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:
http://www.mtoshahmaghsoudi.org/website/en/organizations.html
http://www.mtoshahmaghsoudi.org/association/index.htm

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:
http://www.sufiassociation.org/EN/page_retreat.shtml
http://www.sufipsychology.org/en/page_retreats.htm

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.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if MTO is a cult or just a money making machine. I have a friend who went to their retreat and meditation sessions for yers. He told me that after years of trying their meditation and chanting.. he asked Dr. Wilcox, who conducts the retreats, why he has made no progress, and what he was doing wrong? Dr. Wilcox replied, "These are just non-sense, do not worry about it."

Anonymous said...

The topic of MTO being a cult is not a new one. To clear the subject I looked into characteristics of a cult outlined by American Family Foundation (AFF). I am familiar with MTO. Below are the list of characteristics defined by AFF and my experiences in MTO:

1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

MTO members are being told that Nader Angha is the direct descendent of the prophet Mohammad and is the 42nd master in an unbroken chain till now. As a Ghotbol Aghtab (master of all the masters) he is considered the presence of God on earth.

2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

All the members are constantly encouraged, and later on it is their duty to get to know and build a positive relationship to bring new members.

3. The group is preoccupied with making money.

They are constantly told that the donations are not enough and always have to come up with new excuses to collect more and more donations under numerous different names.

4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Nader Angha, the Vali (presence of God on earth), has the knowledge of the divine and no one else does, therefore nobody is qualified to question his decisions and if they do they are labeled as unbeliever or unfaithful and are expelled.

5. Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

In each gathering extensive meditation and chanting are being exercised. In months of Mohaaram and Ramedan in Lunar calendar they are ordered to recite certain phrases chosen by the master and repeat from twenty minutes to two hours before the dawn and after the.

6. The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).

The members beyond everyday normal activities have to have specific orders or permission of Nader Angha on matters of their life that includes getting a job, to marry or not, whom to marry, travel, and relocation. They are required to wear white cotton cloths. Also Nader Angha dictates to his followers how to discipline their children.

7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).

Nader Angha has titled himself as (Hazrat Molana Salaheddin Ali Nader Shah Angha) as he is the presence of God on earth. He is the follower’s guide in this world and hereafter. He claims that he is given this responsibility by his father (the previous master) to bring the true essence of the teaching of the prophets for salvation of the mankind. This explains Dr. Wilcox comments in her book that claims Nader Angha is the only true master.




Sorry this site does not permit me to write more than 4,096 characters. I will continue on the second posting.

Anonymous said...

8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.

MTO teaches that only Nader Angha and the people who believed in him are the ones whom are saved. The rest of the population belief system is a social religion which only is repetition of cultural and social behaviors of the past, therefore lacks the truth.


9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).

Since Nader Angha is "the only one with the divine knowledge", he is above and beyond all the laws and regulations of the ordinary people. He does not pray as Muslims do, nor requires that for his followers. No one has seen a single act of praying in MTO Khaneghah. Nader Angha teaches that praying like Muslims is for ordinary people and they are beyond Takleef (duty).

10. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities).

Even though the MTO collects hundreds of thousands of dollars each month, they do not help any individual or group. Nader Angha preaches that he has major plans at international level to make a major change in the world and nobody knows of his plan but him.

11. The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.

In almost every session he reminds the followers that they are nothing but material or materialistic desires and after all these years he hasn’t found not even one disciple worthy of his teaching and are constantly reminded to repent and beg for forgiveness and they are never forgiven by God unless through gaining his approval.

12. Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.

Members are always reminded of the fact that they were the guided and blessed by the Vali of their time (the hidden Imam at any period) and they had a duty to bring the family and friends into their faith or cut their ties with their family or friends who are not the believers because that would be harmful for them. The personal goals and activities that they were involved before joining MTO, has to be denounced, if it is not in approval of the doctrine.

13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.

Besides participating by giving donations, the members are expected to devote many hours to recruit new members or participate in making or spreading the flyers, contacting through e-mails or phone calls to invite people for promoting the sessions or activities of the group.

14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Members are expected to live or socialize only with the other members of the group.


I have a great respect for Sufi teachings, but I have no doubt in my mind that MTO is using sufi teachings as a way of mind control and profiting.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Very good analysis! I have never been in MTO and do not know personally anyone who was/is. I just read one of Dr. Wilcox's books and there were some things there that made me think that this group might be cultic. Then, I searched for the information online. So, basically, this is all I know about this group. Thanks for sharing the information about MTO!

Just one more point. Many cults use words common for a certain religion (Christianity, Islam, and so on), but change their meanings. From your comments, I noticed that MTO do the same.

In Islam (including Sufism), the word "Vali" usually means "a saint" or "a person who is close to Allah." That is, this word means a righteous and pious person or maybe someone like a Christian saint, but a person who is a human being, not a divine being. Although some Muslims may pray to dead Vali's, they usually consider them as intercessors before Allah or mediators between them and Allah, not as gods. Mainstream Islam is monotheism, not polytheism.

The word "Takleed" is usually used in fiqh (Islamic law) in order to indicate that a Muslim follows one of madhabs (school of Islamic law). So, the word "Takleed" basically means "following."

Anonymous said...

All of what is written above is accurate from my experience. I was a member from early childhood for almost 30 years until I managed to free myself.

I'll add my own supplements.

The group believes in numerology (jafr). The master also sets his own personal dates for when Ramadan starts and when it ends.

In every session, chanting (zikr) is performed. They repeat Islamic phrases such as “La ilaha ila Allah” (There is no god, but God) accompanied with poems about the greatness and dominance of the masters. “There is no king but Angha within the mount of the heart.. Don’t Speak” (Ghaaf-e del ra neest Shah-i gheyr-e Angha, gap mazan)

Angha has publicly denounced all other present day religious organizations and their leaders, claiming that they have hijacked the true meaning and practice of religion (his version is the only truth) He despises the Baha’i faith and has spoken against them in his sermons. The only reason he is resentful about this is after the divorce of his wife, Afsaneh Angha, who was Baha’i.

The only people who may have profited from MTO donations, other than Nader Angha, would be Nader Angha’s children, Negah Angha, Rokhsareh (Roxy) Angha-Traub, and Ghoncheh Angha.

Angha has members with tenure travel the world and implement the same techniques he does in cities all over the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, and Asia.

These lower teachers of the group may also receive money. It’s important also to name these teachers:

Dr. Abdolsalam Peyrovan (who has now left MTO, titled himself Mowlana Majdeddin Hossein Abdolsalam Peyrovan and started his own cult, Maktab-e-Mizan in California… “google” it ) Dr. Cyrous Ezaz, Dr. Lynn Wilcox, Hamid Hosseini-Madani, Hamzeh Sabouri, Alireza Mottaghi, Hamid Rahbari, Roham Ghassemi, Hadi Daneshzadeh, Dr. Hooman Sedighi, Hamid Behjat, and Parvin Khoromi. These people have presently or in the past carried out Nader Angha’s plans.

The members are expected to spend many hours and dollars, cooking, cleaning, and constructing/renovating their centers.

They also spend a lot of time self-promoting the order by producing shows such as "Sufi Celebrations" and performances by a new group in Europe called "Zendeh Delan". The funny thing about these shows are that the majority of attendees are the members themselves.

The “Sufi Abad" compound in Karaj, Iran is a place where followers of Angha reside in communal style living which still exists today. They have been dodging the government of Iran for years, existing under the radar.

The common facts of evolution and issues such as homosexuality are explicitly rejected and considered blasphemous.

Shaming the individual for straying in thought or action is a common practice.

Their anthropocentric viewpoints are very destructive to the psyche of the members resulting in many of the member's families being torn apart and development of a very egotistical, self-centered world view.

Nader Angha encourages his followers to write and send him detailed reports on what is happening in each and every center. He also asks his members to report on the behavior and lives of other members (including those who have long been "kicked out"). He maintains his rule based on fear even though all he talks about is freedom and independence.

Oh, and there's a shredder in every center.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Thank you for your comment and sharing all this information!

anonymous said...

WOW! I’m honestly (bitter-sweetly) pleasantly surprised that people are actually speaking up. I’m glad I’m not alone.

I was also an MTO member for quite a while. Although I went through a rough patch of mental and emotional struggle after my departure from the MTO organization, I found a sense of serenity in the new opportunity I had to start entirely fresh… A journey of re-developing my own thoughts and making sure my opinions were truly MY opinions without the necessity of a “master”. I went back to college and finished grad school, re-established old friendships and strengthened my familial bonds. Therapy played a HUGE role in my ability to recover properly. I encourage anyone who has had a similar experience to do the same.

In all fairness, I won’t say that I didn’t learn anything during my tenure at MTO. There are many fragments of information in the lectures that are informative, attractive, and at times eye opening. No doubt, the people operating MTO are smart!

It was only in the early/mid-80’s that MTO started operating in the US out of apartments and homes. Today, they have huge multi-million dollar compounds outside of Washington D.C. (Herndon), Dallas (Frisco), Los Angeles (Reseda), and the most recent in Houston. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent creating Shah Maghsoud’s memorial building at Valley Memorial Park in Novato, California.

Now, back to the point… I didn’t find enough value in the school worth sacrificing my entire life over (my mental, emotional, and spiritual independence).

The Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi school teaches that you must detach yourself from the ego (your mind) and worldly desires in hopes of attaining a state of annihilation and unification with the Beloved/Pir/God/Existence. It seems to me that the dynamic of this notion essentially gives the master a certain level of control over the student’s mental and rational faculty. If a “salek” (student of Sufism) is led to believe that he or she actually has the capability to reach this unifying state with existence and the Pir is the only living guide to get you there, it’s pretty self-evident that the Pir now has full control.

A common example used at MTO has to do with the relationship between the student and teacher. It goes something like this: When someone wants to become a surgeon, they study biology and go to medical school to properly learn from a professor who knows the material. You can’t just pick up a book written on surgery and start operating on a patient. The same goes for the Qur’an (their manual to life/existence). In order to “bear fruit” and reach this “everlasting peace” and unification with existence, you must obey and submit to the Pir as he is the only being who knows the true meaning of the Qur’an and the path to the truth. If you go through the path of life guide you will end up with a wandering soul. It is frequently mentioned in lectures and poems “Who else will give you a helping hand in the afterlife other than the Pir?”

They believe that their version of Islam is the true reality of Islam and will conquer the world. This reminds me of a poem which Nader Angha frequently recites in his lectures. Written by Sadegh Angha, the poem basically says that “The reality (origin) of Islam will become global after one-hundred years.” (Asl-e Islam shavad aalam-gir, ba’deh yek gharneh degar az taghdeer)

To the students, Nader Angha’s version of religion is the one true religion and he is the living connection. They are on a mission to expand the school and bring awareness in any way possible. A recent example of this is the bizarre “student-led” campaign started by the MTO organization against Roberto Cavalli’s off-shoot company, "Just Cavalli".

anonymous said...

MTO claims that Roberto Cavalli stole the schools “sacred logo”. The two logos don’t look like each other at all, but only carry an ambiguous closeness. In August of 2013, Nader Angha filed a lawsuit against Roberto Cavalli to the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, Case No. 92057691-CAN. After no success, they tried the same case in Europe to the Office of Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM). An article published by the Guardian concerning this matter states that, “On 16 May 2014, the OHIM pronounced itself in the first degree rejecting the request made by the School to invalidate the Just Cavalli logo. The court states that the two logos are not mistakable and do not present any similarities.”

MTO then organized their members to stage protests in various cities across the US and Europe and taught them how to use twitter in order to gain media attention in a last ditch effort to get the courts to change their minds. Members from various centers were bussed and flown to the cities holding the protests in order to make the crowds look larger. The Guardian article mentions that, “An MTO spokesperson did not respond to the Guardian when asked whether their community trademark action had been successful but was keen to point out that the protest against Cavalli was student-led and does not involve trustees from the school.” All I can say is that there is enough of an email trail of evidence to shut this part of the argument down. The MTO board of trustees initiated the protests, as the students would have not known about the legal action MTO was taking.

A culture of superstition runs wild at MTO. Students think he has Nostradamus-like characteristics where he can predict the future along with omniscient and omnipresent qualities - he sees and hears everything. Many students claim to have visions and dreams about Angha and the teachings. To be reasonable, I did hear Angha object to this kind of behavior once or twice saying that they must have had too much to eat before going to bed, but at the same time he once showed a picture of a part of the universe and what looked like an image of his face in it, further strengthening these superstitions.

A servant tends to Nader Angha in every center he is at, bringing him water and tea during the lectures, cooking lunch and dinner for him, and cleaning his private residence all the while thinking that they are serving god (Khidmat). Angha is plain rude and mean to these people, complaining about what mistakes they made and how things are not the way he wants them. One common incident I remember off the top of my head is that after Angha would leave the khaneghah, the students would pass around the cup of water he drank out of so everyone would get a sip, thinking that it was holy water. They would do that with the leftovers on his plate too. It was so sad and desperate.

When MTO members are expecting children, they ask Nader Angha what to name their children. There are a set of customary names that are chosen. They are fragments of the book titles written by the Angha and his forefathers (in italics). Girls names are: Padideh (Padideh-hay-e Fekr), Ghoncheh (Ghonche-ye Baz dar Sharh-e Golshan-e Roz), Nirvana (Nirvan), Mazamir (Mazamir-e Hagh), Golzar (Golzar-e Omid), Roz (Roz Nameh), Sahar (Sahar), Hamaseh (Hamaseh ye Hayat). Boys names are: Nirvan (Nirvan), Shahed (Shahed-o Mashhood), Payam (Payam-e Dell), Mashhood (Shahed-o Mashhood), Omid (Golzar-e Omid) and the master’s names such as Nader, Sadegh, and Jalaleddin.

anonymous said...

MTO Shahmaghsoudi has many different operations, such as running their own publications and printing center (www.mto-publications.org), an IT and online marketing company (www.mtoit.com), a tutorial academy/supplementary school in London (www.mtocollege.com), the MTO Sufi Society, MTO Sufi Association, and the Sufi Psychology Association (SPA) as mentioned in the earlier posts. The most disturbing however is the MTO Holistic Medical Center in Danville, California (www.mtohhc.com). They use “holistic” (bogus) methods to profit off of sick people similar to the Dr. Oz scandal. I personally know people who have had severe auto-immune disorders and cancer who (unsuccessfully) sought treatment at this center. This is why I decided to be vocal about my experience. This school has profited on the uneducated, poor, and sick, all while being granted non-profit status and not paying federal taxes. Disgusting is an understatement.

I noticed that MTO has been reluctant to provide a partial list of all their center locations in one place anywhere online, so I compiled the ones I know along with their address and phone numbers: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism) PR Office
PO Box 3620
Washington D.C. 20027
1-800-820-2180

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
11326 Leesburg Pike
Herndon, VA 20170
(703) 404-0901

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
8455 Stonebrook Parkway
Frisco, Texas 75034
(972) 335-8833

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
18011 Sherman Way
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 345-4242

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
11740 S Sam Houston Parkway W.
Houston, TX 77031
(713) 772-1150

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
12290 Chinchilla Court
W. Rosemount, MN 55068
(651) 423-1969

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
5450 Florida 7
Davie, FL 33314
(954) 327-2889

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
2148 S Ash Street
Denver, CO 80222
(303) 756-8590

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
9965 Horn Road
Sacramento, CA 95827
(916) 368-6883

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
1132 E Katella Avenue
Orange, CA 92867
714-633-8533

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
2121 S Mill Avenue
Tempe, AZ 85282
(480) 829-6050

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
5437 U.S. 41
Franksville, WI 53126
(262) 835-4535

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
4970 S 900 E,
Salt Lake City, UT 84117
(801) 281-2881

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
209 Ries Road
Ballwin, MO 63021
(636)230-0711

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
235 St Georges Ave
North Vancouver, BC V7L 4T4, Canada
(604) 985-2363

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
16 The Donway E
North York, ON M3C 1X8, Canada
(416) 497-2345

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
23 Edison Road
London, England
T. 020 8340 7575
F. 020 8340 0022

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
70 Rue Pascal, 92000
Nanterre, France‎
‪+33 9 60 02 09 66

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
Harffstraße 29
40591 Düsseldorf
Germany
+49 211 7302662

Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (School of Islamic Sufism)
PO Box 709 Cherrybrook
NSW 2126 Australia

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Thank you for sharing so much information!

Romario said...

Hi, i am also an "ex" Member of MTO Shahmaghsoudi leaved the cult years ago after 15 years.... I wonder i couldn´t find nearly anything negative of MTO on the web. Thats astonishing for me, because there are so many people who left the cult in anger, but there is no group of ex cult members, no informative website of them. I think it is necessary to start a platform where the victims can share their experiences.
On the other hand I think there are some mistakes in the understanding of the teachings. For example in a comment it´s said that it is not necessary to pray. This is completely wrong. In each center cultists pray there, and also in the "ceremony". There is a quote from a Master "who do not pray is not with us". This is said from the "other" sufi groups to discredit MTO as not "islamic" and Shia sekt (which is of course true). Maybe the person who made that comment is a member of another group?

Dreamer said...

Thank you Lema for your blog. It is clear that you have dedicated your life so that others do not experience the pain and agony that you have suffered.

My contribution here is in the hopes that the reader has a fair opportunity to use facts in evaluation rather than personal opinions.

The previous comments by the multiple anonymous accounts (I believe they are all by the same person - addressed further down) are not factual. They are basically vindictive statements made by a weak personality in last-ditch effort fashion.

Let me provide some background and set the stage…

Around 20 years ago, I met this girl (in her 20s) who was completely lost. She embraced the nightlife to seek the pillows of new man as often as possible. She masked the pain of her loneliness with drugs and alcohol. I could see the pain and tried to help her at every turn but I just fell short each time. When she told me about MTO, I was even more worried for her…

Week after week she kept telling me about her new life, her growth, her rebirth! As you can imaging I was skeptical. I just couldn’t believe anyone would be able to help her. She was a lost cause; only God knows I had tried. I kept waiting for the ball to drop. I can’t remember exactly how long it took but I decided to look into this organization that she kept raving about. Back then there wasn’t a Lema blog to check (I only wish the internet was invented 20 years ago)! I decided to go to this school and find the tell tell signs so that I can rescue my friend.

We were both changing fast, we cleaned up our lives. Men, drugs, and alcohol had become a distant memory. I went back to school, got a better job, and started to take care of my body and soul. My friend, Hediyeh, met a man at and decided to get married.

I guess, deep down, she had not changed. Her appetite for men got her on the wrong path again. While she was married she started to seek out other men. I remember she used to lie to her husband and travel to Texas to spend a night with her boyfriend (at least the one she told me about) Babak. I have to admit, she was always fantastic at lying and deception. She had gotten a job as a book-keeper at MTO and had gained the respect of the community. I was the only person she confided in and her secrets were always safe with me. Things continued like this for decades until a few years ago.

It turns out Hediyeh Shoar (Azizi) along with her husband at the time, Kamran Azizi, had continuously taken donation money and used it for their own purposes. All the trips, the jewelry, the plastic surgeries, the boyfriends were paid for by donation money that never made it to MTO.

The courts started to get involved. Hediyeh realized very quickly that she didn’t have a defense. We sat down for coffee and discussed the entire situation for hours. I told her that she should just come clean. What she had done was not right. But it all fell on deaf ears. She was sure of her “bulletproof” strategy. She started to portrait MTO as a cult to everyone and anyone who would listen.

She was later convicted of fraud but obviously that has not stopped her. She seems to have now taken to the internet with these comments. What’s interesting is she was sleeping with her attorney, Carl Lindstrom (while he was still married), throughout the trial. It now appears that Carl is also helping her in spreading this propaganda all over the internet.

Hediyeh and I are no longer friends. At some point, during the legal turmoil, she decided that Carl was not enough and started to come after my husband. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me!

I have left out the details of the story here on purpose. The only reason I mentioned her name is so that others who read this have a ‘lead’ to validate the information. I believe that each of us should have a fair opportunity to evaluate facts and make intelligent decisions. My hope is that my words provide the reader with some additional information and put things into perspective.

Jet Black said...

I'd like to thank all the posters above for their insightful information into MTO.

While I will still need to verify a majority of the points made for the sake of fairness, these posts do confirm at least some of my intuitions that the place is a crock of nonsense.

I have not visited the center many times, but whatever information they publish has come across as intentionally mysterious and vague. And the times that my cousin has tried to get me to go, he employed the same guilt-trips mentioned above.

My question is simply, do you seriously think that MTO has a negative effect on the psyche of an individual and his family? Or should it just be regarded as a tolerable evil that is just some peoples' preference?

I love my cousin, and I don't want to insult him, so if this is not harming his psyche then I see no harm in it.

But what seems to be objectively harmful is his polarizing attitude, rigidity of thought, judgmental-ness, and overall ego enhancement by association with an elitist organization such as MTO.

Is there any way to present him with this understanding of the organization without insulting him or creating a rift between us?

Jet Black said...

I'd like to thank all the posters above for their insightful information into MTO.

While I will still need to verify a majority of the points made for the sake of fairness, these posts do confirm at least some of my intuitions that the place is a crock of nonsense.

I have not visited the center many times, but whatever information they publish has come across as intentionally mysterious and vague. And the times that my cousin has tried to get me to go, he employed the same guilt-trips mentioned above.

My question is simply, do you seriously think that MTO has a negative effect on the psyche of an individual and his family? Or should it just be regarded as a tolerable evil that is just some peoples' preference?

I love my cousin, and I don't want to insult him, so if this is not harming his psyche then I see no harm in it.

But what seems to be objectively harmful is his polarizing attitude, rigidity of thought, judgmental-ness, and overall ego enhancement by association with an elitist organization such as MTO.

Is there any way to present him with this understanding of the organization without insulting him or creating a rift between us?

Dreamer said...


Thank you Lema for your blog. It is clear that you have dedicated your life so that others do not experience the pain and agony that you have suffered.

My contribution here is in the hopes that the reader has a fair opportunity to use facts in evaluation rather than personal opinions.

The previous comments by the multiple anonymous accounts (I believe they are all by the same person - addressed further down) are not factual. They are basically vindictive statements made by a weak personality in last-ditch effort fashion.

Let me provide some background and set the stage…

Around 20 years ago, I met this girl (in her 20s) who was completely lost. She embraced the nightlife to seek the pillows of new man as often as possible. She masked the pain of her loneliness with drugs and alcohol. I could see the pain and tried to help her at every turn but I just fell short each time. When she told me about MTO, I was even more worried for her…

Week after week she kept telling me about her new life, her growth, her rebirth! As you can imaging I was skeptical. I just couldn’t believe anyone would be able to help her. She was a lost cause; only God knows I had tried. I kept waiting for the ball to drop. I can’t remember exactly how long it took but I decided to look into this organization that she kept raving about. Back then there wasn’t a Lema blog to check (I only wish the internet was invented 20 years ago)! I decided to go to this school and find the tell tell signs so that I can rescue my friend.

We were both changing fast, we cleaned up our lives. Men, drugs, and alcohol had become a distant memory. I went back to school, got a better job, and started to take care of my body and soul. My friend, Hediyeh, met a man at and decided to get married.

I guess, deep down, she had not changed. Her appetite for men got her on the wrong path again. While she was married she started to seek out other men. I remember she used to lie to her husband and travel to Texas to spend a night with her boyfriend (at least the one she told me about) Babak. I have to admit, she was always fantastic at lying and deception. She had gotten a job as a book-keeper at MTO and had gained the respect of the community. I was the only person she confided in and her secrets were always safe with me. Things continued like this for decades until a few years ago.

It turns out Hediyeh Shoar (Azizi) along with her husband at the time, Kamran Azizi, had continuously taken donation money and used it for their own purposes. All the trips, the jewelry, the plastic surgeries, the boyfriends were paid for by donation money that never made it to MTO.

The courts started to get involved. Hediyeh realized very quickly that she didn’t have a defense. We sat down for coffee and discussed the entire situation for hours. I told her that she should just come clean. What she had done was not right. But it all fell on deaf ears. She was sure of her “bulletproof” strategy. She started to portrait MTO as a cult to everyone and anyone who would listen.

She was later convicted of fraud but obviously that has not stopped her. She seems to have now taken to the internet with these comments. What’s interesting is she was sleeping with her attorney, Carl Lindstrom (while he was still married), throughout the trial. It now appears that Carl is also helping her in spreading this propaganda all over the internet.

Hediyeh and I are no longer friends. At some point, during the legal turmoil, she decided that Carl was not enough and started to come after my husband. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me!

I have left out the details of the story here on purpose. The only reason I mentioned her name is so that others who read this have a ‘lead’ to validate the information. I believe that each of us should have a fair opportunity to evaluate facts and make intelligent decisions. My hope is that my words provide the reader with some additional information and put things into perspective.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

I thank all the people who commented and wrote so much information. Actually, I did not expect that my post would cause such a great interest. I have never been a member of MTO. As I wrote in my post, I had read a book by Lynn Wilcox who is a member of MTO and some things in her book made me suspect that MTO may be a cult.

I did not know that there is practically no negative information about MTO in Internet. But it is not very unusual. Some cults are well-known and there is a lot of information about them. There are also some cults that are not well-know and there is almost no (negative) information about them. It may happen when cults are very small (and there are not many people who have ever been involved in that) or when ex-members are frightened by cults to write anything negative about them. There are also cults that threaten and sue their critics, and many cult critics prefer not to criticize them. So, there may be various reasons why there is no information about some cults.

Well, one of the things that I noticed, communicating with ex-members of cults is that every ex-member had his or her own experience in the cult and has his/her own view of the cult.

For example, many ex-Scientologists say that Scientology is very abusive, but there are some who believe that it is quite benign. There are also ex-Mormons who believe that Mormonism is very abusive and there are ex-Mormons who believe that Mormonism is not abusive at all. And it is the same in the case of other cults. Why is it so? Well, some ex-members of cults were never deeply involved in their cults and never saw their cult's abuses. Some ex-members are still under the cult indoctrination and believe that their former cult is good.

I personally had a very negative experience in my former cult and I consider it to be very abusive. But there are some ex-members who do not consider it as such. They believe that it is quite benign. In the beginning, it was hard for me to accept it. But gradually, I realized that these people just had different experiences in the same cult. They have never been deeply involved and so they did not experience and did not see its abuses. They just do not know about these things.

Moreover, some people who were in the same cult, but at different locality and/or at different time, reported about some of the cult practices that I had not known before (because they were not practiced in my locality when I was in the cult). I also noticed that some cult aspects were different for different localities and/or time.

So, I learned that when ex-members of a cult have different opinions about their cult or present different information, it does not necessary mean that some of them try to intentionally deceive people or to vindicate their former cult. It is possible that they just do not know some information or maybe they have a different view due to their different experience in the cult.

Doterlla said...

As a 35 year member of MTO, I am so disappointed to read many of the negative comments made here. My first reaction was to reply to each and every one of them to defend Professor Angha and MTO. However, as I attempted to prepare my answers, I realized that whatever I say is not enough. There is so much more to MTO than I could ever put into words, and the negative comments here are clearly from people who have either misunderstood what MTO is about or participated in the school for the wrong reasons. Perhaps they pre-judged the school before giving themselves a chance to learn, or even had a different agenda altogether, the the Azizi's did.

Regarding Kamran Azizi and Hediyeh Shoar Azizi, they indeed were convicted of fraud when MTO and its members proved in court that they had stolen over $800,000 from members' donations over the past several years. The IRS recently issued warrants for their arrest for tax evasion, as they did not pay income tax on the generous income they had stolen and accumulated for themselves. Kamran Azizi was recently arrested, and faces up to 11 years in prison and a fine of over $750,000 according to a court representative. Hediyeh is reportedly on the run and has left the country. The idea of mis-using the trust of members of a religious group is not new, but it is very sad to know that the Azizi's cleverly carried out their scheme to embezzle in the name of God. Shockingly, after doing so much damage, they have the audacity to blame MTO for their crimes. We're glad to know, the courts have clarified that they are guilty of stealing the donations and justice will be served as they face the wrath of the IRS. Fortunately, the teachings of MTO have not been diminished whatsoever by the mis-deeds of these 2 criminals.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Well, there have been many negative comments about MTO in this thread and now there is one positive comment. This does not surprise me, actually.

I have never been a member of MTO. I was in another cult. I know a lot of negative things about my former cult and I had very negative experience there myself, and the same is with many other ex-members of that cult. However, many people (mostly current members but also some ex-members) have a very positive impression about it and they would defend it against any criticism. As soon as they hear anything negative about it, their first reaction is to defend it. And this was also my reaction when I was still there.

Does it mean that criticism against my former cult is invalid? No. There are, at least, two reasons why people have different attitudes to that cult. First, different members of the cult have different experiences. Some of them are lucky to not have very negative experiences. Some are unlucky to have them. This depends on many factors, such as the time of involvement, place, level of membership, etc.

The other reason, which is more important is that members experience information control. They are discouraged from hearing or reading anything negative about their cult. The information about the negative sides of the cult is not available in the cult. And members learn to neglect any critical information about the cult that they hear or read from non-cult sources.

Actually, cult members usually have a positive view about their cult because as soon as they begin to see its negative sides, they leave it. Therefore, current cult members usually see their cult in a positive way while ex-members often see their former cult in a negative way. It is because current members usually have a one-sided perspective, but ex-members tend to have much more objective view as they see other sides.

This happens in the case of all the cults and sometimes not only in the case of cults (there is no one definition of what a cult is that would be accepted by everyone, so there are many different opinions of what a cult is and whether a certain group is a cult or not).

This is why I am not surprised that someone has a positive view about MTO.

Sherifa Zuhur said...

I have studied the MTO from the outside. I know Lynn Wilcox as a former colleague and am appalled by the allegations voiced here, apparently by persons who wish to discredit the organization.

1. The claim that MTO is New Age and not traditional shows a lack of knowledge about traditional Sufi orders (which include Shi`i as well as Sunni Muslims). Many of the practices that were criticized also play a role in other Sufi orders -- the reliance on a pir, the use of movement to focus during the dhikr {and that focus is undeniably on Allah). If you see MTO as a 'cult', then you would have to view orders such as the Ahmadiyya, the Naqshabandiyya etc. as such as well & I don't know any objective source which does so. As the main critic here identifies herself only as Anonymous, I cannot speculate about her motives, but there is a rival Sufi organization in Marin county, arising from the same group & I wonder if there is no connection? The criticism of Wilcox seems rather ignorant to me, she is discussing the use of Sufi techniques in counseling and describing a second organization - the Sufi Psychology Association. I attended one of their conferences and while these were not professional (academic) presentations, they were very interesting views on how Sufism can have an impact on counseling, treatment and also some other areas of science. I also brought my students from religious studies to the MTO's center to observe and listen to a dhikr and a teaching session. It was a very interesting experience for them and so far as I know, no-one recruited them -- it simply helped them understand my basic explanations of Sufi principles.

Sherifa Zuhur said...

I tried to leave a comment and it did not appear. Briefly, I am a scholar of Islamic movements. I brought my students to observe 2 MTO sessions years ago. I know Lynne Wilcox and I do not regard MTO as a cult. In fact, I'm shocked that people who never read the group's materials, nor investigated it would automatically accept a statement that it is a cult.

MTO is a traditional Sufi movement, but being based in the West, it has many features and applications which differ from Sufi movements located in Muslim-majority countries, where I might remind you the former Shaykh al-Azhar was a famous Sufi. I don't understand the assumption that Sufi groups are Sunni, they are not exclusively so.

As Dr. Wilcox' specialization is counseling & psychology, she has explored the application of Sufi techniques to this profession as have some others. That is not, of course, traditional 'Sufism' per se, nor is it New Age - but you will find physicians, engineers, and other professionals who are Sufis elsewhere in the world and the practice has an impact on their work.

I don't know what to think about the posts of Anonymous other than what has already been said.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

All the comments here appear after I approve them. When you post a comment, below the posting form, you can read: "Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author." I use this option in order to prevent spam comments.

Regarding traditional Sufism vs. non-traditional Sufism (sometimes with New Age elements), there is a very important difference between them. Originally, Sufism came to being as a part of Islam, and the purpose of Sufism was to help Muslims to purify their hearts and to get closer to Allah. Consequently, before a person could become a Sufi, he or she had to become a Muslim. Sufis were expected to follow shariah before they follow tariqah. This is traditional Sufism. All the traditional Sufis are Muslims.

Non-traditional Sufism (which is often "westernized" Sufism) separates Sufi practices from Islam. Non-traditional Sufis believe that they do not need to be Muslims in order to become Sufis and get benefit from Sufi practices.

OK, let me give an example. In Eastern Christianity, there is a practice called "Hesychasm" which is silent repetitive prayer "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me the sinner." Studies of people who practice Hesychasm showed that this kind of prayer affects brain activity more than any other kind of prayer, including prayers of other religions (Islam, Buddhism, etc.), and this effect is positive for health.

Well, Christians who practice Hesychasm, do it for religious reasons, of course. They do it in order to get in touch with Jesus, not in order to change their brain activity. However, suppose, someone, having heard about this effect on brain, will decide to practice it in order to get this effect, without even being a Christian. Will this kind of practice be traditional Hesychasm? Of course, not. In fact, most people will probably say that it will not be Hesychasm at all.

The situation with traditional and non-traditional Sufism is very similar to that.

I have a copy of Wilcox's book and I have read it. The version of Sufism promoted in her book is non-traditional because it is non-Islamic.

Also, in traditional Sufism, murids are allowed to choose and change their shaikhs, and it is believed that no matter what tariqah you follow, you will reach the same goal. Wilcox never mentions that in her book. On the contrary, she presents her Sufi group as basically the only "true" one. And it is a warning sign already.

Then, in traditional Sufism, shaikhs are required to have a special license or permission to teach given by their shaikhs (and, of course, there are special requirements to obtain this license). The requirement of having such a license is a precaution against false and incompetent shaikhs. Does Nader Angha have this license? I do not know. Wilcox does not write about that in her book.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Regarding whether MTO is a cult or not, I can't say for sure. I have never been a member of MTO and do not have sufficient information about this group. However, there are things that indicate that MTO might be a cult. And I do not disregard criticism of this group, especially, from its former members. I do appreciate their comments here. In case with many cultic groups, it is former members (not current members or non-members) who share the most accurate about their group.

anon2 said...

To the anonymous poster from July 2014, we are very interested in speaking with you. Please email rmu_comm@hushmail.com.