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Between Shame And Silence

What Muslims Should Know about Spiritual Abuse

Have you ever wondered what does spiritual abuse look like? Do you know that religious/spiritual abuse can be found in all religions? Persons in positions of power naturally abuse it. So what are Muslims to do?

Learn about the signs of spiritual abuse and support those who have suffered it.

As more victims need support, this special coverage from In Shaykh’s Clothing will help you learn about the challenges of leaving spiritually abusive groups.

It’s common to think that if someone recognizes or experiences abusive behavior, they can just walk away. However, the fact is that after commitment and emotional involvement in abusive groups, doing so is not easy.

There are many reasons for this, ranging from losing a social circle and embarrassment to physical danger. Some groups operate like the mafia and will bribe, threaten, and harm victims for speaking out.

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At a surface level, such groups are kind and do good work. In fact, the majority of Muslims involved will not face any abuse, and the abusers will have good, often longstanding, reputations.

Further, the credibility of the abuser as a respected figure who has done great work becomes enough reason for victims to be dismissed. The odds are against victims of such groups, and as a result they face many struggles while exiting.

Losing Social Groups

Victims of spiritual abuse who take a stance against their maltreatment lose their social circle. They are often blamed, slandered, and maligned if they speak out.

This is very difficult and is one of the reasons victims or cult members often go back to abusive groups. Imagine being deeply involved in a community for years, then suddenly losing that because you no longer want to tolerate or support abuse.

This is a very uprooting experience that leaves people socially lost and alone, and the desire to avoid such challenges is enough for most to just go along with the status quo.

It’s easy to think that we would stand for justice and not tolerate abuse, but when it involves our own group or our own leader—especially when we have not suffered any harm—it’s easy to make excuses and blame the victims.

In these situations, those who receive or are aware and unhappy with the abuse will often form bonds with each other and walk on egg-shells around the abusive figure, devising plans to avoid certain behaviors and in best case scenarios, agree to stand up for one another. 

Humiliation, disrespect, bullying, and other types of abuse are just accepted as something to put up with. In many cases, those who are attracted to such groups are bullied in other social settings, and the very ‘safe space’ with which they thought they were getting involved ends up being a religious version of what they are accustomed to.

The marketing of such organizations itself often targets those looking for an escape from such environments, which makes them easier to mistreat without repercussion. When individuals do leave, they often do so quietly. Usually these people simply want to move on with their life, and avoid reliving painful stories and having to explain what they are still trying to figure out fully.

In the specific case of cult recovery, there is a fear of leaving a very familiar environment and returning to the society from which one originally tried to flee. Reclaiming life after being in a cult is challenging and generally requires help from family and friends.

What Muslims Should Know about Spiritual Abuse - About Islam

When someone has spent years in service to a false shaykh it can be embarrassing. This includes recruiting for the shaykh, setting up programs, distributing and producing literature, and developing the organization. The higher up in the tariqa, the more difficult it is to leave.

When someone enters a secret marriage, or a polygamous one that is not legally registered, it is usually against the advice of those around the wife.

Once the marriage abruptly ends or she is not given her rights, she begins to see the lack of recourse she has. This may evoke the same shame of feeling naïve for entering such a relationship, and it is important for others to remember that the decision to enter such a marriage does not sanction abuse therein.

Lacking the Stamina

Victims of spiritual abuse may suffer PTSD and be very deflated about their experience. Given the support they saw for the abuser in their group, they often don’t believe much will change.

Prohibiting the wrong is not an obligation if one will harm themselves or doubts there will be any benefit, and those coming out generally are not equipped to do so.

Below are some tough challenges victims face in addressing abuse. They realize that it is an uphill battle because defenders fight hard. For example:

-The abuser has been collecting evidence against the victim and slandering the victim to reduce credibility, and has no problem twisting the truth, whereas the victim has not been setting up the perpetrator up to be disbelieved.

-They have seen or heard of other situations where an abuser is outed but nothing changes since the defenders play the waiting game and keep things silent, knowing that eventually things will calm down and return to normal.

-They don’t know how to advocate. They are feeling overwhelmed and so affected from the experiences that they are unable to offer support to others. They may suffer panic attacks.

-They feel that no one will listen to them, and when weighing the options between speaking out and being shunned or keeping quiet and ‘avoiding fitna,’ they choose the latter.

-They don’t want to invest the time needed to reach out and demand accountability.

In short, they don’t want to deal with all the drama and just want to move on in their life.

This article is republished with a kind permission from the author.

Visit In Shaykh’s Clothing to read the rest of their article and learn more about how to prevent and heal from spiritual abuse.