be the leader and to have some special position, not in order to help people. In addition, this person has done many evil things such as violation of his professional ethics.

I no longer associate with him in any way and this is my final decision. His activity harms people and does not help them. I do not want to participate in it and I do not want to be exploited again.

However, I think that I need to warn people who want to participate in anti-cult activity. Not everyone in the anti-cult field has good intentions. Some people want to make more money (I know some of them), some people want to have authority and high position, some have other intentions. If somebody invites you to join an anti-cult organization or participate in anti-cult activity, do your best to find as much information about this person, organization, and project as possible before you make a decision to participate. Be careful if somebody does not want to provide you the information or claims to have a unique vision, unique ideas, or unique plan. Do not allow "anti-cult leaders" to exploit you and misuse your desire to help people.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gay Muslims

Gay Muslims (2006) is a Channel 4 documentary about how the experiences of five lesbian and gay Muslims challenge the heterosexual bias within their British communities and illustrate the diversity within Islam. (From Wikipedia)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spiritual Abuse: Videos

Video series Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse: What is Spiritual Abuse? (Part 1)

Spiritual Abuse: What Are The Signs? (Part 2)

Spiritual Abuse: What Are The Signs? (Part 3)

Spiritual Abuse: Who Joins Abusive Ministries? (Part 4)

Spiritual Abuse: The Effects of Spiritual Abuse (Part 5)

Spiritual Abuse: The Effects of Spiritual Abuse (Part 6)

Spiritual Abuse: The Effects of Spiritual Abuse (Part 7)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Spiritual Abuse: Definition

Wikipedia article defines spiritual abuse this way:
Spiritual abuse occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim's spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.

The definition given by Jeff VanVonderen who is the author of this term:
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.

According to the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen:
“Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person.” (p.20)

“Spiritual abuse can also occur when spirituality is used to make others live up to a ‘spiritual standard’.” (p.21)

Spiritual abuse occurs when shame is “used in an attempt to get someone to support a belief, or…to fend off legitimate questions”. (p.22)

“When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person's standing as a Christian—to gratify you, your position or your beliefs, while at the same time weakening or harming another—that is spiritual abuse.” (p.23)

“There are spiritual systems in which…the members are there to meet the needs of the leaders… These leaders attempt to find fulfillment through the religious performance of the very people whom they are there to serve and build. This is an inversion of the body of Christ. It is spiritual abuse.” (p.23)

The authors define the following characteristics of spiritually abusive systems:
1. Power-Posturing
2. Performance Preoccupation
3. Unspoken Rules
4. Lack of Balance (Extreme Objectivism and Extreme Subjectivism)
5. Paranoia
6. Misplaced Loyalty
7. Secretive

In his interview, Jeff VanVonderen explained how he and his co-author Dave Johnson came to this term:
What we did was to stumble across some language that worked for people. It’s a language that matches the feelings and wounds that many people have experienced. We give people a way to talk about this kind of thing. But spiritual abuse is certainly nothing new. Spiritual abuse has been here since biblical times. We just came across a way of talking about it in our time, and put it into a package that made sense to a lot of people.

There is a video series entitled Spiritual Abuse: An Introduction by Jeff VanVonderen:
Lecture 1: Healthy and Abusive Spiritual Dynamics (55 min)
Lecture 2: The Abusive Religious System (59 min)
Lecture 3: How We Get Hooked (60 min)

In the first of them, he said that when people use power to make others to do what they want, it is abuse. When people use God's name in order to make others what they want, it is spiritual abuse.

The definition given by David Henke:
Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help. Sometimes abuse arises out of a doctrinal position. At other times it occurs because of legitimate personal needs of a leader that are being met by illegitimate means. Spiritually abusive religious systems are sometimes described as legalistic, mind controlling, religiously addictive, and authoritarian.

He gives the following characteristics of spiritually abusive systems:
1. Authoritarian
2. Image Conscious
3. Suppresses Criticism
4. Perfectionistic
5. Unbalanced

Two other famous books on spiritual abuse were written by Ronald Enroth:
Churches that Abuse
Recovering from Churches that Abuse

In the first of them, he listed the following characteristics of spiritual abuse:
1. Control-oriented leadership
2. Spiritual elitism, perceived persecution
3. Manipulation of members, fostering dependency
4. Life-style rigidity
5. Emphasis on experience
6. Harsh discipline of members, information control
7. Painful exit processes

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Documentary Videos on Gender Identity and Intersex Conditions

The Gender Puzzle

Gender Unknown

Intersex (Is It a Boy or a Girl?)


Dr. Money and the Boy with no Penis (The story of David Reimer, the boy who was turned into a girl)

Brain Sex (part 1)

Brain Sex (part 2)

Brain Sex (BBC video)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Diversity in Western Sufism

In most previous posts about Sufism, I wrote about traditional Sufi groups such as Naqshbandiya, Shadhiliya, and Qadiriya. However, not all the Western Sufi groups follow traditional Sufism. Some groups are more new age / eastern than Muslim. In one post, I wrote:

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.

I learned more about the Sufi group that Lynn Wilcox is a member of. This group is called Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi (MTO) Shahmaghsoudi, School of Islamic Sufism and reportedly has over 500,000 students worldwide. It is headed by Molana Salaheddin Ali Nader Angha, known as Hazrat Pir who was born in Tehran, but now lives in the USA. His group operates many websites and has many organizations. Some of them are listed here:

Each tariqah has a line of shaikhs that is supposed to go to Muhammad and his companions. For example, Naqshbandiya was supposedly transmitted through Abu Bakr and Shadhiliya was supposedly transmitted though Ali. This group also has a similar line which goes to Ali and Uways al-Qarani through whom it was supposedly transmitted.

However, there are very serious differences between the teachings and practices of Naqshbandiya and Shadhiliya and teachings and practices of MTO. Naqshbandiya and Shadhiliya are based on Sunni Islam while MTO is somehow related to Shia Islam. However, in my opinion, it is based more on new age philosophy than on Shia Islam.

The first question for every Sufi school is the meaning and the goal of Sufism. In Fundamentals of Tasawwuf: Purification of the Soul, Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, shaikh of Naqshbandiya who was born in Syria, but now lives and teaches in the USA, writes:

It used to be that this sacred mission, this great service of calling the Umma to remembrance of its proper heritage framed by the Qur'an and set out in the Prophet's Sunnah, was performed by devoted and sincere scholars of spirituality. These individuals, in time, came to be known by the name of 'sufi', a word derived from the Arabic safa'a which means "to purify," because of the assiduousness with which they applied themselves to holding firmly to the Sunnah and employing it to purify their character from all defects in behavior and morality.

Thus, according to this definition, the purpose of Sufism is "to purify their character from all defects in behavior and morality." This is one of the aspects of how the purpose of Sufism is usually understood in traditional Sufism. In addition, it is described as the way to know Allah. The definition of MTO is completely different:

Sufism is a discipline, a system of education that facilitates the journey of self-knowledge, a journey which enables the individual to discover his stable reality, and ultimately the reality of religion.<snip>

One of the most fundamental principles of Sufism is that whatever exists is the manifestation of the one absolute knowledge that pervades everything and is not limited to time or place. Therefore, the closest place to gain access to this knowledge is within one's own self. What has been written regarding the history and principles of Sufism represents its outer form. Its reality is found in the teachings of the Arif (Spiritual Teacher) who guides the seekers of truth to experience this reality so that they become stable and cognize their highest state of existence.

Thus, they describe the purpose of Sufism as self-knowledge which is different from traditional Sufism. Moreover, they believe in pantheism while traditional Sufis are Muslims and thus are monotheists. According to MTO, a person who wants to be a Sufi does not need to be a Muslim while in traditional Sufism this is a mandatory requirement.

MTO do have a number of Muslim practices, including practices used in traditional Sufism. However, there are some differences with traditional Sufism as well. For example, according to MTO description of zikr:

Sufi Zikris primarily done in groups where each individual sits on the floor in a cross-legged position and focuses all attention and energy toward the heart in order to establish a connection with the True Self, the “I”. In addition, a sacred word or phrase from the literature of the Sufi Masters or the Holy Qur’an is repeated in melodic tones, like a chant. Meanwhile, following the natural flow of the Zikr, the seeker’s body sways from left to right in the symbol of infinity to represent the infinite and vast nature of existence.

In traditional Sufism, the focus in zikr is on Allah, not on the heart or "the True Self." In addition, MTO have a practice which is absent in Naqshbandiya, Shadhiliya, and Qadiriya. It is meditation which in MTO is called tamarkoz:

Tamarkoz® is the art of Sufi Meditation. The word Tamarkoz® means concentration of abilities. Sufi meditation is more than mere mental concentration and contemplation; it is a matter of concentration on the source of life in the heart. Meditation through the heart expands our finite consciousness allowing revelations to take place without the interference of the senses.

A key element of Tamarkoz® is Movazeneh®, a set of practical postures and slow movement exercises which stimulate, concentrate and balance the flow of energy to the 13 major electromagnetic centers of the body. Movazeneh® is the Sufi art of balancing and harmonizing the body.

In Islam and traditional Sufism, there are no any "electromagnetic centers of the body." This idea is obviously from new age. It is also quite interesting that they practice special 3-day tamarkoz retreats which are not practiced in traditional Sufism:

According to their description,

Tamarkoz® Retreats are Sufi Meditation Retreats that focus on relaxation, balancing, purification and rejuvenation. The retreats provide time and space to reconnect with one’s own innermost being.

Also, they have an organization called Sufi Psychology Association which holds conferences and education for Licensed Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors. This is already a combination of religion and psychotherapy. Well, another famous group that has such combination is Scientology.

In conclusion, MTO mixes some elements of Islam, Sufism, new age, and psychotherapy. I cannot say whether it is cultic or not, but there are things there that bother me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wahhabism / Salafism

In previous posts, I wrote mainly about Sufism and how Sufi groups can become cultic. This post is about Wahhabism / Salafism. I do not think that all the Wahhabi groups are cultic, but I think that there are some cultic groups among them.

As always, I do not promote any beliefs or practices of Islam, including Sufism and Wahhabism. I write these posts only with educational purpose.

Wahhabism is called this way after Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid at-Tamimi (1703-1792) who lived and preached in Arabia. "Wahhab" was a part of his name, however, "Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab" means "Muhammad, son of Al-Wahhab's slave." Al-Wahhab is one of 99 names of Allah and means "the Giver." Since Al-Wahhab is one of the names of Allah and cannot be used for a human being, Wahhabis do not like to be called this way. They call themselves "Salafis" because the main idea of Wahhabism / Salafism is returning to the original and pure Islam. Originally, the word "Salafis" means "first three generations of Muslims" who were the most righteous Muslims according to hadiths (sayings of Muhammad). Other Muslims refuse to call Wahhabis "Salafis" exactly because they do not consider them to be righteous Muslims.

The most important book by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab is Kitab at-Tawhid (The Book of the Oneness of Allah). Its English version is available in Internet in the text form and in the audio. The main ideas of Kitab at-Tawhid are: purification of Islam and coming back to Quran and Sunnah, worship and prayer requests only to Allah, prohibition of innovations, prohibition of a number of things that can lead to polytheism.

Thus, one of the most important teachings of Wahhabism is strict monotheism in both belief and practice. According to Wahhabism, there are three kinds of the oneness of Allah:
1. Oneness in lordship: Allah is the only creator and sustainer of everything and everyone. All the events take place only by Allah's will.
2. Oneness in worship: all the worship should be only to Allah.
3. Oneness in names: Allah has many names and attributes which are different from names and attributes of everything and everybody.

In principle, all the Sunni Muslims believe in these three points, but they often practice things which Wahhabis consider to be violation of the second point. For example, many Muslims direct their prayers to Muhammad and righteous Muslims, considering them as mediators between themselves and Allah. They also have some special holy places such as tombs of Muslim saints (awliya), special holy times such as some feast nights, and special objects which supposedly give grace such as clothes of awliya. Wahhabis consider all these practices as shirk (polytheism). The word "shirk" means "equaling somebody or something with Allah." So, they think that when Muslims pray to Muhammad or awliya, they perform the act of worship to these people because prayer is a kind of worship, but all the worship should be directed to Allah. Therefore, they consider such practices shirk while in Islam shirk is an extremely serious sin. It makes a person disbeliever and unless a person repents and stops shirk, he or she will be in hell forever. Because of this, Wahhabis accuse other Muslims of disbelief and this is one of the causes of their enmity with other Muslims.

Another important idea in Wahhabism is return to the original Islam. They blame other Muslims for various innovations and say that all the innovations are sinful. They support this statement with a hadith that prohibited innovations. Other Muslims quote another hadith that allows good innovations, but Wahhabis consider this hadith false. There are many things in Islam that Wahhabis consider innovations and therefore forbidden, for example, celebration of Muhammad's birthday.

Sunni Muslims usually follow one of the two schools in theology (Ashariyya and Maturidiyya) and one of the four schools in Muslim law (Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali). They believe that it is necessary to follow one of these schools because it is important to follow Muslim scholars who had a lot of knowledge of Islam. Wahhabis deny this principle of following. They say that Muslims should either always switch between the four schools or make conclusions by themselves on the basis of Quran and Sunnah.

Thus, Wahhabis (unlike other Sunni Muslims) allow lay Muslims to interpret Quran and Sunnah by themselves and to make independent decisions regarding Muslim law. Wahhabis use literal interpretation of Quran and oppose Muslim theologians, especially Sufis, who use allegoric interpretations. Wahhabis use quite simple rules of interpreting Quran: in order to interpret an ayah (verse in Quran), they use its context, other ayahs, hadiths, sayings of Muhammad's companions, grammar and lexicography of Arabic. Also, they pay much attention to what they call authentic Sunnah. In Islam, there is a special science that deals with hadiths. Each hadith was narrated from one person to another before it was written. Depending on the lines of narrators, some hadiths are considered reliable, some good, and some weak. Sunni theologians usually do not allow to use weak hadiths to support doctrines of belief, but allow to use them to support practices of worship and other things related to the Muslim law. Wahhabis insist that weak hadiths should never be used.

Unlike Sufis, Wahhabis do not have much respect for authorities and criticize Sufis for their very respectful attitude to their sheikhs. They do not have Sufi practices such as zikr and nashids. They consider these things as forbidden innovations. However, in my opinion, Wahhabi groups also have some potential to become cultic.

I think it is interesting that there are some similarities between Christian fundamentalism (fundamentalist evangelicalism) and Muslim fundamentalism (Wahhabism), for example:
1. Both proclaim their exclusiveness and condemn the outside world and other Christians or Muslims respectively.
2. Both claim that they purify their religion from the wrong teachings and practices.
3. Both proclaim that they are based purely on the scriptures of their religion, that is, the Bible or Qur'an and authentic Sunnah.
4. Both state the importance of the right beliefs for salvation.
5. Both pay much attention in propagation of their religion (Christians call it evangelism, Muslims call it Da'wah).

Christian fundamentalist groups have a tendency to become cultic. I think their main problems are their "elite thinking," "us versus them thinking," and separation from the world and other Christians. Wahhabis have similar things and I think it is these things that may make Wahhabi groups cultic.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Comparison of Sufism and Wahhabism

Probably, most so called cult experts believe that Wahhabi groups tend to be cultic while Sufi groups are quite benign. However, there are Sufi cults which are usually neglected in anti-cult community.

I am not a Muslim, not a Sufi, and not a Wahhabi. I have no intention to promote any of those. However, I read both Sufi and Wahhabi literature and have some idea of what Sufism and Wahhabism are. In my opinion, Sufi teachings and practices may lead these groups to become cultic.

In the post Sufism: Shaikhs and Murids, I wrote about requirements for murids in their attitude toward shaikhs. As Muhammad Hisham Kabbani wrote, "The seeker [murid] must submit to the will of the shaikh and to obey him in all his orders and advice, because the shaikh has more experience and more knowledge in haqiqat, in tariqat and in shari'ah." And also: "He [murid] must agree with the opinion of his shaikh completely." Thus, murids are required to completely submit to their shaikhs in everything and to completely agree with their shaikhs opinions.

Murids are not allowed to question shaikhs' actions and words. Murids are not allowed to discuss their shaikhs' actions with other people. They are not allowed to speak negative things about their shaikhs. Murids are discouraged to leave their shaikh and go to another shaikh and are not allowed to go to more than one shaikh at the same time. All these requirements supposedly are for murids' spiritual benefit. Shaikhs supposedly have some special knowledge that they share with their murids and this knowledge is supposedly superior than what other Muslims have.

It is interesting that Bible-based abusive groups usually have somewhat similar rules of group members' behavior toward their leader while benign Bible-based groups usually do not have them. On the other hand, as far as I know, Wahhabi groups usually do not require their members to have such attitude toward their leaders. They criticize Sufis that they are submissive to their shaikhs and respect them so much.

In posts Sufi Practice of Collective Zikr and Sufi Practice of Singing Nashids / Nazams, I wrote about collective zikr and singing nashids / nazams and provided videos of these practices. In my opinion, outwardly, these practices have some similarities with some practices in video Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond, that is, they may be trance-inductive. Sufi literature reports that many Sufis experience ecstasy when they do not realize what is going on around them and sometimes even say some things that a Muslim should not say. So, they do experience trance. Trans condition make people vulnerable to suggestions and cult leaders use it. It may take place in some Sufi groups as well. Wahhabi groups do not practice zikr and nashids. Moreover, they consider these things forbidden and blame Sufis because they practice them.

Therefore, I think that Sufi groups may potentially become cultic because they have prerequisites for that. I do not think that all the Sufi groups are cultic, but Sufi teachings and practices potentially may make Sufi groups cultic.

Sufism: Shaikhs and Murids

In Sufism, the figure of a shaikh is very important because he is supposed to be a person who has superior knowledge of Allah and who leads his murids to such knowledge. According to Sufi concepts, murids are unable to arrive to this knowledge without a shaikh.

In the previous posts, I mostly used factual material about Chechen and Daghestani Sufis. In the books by Daghestani, Arab, and other Sufis, there is a lot of information about Sufi concepts regarding shaikhs and murids. For example, there is a book Sufi Ethics by Hasan Hilmi Afandi, Daghestani shaikh of Naqshbandi, Shadhili, and Qadiri tariqahs. He lived in the second half of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century and is very respected in Daghestan. His book Sufi Ethics contains 124 pages where he describes how murid has to act toward shaikh. Another respected book is Haqaiq `an al-Tasawwuf (The Truth of Sufism) by `Abd al-Qadir `Isa from Syria. I noticed that several authors of books on Sufism quoted him.

I think that for Western (especially, American) readers of my blog it will be more interesting to know what American shaikhs say rather than what Arab or Daghestani shaikhs do. There is a book Fundamentals of Tasawwuf written by Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, shaikh of Naqshbandi tariqah who lives and teaches in the USA. In this book, there is chapter entitled The Conduct of the Murid with His Shaikh where he writes:

There are two categories of conduct of the murid with his shaikh: internal conduct and external conduct.

Internal Conduct of the Murid

1. The seeker must submit to the will of the shaikh and to obey him in all his orders and advice, because the shaikh has more experience and more knowledge in haqiqat, in tariqat and in shari'ah. As the sick person gives himself to his doctor to be cured, so too does the murid, sick in his conduct and behavior, submit to the shaikh's experience in order to be healed.
2. The seeker must not object to the way the shaikh instructs and controls the murids. Each shaikh has his own way, which he has been permitted by his own shaikh to use. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said, "Whoever opens the door of criticism against shaikhs and their behavior with their murids and their actions will be punished and will be isolated from receiving spiritual knowledge. Whoever says to his shaikh, 'Why?' will never succeed." [al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya, p. 55]
3. The seeker must know that the shaikh might make some mistakes, but that these will not prevent him from lifting the murid up to the Divine Presence. So the murid must excuse the shaikh, as the shaikh is not the Prophet (s). Only the Prophet (s) was free of error. Although it is rare, just as the doctor might make a mistake in treating a patient, so too might the shaikh make a mistake in treating his murid's spiritual illness, and that must be excused.
4. The seeker must respect and honor the shaikh in his presence and his absence, if only because the shaikh can see with the eye of the heart. It is said that whoever is not happy with the orders of the shaikh, and does not keep good conduct and adab with him, will never keep good conduct with the Qur'an and with the Sunnah of the Prophet (s). Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani said, "Whoever criticised a saint, Allah will cause his heart to wither."
5. The murid must be sincere and loyal to the company of his shaikh.
6. He must love his shaikh with an extraordinary love. He must know that his shaikh is going to take him to the Presence of Allah, Almighty and Exalted, and to the Presence of the Prophet (s).
7. He must not look to any other than his shaikh, though he must keep respect for all other shaikhs.

External Conduct of the Murid

1. He must agree with the opinion of his shaikh completely, as the patient agrees with the physician.
2. He must behave well in the association of the shaikh, by avoiding yawning, laughing, raising the voice, talking without authorization, extending the feet, and always sitting in a respectful manner.
3. He must serve his shaikh and make himself as useful as possible.
4. He must not mention from the speeches of his shaikh what listeners cannot understand. This might harm the shaikh in a way that the murid is unaware of. Sayyidina `Ali said, in a hadith narrated in Bukhari, "Speak to people at a level they can understand, because you don't want them to deny Allah and His Prophet (s)."
5. He must attend the association of the shaikh. Even if living far away, he must make an effort to come as often as possible.

In principle, according to Sufism, there is nothing unusual in this chapter. `Abd al-Qadir `Isa in his Haqaiq `an al-Tasawwuf (The Truth of Sufism) wrote almost exactly the same (I think Muhammad Hisham Kabbani used his book in writing this chapter). Muhammad Hisham Kabbani received Muslim education in Syria and this is where he learned these principles. `Abd al-Qadir `Isa is also from Syria and there are many Sufis there. So, these principles are from traditional Sufism, not from a kind of westernized version of Sufism. They give some ideas of the relationships between murids and shaikhs in Sufism. I think it is quite clear that in the case when a shaikh has authoritarian character, his group may easily become abusive.

Sufi Practice of Singing Nashids / Nazams

Nashid or nazam (also spelled as nazm or nazma) is a spiritual song of Sufis. Daghestani Sufis usually use the word "nashid" while Chechen Sufis use the word "nazam."

The following videos show singing nazams by Chechen Sufis who follow Kunta-hajji Kishiev, sheikh of Qadiri tariqah. Again, I do not promote this practice and do not make any conclusions about it here. I post these videos only for information.

Sufis usually have separate meetings for men and women. The videos above were made at men's meetings. Below is a video of a women's meeting made in Daghestan. It shows Andi (a small ethnic group who live near Chechnya) women who perform zikr and sing nashid. They belong to Qadiri tariqah.

Besides zikr and nashids / nazams, Sufi meetings include Sufi leader (called a sheikh or ustaz) speeches and instructions for murids (disciples).

Sufi Practice of Collective Zikr

There are many Sufi groups and their practices differ from one another. As far as I know, all the Sufi groups practice zikr (sometimes spelled as dhikr) individually and collectively. The word "zikr" is literally translated as "remembrance" (of Allah). This practice consists of repetition of some word (one of the names of Allah, for example, "Ya Allah" - "O Allah") or some phrase (for example, "La ilaha illa-Llah" - "There is no God besides Allah").

There are different ways of how different groups practice zikr. For example, some Sufi groups practice collective zikr with dances while other groups practice zikr only sitting. Some Sufi sheikhs even accuse other Sufi groups of practicing zikr in the wrong way.

The following videos were made in Chechnya and they show how collective zikr is practiced by Chechen followers of Kunta-hajji Kishiev (Chechen Sufi sheikh who lived in 19th century and belonged to Qadiri tariqah). I do not promote this practice. On the other hand, I am not going to make any conclusions here whether this practice is mind-controlling, thought-stopping, meditative, and so on. I post these videos only for the information on how this practice is performed by some Sufi groups.

Islam and Sufism

Many Western people consider Sufism as an eastern religion which has nothing to do with Islam. However, the majority of Sunni Muslims believe that Sufism cannot be separated from Islam. In fact, the idea that Sufism comes from eastern religions and is different from "pure" Islam comes from Wahhabis. Many Western researchers actually took this idea from them.

In this post, I am going to write about the place of Sufism in Sunni Islam. In another blog, I wrote that Islam has three main components:
1. Iman (faith)
2. Islam (this word here means rituals of worship)
3. Ihsan (sincerity)

Iman (faith) is the subject of Muslim theology (aqidah and kalam). Islam (rituals of worship) is the subject of Muslim law (fiqh). The word "ihsan" is usually translated as "sincerity." It corresponds with the third part of Islam which is ethics, moral and spiritual perfection. These things are subjects of Muslim ethics (ahlak) and tasawwuf. Tasawwuf is Arabic word for Sufism. Thus, Sufism's goal is moral and spiritual perfection. Muslim law (fiqh and shariah) deal with the outward behavior of Muslims. Sufism has to do with their inward spiritual condition, growth, and perfection. Thus, most Sunni Muslims consider Sufism as the heart of Islam.

Traditional Sufi groups require their members to be Muslims who follow shariah before they can follow Sufi tariqahs (the word "tariqah" literally means "way").

In Sunni Islam, there are four madhabs (schools) in fiqh: Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali madhabs. There are also two madhabs in aqidah: Ashariyya (Ashari madhab) and Maturidiyya (Maturidi madhab). Most Sunnis follow Ashariyya, but Turkish-speaking Hanafis follow Maturidiyya. In Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, most Muslims are Maturidis and Hanafis with the exception of Chechens and most Daghestanis who are Asharis and Shafiis. In Sufism, there are many tariqahs, for example: Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili, and others.

Most Chechens follow Ashariyya in aqidah, Shafii madhab in fiqh, and Qadiri tariqah in tasawwuf. Most Avars (this is the biggest nation in Daghestan) follow Ashariyya in aqidah, Shafii madhab in fiqh, and Naqshbandi tariqah in tasawwuf.

Thus, Sufism is the part of Sunni Islam and there is no least contradiction between Sunni Islam and Sufism. A Sunni Islam is able to be a Sufi at the same time. Moreover, traditional Sunni Islam encourage people to become Sufis and some Sunnis even consider that it is mandatory for Muslims to be Sufis. However, it is obviously that a Muslim cannot be a Buddhist, a Hindu or an adept of any other eastern religion because Islam is not compatible with eastern religions.

Wahhabis accuse Sufis of inventing new and forbidden teachings and practices and they promote the idea that Sufism originates from eastern religions. This is where this idea comes from.