What is a Cult?

بسم الله الحمد لله و صلاة و سلام على رسول الله و على آله و سلم تسليما

The first half of the 19th century witnessed the rise of many new religious movements all over the world. One possible reason for their popularity was the global change in social, political and economic realities. This led many to find comfort in new age, often apocalyptic faiths that preached that dramatic changes were a sign of the end of times.

As an outsider looking at Ahmadiyya, I never understood why many former Ahmadis so vehemently call Ahmadiyya a Cult. I initially thought it was merely out of anger against their former community. After all, can’t all religious be seen as Cults by outsiders? But an article in the Wall Street Journal titled When Does a Religion Become a Cult gave me pause…


Psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo identified four primary factors that distinguish a cult from a regular religion, upon which Mitch Horowitz appended two;

  1. Behavior control, such as monitoring of where you go and what you do (ie, Umumi)
  2. Information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group (ie, Facebook Ban);
  3. Thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning;
  4. Emotional control, using humiliation or guilt (ie public humiliations and ex-communications);
  5. Financial control, either through mandatory payments or full disclosure of financial information (the various kinds of Chanda payments);
  6. Extreme leadership, such as excessively revering the leader (Impermissibility of disagreeing with Mirza Masroor).

Personally, I would add another characteristic, feel free to disagree;

  1. To instill a siege-mentality in devotees used to keep them emotionally connected to the movement, thus overlooking logical or factual errors – we observe this in Scientology, the Branch Davidians, and the Jonestown saga.
Something to think about for current members of the Ahmadiyya faith; May Allah continue to guide us all.
Be Sociable, Share!

32 thoughts on “What is a Cult?

  1. I have several friends in what I consider to be a cultish representation of Islam. I considered them to be cultish even before I read this article. Its still Islam, in that there aren’t major major theological deviations, but there’s a lot of little things that add up to “something is seriously wrong”.

    1) Behavior Control – I haven’t noticed any behavior control amongst them, other than by other members
    2) Information Control – They are not advised to read literature, even Islamic literature. Most of them can’t even read Arabic, and seem to have no interest in learning.
    3) They do ask a lot of questions, so this doesn’t apply. But, dissent is highly highly frowned upon. They’ll just call you arrogant because you’re not submitting to the Shaykh, who supposedly has a connection to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم.
    4) Emotional Control – I know of at least one family that was broken apart by it. The middle child went into it, and after a while his family wanted him to leave. He refused, got aggressive, I heard of some violence even, and then left the family completely. They’ll also shame you in front of your peers if you dissent too much
    5) Financial control – They don’t ask ANY money from their followers – not a dime. So this might not apply
    6) Extreme Leadership – Yes, yes and yes. They have pictures of their leader, praise him constantly, take pictures of him in romanticized poses, dress like him, act like him, etc, etc. They basically give him the status of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. I suppose their justification is that he is the living model of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم for them in this time…
    7) Yes, they believe the world is going to hell and Imam Mahdi is currently alive and will be coming soon.

    There’s other bizarre stuff about them, but yes….very cultish.

    • I don’t really know much about what makes a cult or what doesn’t but I think that these six characteristics are being wrongfully applied on Jamaat. It could be due to lack of information about Nizaam or you are straight lying and trying to deceive people. Let me explain:

      1. Umumi doesn’t in anyway control what people can or cannot do. Umumi basically means security duty. A handful of Ahmadi Khuddam stand outside at every event and make sure that nothing wrong happens. What’s wrong in that? The most I’ve seen Umumi doing is that they are usually hanging around in the parking lots of masjid or Jalsa Gah and stop kids from leaving the premises. Is that really so harsh?

      2. Info Control: FB wasn’t banned for the reason that members aren’t allowed to read anti-Jamaat stuff. That’s a plain lie. Facebook was banned for individual members for other reasons. You guys have copied that alislam link on this blog like a million times. Jamaat members have never been prohibited from reading criticism of Jamaat. In fact, they were advised to answer them online. So don’t really know how that makes any sense

      3. Thought Control: Again due to lack of insight. You guys claim that quite a few of ex-Ahmadis work with you. I’m surprised they aren’t doing much for you. Jamaat holds Q/A sessions at every level and Ahmadis question everything from atheism to prophethood, Nizaam, our beliefs etc. Just watch MTA for once man !!!

      4. Emotional Control / Humiliation: Things have to be done to keep the system going and sometimes hard measures have to be taken. Ex-communication is something taken from THQ and Ahadith. We all know the incident of three people who stayed behind at the time of The Holy Prophet (saw). IT won’t make any sense for us to just take people out of Nizaam and not inform other members why they were taken out. I know this seems harsh but there is no way around it. Those three at the time of The Holy Prophet (saw) were also clearly announced and everyone found out and it even says this much that people didn’t even answer their greetings for forty days or so. SO that’s that !!!

      5. Finances: Every member of Jamaat is fully informed of the system of Jamaat. So when they come into Nizaam, they are aware of its conditions meaning that on top of Zakaat, members pay such and such amount of money for Jamaat uses and propagation of Islam. So it’s not forced in anyway. And even if you aren’t regular in financial contributions while staying in Nizaam, it’s not like you are forced to pay to stay in.

      6. Not allowed to disagree with Khalifah. This is both true and false. True in a sense that Khalifah is the head of the community and the head of the Nizaam. So in that sense to stay in the Nizaam, one has to agree with the system of the Jamaat that has been set up and being governed by Khalifah. As far as different matters in Islam are concerned, one can have a different opinion than Khalifah. Meaning one can differ in interpretation of different verses. This was also the case at the time of Khulafa رضی اللہ عنھم of The Holy Prophet صلی اللہ علیه وسلم. I hope that’s clear.

      7. Seventh point is just a false observation of the community.

      مع السلام

      • @ Luqman

        I was an Ahmadi for 25 years. I am first generation American-born-Pakistani-Ahmadi. My questions were never answered in a Q&A session. They humiliated me many times over. They controlled my mind and my thoughts. I never made friends with Muslims because I was brainwashed to believe that all Muslims were evil.

        FB was banned. Then your administration backpeddled. Like it does on everything. Ahmadiyya is a ponzi scheme. All the people in upper management are involved. The Mirza family is rich.

        Oh yeah…You people say: “Chanda is mandatory…oh wait, not really”. These are the type of double statements that the ‘A’ has been making circa 1891. Got it?

        • @ Rationalist

          Look I don’t know what happened with you but just like every Muslim isn’t the perfect image of Islam, every Ahmadi Muslim doesn’t represent our Jamaat perfectly. Now I’m not gonna say that you are lying about your answers not being answered – but how can I accept you saying that this is the official policy of Jamaat that members aren’t allowed to ask questions because it’s clearly not:

          – regular q/a sessions
          – Now a days in Ramadan, here in our mosque after Darsul-Quran there is a session every day. Anyone can stand up and question anything. And people do. I’ve seen people questioning back and forth about basic beliefs/practices of Jamaat.
          – MTA programs – you can call and ask anything. Why would we have such programs if our aim was to get people not to ask questions.
          – We can write to our Khalifah and ask him anything.

          It’s possible that you came into contact with a person who wasn’t so nice to you and didn’t answer your questions, but that’s not the policy. I hope you understand

          • @ Luqman

            I honestly appreciate the sincerity in your writings. However, you have no idea in terms of the severity of the problem of Ahmadiyyat. A good sample is the riots of 1953.

            In 1953, the population of the Punjab demanded that Ahmadis be declared as Kafirs. The Pakistani govt said NO. Hence, the riots happened!!!!!!!!!!

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Lahore_riots

            The Pak govt. tried and tried to NOT declare your cult as NON-Muslim. In 1974 their hands were tied. Pakistan could not handle another riot.

  2. Basically, all tightly knit groups, where there is a central figure, have cultish tendencies.

  3. Guess what! MITCH HOROWITZ is a “Mullah” or “Terrorist” too ! That’s what the apologists will say now 😉

  4. I am a victim of the ‘A’. I know first-hand in terms of their tactics of mind-control. They will that Chanda is mandatory…when the pressure builds, then they say not really. they will say that FB is banned, then..when the pressure builds…OK, not really.

  5. Salaam,

    I don’t really know much about what makes a cult or what doesn’t but I think that these six characteristics are being wrongfully applied on Jamaat. It could be due to lack of information about Nizaam or you are straight lying and trying to deceive people. Let me explain:

    1. Umumi doesn’t in anyway control what people can or cannot do. Umumi basically means security duty. A handful of Ahmadi Khuddam stand outside at every event and make sure that nothing wrong happens. What’s wrong in that? The most I’ve seen Umumi doing is that they are usually hanging around in the parking lots of masjid or Jalsa Gah and stop kids from leaving the premises. Is that really so harsh?

    2. Info Control: FB wasn’t banned for the reason that members aren’t allowed to read anti-Jamaat stuff. That’s a plain lie. Facebook was banned for individual members for other reasons. You guys have copied that alislam link on this blog like a million times. Jamaat members have never been prohibited from reading criticism of Jamaat. In fact, they were advised to answer them online. So don’t really know how that makes any sense

    3. Thought Control: Again due to lack of insight. You guys claim that quite a few of ex-Ahmadis work with you. I’m surprised they aren’t doing much for you. Jamaat holds Q/A sessions at every level and Ahmadis question everything from atheism to prophethood, Nizaam, our beliefs etc. Just watch MTA for once man !!!

    4. Emotional Control / Humiliation: Things have to be done to keep the system going and sometimes hard measures have to be taken. Ex-communication is something taken from THQ and Ahadith. We all know the incident of three people who stayed behind at the time of The Holy Prophet (saw). IT won’t make any sense for us to just take people out of Nizaam and not inform other members why they were taken out. I know this seems harsh but there is no way around it. Those three at the time of The Holy Prophet (saw) were also clearly announced and everyone found out and it even says this much that people didn’t even answer their greetings for forty days or so. SO that’s that !!!

    5. Finances: Every member of Jamaat is fully informed of the system of Jamaat. So when they come into Nizaam, they are aware of its conditions meaning that on top of Zakaat, members pay such and such amount of money for Jamaat uses and propagation of Islam. So it’s not forced in anyway. And even if you aren’t regular in financial contributions while staying in Nizaam, it’s not like you are forced to pay to stay in.

    6. Not allowed to disagree with Khalifah. This is both true and false. True in a sense that Khalifah is the head of the community and the head of the Nizaam. So in that sense to stay in the Nizaam, one has to agree with the system of the Jamaat that has been set up and being governed by Khalifah. As far as different matters in Islam are concerned, one can have a different opinion than Khalifah. Meaning one can differ in interpretation of different verses. This was also the case at the time of Khulafa رضی اللہ عنھم of The Holy Prophet صلی اللہ علیه وسلم. I hope that’s clear.

    7. Seventh point is just a false observation of the community.

    مع السلام

    • 1. Amoomi ist not just for security it is also used for many other things. Amoomi teams are, for example, sent to mosques across the UK to observe whats happening there and are required to report back regarding the number of people who attended certain functions, who the speaker was, what was being said and if there was any anti-ahmadiyya literature. Amoomi also investigate Ahmadis if they are suspected of breaking Jamaat rules (Ahmadi boys meeting with Ahmadi girls etc). That often results in a gross invasion of privacy without the consent of the person being investigated (e.g. phones are taken away by the parents and surrendered to Amoomi etc.). Now, I’m not condoning the behaviour of those individuals, but who gave the Jamaat the right to police its members? That is a matter for the parents, not for the Jamaats own unwanted FBI.

      2. You are in denial. The nizaam has been telling Ahmadis for years not to use the internet and take part in discussion forums. They banned people from calling in to TV shows because those poor Ahmadis couldn’t defend their fake prophet and the nizaam could not control the message. That’s why they founded the Sultan ul Qalam team. But that of course didn’t stop Ahmadis, they hardly ever care about what their khalifa says. Unable to stem the tide Masroor suddenly allowed and encouraged people to take part in discussion forums to “fill those websites with the truth” (Khuddam Ijtema 2010). That experiment, of course, failed catastrophically which is why less than a year later he is backpedaling. He clearly banned FB and the use of other social media. Only one account was allowed which was to represent all Ahmadis. But the simple defiance by Ahmadis (not one Ahmadi on my list deactivated his account) embarrassed and forced the nizaam to change the rules afterwards. Basically, the nizaam has tried again and again to control the message, but they have simply been unable to do so.

      3. And yet only Jamaats line of thinking is permissible. One cannot for example say that Chanda is not compulsary because it is not mentioned in Quran and ahadith. Questioning the Jamaats current policies, such as the Wassiyat policy which does differ greatly from MGAs own writings, is also highly discouraged.

      4. I refer to brother Farhan’s excellent comment: http://thecult.info/blog/2010/12/31/ahmadiyya-wedding-nazis-mass-public-expulsions/comment-page-1/#comment-23619

      5. Most Ahmadis do not come into the nizaam but are born in to Ahmadiyya. A huge amount of pressure is exerted on Ahmadis to pay various chandas such as chanda aam, khuddam chanda, jalsa chanda etc for which there is no justification in Islam. They don’t have a choice. On top of that Khalifa no 2 Mirza Bashir said that anyone not paying chanda will go to hell.

      6. The khulafa-e-rashideen did not claim to be divinely appointed and therefore infallible. That is what the Jamaat keeps telling its people. You have to listen to the khalifa, do as he says, not question him because he is divinely appointed! This concept does not exist in Islam, it was founded by the Ahmadiyya to control its members and to stop them questioning the Jamaat’s policies.

      7. I think it is a very accurate observation. The Jamaat complains about the persecution at every opportunity. They have even set up a website called thepesecution.org. They constantly complain about unfair treatment and even blatantly lies to keep up this atmosphere (the leaflets in Tooting that did not exist, suicide bombings mentioned by Rafiq Hayat on BBC etc).

      • Your point #3 is really worth pondering over.

        Can someone say “I do not have to pay Chanda because there is no basis in the Qur’an or Hadith”, and then refuse to pay? Could someone have a different opinion and follow that opinion?

        In Islam, there is room for disagreement on some issues. Imam al-Shafi’i disagreed with Imam Malik so much that he formed his own maddhab. Yet, he always considered himself a STUDENT of Imam Malik.In Ahmadyya, you can’t say ‘Mirza Masroor was wrong about’. XYZ’. I see that as thought-control

        • Giving charity/chanda should come from the heart and with good intentions, Ahmadiyyat takes away the good intentions by making it compulsary, Allah knows what is within your heart so you are not serving Allah or yourself any good when it is forced upon you, you should give not because you have to but because you want to. I don’t give chanda and I don’t have much to do with the jamaat but I feel happier when I donate to worthwhile charities the amount that I can afford, I only wish to please Allah and not the jamaat Ahmadiyya.

          @ Farhan: .In Ahmadyya, you can’t say ‘Mirza Masroor was wrong about’. XYZ’. I see that as thought-control

          I totally agree with you on that!

  6. In regards to chanda and money, why is that non-Ahmadi masjids such as as the ICNA is always asking for money after prayer. I kid you not, but RIGHT AFTER the jumaa rakaats they dont even let you finish your salaat but start asking for donations. And this goes on for a good 15-20 minutes. So while the people are trying to finish their salaat, they are interrupted by their imaam asking for money and literally saying that this will give you salvation. I do not make this up. He literally said that donations will cleans you and guarantee that you attain salvation and that the only the thing the dead wish they could return to do is to give donations. So, first, your masking the chanda with saying donate and then using the same argument the Catholic church once used to sell indulgences until Martin Luther came along to REFORM the church (sound familiar?). Not only that, but after only 4 rakaats of taraweeh they launch ANOTHER fundraiser, and I am talking about the non-ahmadi jamaats here. And again, this fundraiser goes on for a good while, while degrading the school systems here saying they are corrupt, our kids will get drugs, so donate to us…I dont see how the Ahmadis are BOMBARDED with such things. I’d rather get a phone call every few months then have my salaat interrupted EVERY Friday or delay the taraweeh even more. I almost forgot to mention that as SOON AS YOU WALK OUT the prayer hall your hit with ANOTHER bucket for donations. And then, ANOTHER ONE, when you walk out of the lobby. If this isn’t bombarding you or pressuring you then what is? Respectfully, these are my observations that I thought need to come to light.

    • But it is not compulsary. No one is going to call you in the middle of the night to lambast you for not giving a donation. The imam is not going to say that you are going to hell if you don’t give a donation. See the difference?

      • Going to hell if you don’t pay chanda – what are you talking about?

        @Shahzad – I’ve tried to reply to your questions but my comments aren’t being approved by whoever the admin is

        • @ Luqman

          Have you heard of Mirza Basheerudin Mahmud Ahmad??? What if he said it???

        • Have you saved the reply? Try again.

          And yes, according to Mirza Bashir Khalifa II an Ahmadi who does not pay chanda goes to hell:

          “If any member refuses to pay the Chanda he will no
          longer remain a member of Jama‘at. This is so clear and
          fair that no one can logically refute it and, in such
          conditions, all the responsibility for achieving the
          budget lies on the Jama‘ats. (…)

          He who gives something to serve Allah’s religion, in fact enters into a covenant with Him and is, for that reason, answerable to Him, and the deficiency left in his budget remains an arrear against him. If he does not pay the amount he owes, and is presented before Allah, he will be ordered to go and make his payment in the Hell.”

          (An Introduction to Financial Sacrifice, pdf page no 74/75)

          1. Mirza Bashir confirms that chanda is part of Islam, because according to Ahmadiyya everyone outside the Jamaat is a kaafir.

          2. Anyone who refuses to pay will go to hell.

          • okay I’ve read the entire statements in their proper context. Here is what I got out of it:

            1. He says that those people who cannot pay in full can let us know and get permission to pay less than their original promise of 6%.

            2. This was a Majlis-e-Shura, so he’s advising the office-bearers that until and unless people get permission from Nizaam, they have to pay in full [i.e. 6%]. If they start paying less without letting us know then Jamaat’s budget doesn’t stay balanced coz we spend according to what we expect we are going to receive every year.

            3. Then advising Jamaat members in general he says that You have to pay your chanda [something you have promised to do when you enter Nizaam or take Bait] and if you don’t pay in full then you will be accounted for it on the day of judgment.

            Everything here is in accordance with Islamic teachings. As Muslims we are supposed to take care of our promises and covenants and it’s a sin to break our oaths.

            I think what you guys keep on forgetting is that Ahmadis CHOOSE to enter Nizaam themselves and come under the Khalifah. They aren’t forced to do so.

          • Ummm, Luqman please…. Cognitive dissonance is one thing but lying to yourself and others is quite pathetic. He unequivocally said an Ahmadi who doesn’t pay chanda is out of the jamaat and is going to Hell. He said the mere act of giving binds one into a covenant, he did not say one took an oath and the unfulfillment of the oath is the act that binds one to Hell. He quite clearly said the failure to pay the full amount without recieving permission is an act that condemns an Ahmadi to hell. You and any Ahmadi that deny this is an abject liar and may God’s punishment descend upon you for your deceit. Maybe that was too strong. Maybe I should pity you for your weakness. You are so brainwashed that you deny unassailable truth from your own psuedo-Prophets. You don’t even know what your own religion and its leaders ask of you yet you want to argue with anyone who points out the hypocrisies of your own religion. Stop it.

          • Gizmo

            If you just go back a couple of pages and read the whole thing as I did, may be you will understand where I’m coming from – may be

          • Hey Gizmo,

            You know that the people at ICNA same thing right? That either give donations or regret not giving in hell?

          • From the Book entitled “Introduction to Financial Sacrifice,” Mirza Ghulam AHmed Sahib’s own words:

            Everyone who follows me should bind himself to pay a certain amount each month, be it a paisa or a dhela. One who neither promises to give anything nor tries to help this Movement in any other way, is a hypocrite and he will not remain in this movement. I will wait for three months after the publication of the announcement to see if each of my followers agrees to assist me with a certain amount each month. Anyone who does not respond during this period will be excluded from this Community. And if someone makes a pledge but fails to send his money for three months, he too shall be excluded. And henceforth no arrogant and heedless person who is of no assistance will be able to remain in the Community.” pp-18-19.

            This extract should demonstrate to any clear thinking Ahmadi that chanda is obligatory and not paying it results in serious social consequences. Moreover, the earlier extracts from your second Khalifa proves that he held the opinion that a Chanda payer who failed to make good on his payments had to account for the deficit in Hell. There’s no ambiguity to here. The only ambiguities exist because the AMC does not want to publicize these things and the rank and file members don’t understand the official position.

          • To Brother Sheik Sb.:
            I’m not concerned with what some Muslims ask for. If they ask for money for zakat, fitrana, and pronounce that failure to pay these monies will result in Hell fire, are they wrong? If they ask for other sadaqahs not sanctioned by Quran and then threaten people then I will say they are wrong too!The difference is that the AMC asks its members to pay monies well beyond those deemed obligatory by the Quran and Sunnah, and then they subject members to boycotts, disenfranchisement and threats of Hell fire. I actually think that is wrong but I don’t really have a problem with that, if you want to be an Ahmadi and you embrace chanda and the consequences for not paying chanda then that is fine for you, but I have a serious problem with Ahmadis denying these things in order to market their religion. Just be honest.

        • The ‘A’ is strong like Heroin. The addicts are stuck and their thoughts give us an insight of the psychological damage that the ‘A’ creates. Cessation may last 20 years.

    • Really they don’t harass you for money?
      http://www.ahmadiyya.us/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=79 Go to page 4
      “Do not get tired of continuous reminding…”
      “How to approach: Personal contact, by phone, by letter, keep reminding continuously”

      That sounds like harassment to me. Speaking of which, Shahid worked with Chanda collection and said they never asked for Zakah, only for Chanda (wasn’t even a form to fill out)

      Here’s a key question: If my masjid became corrupt or wasteful, I’d just stop giving to them. But if you felt the Ahmadiyya religious leaders were corrupt or wasteful, could you refuse to give them money? (Just because someone is ‘religious’ doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t commit sins)

      Here’s the ultimate different difference: While it is very good to give money for the sake of Allah, at the end of the day, Muslims can refuse. We give to whoever we feel is the best cause. Ultimately, giving money other than Zakah is not a wajib act. That’s all the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم called to.
      http://quran.com/36/21

      In Ahmadiyya, Chanda is a new law in religion that Mirza Ghulam created. This isn’t wealth directly to the poor like the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, but to the religious leaders. In Ahmadiyya, they literally scrutinize how much you make a year, and you are required to give a percentage of your income.

      PS, ICNA rocks 🙂

      • come Farhan ” Here’s a key question: If my masjid became corrupt or wasteful, I’d just stop giving to them. But if you felt the Ahmadiyya religious leaders were corrupt or wasteful, could you refuse to give them money? (Just because someone is ‘religious’ doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t commit sins)

        your living in the real world, right now where I live the sunni Muslims were living in some form of peacfulness I am very friendly with their Sheikh we have had many discussions but over this last year a huge split has happened over !!! Money!!! and who should the mosque so come on!!!!. this Sheikh has told me while he is leading the salat some muslim praying behind him speak lowly and say ” you are kafir you are not our Imam, well I am glad I am not in that Islam. (hope post this)

        Umar

Comments are closed.