Indonesia bans Muslim sect

Jakarta, Indonesia - Indonesian authorities banned a Muslim sect, accusing the group of deviant teachings after its leader claimed himself to be a prophet after Mohammed, media reports said Thursday. The plan to outlaw the al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah came at a meeting Wednesday by the country's Coordinating Agency for the Supervision of Religious Faiths and Sects, The Jakarta Post reported.

"Attorney General Hendarman Supandji will immediately issue a ruling that will officially prohibit the sect's existence and the spreading of the sect's teachings throughout the country," Wisnu Subroto, junior attorney general for intelligence, was quoted as saying.

Subroto said once the ruling is issued, any al-Qiyadah followers attempting to spread the sect's teachings would be charged with religious blasphemy, an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Two months ago, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the country's highest authority on Islam, declared al-Qiyadah a "misguided" sect, arguing that the sect defied one of Islam's six pillars of faith and followed teachings that run counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs.

Local media reported that followers of the group do not have to pray five times a day and there was no requirement for the sect's members to go on a hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

According to Islamic teachings, Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, and the haj to Mecca is required for Muslims at least once in their lives, if they can afford it.

Angry Muslims recently vandalized a building used by the sect for meditation in the hill town of Bogor near Jakarta while street protests demanding the disbanding of the sect have been held in several towns on the main island of Java.

The incidents prompted the sect's leader, Ahmad Mushaddeq, and six of his followers to hand themselves over to Jakarta police.

Mushaddeq, who declared himself the next prophet even though mainstream Islam declares Mohammed the last prophet, is to be charged with blasphemy for allegedly tarnishing the image of Islam. He remained in police custody and claimed the group has 40,000 followers.

Nearly 90 per cent of Indonesia's 225 million people are Muslim, making it the country with the world's largest Muslim population. Most practice a tolerant form of the religion, which sometimes incorporates Hindu and animist beliefs.