Malaysia warns region of Islamic group dubbed heretical

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia, Indonesia Singapore and Brunei are guarding against possible attempts by a little-known Islamic movement to spread beliefs deemed heretical, an official said Thursday.

"Such false teachings can create a chaotic situation in the Muslim community," said Abdullah Mohammed Zin, Malaysia's minister in charge of religious affairs, referring to the Malaysia-based group called Rufaqa.

In a joint statement after a meeting — convened to discuss boosting cooperation in religious activities — the four countries also called for vigilance in general against efforts by groups to mislead Muslims with false Islamic teachings.

Officials fear the Rufaqa movement is a reincarnation of the Al-Arqam sect banned in 1994 for allegedly preaching deviant Islam by projecting its leader, Ashaari Mohammed, as a messiah who had the authority to forgive sins of Muslims.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have Muslim majorities, while Chinese-dominated Singapore has a large Malay Muslim minority.

The governments of the four countries "are very concerned by the emergence of false beliefs that can erode the faith of Muslims in this region," the joint statement said. "Swift action needs to be taken in all countries to prevent these teachings from spreading."

The statement did not elaborate, but the reference was likely to the Rufaqa movement, which has come under government and media scrutiny in recent weeks.

The Muslim-dominated government of Malaysia, which is often hailed as a moderate Muslim nation, is wary of groups that preach radical Islam because of fears they could upset decades of carefully nurtured racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic country.

Rufaqa, which also is headed by Ashaari, claims to run businesses selling Islamic books, herbs and various services in several Southeast Asian countries.

Media reports in recent days have indicated that Rufaqa is trying to increase its membership and has held several meetings of followers at its headquarters.

The size of Rufaqa's membership and the extent of its reach outside Malaysia is not clear but Malaysia's neighbors are aware of concerns that it might be to promote heretical teachings, Abdullah said.

The other three countries "are monitoring the situation," Abdullah said, adding that there are no plans yet by any of the countries to ban Rufaqa.

Al-Arqam, which like Rufaqa also operated as a business group, flourished in rural Malaysia in the early 1990s before the government detained Ashaari and other top members in 1994. It claimed to have 100,000 members.

Ashaari and the others were released after about two months when they appeared on national television and claimed to have renounced their sect. But they have remained under close surveillance by the Malaysian government.