Eye on the cultists

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - One group claimed its leader is a prophet who received divine revelation at Bukit Kemensah, Selangor. A rival sect said its founder can control dreams, while another said its chief can make water pour out of his bare hands.

All these groups have been exposed as fakes and their teachings banned.

But that is not stopping these deviant sects from trying to expand their following in Selangor.

There are as many as nine deviant groups believed to be operating in the state and the authorities are moving in on them.

Aside from the widely publicised Rufaqa, which is suspected of trying to revive the teachings of the banned al-Arqam, the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) is monitoring eight other groups which have either been banned or are suspected of deviationism.

“JAIS’ investigations and research departments are keeping a close watch on these groups,” said Mohd Basori Umar, Islamic Affairs officer in the Selangor Mufti’s office.

Deviationism is a problem in Selangor, which last year launched an ongoing statewide crackdown.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) lists 56 deviant groups that have been banned by state Islamic authorities.

Of the total, 22 were either operating or based in Selangor.

Selangor, on its part, has broken up more than 20 sects, and at one point six years ago, was investigating 80 groups for suspected deviation.

“Unfortunately, Selangor has always been the centre for deviant teachings,” says JAIS public relations officer Fakrul Azam Yahya.

Selangor’s long tradition of population and migrant influx is one reason why deviant groups find their way to the state. The first group detected in Selangor was the Qadiani, which surfaced in the 1930s in Kampung Jeram, Kuala Selangor.

Last year, JAIS raided two groups before launching the ongoing probe into Rufaqa. It recently kicked off a statewide roadshow, which will educate the public on Rufaqa as well as groups operating in each district.

The deviant groups themselves have been evolving to stay ahead of the competition and avoid detection. A growing number operate under the guise of legitimate companies or multi-level marketing organisations.

One, known as "Noah’s Ark" (Bahtera Nabi Noh), was set up as a company with RM2.5 million paid-up capital.

Banned in 1998, the group spread its deviationism while engaging in business activities. At one point, it constructed a 52-room building in the shape of a ship in Klang, in anticipation of a giant flood.

Others went high-tech, like the "Ketupat Linux" group, helmed by computer expert Zamree Wahab.

Banned six years ago, the group operated out of the premises of a software company Zamree had set up. Aside from claiming to be a prophet, Zamree told his followers that the haj could be performed at Sungai Congkak in Hulu Langat.

"Muslims must be careful before joining any group offering religious instructions, and those in doubt should check with district Islamic affairs offices first," says Mohd Basori.