Sunday, September 04, 2005

Introduction to New Book The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse


Spiritual abuse assumes many different forms. Such manifestations may be mild, or they can be quite intense and malevolent.

No religious or mystical tradition is immune from the presence of spiritual abuse, for, wherever there are people who are seeking to become closer to essential truths, purpose, and meaning, there will be individuals seeking to generate counterfeit currency to offer to those who are unaware of, or incautious toward, the dangers which lie in wait along the spiritual path.

Some instances of spiritual abuse may involve gullible individuals who are induced to become committed to a ‘guide’ or teacher who, when examined even superficially in an impartial manner, may exhibit many of the warning characteristics of a spiritual charlatan. Unfortunately, in many other cases, the problem of recognition with respect to a given ‘false teacher’ becomes much more difficult and subtle.

Just as there are hack engravers and master engravers who are involved in the production of counterfeit money, so, too, there are huge differences in the level of ‘artistry’ exhibited by those who would pass themselves off as authentic spiritual guides. Some fraudulent guides are fairly easy to spot, but there are others who present a far greater challenge.

Spiritual abuse may occur in neighborhood churches, mosques, temples, centers, and other places of religious/spiritual gathering. This problem also may take place in much more exotic and/or remote settings.

Fraudulent teachers may call themselves a guru, shaykh, rimpoche, monk, priest, imam, apostle, avatar, or minister. They also may call themselves educators, revolutionaries, political leaders, and freedom fighters.

All forms of terrorism, whether these be acts of individuals or of states, presuppose the existence of spiritual abuse. Terrorism cannot occur unless someone -- a leader, master, or authority figure -- uses techniques of undue influence to induce other people -- followers, initiates, devotees, citizens -- to commit atrocities in the name of Divinity, spiritual purity, Justice, and Truth. All such forms of inducement are expressions of spiritual abuse.

The present book, The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse, arises out of my experiences with a spiritual charlatan who called himself a Sufi shaykh or guide. Although a number of chapters within this book entail discussions which focus on themes that are steeped in the terminology of Islam, in general, and the Sufi Path in particular, much of this book is of relevance to anyone who is interested in, or struggling with, problems of spirituality and mysticism, irrespective of the particular tradition with which he or she may identify.

In addition, sometimes, it is easier to recognize a problem in one’s own life when one is, first, introduced to a given issue in a context which, initially, seems to be far removed from one’s everyday commitments and priorities. More specifically, while some of the chapters of The Sufi Lighthouse: Illiminating Spiritual Abuse have a specific Sufi/Islamic flavor to them, anyone who has an interest in spirituality will be able to feel a sense of resonance with the issues and problems which are being discussed in conjunction with the Sufi mystical tradition.

Furthermore, there are many other chapters in The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse which are written in a way that, hopefully, will provide a more universal appeal to readers who come from a non-Muslim, and/or non-Sufi background. In other words, these other chapters explore themes which have an applicability to a variety of spiritual traditions beyond that of Islam and the Sufi path.

There are many people within the Sufi/Muslim community who will give lip service to the idea that there have been and, probably, are some individuals who, in both the past and the present, have sought to pass themselves off as authentic spiritual guides, when, in truth, they were, or are, spiritual counterfeits. However, these same people who may be willing to give lip service to this issue tend to feel that it is unseemly and, somehow, inappropriate to suppose that this is issue is anything more than a marginal, incidental, isolated, and occasional problem.

Based on my research of the past several years, the problems being addressed in this book are both substantial and pervasive. This does not mean that everyone who calls himself or herself a spiritual guide is a charlatan, for I do believe, on the basis of personal experience, that authentic, Sufi teachers do exist in this day and age, but, nonetheless, at the same time, I believe -- based on my own experiences, research, and the communications of many people from different parts of the world -- there are an array of spiritually abusive relationships that are being inflicted on thousands of people by Sufi charlatans in countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.

This problem is not small. It is huge, but all too many people within the Sufi/Muslim community are in denial about the existence of such spiritual abuse and seem to feel that if they just pull the covers up over their heads, the problem, like any good boogeyman, will just disappear into the night. This may have worked when one was a child, but it will not work now.

Perhaps, because of the events of 9-11, Muslims and Sufis are feeling so defensive that they believe any attempt to publically examine the issue of spiritual abuse within the Sufi/Muslim community is ill-considered under the present circumstances. The search for truth will always be an inconvenience for those who have vested interests to protect.

I, obviously, am of a different opinion. In fact, I believe that the shadow cast by the tragedy of 9-11 offers a tremendous opportunity to begin to critically examine the dynamics and nature of spiritual abuse -- both within Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

This is my belief for a number of reasons. Foremost among these reasons is the following one: spiritual abuse was at the heart of the 9-11 tragedies -- not only in terms of the histories of the individuals who plotted and carried out such acts of terrorism (although I am not suggesting, here, that any of those individuals claimed to be a Sufi or had a Sufi teacher), but also in relation to the histories of those government and media figures around the world who, either intentionally or unintentionally, helped bring about a set of circumstances which were conducive to the occurrence of the events on 9-11.

At first blush, the problems of spiritual abuse in the Sufi/Muslim community might seem to have little to do with the events of 9-11. However, when one begins to probe the matter further, one starts to understand that the dynamics and factors which are in play in the realm of spiritual abuse in conjunction with the Sufi path, also are in play in the realm of terrorism and the abusive effects which international economic and political policy have upon the souls of people throughout the world.

Beginnings are always difficult. But, begin we must.

Although the primary focus of the present work revolves about the issue of spiritual abuse, virtually all of the principles, themes, and dynamics which are explored in the following pages are fully applicable to a wide variety of situations in which abuse is being perpetrated even though the nature of such abuse, at least on the surface, may appear to be removed from the mystical quest. The dynamics of personal relationships, families, schools, organizations, corporations, and governments are all capable of giving expression to abusive relationships ... in fact, one might wish to argue that abuse, whatever its particular mode of manifestation, constitutes a violation of another individual’s basic rights as a human being such that the latter’s search for truth, meaning, purpose, and identity are undermined, disrupted, thwarted, and/or corrupted by another person or group of people (or both).

One should feel free to read the essays in whatever order one likes. Although the chapters are, hopefully, complementary with respect to each other, they also can be read independently of, and do not presuppose, one another.

The above book is dedicated to: Bilquees and Dr. Baig ... My traveling companions along the road toward greater understanding. By the Grace of God, they helped me journey through the valley of the shadow of doubt and to fear no evil.

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