I hope this humorous piece I contributed to State of Formation’s website will also provoke thought.
I hope this humorous piece I contributed to State of Formation’s website will also provoke thought.
Alright, this blog has been around just under 2 years (but who’s counting?). Time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
I have always loved words. I could reread a well-written sentence several times. I have also always loved to write. So a few years ago I sought advice from friends about whether to start a blog. Part of me felt that blogs are rather self-serving and it had been pounded into me by a certain segment of Muslims that the masses should let the authorities speak for the rabble, who are presumably not educated enough to have an opinion. (More on my epiphanies with this movement later).
Then I realized that I was not the rabble, and not uneducated, and that I observed things that I didn’t find addressed in too many places. I found few people writing about the things that I felt were important. Muslim women were writing plenty of thoughtful, polite reflections and they continue to do so, but not the type of forceful pieces some topics command. With my own penchant for politics and religion (before I chose chaplaincy—or it chose me—I had applications submitted to several think tanks and Muslim organizations in Washington), I decided that I’d be unabashedly me. And that meant being passionate. Here is my review of the best this blog has offered (do you agree?):
My most passionate(=angry) piece was on the Arab Spring. I was full of righteous indignation!
My most beautiful piece, prose and content-wise, was “Genealogy: For the Love of God.”
The piece that resounded most with readers was my look at the phenomenon of spiritual abuse in the Sufi Muslim community. I had several people comment or email me privately with stories of abuse. Many more found this blog by searching “cult” and [several Muslim figures I won't name]. I don’t know what caused them to search, but I hope they found resolution to whatever crisis they faced.
FAILS: I have not been very consistent about certain aspects of the blog. For example, there were only 2 Muslims of the Month….but obviously way more than 2 months have passed between those and this. Whoops. I also had a feature called The Next Right Thing, in which I would highlight successful projects and ideas in the American Muslim landscape, rather than only focusing on what needed improvement. I did that a few times, but not enough.
I’ll have to work on that.
In the meantime, I hope the readers will stick with me as I bombard them with more of my drivel. I have several “babies” waiting in the wings. I consider everything I write to be a ‘baby’ that needs to be born at some point. This was the only metaphor that got me to finally stop stowing my writings away like some sort of Emily Dickinson. Upcoming topics include the legacy of the Ron Paul candidacy, what Muslims can learn from the American fascination with Buddhism, and an investigative piece that shall remain hush-hush. God willing, you will find something that interests you.
P.S. Shout out to the one person in Zambia and in Croatia who visited my blog. I don’t know what in the world you googled to get here but as the Arabs say, ahlan wa sahlan.
With the news of a now thrice-divorced Tom Cruise making the headlines, I thought to dig a bit deeper into the
religion cult of Scientology which counts many celebrities among its followers. (Part 2 of this series will analyze the appeal of Buddhism among non-Buddhist Americans, God willing.)
If American Muslims are to take the nation’s pulse when it comes to religion, and da’wah (inviting to Islam) in general, then we must be willing to examine even the fringe movements. It will entail wading through a lot of megalomaniacs and spiritual ponzi schemes, but the purpose is not to imitate the methods, but to identify the void these religions/cults are filling for those whom they appeal to.
I asked myself, how can such a patently absurd UFO theology such as Scientology find its way into the minds of supposedly educated individuals? What is the appeal? Also, where do we draw the line between cults and religions? Many would argue that the major religions are merely more successful cults. It behooves us to think about this accusation so that we can indeed identify how we are NOT a cult…indeed how to avoid turning our religions into cults.
SCIENTOLOGY: The Greatest Pyramid Scheme Ever Sold
Not long ago, an overly friendly Muslim approached my husband at the mosque. Not an odd thing– friendships begun at the mosque. But the man and his wife who later visited us at our home clearly had a purpose behind their overtures….they were selling products for Amway Global, and it seemed it had become their life. So too with Scientology.
There is nothing more American than the self-made success story. Rags to riches. Pulling one’s self up by her bootstraps. Take that concept, dress it in vaguely religious attire, and you have Scientology. The actual title of their current leader, David Miscavige, is Chairman of the Board. (I am not making this up). Much of scientology’s promotional material touts the good they are doing for others in terms of concrete charitable work but also how they are mentally enlightening non-Scientologists (aka wogs) to their potential for infinite knowledge (…a groan-inducing concept if you know your aqeeda…). It must have appealed to the young Tom Cruise when fame first hit him and along with it, the questions that plague any human worth his salt, “All this wealth and fame..how can I give back? How can I help others?” but also “Who am I? Who is Tom Cruise?” Around the same time Scientology began to seriously pursue the conversion of celebrities.
I’m sure Cruise has access to Google, so I’m not sure how he explains the voluminous material portraying founder L. Ron Hubbard (LRH, as he’s known to followers) as one sick puppy. But for now, let’s just focus on what must have appealed to an up and coming Cruise.
Scientology offers a very practical, even mechanical, self-evaluation for its followers from the get-go. Kind of like that relationship compatibility test you and your spouse took. You said it was for fun but let’s be honest, part of the fun is the idea that you can gain insight into yourself. Auditing is done using a lie-detector type machine called an e-meter which detects emotional responses to questions asked. Presumably the auditor (not your IRS variety), identifies areas of turmoil in the Scientologist’s life, and they somehow work towards a “clear” reading next time around. Putting aside the question of whether emotionless responses should be a spiritual goal, or whether one should spill sensitive information to someone they barely know, there is a kind of spiritual “intake assessment” up front. It’s not a psychiatrist, it’s your own responses, which is presumably more trustworthy than what a shrink can make up…right?
There may be a sinister angle to these audits—the responses are recorded and locked in storage somewhere—for blackmail purposes by the organization? We are left to wonder its purpose. But the point is that upon becoming a Scientologist a person gets individual attention and they presumably gain insight about their inner turmoil. Most of us call this confiding…Catholics call it confession. Scientologists call it an audit….and followers pay for the sessions.
It should give us pause that people are willing to pay for what should be the right of every human being: to be heard, to be probed in those tender spiritual spots, to be given attention and insight into their problems.
Let us contrast this with the oftentimes highly impersonal reception new Muslims encounter upon entrance into Islam. A sweaty palm-inducing shahada (profession of faith) that is pronounced in a large room full of very foreign-looking people, followed by a loud “Allahu akbar” (“God is great,” which has interesting connotations in this culture, to say the least).
Then, a handshake or two (if you’re male)…and off you go. It’s not that the welcome is insincere. It’s just highly impersonal, and there is little follow-through. Maybe you are assertive enough to try to find a class in the mosque (if they are even available) or, at the very least, you might get invited over for some good biryani. But clearly, there needs to be a personal reception, in addition to a public one, that is enduring and meaningful. It can be as simple as a question posed in a private setting,
“Are there any life issues that we can be of immediate assistance about? We do not have professionals in every field, but we will try our best to help direct you to resources.”
“Where are you living? Do you have a place to go home to?”
“Are there any fears or concerns you have now that you are Muslim?”
Of course, the best reception is a friendship that forms in which a person earns trust enough to where the convert is willing to reveal any issues they may have. I believe I heard that Ta’leef Collective’s CCC component (Convert Continuum of Care) entails someone assigned to call the convert daily for the first three months after conversion, just to check on them.
Here, of course, we must be careful not to blur the line and become cult-like in our pursuit of this person. Allah guides and misguides. It is not our job to keep someone in the fold. But that said, it is upon us to offer a fold in the first place. If the fold resembles a bear hug, even better.
My understanding is that the UFO theology (LRH began as a sci-fi writer, after all) gets gradually introduced after many auditing sessions and hard-earned dollars have been shelled out…and also after many secrets have been spilled and recorded for the Church of Scientology’s “safekeeping.” At this point we have “consumer lock-in”…a concept I love to overuse, and here is no exception. It perfectly describes any situation where despite cognitive dissonance, a person feels so invested in a matter that they do not leave it, despite their misgivings.
It is easy to make fun of Cruise in his couch-jumping, Scientology-preaching intensity. But I believe he was victimized at the highest, and most vulnerable, point in his life. Some even say three marriages have ended because of his devotion to the church. Whatever the case, I want to know what makes Tom Cruise tick, what turned him from the good old Abrahamic stand-by religions and onto something completely new and untested by previous generations. I admire his devotion and his desire to act on what he believes to be true…he reaches an evangelical intensity when he speaks about his beliefs. While we cannot dress our faith in every new fad and trend, we can certainly draw lessons about where the spiritual holes are, and how we might fill them.
With Allah is all success.
As some of you know I have been serving Muslim inmates at a federal women’s prison for under a year. One of the inmates who has been there for six years told me she has read every item in the library. When we recently acquired a few books using the budget allotted to our faith group, one inmate told me she read Martin Lings’ biography of the Prophet in 2 weeks….those of you who are familiar know what dense reading it is and how many difficult Arabic names are used. Other books are old and yellowed, and not appealing even if there were something valuable contained in them.
A person can make a donation to the inmates’ library of up to $250 worth of materials including books, DVD’s and CD’s. That person has to submit a letter making the request and the materials proposed. I am trying to raise $250 with which to buy more materials, including (I hope) a subscription to Azizah magazine. Other faith groups get free newsletters and other periodicals mailed to them for free. The Muslim inmates do not have fresh reading material on a regular basis since they do not receive magazines or newsletters.
I hope you will considering donating to this paypal account, which I will use to purchase new materials. Examples may be DVD’s of American Muslim scholars, books or CD’s showing how to perform prayer, and maybe some spiritual texts like the Book of Assistance.
So please assist me and in the process assist the inmates in acquiring access to new and spiritually motivating information. May Allah reward you for your donation in whatever amount you can manage.
The Prophet once counseled a person that if the latter individual wanted to know whether, or not, to trust someone, then they should have some business dealings with such an individual or go on a journey with that person. Such situations often cannot be scripted and, therefore, one has an opportunity to see how a person responds under difficult or problematic circumstances. I never had that kind of cross-situational confirmation when it came to the second, fraudulent shaykh.
My counsel for those who might have encountered spiritual abuse – whether at the hands of a fraudulent shaykh or some other portal of ignorance – is to seek out a compassionate witness … someone who is willing to empathetically listen to one’s experiences and, without judgment, attempt to help one to sort things out. This compassionate witness might, or might not, be a professional counselor, or it could be a friend, relative, or a spouse.
Moreover, I have seen many people lose their faith completely following an encounter with spiritual abuse. Everything which comes into our lives has been placed there by God and has the potential for serving as a vehicle for spiritual growth or spiritual dissolution … the choice is ours. Life is a contact sport. God contacts us in many ways, and it is our responsibility to work our way through the enjoyable as well as problematic dimensions of such contact. Among all of Creation, the Prophets were the most severely challenged in relation to the manner in which they were contacted by God in the form of difficult life situations. However, the Qur’an has promised us that we each will be challenged with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in order to test us with respect to the purpose of life … that is, to learn about the truth that is given expression through all life events and to use such truth to enhance our understanding of our relationship with ourselves, God, and all of Creation.
As far as the issues of back-biting and hiding the faults of others is concerned, the Qur’an is replete with many examples in which people are warned about the faults of individuals who are specifically named – e.g., Iblis — and are used as illustrative examples to teach people about the sorts of individuals who are to be avoided or engaged with extreme caution. Where possible, the faults of others should be concealed, but there are circumstances in which the need to warn someone outweighs such considerations. Like so many things, this is an issue of discernment, and one must exercise considered judgment in relation to these sorts of matters.
*From al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism: “After the aspirant has given up his property and rank, he should make good his pact with God Most High and not oppose his master in anything that the latter prescribes to him. For opposition to one’s master during one’s novitiate is a grave deficiency, because one’s initial state is the best indicator of [what will happen to him] during the rest of his life. One condition for success is that there should be no opposition to the master in his student’s heart. If it occurs to the aspirant that he has any value or power in this world and the next, or that there’s on the face of the earth someone who is more lowly than he, he has no right to [aspire to God]…Should he happen to disagree with what the master has commanded to him, he must confess this in front of his master immediately. He then should submit himself to the master’s judgment as a punishment for his transgression and objection. ” p. 406“If the aspirant cannot find someone who could instruct him in the place he lives, it is incumbent on him to travel to someone who is renowned in his age for [his] guidance of novices. He must stay with this teacher and never leave the door of his house except for the canonical prayers.” p. 410“When the hearts of the Sufi masters accept an aspirant, this is the clearest proof that he will achieve salvation.” p. 411——————————–
Have you been the victim of spiritual abuse by a religious authority? Tell us your story. You can remain anonymous.
As salaamu alaikum Dr. Whitehouse, and thanks for taking the time to speak to readers of The Civil Muslim. Just to clarify for people for whom this is important, are you a “universal Sufi” for whom the laws of Islam are not considered important (prayer, zakat, etc.) or would you consider that Sufism goes hand in hand with the law (shar’)?
I have had two spiritual teachers in my life. One of those individuals was, in my opinion, an authentic shaykh, while the other person was, in my opinion, a fraudulent shaykh … a charlatan.
My first – authentic – guide had asked me to conduct a weekly session concerning the Sufi path at the University of Toronto. I did this for about twenty years … including four, or so, years that followed the passing away of my guide. Somewhere early on during the aforementioned four-year period, a woman phoned me and asked if I was the one conducting the weekly Sufi meetings at the University of Toronto. I indicated that I was, and she replied that she would be at the next meeting…and she continued to do so for the next several years. She didn’t say much, but, from time to time, she would make references to her own spiritual guide.
Through a set of gradual steps which occurred across several years, I eventually had the opportunity to meet with her shaykh who was visiting from the United States. Following several more lengthy meetings with him, I indicated to the woman who had been coming to the weekly discussion group concerning the Sufi path that I wanted to be initiated and would she broach the subject with the teacher.
Although nothing had been intimated to me during the previous several years of association with the woman, nor during any of my several discussions with the ‘shaykh,’ it seemed – as I later found out – that the alleged shaykh had instructed the woman in question to find me, babysit me, and wait for the alleged ‘shaykh’ to make his way to Toronto in order to meet with me.
The unexpected twist to the initiation ceremony is that after that process concluded, the gathering was informed by the ‘shaykh’ – and there were about approximately 50 or 60 people who had assembled for the ceremony – that I was being made a ‘shaykh’ in the silsilah into which I had just been initiated. I had not come to the ‘shaykh’ for that purpose, and even though I had had a very close sixteen-year relationship with my first teacher and was something of a ‘right’ hand man for him, I went to the second ‘teacher’ with no expectations other than to continue on with the learning process concerning the Sufi path.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Seven or eight years into the relationship, circumstances led me to spend some time with the ‘shaykh’ in the United States. Although the people in the household were very observant with respect to holding ‘fatiha’ sessions — during which the Qur’an is recited, thanks is given to God, and blessings are sought for the different shaykhs in the spiritual lineage, as well as for the people who have gathered for the session — the people in the household seemed to be less observant when it came to prayers and fasting. It seemed that while, on certain occasions, they did perform salaat, more often than not, this did not seem to be the case … although it is quite possible that they observed the prayers by themselves in their own rooms.
The fasting issue – at least in the case of some individuals – was more overt. I was up for fajr during Ramadan, and after eating something prior to the beginning of fasting, I would say the morning prayers. After I got done, I noticed that some of the people were continuing to eat despite the fact that the time for eating had long since passed by. People – whether Muslim or non-Muslim — come to the Sufi path from all different conditions and with different spiritual capacities and different levels of commitment. What such people do is not necessarily a reflection of, or on, their spiritual guide.
Manipulating the Impressions of Others
I heard in a round-about way that people within the silsilah had been told by my ‘teacher’ to not bother me because I was in a state of jazb – or intense spiritual attraction, often characterized by a sense of spiritual intoxication – and, therefore, they should not disturb me or contact me. Although we often are not the best judges of our own spiritual condition, I did not feel that what people were being told correctly described my spiritual station.
Certain allegations were made by various individuals that were critical of my ‘teacher.’ Yet, without facts which can be substantiated – and such facts are not always easily accessible — what is one supposed to do with those kinds of allegations?Unfortunately, life does always permit itself to be parsed in clearly understood terms. Sometimes our lives are left hanging in the interstitial spaces between what can, and cannot, be proven.
The final straw – the proverbial one which breaks the ‘camel’s’ back – came in the form of someone who was an initiate of mine…on one occasion, we had taken a trip to another state to visit with my ‘shaykh.’ Not too long after our return from that trip together, the individual began to behave in what I considered to be rather anomalous ways. Among other things, the person was going to take another trip to visit with the ‘shaykh,’ however, my ‘teacher’ had not said anything to me about the upcoming journey – despite his claim that he was under an obligation to tell me everything that took place in conjunction with the silsilah, and despite the fact that the individual who would be making the trip was supposedly my ‘student’ and, therefore, part of the spiritual adab or etiquette of the situation entailed that both my ‘shaykh’ and the student should ask my permission concerning the proposed journey. When that person returned from the journey, the individual indicated that I was no longer the student’s ‘teacher’ or ‘spiritual guide.’
(To be continued…Subscribe to this blog (located in the lower left portion of the page), to receive an email notification of Part 2.)
A few thoughts from me, an avowed Paul supporter, and then the poll:
-Ron Paul called out Santorum for supporting the prescription drug benefits while claiming he is against government in healthcare
-called Santorum “overly sensitive”…bingo. [see Ron Paul highlights]
-continued Ron Paul blackout: audience demanding Paul be allowed to answer, camera cutting away early from Paul during final camera pan of the candidates, etc.
-CNN falling all over itself to appear self-critical during post-debate punditry after Gingrich took John King to task for opening debate with personal muckraking question; I felt bad for John King who basically became an effigy for the media
-Santorum banking on alliteration: he is a “clear contrast” to Obama. In other words, he is banking on being the polar opposite of Obama ideologically…but how would that bring America together? And his unabashedness on social issues…[whispers in microphone to mock Romney’s wussy pro-life stance)–do we really need another culture war? Paul’s libertarianism allows him to make this a state issue, which means the mores of each state would determine the issue.
-Romney banking on a positive message of American exceptionalism (AKA inflating American egos)…Paul banking on ‘the truth hurts and I’m here to tell it.’ Stylistically, should Paul be less doomsday and end his responses with some positive catchphrase or is ‘liberty’ sufficient?
-And at the end of the day….none of them has a plan to avoid national bankruptcy by making serious baseline cuts, they are touting cuts only on proposed increases! All except Dr. Paul.