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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More about Muslim Cults

In this post, I use the word "cult" in its psychological and sociological meaning, not theological meaning. According to Christian apologetics, the whole Islam is a cult. However, according to psychology and sociology, cults are authoritarian and thought-reforming groups regardless of their doctrines. I do not believe that all the Muslim groups are such. However, inside of Islam, there are cultic groups.

So called cult experts usually do not pay much attention to Muslim cults with the exception of terrorist cults. Obviously, there are much more Muslim cultic groups.

There is a tendency to consider Wahhabi/Salafi groups dangerous and Sufi groups benign. Some terrorist groups in Islam are based on Wahhabi/Salafi belief system and Al Qaeda is one of them. However, for example, Nation of Islam has absolutely different belief system. Also, many Wahhabis/Salafis are quite peaceful and this religion is the state religion in Saudi Arabia which is the main US partner in Arabic world.

Regarding its name, this branch of Islam has two names. Outsiders call it "Wahhabism" after the name of its founder Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. However, insiders do not like it because Al-Wahhab is one of the names of Allah and cannot be used for a human being (Abdul-Wahhab means "slave of Al-Wahhab" and can be used for a human being). They call themselves "Salafis." However, other Muslims refuse to call them this way because this word denotes first Muslims who were the best Muslims according to Islam teaching.

Sufis are commonly viewed as peaceful Muslims, though not all the Sufis are peaceful. For example, in 19th century, there were several Sufi sheikhs who take the lead in the war of Northern Caucasus nations against Russia. The most famous of them was Shamil who was sheikh of Naqshbandi tarikah of Sufism. Those who take the lead in the recent wars in the same region are mainly Wahhabis. I am not going to discuss the reasons of these wars here as well as who is right and who is wrong. My point is that both Sufis and Wahhabis may be peaceful or warlike. By the way, although both Sufis and Wahhabis are Sunni Muslims, they are the worst enemies and there are many occasions when they fight against one another. For example, Chechen and Daghestani Wahhabis fight not only against Russia, but also against Chechen and Dagestani Sufis (most Chechens and Daghestanis are Sufis).

In internet, there are reports about some Sufi cults in the Western countries and I do not think that there are no Sufi cults in traditionally Muslim cults and regions. Although in one of previous posts I mentioned that Daghestani Sufi sheikhs write about some requirements for genuine sheikhs that may serve as some protection, the situation in Daghestan is not so good. Sufi sheikhs there proclaim that all the Sufi tariqahs and sheikhs are equal. However, reportedly, most Muslim leaders in Daghestan are murids (disciples) of Said-afandi al-Chirkavi, sheikh of Naqshbandi and Shadhili tariqahs while some other sheikhs are unable to teach openly. In addition, some sheikhs accuse one another of being pseudo-sheikhs who do not have permission to be sheikhs from their sheikhs.

Anyway, there are Sufi cults as well as Wahhabi cults. However, these cults are commonly neglected in anti-cult community.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Homosexuality and the Bible

Here are two more series on homosexuality and the Bible. The first of them is Homosexuality in the Bible by Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in the San Fernando Valley.

Talk #1: Leviticus

Talk #2: Sodom and Gommorah

Talk #3: Paul (part 1 of 2)

Talk #3: Paul (part 2 of 2)

Talk #4: Jesus and Gays

The second series are two sermons by Rev. Jeff Miner, a co-author of The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships (the other co-author is John Tyler Connoley):
Revisiting the Clobber Passages (direct link for downloading)
No Respecter of Person (direct link for downloading)

Some books and articles in pdf:

1. Challenging Conventional Wisdom by Steve Schuh:
2. "A Letter To Louise" Biblical Affirmation For God's Homosexual Children by Bruce W. Lowe:
3. I'm Gay and It's OK by Rev. John W. Brown:
4. What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality by Rev. Dr. Mel White:
5. Christianity and Homosexuality Reconciled by Dr. Joseph Adam Pearson: (with audio)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ex-Gay Ministries

Many Christian groups and Bible-based cults teach that gays are able and must change their orientation and become strait. There is a number of so-called ex-gay organizations that supposedly help gays to become strait, using both religious and psychological methods. The biggest of them is Exodus International which is by the way suspected of using mind control techniques. Do this and similar organizations really change gays into straits? Here is what Exodus former leaders and founders say.

Former Ex-Gay Leaders Apologize

Two Of Exodus' Founders Come Out As 'Ex-Ex-Gay'

Exodus Co-Founder: I Never Saw One Of Our Members Become Heterosexual

Exodus Co-Founder: We Were All Still Struggling Silently As We Promised Change

Exodus Co-Founder: The Inherent Harm In Ex-Gay Programs

Exodus Co-Founder: We Didn't Know There Was An Alternative For Gay Christians

There is a community of ex-gay survivors who report that their participation in ex-gay programs was harmful and who are in the process of healing from this damage: I think ex-gay survivors and ex-members of other cults have similar experiences.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Homosexuality and Religion

For a long time, I was homophobic and believed that homosexuality was very sinful and of course that it was a choice. After leaving the cult, I read a lot of Christian theological literature. One of the books I read was An Introduction to Christian Ethics by Roger H. Crook. His theological position is conservative. In this book, there is a chapter on homosexuality. He quotes Mel White's book Stranger at the Gate (I did not read that book itself). Mel White wrote that, being a Christian, he struggled with his sexual orientation for 25 years, but still was a gay. In conclusion, Roger Crook writes that homosexuality is not a choice, that to be a gay is not a sin and that gay Christians should have monogamous committed relationships like heterosexual marriages. To me, it sounded very strange. Later, I read several other testimonies of gays who struggled with their sexual orientation because their Christian churches told them that homosexuality was a sin, but they could not change their orientation. From these stories, it seemed that homosexuality was not a choice. Eventually, I decided to study more about this subject: various biblical interpretations, people's testimonies, psychological articles, and so on.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is inerrant. However, interpretations of the Bible may contain errors. In the past, people believed that the Bible says that the sun goes around the earth. Not only Roman Catholics, but also Protestants, including the leaders of Reformation Martin Luther and John Calvin, condemned Copernicus because they believed that his teaching was heretic. Eventually, it became clear that Copernicus was right and Christian theologians changed their interpretation of the Bible. Also, for many centuries, Christian believed that God created the universe in 6 literal days and that it was about 6000 years ago. Later, it was clear that this teaching contradicts the science. Although there are Christian theologians who still believe in 6 literal days, many new interpretations were invented to reconcile the Bible and science, such as the theory that 6 days were actually 6 epochs and the theory of the interval between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Most Christian theologians believe that the Bible and the science cannot contradict one another. So, when there is a seemingly contradiction between them, it may be because of the wrong interpretation of the Bible. The psychological science says that sexual orientation is not a choice and that it cannot be changed. Many people report of their attempts to change their orientation that were not successful. In addition to reading popular homophobic interpretations of some verses of the Bible, I read alternative interpretations of the same verses. In my opinion, they are more in agreement with the principles of hermeneutics than those that condemn homosexuality. For example, I do not understand why Christians use Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to prove that homosexuality is a sin while they do many things prohibited by Leviticus because they believe that Christ canceled the Old Testament Law.

Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong interpretations and applications of the Bible were used against some groups of people. For example, the Bible was used to support slavery of black people, to deprive women of civil rights, to ban interracial marriages, to support anti-Semitism, and so on. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, American televangelists had two favorite subjects: anti-communism and homophobia. Now their anti-communist and anti-Russian teachings such as that Russia is Gog and Magog are not so popular because they are wrong. However, homophobia is still popular. Well, most Christians believe that one of the main subjects of the Bible is God's love. However, instead of love, homophobic sermons are filled with hatred. In the Gospels, Jesus spoke a lot about God's love to all people, but He never spoke about God's hatred to gays or God's condemnations of them as many preachers do.

Mel White served as a pastor, seminary professor and writer for famous evangelists, including Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell.

For 30 years, Dr. White had served the evangelical Christian community as a pastor, seminary professor, best-selling author, prize-winning filmmaker, communication consultant and ghost writer to its most famous and powerful leaders. From the beginning the media pictured Mel as an employee of these leaders on the "religious right." Although Mel did not work with nor write speeches for these leaders, he was hired by national publishers to write books -- primarily "autobiographies" -- for his ghost-writing clients including Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and Pat Robertson. (

He did graduate work in communications and film at University of Southern California, received his doctorate and was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary for over a decade. During this time he also worked as an evangelical pastor. He produced, wrote, and directed 53 documentary films and television specials, focusing on stories to inspire and inform the struggle to be human. He is also an author; among his 16 books (nine bestsellers), he wrote about the Philippines' Ninoy and Corazon Aquino ("Aquino"), the Jonestown tragedy ("Deceived"), David Rothenberg, the child burned by his father ("David") and talk-show host/producer Mike Douglas ("When the Going Gets Tough").

In addition, he ghost wrote several books for fellow evangelicals, including Billy Graham ("Approaching Hoofbeats"), Pat Robertson ("America's Date with Destiny"), Jim Bakker, and Jerry Falwell ("If I Should Die Before I Wake" and "Strength for the Journey"). In all those writings, however, he never wrote against homosexuality. White began coming out privately and gradually during the same period that the religious right stepped up its anti-gay rhetoric. Since 1993, he has devoted himself full-time to justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and has worked on their behalf in the media, in the political process, and with fellow religious leaders. (

Mel White is married to Gary Nixon. They are co-founders of Soulforce. Some booklets by Soulforce (direct links for downloading):
What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality by Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce
What the Science Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality by Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC, Executive Director of Soulforce
Southern Baptists May Not Say "God Hates Fags" as Fred Phelps Does -- But The Effect is the Same This booklet compares the harsh anti-gay rhetoric of the Southern Baptist Convention with that of Fred Phelps. The material presented is taken directly from SBC resolutions, quotes from Southern Baptist leaders, and quotes from Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Topics covered include marriage, society, HIV/AIDS, Sex, civil rights, and more.

In video lecture Homosexuality and Religion he speaks about his experience and the Bible. I think it is worth watching.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Another video by Mel White: How Can I Be Sure That God Loves Me, Too?

There are many Christians, including Christian ministers, whose experience was similar to Mel White's. One of them was Dr. Rembert S. Truluck (1934-2008), the author of Steps To Recovery From Bible Abuse. He was:

Doctor of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1968. Southern Baptist Pastor from 1953 to 1973, Professor of Religion at Baptist College of Charleston, SC, 1973-1981. (

His story can be read here:

In 1991, soon after I became a Christian, I watched television sermons by Jimmy Swaggart. I watched them every week for six months. His main subjects were Christ's second coming and speaking in tongues. He never spoke about homosexuality. Then, his sermons suddenly stopped and in television news it was said that he had to leave his ministry because he was found to be with a prostitute. Recently, I learned that eventually he resumed his ministry, but now he likes to speak against homosexuality. Moreover, he even threatened to kill gays:

A Canadian television station has apologized publicly to viewers for a telecast of American evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's television program in which he threatened to kill gays.

The program, aired last week on Omni 1, a Toronto multicultural station, and throughout the US, has also prompted an investigation by the Canadian Radio Television Commission, the government agency which regulates television.

During the program, a rambling sermon by Swaggart who is trying to rehabilitate himself after an arrest for soliciting a prostitute, the televangelist turned to the subject of gay marriage.

According to a transcript of the program, Swaggart said: "I'm trying to find the correct name for it ... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ... I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."

The remarks were met with applause from his congregation.


In 1987 Swaggart in a tearful sermon begged forgiveness from his followers after being found with a prostitute.

I checked Wikipedia and found out that Swaggart was involved into two scandals with prostitutes in 1988 and 1991. In February 1988, he was found wiht a prostitute the first time and gave an apology sermon. However, his ministry was first suspended and then he was defrocked and removed from the ministry by the Assemblies of God. He decided to start non-affiliated and non-denominational ministry. On October 11, 1991, Swaggart was found, for the second time, in the company of a prostitute. Then, he temporary stepped down from his ministry again. His current ministry is non-affiliated and non-denominational.

Well, Swaggart who "begged forgiveness from his followers after being found with a prostitute" now threatens to kill gays because he "is trying to rehabilitate himself after an arrest for soliciting a prostitute"! I would say he chose an extremely odd way for self-rehabilitation. However, unfortunately, when televangelists speak against homosexuality, they increase their popularity and rating because homophobic Christian fundamentalists like these sermons. This is why Swaggart chose this way. And he obviously does not care what the Bible really says about homosexuality. He does not care that some of his followers may really kill gays after listening to his sermons (and there are cases when people killed gays because they believed that it is what the Bible says). The only thing Swaggart cares about is his popularity and self-vindication.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Gender Equality

In this post, I am going to consider biblical verses that were used against women.

Genesis 2:20 (NKJV): “So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” The Hebrew word for “helper” is “’ezer.” It is used in the Old Testament 19 times. In most cases, it denotes God who helps a human being, for example: Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 29; Psalm 10:14; 33:20; 70:5; 115:9, 10, 11. Only 4 times it denotes a human being who helps another human being. Thus, ‘ezer is a higher one who helps a lower one or an equal one who helps an equal one and never a lower one who helps a higher one. The Hebrew word for “comparable” is “neged” which means “matching” or “equal.” Thus, Eve as a helper for Adam was equal to him.

Genesis 3:16-17 (NKJV): “To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all days of your life.” In Hebrew text, the word for pain in verse 16 and for toil is the same. It is ‘etsev. It may mean “hard labor, physical or psychological pain, sorrow.” The word for “rule over” is mashal. However, this word may also mean “similar.” Thus, verses 16 and 17 may be translated: “in pain (‘etsev) you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall be like you are… in toil (‘etsev) shall you eat of it all days of your life.”

1 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV): “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” The word “head” is usually understood as authority. However, in Ephesians 4:15-16 and Colossians 2:19, Christ as the Head of the Church does not rule over it, but supplies it. Thus, headship may be not the matter of authority, but the matter of supply.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NKJV): “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” These verses apparently contradict 1 Corinthians 11:5 which allows women to pray and prophesy. One of interpretations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is that Corinth was a multi-national city. In the church, many women could not follow what was said because they did not know the language well. They were distracted and began to talk with one another, thus making noise. Paul prohibited them to do so and told them to ask their husbands at home if they did not understand what was said. Paul told them to do so because at that time men usually knew languages better their wives who stayed at home.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NKJV): “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy who was in Ephesus. This church was filled with false teachings that were spread by some women (1 Timothy 4:7). This is why he forbade women there to teach. This rule was given only to that local situation.

Ephesians 5:22 (NKJV): “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” In Greek, this verse is a continuation of verse 21 (NKJV): “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” In verse 22 in Greek there is no word “submit” and literally these verses should be translated: “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ, wives - to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” These verses teach mutual submission of husbands and wives to one another.

Regarding women’s position in the church, Galatians 3:28 sets an important universal principle: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The early church followed this principle and men and women had the same positions and the same functions in the church.