Tue, 23 Aug 1994

Moslem group to issue edict on Arqam ban

JAKARTA (JP): While the Attorney General's office is still considering a nationwide ban on the messianic Al Arqam movement, an influential Moslem organization says it is ready to issue an edict which can be used as grounds for the censure.

Leaders of the Indonesian Council of Islamic Propagation (DDII) will shortly make public the religious edict (fatwa) that says that the teachings of the Al Arqam deviate from Islamic principles.

The fatwa itself was actually drawn up in 1990, long before the Arqam attracted wide attention, following a DDII dialog with Al Arqam leaders. The organization, however, has only decided to issue it now.

"We have found evidence that some of the Arqam's teachings are deviationist, and that it can be banned on those grounds," Mazni Yunus from DDII said.

The Al Arqam members are said to be using a book, entitled Aurad Muhammad-Pegangan Darul Arqam, written by their leader, Ashaari Muhammad, that has been banned by the government.

According to the DDII, the book says that Syekh Muhammad bin Abdullah As-Suhaimi -- the group's founder -- "physically" met with Prophet Muhammad in Kaaba, Mecca.

In the book, As-Suhaimi claimed that the Prophet taught him certain rituals which are contrary to the rituals already known by Moslems all over the world.

Also, the syahadah, or Moslems' testimony of believing only in one God (Allah) and in the Prophet, had been changed to include the first four Caliphs.

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

In addition to the DDII, other Moslem organizations have already stated their condemnation of the sect, saying the claim of physically meeting the Prophet was tantamount to blasphemy.

Moslems believe the teachings of the Prophet were completed sometime before the Prophet died 14 centuries ago.

"(The book) is an insult to the Holy Koran, the words of Allah," the draft edict, signed by K.H. Attoillah Hamidi, said. "It is batil (forbidden or unlawful)."

A nationwide ban was being considered after the sect was outlawed in North Sumatra last week. The province's chief prosecutor, Martin Basiang, told the press on Saturday that the ban on the mystical group was effective immediately.

"The ban was enforced after investigations and questioning of Al Arqam members in North Sumatra," he told reporters. "We found their teachings were contrary to Islamic beliefs."

Not influential

Official sources said Al Arqam had several thousand followers in Indonesia but the group was not as influential as in Malaysia where it had made inroads into the civil service.

Earlier this month, Kuala Lumpur outlawed the Al Arqam, whose male members wear turbans and flowing robes and females cover their body except for the eyes.

Before the ban, the group ran 200 schools and operated businesses in Malaysia worth US$115 million. It claims to have about 100,000 members in Malaysia and 20 branches worldwide.

Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs Tarmizi Tahir endorsed the appeal made to the Attorney General by a number of Moslem organizations, all of whom are allied with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) on the ban which is to be enforced using any grounds that the office sees fit.

Tarmizi and his counterparts from Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore met in the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi this month to take concerted action against the group.

So far, the two possible reasons for the ban are that the group's activities threaten national security and that they propagate deviationist teachings.

Leaders of the largest Moslem organization here, Nahdlatul Ulama, appealed against the ban saying that there were not adequate religious grounds for doing so.

They later withdrew their support but still claimed that the Arqam should not be outlawed for reasons of deviationism, as they felt that there was no evidence to back up the charge. (swe)