KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia–The leader of a banned interfaith sect says he is ready to face the law after police arrested 21 followers on charges that the group is preaching un-Islamic beliefs in mostly Muslim Malaysia, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
Sky Kingdom group leader Ariffin Mohammed was not among those arrested in a raid Sunday on his commune in the northeastern state of Terengganu. He re-emerged Monday and told the Star newspaper had not run away from the raid and would not abandon his beliefs.
“I saw them (police) coming. They did not see me. Can I be faulted for this,” Ariffin, also known as Ayah Pin, was quoted as saying by the Star.
Police apparently made no attempt to arrest him on Monday even though he was conducting his business as normal at the commune, the Star reported. The commune comprises houses and three giant concrete-and-tile structures shaped like a teapot, a vase and an umbrella.
The sect claims the structures, built on land owned by Ariffin’s wife, combine architectural elements from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The teapot signifies the purity of water and is associated with all major religions, while the umbrella signifies God, who shelters everybody, according to the group.
The Sky Kingdom includes Muslims and says it fosters harmony among all of Malaysia’s religions and races.
“I won’t run away as I have to look after my family and children, as well as my car,” Ariffin was quoted as saying by the Star.
Ariffin reportedly has four wives including one who was arrested on Monday. All 21 followers were released on bail after being charged under an Islamic law that makes it illegal to posses documents contrary to the religion. Their trial begins Sept. 23. They face up to two years in prison if convicted.
The crackdown reflects the Malaysian government’s extreme sensitivity toward sects that appear to go against mainstream Islam. Also at stake is racial harmony between the country’s majority Muslims and the minority Hindus, Chinese Buddhists and Christians.
In 2001, Ariffin was jailed for 11 months for denigrating Islamic tenets and labeled a danger to society, the Star said.
About a decade ago, the government banned a peaceful sect called al-Arkam for allegedly spreading deviant Islamic teachings.