By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
People who seek out religious or spiritual answers in their lives usually do so with sincere intentions. When someone starts out on this journey they are looking for something more than the mundane. As we live in a society currently more focused on material attainment than spiritual growth. Outside a few major religious traditions there is little mainstream guidance on how to go about this spiritual journey, and this makes the seeker vulnerable.
While there are people from religious and spiritual groups who are genuine and seek to help the seeker on their journey. We must bear in mind that there are also those who simply wish to exploit them. As Jesus is recorded as saying in the gospels:
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
Or in the words of the Holy Qur’an 2:79
“Woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say: ‘This is from Allah’ to traffic with it for a miserable price! Woe to them for what their hands do write and for the gain they make thereby.”
Clear warnings to be careful who we follow, some people in the guise of religious and spiritual leaders, are clearly out only for their own gain. Exploitive cults and sects have appeared claiming to follow all sorts of religious traditions, and increasingly New Age ideas. All claim to be on the true path more than the traditional expressions of these religions. But in reality they only seek to exploit people, to gain wealth and power. So how do we avoid them? First we need to identify them, we can do this by learning about their main characteristics and how they operate.
Many cults use various means to control their members, they are often very well organised in the way the carry out their activities. One of the most common means of control is separation from family. They will suggest this for various reasons. Some examples I’ve come across include; family distracts you from the cause, family holds you back from the path of God or even that your family is stopping you from reaching the goal. While family is obviously a distraction to some extent, it is for the most part a healthy one. The main religions teach people to love and care for their family, not to separate from them.
“Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them but address them in terms of honour. And out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’” Holy Quran 17:23-24
“A man came to the Prophet asking his permission to take part in Jihad. The Prophet asked him, ‘Are your parents alive?’ He replied in the affirmative. The Prophet said to him, ‘Then exert yourself in their service.’” Sahih Bukhari 4:248
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Deuteronomy 5:16
Marriage, if it is allowed at all is restricted to those within the sect. Not even just the religion, but their particular sect. Through this means, the individual’s world is more restricted and controlled so they increasingly see only the cult’s world view. It is a very effective means of control. This goes completely against what God has ordained for us, marriage is a blessing from our Creator as revealed in the holy scriptures.
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’”
“And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.”
Genesis 2:18, 21-22
Prophet Muhammad said, “When a man marries he has fulfilled half of the religion; so let him fear God regarding the remaining half.”
Al-Tirmidhi, Number 924
Many people will have natural anxieties about having children, and what kind of a world they will bring their children into. Even this natural anxiety is exploited by some cults. They may suggest to delay having children as the world is going to end soon. A couple with no children will have more time on their hands to further the spread of their cult, and more money to fund it too…
These cruel practices are designed purely to control cult members. They go against our nature and create many problems for the individuals concerned and their communities. Family is the bedrock of community. Where family relations are good, this will also benefit communities in a positive way. Where families break down a number of problems are created which have serious consequences for whole communities. Many problems in Britain today for instance, single parents, young people getting involved with drugs, teenage pregnancies and under-age drinking; although not completely due to the breakdown of families, often have their roots therein.
Genuine religious teachers promote healthy family relations. They do not exploit people by taking their wealth or property. While they do promote their own systems of belief, they do not try to force them upon anyone else. Indeed, those who impart knowledge of good and wholesome traditions do not need to, such traditions speak for themselves. Conversely, cults pressure people to follow their teachings and even use various means to ensure this. They don’t tolerate dissent and usually discipline cult members who question doctrine or practices. All this is contrary to the true spirit of faith and spirituality.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” Holy Qur’an 2:256
True faith is liberating, while cults are generally oppressive and controlling. I do not wish to offend anyone of any particular faith or religion, and I pray this is not so. These are just some of my own observations, to help seekers of the way avoid the wolves who come to them in sheep’s clothing…
May God bless you all and light your way…