Spiritual Abuse and the Sufi Tradition

Interrogative Imperative Institute

"Once tasawwuf (the Sufi path) was a reality without a name, and now it is a name without a reality."

The foregoing words were said more than twelve hundred years ago. The situation today is much worse.

While there are still some authentic shaykhs or guides and legitimate chains of spiritual/mystical transmissions (silsilah or Sufi Orders) that are in existence today, there are many, many more counterfeit/fraudulent 'teachers' and groups who have muddied the spiritual waters considerably and, in the process, are exploiting the ignorance and vulnerability of unsuspecting individuals.

Spiritual Abuse

What is spiritual abuse? First, there should be something very clearly said about what it is not.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once indicated that every human being has four enemies: (1) the unredeemed nafs, or the internal seat of rebellion against truth; (2) Iblis, a chief or leader for a species of being known as jinn (the Qur'an indicates they are made from 'smokeless fire'), who had fallen from grace and had taken leave from God to devote himself to seeking to dissuade human beings from the straight path of truth; (3) dunya, which constitutes the mess of entanglements, miseries, and problems which arise when the collective set of unredeemed nafs of human beings engage one another in pursuit of the prime directive of unredeemed nafs -- namely, opposition to, and denial of, the truth; and, (4) unbelievers, which does not refer to people of different religious faith but to those individuals who, like Iblis, may acknowledge the existence of God but have their own agenda which they wish to advance -- an agenda which bows down to other than the purpose for which human beings were created.

The path to spiritual realization runs through treacherous territory. The four foregoing forces are given expression through a multiplicity of manifest forms and structures which populate the territory through which the mystical path runs, and all of them -- singly and in varied combinations -- attack, both from within as well as from without, a would-be seeker after truth.

In short, there are very real forces which constantly attempt to persuade individuals, in one way or another, to either cease and desist spiritual activity or to adopt a 'way' which is, in truth, a cul-de-sac - that is, a spiritual dead-end. Although reason, up to a point, can help an individual distinguish between truth and falsehood, there comes a time and place on the spiritual path when reason must be illumined by, and supported through, the light of non-rational or trans-rational (and this is not the same as irrational processes) forms of understanding, guidance, intuitions, faith, and insight.

If reason, by itself, could have traversed the mystical path, there never would have been a need for revelation, the Prophetic tradition, or the inheritors of certain portions of that tradition - namely, the awliya or invested ones of Divinity ... those who are the recipients of the special barakah or Grace which enables them to be of assistance to the spiritually or mystically inclined. If reason, by itself, could have taken humankind to the summits of spiritual potential, then, there would have been no point in providing us with ways of knowing, experiencing, and understanding which are accessed, not via the mind or reason, but by means of the heart, sirr, spirit, kafi, and aqfah ... modes of spiritual engagement which are addressed specifically within the Qur'an.

It is because reason is a necessary but not a sufficient condition with respect to the realization of Self, one must look beyond the horizons of rationality for the real interesting and challenging facets of the mystical path. It is this realm of mystery which offers numerous opportunities for charlatans, spiritual quacks, bogus teachers, and spiritually abusive individuals to try to take advantage of the great vulnerability to which most of us are heir.

The foregoing refers to a mode of vulnerability. On the one hand, this vulnerability is clothed in ignorance. After all, if we knew the way to our spiritual destination, then, we wouldn't be in a position of need and, therefore, having to trust someone else to guide us through the treacherous terrain.

On the other hand, the aforementioned vulnerability is made perilous by the force operating within each of us (i.e., the unredeemed nafs) which is not just resistant to the whole process of making a spiritual journey, but is openly antagonistic to that process through the manner in which it collaborates with the whisperings of the shaytan. (Shaytan are the set of beings or forces which are under the influence of the Satanic agenda to lead human kind away from the straight path of truth), dunya, and unbelievers.

Nafs is the ultimate paradigm for, and source of, unbelief in any of us. Indeed, kafir and kufr are words, which at root, mean to cover up or conceal, and that which an unbeliever (of whatever spiritual framework) seeks to cover up is the truth.

When an authentic spiritual guide attempts to help an individual thwart the machinations of the unredeemed nafs, this is not an expression of spiritual abuse. The practices, zikrs, seclusions, fasts, vigils, litanies, prayers, community service, and so on, which a legitimate teacher prescribes for, among other things, assisting an individual struggle toward redeeming the constructive potential of the nafs, may be experienced by the individual as difficult, painful, trying, or problematic, but this sort of qualitative character does not make the experience an expression of spiritual abuse ... except to the extent that nafs is being spiritually abusive to the mystical potential of the human being who is seeking release from the internal oppressiveness of the authoritarian regime of the unredeemed nafs.

Furthermore, the context through which such spiritual medicine of the soul is administered always is couched in properties of: kindness, compassion, love, tolerance, forbearance, insight, sincerity, honesty, nobility, generosity, integrity, humility, forgiveness, patience, empathy, as well as appreciation for the capacity and station of a seeker, in terms of how the spiritual guide approaches his or her interaction with an aspirant. I have known, heard about, and read of, a number of authentic spiritual guides who may have experienced spiritual difficulties of their own while, simultaneously, guiding others along the mystical path, but none of these difficulties ever filtered down to maltreatment of their mureeds or followers.

Whatever the nature of these difficulties or misunderstandings might have been, they were between the shaykh and Divinity. They did not entail any kind of abusive treatment toward his or her mureeds. In short, there was no spiritual counterpart to someone's kicking the dog (i.e., a seeker) because something, somewhere else in the shaykh's life wasn't going well or was beset with problems.

Now, some people who are not aware of, or who have not been exposed (at least knowingly) to, the issues of spiritual abuse, may suppose that when other individuals speak about spiritual abuse, then, maybe, all that is meant is: (1) some sort of simple misunderstanding about the path; and/or, (2) the nafs of some of the seekers is acting up and the nafs of such individuals are resents the curbing of what the rebellious self believes is its right to unfettered freedom; and/or, (3) a shaykh has been perceived to have committed some set of relatively minor transgressions which has upset certain mureeds and about which they are taking exception; and/or, (4) something has gone on which can be talked through and, that together with a little tolerance, patience, compassion, and forgiveness, everything will be okay.

Now, while all of the foregoing may be problematic, none of what has been suggested above is really an expression of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is firmly rooted in the manner in which one, or more, of the aforementioned forces (nafs, Iblis, dunya, or unbelievers) are being given expression through the locus of manifestation of an alleged spiritual teacher, as well as through those who are under the influence of such an individual. These forces seek to corrupt, undermine, distort, disable, obstruct, destabilize, or destroy a seeker's way to realizing spiritual potential and truth. Spiritual abuse -- in whatever form it manifests itself -- is really the Satanic agenda in action. For, contrary to modern horror movies, the Satanic realm is not primarily about blood sacrifices, occult powers, or gaining money, power, sexual favors, and fame (although all of these may be part of what goes on with some individuals).

Rather, the Satanic agenda is about seeking to fulfill the promise which Satan made to God after he had been cast out from associating among the angels. More specifically, this agenda entails doing whatever is necessary -- be it little or a lot -- to dissuade human beings from the straight path, and the techniques employed to advance this agenda are guile, trickery, cajoling, manipulation, cleverness, and deceit.

Iblis is just as happy that someone dedicate his or her life to television, hobbies, or a career, as robbing banks and killing people. There are lots of ways through which the spiritual potential of life can be wasted.

Furthermore, Iblis can't make human beings do anything. All Iblis can do is whisper, suggest, misdirect, provide disinformation, mislead, encourage, insinuate, preoccupy, as well as introduce doubt, worry, and suspicion. We do the rest by permitting ourselves -- or our nafs -- to become mesmerized or self-hypnotized by the possibilities inherent in what is being whispered or suggested to us.

Spiritual abuse sometimes takes the form of exploiting others in order to gain financial comfort, fame, and/or political power. Sometimes, spiritual abuse assumes the form of sexual misconduct. Sometimes, spiritual abuse is given expression through the activities of someone who is a sociopath (e.g., Jim Jones) or operates through the properties of a narcissistic personality disorder.

However, irrespective of the particular form through which spiritual abuse is given expression, the purpose and result is always the same -- to serve the Satanic agenda. Anyone who engages in spiritual abuse knowingly, or unknowingly, serves that agenda.

Someone once said that the greatest trick which Satan ever performed was to induce people not to believe in his existence. People suppose that because they don't see someone colored in red, with horns, cloven hoofs, a tail, and a pitchfork, then, the whole notion of Satan is nothing more than a myth which someone created somewhere along the line in order to scare impressionable people into living a certain kind of life.

We are told that no modern, intelligent, civilized, sophisticated, rational, scientific individual should ever seriously entertain the idea that there is someone known as Iblis who is daily setting in motion stratagems which are designed to induce human beings to abandon the straight path. Even many people of faith roll their eyes when the subject of Iblis or Satan comes up, as if it were an embarrassment to any serious discussion about spirituality.

Yet, there are many so-called spiritual teachers who exist within our midst who are passing themselves off as individuals who are capable of serving as authentic guides for the perilous journey from self to Self, but, who, in truth, do nothing but lead people away from the sirat-ul-mustaqueen, the straight path of truth. This is nothing more than the Satanic agenda made manifest.

In fact, such is the nature of this problem that many people today-- both in North America, as well as elsewhere -- are associated with false teachers, but these would-be seekers have not, yet, become aware of the extremely precarious and dire nature of their spiritual predicament. Consequently, they believe that everything is fine with the state of their universe and with the assumed progress of their spiritual journey.

Unfortunately, lots of people these days have come to confuse the straight path with whatever the direction is in which they are being led by someone who does not have their spiritual welfare sincerely at heart. As someone has said, the most binding shackles are those which are invisible to us and which we do not recognize as such.

The Sufi path consists of more than: possessing an ability to speak or write well, or being talented musically, or having a familiarity with Arabic, or being able to manifest a personal magnetism or captivating charm, or have a wonderful theatrical sense of story-telling, or enjoying a facility with worldly kashf (e.g., reading minds, thought projection, knowledge of events distant in time or place, psychic abilities, or the capacity to induce trance states, altered conditions of consciousness, or anomalous experiences), or indicating a knowledge of the technical vocabulary and/or teaching texts of mysticism. Many people have confused, and have been led to confuse, packaging with the actual nature of the path.

Furthermore, they assume that because the packaging is alluring, then, the secrets of the path must be contained within such packaging. As a result, they mistakenly assume that the resonance of truth which is felt in conjunction with an alleged teacher comes from the individual who is attempting to pass himself or herself off as a guide, when, in fact, the resonance of truth comes from within a sincere seeker in response to whatever truth is inherent in the message being spoken.

This truth is independent of the alleged teacher. However, the pseudo-guide basks in the light associated with that authentic teaching and induces people to believe that the counterfeit is the source of the Real.

In short, just because someone can talk the talk of a spiritual guide, this does not mean that person has been given the wherewithal to walk the walk of a spiritual guide. This is an entirely different matter altogether.

The anti-Christ or dajjal (imposter), whose arrival has been said by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to mark one of the greater signs of the Latter Days, will be capable of performing all manner of deeds which constitute departures from normal physical laws (e.g., raising the dead). However, this capacity -- though many will be tricked into supposing otherwise -- is not a sign of authentic spirituality ... and this phenomenon is relevant to much of what is transpiring today in many parts of the world.

The realization of having been spiritually abused comes through experiences, of whatever nature, which have taken place in conjunction with a so-called teacher which have led, gradually or suddenly, to a betrayal of trust that necessarily must link a seeker with a would -be guide. In short, the alleged guide is, and has been, serving a Satanic agenda of leading people astray from the truth of the straight path -- the path through which, God willing, the realization of essential, spiritual identity and potential takes place.

In other words, one comes to realize that the entire set of purposes for trusting someone, and associating with that person, and making efforts on behalf of that individual, or learning from that person have been soiled. As a result, one feels as if one has been touched by evil in a very personal, intimate, and essential manner.

None of the foregoing should be construed to mean there are no legitimate/authentic Sufi guides who live amongst us, nor is any of it intended to give the impression that finding one's way to the straight path is a quixotic venture. Rather, the foregoing is a cautionary tale, if you will, whose moral is that there is a lot more spiritual abuse currently going on than most people suppose.

Sexual misconduct -- whether with the opposite sex or the same sex -- is getting a lot of the headlines these days. However, unfortunately, such forms of spiritual abuse are but the tip of an enormous iceberg in which people are being fed misinformation, disinformation, and misdirection concerning the mystical way by individuals who are serving -- whether knowingly or unknowingly -- a Satanic agenda which is intended to dissuade people through means, both 'gentle' and not-so-gentle, from the way of the straight path to Self-realization. To be entangled in such an agenda, to be touched by such perversity, to have one's time and efforts wasted through such a program, is to experience spiritual abuse. These spiritual pretenders have sought to usurp the legitimate function of authentic spiritual guides -- that is, those people who have been selected through a valid spiritual process to serve in the capacity of a teacher. Spiritual pretenders have done so through the qualities of Satan/Iblis.

In other words, the spiritual charlatans use all manner of deception, deceit, trickery, misdirection, manipulation, control, social influence, as well as methods of trance induction and anomalous experiences to camouflage the actual nature of their reprehensible activities, and like Satan they have become very adept at inducing people to believe that something other than what is going on is going on. Sometimes, it is only by the Grace of God that one trips over certain pieces of evidence through which the whole charade begins to unravel.

Copyright 2003-2017, Interrogative Imperative Institute, Brewer, Maine, 04412