Malaysia detains 100 people trying to revive teachings of banned sect

Associated Press/November 26, 2006

Malaysia: Religious affairs officers detained about 100 people in a raid on a meeting of a group trying to revive a banned Islamic sect's teachings in Malaysia, an official said Sunday.

The officials made the raid Saturday on the upper floor of a bakery in the city of Shah Alam, near Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, said Selangor State Islamic Religious Department spokesman Fakrul Azam Yahya.

"We have been watching this group for about four months after being informed of their activities by the public," Fakrul told The Associated Press. "We got our undercover officers to 'join' the group to gather evidence about their activities."

Fakrul said those detained were mostly in their 40s and included both men and women.

He said they were trying to spread the teachings of the Al-Arqam sect, outlawed in 1994 for allegedly promoting deviant Islamic beliefs.

"Four of them are believed to be the leaders of this new group and are likely to be charged in the Shariah (Islamic) court for following the teachings of a deviationist movement," Fakrul said. "The penalty is a maximum fine of 1,000 ringgit (US$275; euro210) or a jail term of up to six months."

Fakrul said the others would be given counseling by religious officers, and could be freed if they "come to the realization that the teachings of the group was contrary to Islam."

Fakrul said prayers recited at Saturday's gathering praised Al-Arqam leader Ashaari Muhammad.

Ashaari, who had claimed that Al-Arqam's deceased founder would return as the Messiah, had as many as 10,000 followers.

He was arrested in 1994 and banished from his base in Kuala Lumpur to the small Malaysian island of Labuan, off Borneo island, until 2004.

Malaysia, a Southeast Asian nation of 26 million people, is wary of religious sects that go against mainstream Islam, fearful that they may alter its image of being a moderate Muslim nation.

Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of the population, while most of the rest are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians from the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

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