Archive for category Muslim Cults

Timeless values?

Sierra’s recent post, “We thought modesty made us timeless” brought back a lot of memories. Because that was pretty much how we thought about wearing hijab—and about a lot of other things.

Thinking through the romanticized views of “the past” that we had, I wondered why? What exactly was the attraction? How did we acquire such a rose-colored view of “the past,” and then decide to hold it up as some sort of ideal?

The apologetic pamphlets and books on “Islam and woman” that we had access to in the early ’80’s and 90’s tended to have two main approaches to the question of how the conservative Muslim teachings that they were pushing as “Islam”, full stop, related to the place we actually lived (North America).

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Conservative group or cult?

Ki sarita—I guess it’s a question of degree.

A commenter (Ki sarita) asks: Why do I call a highly conservative, insular, patriarchal Muslim group that I was involved in a cult? And, how is the group that I was in different from other conservative, neo-traditionalist Muslim groups out there?

Well, first of all, it took me a long time to be able to call the group that I used to be in a cult. Naming that is part of my recovery process.

And second, I guess it’s a question of degree as to whether a group is just hyper-conservative and inward-looking or a full-blown cult. The group I was in didn’t start out as a full-blown cult, and a lot of its teachings weren’t all that different from other very conservative groups or leaders that I had encountered before.

The group I was in was a cult, for several reasons:

  • The leaders interpreted Islam for the members.
  • You couldn’t question the leaders or you would be publicly humiliated or pushed out of the group.
  • No one could question the amount of knowledge that the leaders had, or suggest that there were others in the wider Muslim community who might be more qualified in some ways.
  • There was a lot of pressure to conform, and those who didn’t were made examples of.
  • Being part of the group meant adopting its worldview, and seeing everything through that filter, all the time.
  • The group demanded a large time-committment from the members.
  • There wasn’t much privacy in the group. A lot of decisions that would ordinarily be up to individuals or families were seen as the business of the group (and especially, of its leaders).
  • We weren’t supposed to attend other Muslim groups’ events or even have friends outside the group unless our intention was to recruit them to join our group.
  • We lived inside our group’s bubble as far as possible, and kept our children inside it too. They did not really have friends from outside it. We weren’t supposed to send them to public schools, or even to other Muslim schools.
  • We believed that only us (and a few highly conservative, hierarchical groups similar to ours) were rightly guided, and every other Muslim or Muslim group was varying degrees of lost.
  • We believed that our leaders had unique spiritual powers.
  • There were teachings that wouldn’t be made known to outsiders, or even to members of the group who hadn’t been in it long enough or who weren’t seen as sufficiently committed.
  • The group would fund-raise from the wider Muslim community for projects and programs that were intended to primarily benefit our group’s members, but would-be donors would be led to believe that this was for the benefit of the wider Muslim community.
  • State or local laws were ignored and treated as irrelevant as much as possible. We weren’t supposed to vote, or have any stake in the social or political system of “the kuffar.”

There are other things as well, but this will do….


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Thinking your way out of neo-traditionalism (I)

Or (for an alternative title): Up From the Bottle Dungeon.

The bottle dungeon at St. Andrews Castle, Scotland, looks almost ethereal in this photo, due to the floodlighting installed for the sake of tourists... isn`t Tradition (TM) beautiful---at least from a safe distance.

The bottle dungeon at St. Andrews Castle, Scotland, looks almost ethereal in this photo, due to the floodlighting installed for the sake of tourists…. Ah, isn’t Tradition (TM) just transcendently beautiful—at least when viewed from above, by those who aren’t subject to the full weight of its harsher dictates.

Years ago, I remember reading about bottle dungeons in Scottish castles. These are underground, bottle-shaped prisons, with only one possible entrance, source of air or light—a narrow shaft leading to a hole in the ceiling, which would have been far above the prisoners’ heads. Prisoners would be tossed into the dungeon, or let down on ropes. Escape was well-nigh impossible, except with outside assistance. And I wondered what sort of people those lairds and their families were, calmly going about their daily lives while prisoners suffered and moldered away below.

Looking back at my former life as a neo-traditionalist and how difficult it was to even begin to see my way out of it, I am reminded of bottle dungeons in more ways than one.

As a neo-traditionalist who was also heavily involved in a Muslim neo-traditionalist group (which turned out to be a cult) for some years, I lived in an almost entirely self-referential world. It was built like a fortress. Built to last. And that was not accidental.

It was a mental prison that was self-sustaining. And oddly enough, it was incredibly hard to leave, mentally and psychologically speaking—even once I began to recognize how much harm it was doing to myself and my children, as well as to dear friends of mine.

One of the reasons why this world-view not only drew us in, but was so very durable was its emphasis on certainty and knowledge. We wanted certainty. And what was more, we believed that any faith worth the name should be able to deliver it. We also felt as though we were under siege from the wider society, so we wanted our beliefs reaffirmed. So, we were primed for leaders who would provide affirmation and promise certainty.

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Becoming super-Muslimah-mommy

In the last post, I discussed a number of reasons why I (and many of my convert friends) found conservative Muslim arguments in favor of women being stay-at-home wives and mothers convincing, and highlighted some of the ways that deciding to stay home limited our ability (and even, our inclination) to make independent, adult decisions on a whole range of things.

In staying home, we became financially dependent. And, we didn’t chart our own courses as wives and mothers either—there were not only our husbands to answer to, but also various conservative, insular and often quite intrusive Muslim communities. For those of us who became involved in Muslim cults, that goes double.

I became financially dependent, despite the fact that my ex wanted to have both the comfort and convenience of a stay-at-home wife (and mother), AND the benefits of a wife who also brings in some money—though, one who would work in a way that wouldn’t ever inconvenience him. I tried to do that by babysitting from home. That was supposed to be the ideal balance between the need to generate income, and the “need” to be at home with my kids full-time, without in any way falling short of my wifely responsibilities to cook, clean, etc, or my moral responsibilities to wear hijab and avoid working alongside or closely interacting with men. I also hoped that it would protect me from job discrimination and the type of dismissive treatment that often is experienced by people in low-status jobs. After all, I was working at home….

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Why I got involved in homeschooling

As I became involved in The Cult, I gradually learned more about how the leaders saw child-raising, and especially, what they thought about the public education system. The Cult was not the sort of group that kept all its goods in the shop-window; you had to be with them for a while before you’d get anything like a full picture of what they taught.

As I discussed in the previous post, The Cult taught that teenagers are a creation of the modern world, and that parents who raise their children “properly” can avoid having them go through teenagehood. The Cult also taught that the public school system was fundamentally ungodly, and that it would pollute any child who went through it. Therefore, parents who are at all serious about having their kids grow up Muslims would not send their kids to public school.

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I never thought I’d be dealing with teenagers

Oddly enough, it never crossed my mind when I (and my convert friends) were having multiple children as our small, insular conservative Muslim and extremely pronatalist community vigorously encouraged us to, that… we’d be dealing with a boatload of teenagers and their typical teenage problems down the line.

Oh, a few people tried to tell us that, of course. That these cute babies would be teenagers soon enough, and night feedings and teething and all that sort of thing would seem like a picnic compared to teenage shenanigans. But we would either look at them blankly, or feel smugly superior to them. Because our kids weren’t ever going to be teenagers.

After all, this is what The Cult taught: Historically, there is no such thing as a “teenager”—there were children, and then there were adults. A child is a child until he/she reaches puberty, and then he/she is biologically an adult. “Teenagers” are a modern invention, caused by a godless, indulgent consumerist society, family breakdown, peer pressure, advertising and a lack of discipline in childhood.

Therefore, parents could avoid having their children turn into teenagers by raising them correctly, by instilling the fear of God in them, by teaching them to take on as many adult ritual and behavioral responsibilities as possible when they were still young, and by carefully sheltering them from the wider society. Because if we sheltered our kids, they would never get the idea that supposedly typical teenage behavior is in any way normal or acceptable, so they would be much less likely to act that way. And if we kept them securely inside our conservative, insular Muslim bubble as much as possible, then community expectations that they act maturely would be constantly reinforced, and it would be that much harder for them to be rebellious “teenagers.”

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In which a commenter writes a post for me: the moral bankruptcy of neo-traditionalism

Now and again, I receive a comment that really should be a post in itself. Such as this one, for example:

“Oh, and xcwn- can you please explain as clearly as possible why I, as an adult, heterosexual Muslim male, should have the slightest problem with an institution (slave concubinage) that allows me to have as much sex as I can pay for, without incurring any sin? Hey- if it was good enough for everybody from the Sahaba to Tom Jefferson who am I to complain?”

When our beliefs cause us to justify the buying and selling of human beings, then we have a problem.
(Ad for a slave auction in Charleston, SC:

This comment, courtesy of “Anonymous//”, was in response to this recent post about Eid al-Adha, in which I pointed out (among other things) that in the stories we were told about Abraham, whether or not Hajar consented to sex or childbearing was simply ignored—both in the stories themselves, as well as in the conservative Muslim communities I used to have dealings with. Even the question of whether Abraham consulted with or informed the mother of the boy he was all set to sacrifice was never raised. The post also observed that in the communities I was involved with, the patriarchal dominance portrayed in such stories was seen as an ideal that we should live up to. Women were supposed to be self-sacrificing to the point of self-abnegation.

This comment by “Anonymous//” illustrates the moral bankruptcy of certain conservative approaches to Islam, that I have seen from neo-traditionalists in particular (though some Salafis also have much the same views). According to them, if the Qur’an/the hadith/the views of Muslim jurists allows something, then God allows it. Therefore, it is forever allowable. It does not matter how many states’ laws or UN resolutions outlaw something, or whether the majority of Muslims decide that something is unacceptable, or even if human experience or medical advances indicate that something is harmful, it is still permissible, and no one has the right to forbid it because God has allowed it.

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