KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Muslim authorities kept up a hunt for the leader of Malaysia’s bizarre “teapot” sect on Tuesday, despite criticism of a raid at the weekend to tear down the sect’s commune, built around a giant teapot.
Ayah Pin, who claims to be God, is on the run after religious police arrested three of his wives and wreckers moved into the “Sky Kingdom” commune in the country’s northeast, tearing down the teapot, believed by the cult to have healing properties.
On orders from local religious authorities in the strongly Muslim area, the demolition crew also levelled a guest house, an assembly hall, and a huge umbrella under which commune members would meditate.
The raid brought accusations of religious intolerance against authorities who have outlawed the sect as a “deviant” cult. Malaysia’s state religion is Islam but, with almost half the population belonging to other faiths, it has secular government.
“The demolition is the latest crackdown in a series of actions by the authorities using state laws and apparatus on the followers of the Sky Kingdom, despite them not being a threat to public safety, order, health or morals,” Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian Islamic group, said on Tuesday.
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The demolition went ahead despite a court order against it, the group said, adding that officials should have explored other ways of tackling the issue.
“Freedom of religion must recognise the right to practice one’s religion, however unorthodox the beliefs may be,” it added.
Malaysia’s northeast state of Terengganu has suddenly lost patience with the sect. Its headquarters has existed for 30 years but work on building the teapot and other structures only began in 1995, national news agency Bernama said.
Authorities arrested 58 cult followers last month for flouting a ruling by officials that Ayah Pin’s teachings and belief were false and strayed from the true teachings of Islam. They face a fine of up to 3,000 ringgit or two years in jail. Mainly Muslim Malaysia has Islam as its state religion, and tolerates other major religions, with large minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.