Cult leader's polygamy club

Controversial cleric who died left behind 3 wives, 38 kids and some 200 grandchildren.

The Strait Times, Singapore/May 18, 2010

Mr Ashaari Muhammad, the founder of a banned Islamic sect who died last Thursday, proved controversial right to the end.

The cult leader may have drawn the authorities' ire for his deviant teaching, but what he will probably be most remembered for is his "Polygamy Club" - founded by his fourth wife.

Set up last year, it drew some 1,000 members to support its promotion of polygamy as "a healthy way of life" - a lifestyle espoused personally by Mr Ashaari.

When he died on Thursday of a lung infection at the age of 73, he left behind three wives, 38 children and about 200 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

But his legacy went beyond a large family.

The controversial cleric also left behind a massive social and business network spanning several countries worth millions of ringgit, under the Global Ikhwan group.

In Mr Ashaari's traditional commune town of Rawang, near Kuala Lumpur, Global Ikhwan runs businesses from bakeries, pre-schools and clinics to sundry shops, a printing shop and restaurants.

According to Madam Hatijah Aam, Mr Ashaari's fourth wife, the family also has businesses in places like Australia, Syria and Germany that she said are generating millions of ringgit a year.

It's an unlikely achievement for a cleric who was once detained for deviant teaching.

Mr Ashaari's Al-Arqam sect had gained notoriety from the moment it was set up in 1968.

Among other things, he claimed that he had met Prophet Muhammad; that he would become the next premier after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad; that he could absolve his followers' sins by transferring them to himself; and that he could defer death.

The sect won an increasing number of followers, from just 10 in 1968 to about 10,000 in the 1990s.

It drew the attention of the authorities, who deemed it heretical and contrary to the Quran and detained Mr Ashaari for 22 days under the Internal Security Act.

In August 1994, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia banned Al-Arqam.

It remains unclear whether or not the controversies will end with Mr Ashaari's death, but his family has said the business will continue.

Mr Ashaari's eldest son Fakhrur Razi, 48, who has been acting chairman of Global Ikhwan since 2006, told online news site Malaysiakini: "We have pledged to continue his legacy by inculcating love and unity in the company."

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