Every generation is said to have its Pied Piper, gurus and messiahs. Here are some of the "religious" cults that have left the biggest cuts over the years:
Founded in the early 1970s by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, the American UFO religion-based Heaven's Gate preached about how planet Earth would be "recycled" wiped clean, renewed, refurbished and rejuvenated and that the only chance of survival was to contact an alien space craft and evacuate earth.
Applewhite managed to convince his followers that this could only be achieved through mass suicide, and on March 26, 1997, police discovered 39 bodies of the cult members, including Applewhite, who had killed themselves by eating pudding and drinking Vodka laced with poison.
By the time it was banned in 1994, Al Arqam, which was founded in 1968 by Ashaari Mohammad (pic), had an estimated 100,000 followers. Many lived in their own communes, following a lifestyle based on Ashaari's teachings.
Members believed that Ashaari had supernatural powers and was receiving messages directly from the Prophet in his dreams. Even when he was under house arrest, he was not deterred. In 1997, Ashaari founded Rufaqa Corporation, allegedly as a guise to recruit new members for the revival of Al Arqam. Ashaari may have passed away in 2010 but his disciples are still continuing his "teachings".
It was tagged as the "teapot" cult after pictures of a large teapot and vase in its commune's compound went viral on the Internet. The Sky Kingdom (or Kerajaan Langit) was founded by Ariffin Mohammed or Ayah Pin, who claims to have direct contact with the heavens and is believed by his followers to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Shiva, and Muhammad. Devotees of Sky Kingdom considered Ayah Pin as the king of the sky and after his death will return as a messiah. In 2005, the Government banned the movement and demolished the commune but Ayah Pin managed to escape. He now resides in exile in Narathiwat, Thailand.
The Church of Scientology
American author L. Ron Hubbard reportedly developed Scientology, a body of beliefs and related practices, from his self-help system called Dianetics. Proclaiming Scientology as a religion in 1953, Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology.
Scientology teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature. Its method of spiritual rehabilitation is a type of counselling known as "auditing", in which practitioners try to re-live traumatic events from their past. The followers, many of whom are celebrities, can get "Scientology study materials and audition courses" after making big donations. Although Scientology is legally recognised as a religion in the US, it has not received a religious status in other countries like France, Germany, Britain and Canada.
It is sometimes difficult to tell fandom apart from cultdom but gender-bending pop artiste Lady Gaga seems to have struck fear in many parents in Asia when she went on her world tour recently, and I'm not talking about Malaysia. In South Korea, conservative Christian groups called her Mother Monster and slammed her for her "satanic" dance moves and "intolerable" outfits. Groups in Indonesia staged violent riots to prevent her from performing on their shores and spreading her "evil" influence. The Asian fans, especially teens, adore her, of course.
Benevolent Missionary Association
In 2009, police stormed into a house in Penampang, Sabah, after receiving complaints from neighbours about noisy chanting and foul smells, and found a decomposing body on an altar. The deceased turned out to be Ching Chi Vui @ Ivan, who was the leader of a religious cult, the Benevolent Missionary Association. The followers of the cult had wrapped the body of their leader in plastic for 13 months after his death so that they could pray for him to be resurrected. It was learnt that this was done on his instruction before he died, as he had promised his followers he would come back to life.