Mon, 29 Aug 1994

Al Arqam protests govt ban, denies Islamic deviation

JAKARTA (JP): The banned, Malaysian-based Islamic movement, Al Arqam, denied authorities' accusations that they practiced deviationist teachings and challenged the recent government censure of their organization.

Abdurrahman Riesdam Effendi, an Arqam leader in charge of the organizations' activities in West Java, called the ban made by the high prosecutor's offices in nine provinces "groundless."

"We can accept their edicts to outlaw us, but we cannot accept the reasons they cited," he told The Jakarta Post here yesterday.

"We are challenging them, especially the Jakarta prosecutor's office, to prove that we have been practicing teachings which deviate from Islamic principles."

Abdurrahman also said that they intended to carry on with their activities until the authorities could come up with comprehensive and acceptable grounds for the ban.

The movement was first banned in the provinces of West and North Sumatra, West Java, Riau and Aceh. The provinces of Jakarta, Central and East Java and West Nusa Tenggara in eastern Indonesia followed suit over the weekend.

The prosecutors' office charged the movement with propagating deviant teachings based on a book entitled Aurad Muhammad- Pegangan Darul Arqam, written by its founder Syekh Muhammad bin Abdullah As-Suhaimi.

The book was already banned by the Attorney General office last year.


"We demand that they show material evidence, in the form of recordings, notes or anything else, to back up their accusations," he said.

As-Suhaimi died in 1935 in Selangor, Malaysia, but the Al Arqam members reportedly believe that he will be resurrected and return as Imam Mahdi, the messiah.

Moslem leaders affiliated with the state-backed Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Indonesian Council for Islamic Propagation (DDII) called on the Attorney General to ban the movement, citing threats to both public order and the Moslem brotherhood.

Attorney General Singgih said on Friday that the government would allow local councils in mainly-Moslem Indonesia to decide if the sect should be banned in their provinces.

Abdurrahman said yesterday that the movement adheres to the same Islamic teachings as other Moslems, which originate from the Holy Koran and the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (As- sunnah), and does not base their rituals on the Aurad Muhammad.

He went on to explain that the book is a form of guidance for conducting wirid, certain methods for reading the Koran, and that there are only four persons authorized by the movement to teach it.

"Those four persons are not Indonesians and reside in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia," he said. "They have not even visited Indonesia."

"So, the authorities' claim that we based our teachings on the book was not true," he added.

Following Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, the Indonesian government recently declared the movement's spiritual leader Ashaari Mohammad persona non grata

The Al Arqam case has created controversy and disagreement among many Moslems here. Despite the appeal for the ban, many Moslems believe the government should have left the movement alone because it has not actually created problems in the regions where they reside.

The influential Moslem organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, for example, has said that the movement should not be outlawed -- at least not on religious grounds. Its leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, even offered to take the Arqam members into its fold.

The decision of the Attorney General to let provincial administrations make their own decision concerning the ban has been seen as a clever alternative to a nationwide ban which might risk wider criticism.

The movement -- whose men wear flowing robes and turbans and whose women cover all of their body except for their eyes -- was also accused of "exclusivity". (02)