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.