Universal definition of a cult*
Any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at the top. The group will claim to be the only way to God; Nirvana; Paradise; Ultimate Reality; Full Potential, Way to Happiness et cetera and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members.
This definition is applicable to original Islam before it was spread by the sword.
Characteristics of a cult**
– The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and(whether alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideaology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
– Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
– Mind-altering practices(such as mediation, 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).
– The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel(for example, members must get persmission 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).
– 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 leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
– The group has polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
– The leader is not accountable to any authorities(unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
– 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).
– 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.
– 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.
– The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
– The group is preoccupied with making money.
– Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
– Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
– 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.
* taken from http://www.ex-cult.org/General/identifying-a-cult
** taken from Cults 101: Cults checklist http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm