One Muslim Chaplain's Blog

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

What Every Muslim Does When Visiting Barnes & Noble

In Islam, Religion on September 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I hope this humorous piece I contributed to State of Formation’s website will also provoke thought.

Celebrating 2 Years of The Civil Muslim: A Look Back at My Rants

In Bad Ideas, Gender, Guest Bloggers, Islam, Muslim of the Month, Politics, Religion, Satire, The Next Right Thing on July 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm

American Muslim blog

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.

Offer your feedback to The Civil Muslim.

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.



Dawah Series Part 1: Lessons to Learn from Scientology’s Appeal

In Islam, Religion on July 3, 2012 at 6:38 pm

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 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.

The Draw

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.

A Personal Request: Let’s Expand Muslim Inmates’ Library

In The Next Right Thing on June 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Salaam alaikum/Hello,

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.


(PART 2) The Sheikhdown: Signs of Sufi Spiritual Abuse (Interview with author Anab Whitehouse)

In Islam, Religion on February 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Continuing from Part 1 of my interview with Dr. Anab Whitehouse, author of The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Sufi Spiritual Abuse, we discuss signs of abuse and what counsel he has for those who suspect they have been victimized.  -TCM
TCM: You say in your book’s description that “if they seek to gain control over others through techniques of undue influence, then they are propagators of spiritual abuse.” It is essentially an exploitation of the teacher-student emphasis in Sufism, is it not? What should we be looking for here?
Since truth is at the heart of the spiritual path, anyone who controls the access routes to the truth has a considerable advantage relative to those who are being kept in the dark with respect to such matters. Spiritual abuse – whether done in conjunction with the Sufi path or in relation to the Muslim community in general – is about controlling essential information or understanding and, then leveraging such control in order to induce people to cede their moral, intellectual, and spiritual agency to those who control things.
Spiritual abuse is about the betrayal of trust. One trusts a person to be truthful with one, and when that trust is betrayed, the control of information entailed by such betrayal is used as a tool to hide the nature of the breach of trust.
To the best of my recollection, my first spiritual guide – the authentic one – never lied to me or, to the best of my knowledge, anyone else. Within the context of what could and could not be talked about with respect the mystical path [and as Prophet Moses – peace be upon him – discovered in relation to the spiritual being, Khizr (may Allah be pleased with him), there are certain knowledge which is above our spiritual pay grades], my shaykh was very forthcoming with his comments, even if those comments were, on occasion, not always pleasant to hear. Sometimes he was upset with me for some of the mistakes I made, and sometimes he was happy with me for those instances in which, somehow, I got things right. He offered guidance, but he never told me what to do … the choice was mine. When it came to matters of prayer, fasting, zikr, seclusion, and so on, I was the one who asked him about such issues. They were explained to me, but they were never imposed on me. The information and knowledge that he shared with me were intended as guidance. I took as much, or as little, as I was able to manage at the time, and I sought to inculcate such understanding into my life as best as I could and to whatever extent God permitted.
With my first shaykh, most of the facts that I needed to gauge the meaning of his behaviors and words were out in the open – facts to which I had ready access many days of the week. With the second ‘teacher’ most of the facts that were needed to gauge the meaning of his behaviors and words were hidden.

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.

Is information used to induce people to cede their moral, intellectual, and spiritual authority to a human being, or is that information used to induce an individual to seek God and only God? Is information used to help the individual to work toward spiritual independence, or is that information used to create emotional, psychological, or social dependencies of one kind or another with respect to the ‘guide’ or the ‘silsilah’? Is information being used to shape and manipulate behavior in relation to better serving the ‘teacher,’ or is that information being used to shape behavior so that it permits the individual – God willing – to be able to better serve God and the purpose of one’s life? Is information being fed to one through third parties, or is the information coming directly from the teacher, and when the former situation is the case – this is referred to as triangulation – then, oftentimes, the purpose of such triangulation is to leverage that information as a way to manage the impressions of the person toward whom it is directed. Is the information one has concerning the ‘shaykh’ based on one’s own direct experiences, or is that information a function of third-party accounts that are unverified by one’s own process of ‘fact’ checking?
TCM: In the few cases where alleged victims have gone public, many Muslims responded very critically, arguing there is no proof, that these are “random” “anonymous” people making claims, and it becomes an issue of their word against a sheikh who obviously has accumulated more trust and charisma amongst Muslims. Is there any way to prove abuse? Why are so many of these people unwilling to share their identities?
One of the reasons why people are so unwilling to share their identities – whether their own or that of those who are ‘fraudulent’ teachers — is precisely because of the abusive ways in which they often are treated by people in the general public … many of whom, quite frequently have no insight concerning the issue of spiritual abuse.
When the topic of spiritual abuse is raised, many people become uncomfortable because they are being asked – or induced — to think about an issue that has potential ramifications for their own lives, and, yet for a variety of reasons they don’t want to take the time or make the effort or spend the resources that will be necessary to properly address such issues. Spiritual abuse is all around us. The problem is not restricted to merely certain spiritual charlatans that serve as pretenders on the Sufi path, but, as well, spiritual abuse is given expression through many of the khutbahs that are delivered on Fridays and on other occasions.
Just as God made Iblis possible, God made false shaykhs possible
When I was associated with my first shaykh – the one whom I consider to be authentic – I had an extensive opportunity to work with many facets of the Muslim community. I met a lot of very good people, and I also met a lot of not very nice people. Many of the latter individuals were, in one way or another, interested in gaining control over various segments of the Muslim community in order to advance their personal agendas that entailed political and financial purposes. I encountered many individuals who shared with me their detailed and credible accounts concerning various alleged shaykhs, and some of the alleged shaykhs were very well known … both here in North America, as well as elsewhere in the world. Many of the foregoing accounts were given independent corroboration – that is, different people shared certain information with me concerning one and the same shaykh without knowledge that such independent sharing was taking place. By the Grace of Allah, authentic tasawwuf has had an extremely deep and lasting impact upon my life. However, just as God made Iblis possible, God also made false shaykhs possible.
Truth does not reside in the reputation of anyone
Truth does not reside in the reputation of anyone, and if one is not prepared to take the time and make the effort to determine the truth with respect to the issue of whether, or not, false shaykhs lurk amongst us, then anyone who rests their opinion on someone’s reputation rather than substantive evidence is giving expression to an essentially biased opinion concerning the matter, and, therefore, such a person is not in a position to offer an objective account of the matter.When I had gathered the array of facts which, beyond a reasonable doubt, proved that my second spiritual ‘guide’ was a charlatan, I sought to share this understanding with other people in the silsilah with which I was associated. For them to acknowledge and accept the truth of what I told them concerning the alleged ‘shaykh’ would require them to change their way of thinking and behaving in relation to so many facets of life that they became overwhelmed with the prospect of their lives – spiritually and emotionally — spinning out of control. Many people in the general Muslim community are in somewhat the same boat as the foregoing individuals with whom I talked. Denying the idea of spiritual abuse is easier for them than is engaging the matter head on.
TCM: Some have taken issue with me using the term “Sufi”—they argue that this abuse is not “true” Sufism and more of a fringe. On the other hand, I’ve encountered things in classical mainstream Sufi texts* that one might regard as “extreme” in its devotion to the sheikh or teacher. Would it be wrong to say that the tradition of Sufism itself contain the seeds for abuse?
If one has complete confidence in, and trust concerning, the authenticity of a given shaykh, then there is no limit to what, God willing, might be accomplished … as long as the seeker is correct with respect to his or her judgment of the matter. If, on the other hand, the seeker is wrong with respect to his or her judgment concerning a given shaykh’s authenticity, then disaster may very possibly await such an individual. The seeds of abuse are not in authentic tasawwuf. The seeds of abuse are inherent in those individuals who seek to offer people a counterfeit version of the real thing.
TCM: What is your advice to the victim of spiritual abuse, whether at the hand of a “Sufi sheikh” or someone else? For whistleblowers, how do you deal with accusations of of “backbiting” and not “veiling the sins” of such figures?

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.

The Sheikhdown: Signs of Sufi Spiritual Abuse (Part 1: Interview with Anab Whitehouse)

In Islam, Religion on February 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm
Shakedown: n. 1. Slang Extortion of money, as by blackmail.”
“Sheikhdown: n.  Extortion of one’s allegiance and intellect, as through self-proclaimed Sufi masters.”  ©The Civil Muslim
” The danger of Sufism that bothers me, is there are a lot of principles in Tasawwuf that are very easily manipulated into certain cultic control mechanisms and they become very dangerous. I think for those of us in the West, we come from a tradition of individual sovereignty and independence of self. And I personally believe those are very high Islamic characteristics and qualities. I think a lot of the problems in the East is all this slavishness, and devotion and obsequiousness to the grand Master Pu-Ba whoever. I mean, if you want my personal opinion, I do believe that. That does not mean I don’t show the utmost respect to my teachers. Sh. Abdullah bin Bayyah is my teacher and what I love about him is he’s somebody who respects my opinion, listens to my opinion, he’s never been despotic in any way.”Hamza Yusuf
Years ago, I listened with an open mind to a lecture by an American scholar who resides in Jordan and  who came highly recommended by several friends. A comment he made, in which he referred to himself in the third person and stated that niqab was enforced if a sister wanted to be in his halaqa,  struck me as odd and I eventually stopped the lecture and decided he wasn’t for me. I had reservations, but I didn’t share them with anyone. Now, more recently, I have become aware of several different sources warning about this person (and most famously, one by Suhaib Webb) which caused me to confirm the hunch I’d had all those years ago.  I decided that the issue of Sufi spiritual abuse should be brought to light. I recently interviewed Bill “Anab” Whitehouse, author of The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Sufi Spiritual Abuse to find out what spiritual abuse looks like and why we don’t hear more about the problem.

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 was not a Muslim when I stepped onto the Sufi path. However, by the Grace of Allah, I did enter Islam through tasawwuf or Sufism. I like to think that I came to Islam via the servant’s entrance, and my first teacher – in my opinion, a genuine Sufi guide – introduced me to, among other things, at least three possible dimensions of Islam … namely,  being a Muslim, being a Mu’min (believer -TCM), and being a Mohsin or one who practices ihsan or spiritual excellence. Becoming a Muslim may be the first step toward seeking Allah. However, there are many more spiritual way-stations along the spiritual journey of life.
With respect to the facet of your first question which raises the question of whether, or not, Sufism goes hand in hand with the shar’ (law) of Islam…many people seem inclined to translate ‘shari’ah’ as meaning law in a legalistic sense. The Qur’an is not a book of law. It is a book of spiritual guidance. The journey toward God is not an exercise in legal hermeneutics. It is an exercise in coming to understand the truth about ourselves, our relation with the universe, and our relationship with Divinity.
The word shari’ah appears only once in the Qur’an. In Surah 45, verse 18, one reads: “O Prophet, We have put you on the right way (shari’ah) concerning the deen, so follow it, and do not yield to the desires of ignorant people.” The etymology of shari’ah indicates that one of its root meanings – as a noun — concerns a place where animals come to drink water. A related verbal derivative from the same root – shar’a – refers to the process of taking a drink. Another word that is derived from the same root is shari’, and this term can refer either to a lawgiver, legislature, or one who determines the law. However, the same word also can refer to a street, path, or way.
Truth is the water to which God invites all Creation. In other words, God is the lawgiver in the sense of natural law, not legalistic conventions.

What encounter lead you to sound the warning about Sufi spiritual abuse?

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.’

This turn of events tended to put a strain on the relationship.When we met in person, the individual began to tell me, little by little, what had transpired during the three week period of the aforementioned trip that had been spent in the company of my ‘shaykh.’ Whatever my former ‘student’s’ faults might, or might not, be, I knew the individual to be a very truthful person … someone who did not lie about other people.My former ‘student’ showed me a phone bill from December – the month before the trip – which indicated that my ‘shaykh’ had phoned the individual and spent many hours on the phone speaking with that person. I recognized the phone number.
A little later on, I followed up with a further investigation of something else that the ‘teacher’ had told me when I and my student had last visited with him the previous November. I checked with official sources – including the state police and the local police where the ‘shaykh’ was living – and uncovered indisputable facts indicating that my ‘shaykh’ had been lying to me about the event in question.
During subsequent investigations, I discovered that the ‘shaykh’ had been lying to other people about me. I began to understand that the reason why it seemed to me that I was being moved to the periphery of ‘silsilah’ activities was because this was, in fact, what was happening … but it was all done by the shaykh’s manipulating and managing the impressions that others had concerning me.

(To be continued…Subscribe to this blog (located in the lower left portion of the page), to receive an email notification of Part 2.)


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Jan 19 GOP South Carolina Debate: Poll and Comments

In Politics on January 19, 2012 at 10:37 pm

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?

-Romney allowed to get off scott-free on abortion flip-flopping and the destruction of information by his office upon leaving the Massachusetts governorship

-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.



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