Islam and Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups

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This article explores Islam and its possibility as a cult, based on established and accepted characteristics of cultic groups.


The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments is from Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups, by Janja Lalick, Ph.D. and Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

Leadership, Truth and Law

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

‪The Islamic Ummah exhibits this characteristic. More so than other religious groups, Muslims generally display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its founder, Prophet Muhammad (despite the fact that he is dead), and regard the Qur'an and the Sunnah as the Truth and as law.

"The Prophet is closer to the believers than their selves, and his wives are (as) their mothers..." (Qur'an 33:6)

The Prophet said "None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind." (Sahih Bukhari 1:2:14)

Doubt and Dissent

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Both the Qur'an and Hadith (see Sahih Bukhari 2:24:555) admonish people who ask "too many" questions. Apostasy is considered a capital offense and warrants the death penalty.

"O ye who believe! Ask not questions about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if ye ask about things when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you, Allah will forgive those: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing. Some people before you did ask such questions, and on that account lost their faith." (Qur'an 5:101-102)

‪Mind-Altering Practices

‪Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

It is quite possible that the stringent demands placed upon Muslims, such as 5-times-a-day salah and the repetitious chanting of the Qur'an, could be considered "mind-altering practices".

Thoughts, Actions and Feelings

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Muslims will be the first to tell you that Islam is a "complete way of life". Islam dictates dress code, diet, hygiene, financial matters, relationships, sexual behaviors, etc. The rules regarding women are the most controlling. Muslims are even commanded in the Qur'an to live in places that adhere to Islamic law (Qur'an 5:44).


The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

Muslims consider Muhammad to be the Final Messenger and the Seal of the Prophets. It is his way of life (the Sunnah) and his revelations (the Qur'an) that define Islam. Belief in him as a prophet of Allah is required for people to go to heaven because it is one of the five pillars of Islam along with belief in Allah.

"Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Say: Obey Allah and the messenger. But if they turn away, lo! Allah loveth not the disbelievers (in His guidance)." (Qur'an 3:31-32)

"Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors." (Qur'an 3:110)


The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

This is definitely a characteristic of Islam. A Muslim is in a constant state of struggle (see Terrorism) against the evils of the world. The Qur'an sets the stage for the Believers vs. Disbelievers, and Islamic jurisprudence confirms the Dar'al Islam vs. Dar'al Harb.


The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

Muhammad was accountable to no one but Allah. He set the standard and established a rule of law. When questioned, he "received" revelations admonishing those who would doubt him and absolving him of any guilt (see Qur'an 33:50).

Unethical Behaviour

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

Muslims are allowed to use deceptive methods in the cause of Allah. They are permitted to lie, break treaties (Qur'an 9:1), and use the principle of hudna as long as it benefits the Islamic Ummah.

Shame and/or Guilt

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

The Islamic theology of slavery to Allah, the threat of eternal torture, and the constant cycle of sin-and-repentance can suffocate a person in a mire of anxiety and guilt.

Altered Goals and Activities

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

Converts to Islam who have non-Muslim spouses are expected to divorce them if their spouses refuse to convert (unless the spouse is a female Christian or Jew). Muslims may no longer listen to music, dance in public, attend gatherings where males and females are together, or dress in a manner inconsistent with shariah law. Of course, for those converts in Western nations, adherence to shariah law is not enforced by the governmental authorities and so their practice of Islam can be rather lax.

Population Growth

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

Increasing the Islamic Ummah by dawah, as well as by having children (see Abu Dawud 11:2045 ), is encouraged.

"One of the purposes of marriage in Islam is to have children and increase the numbers of the ummah." (Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 20597)


‪The group is preoccupied with making money.

Zakat has always been an important aspect of Islam, nevermind the looting of caravans and ransom and enslavement of conquered peoples that helped further the cause of Allah during the 7th century AD. There is also the Jizyah.

Time Consumption

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

Muslims are required to spend quite a bit of time performing ablutions and salat throughout the day and are encouraged to spend large amounts of time reading the Qur'an.

Family and Friends

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Muslims are discouraged (and even outright forbidden) from having non-Muslim friends (Qur'an 5:51, Qur'an 3:118, Qur'an 4:144, Qur'an 9:23 and Qur'an 58:22).

Reprisals for Apostasy

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

As mentioned previously, apostasy warrants the death penalty. There are countless cases of ex-Muslims being persecuted by members of their community and even their own families when their apostasy is made public.


Islam fits every single criteria required for the identification of a cult. Perhaps the only reason it is not labeled a "cult" by most authorities in the field of cult studies is because over a billion people are members of it.

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