A religious commune in Malaysia’s Muslim heartland that worshipped a bizarre collection of structures including a giant teapot, vase and umbrella was being torn down yesterday.
About 40 workers with bulldozers and lorries destroyed the “subversive” teapot and other symbols of the pan-religious Sky Kingdom, in Terengannu state. An assembly hall, a concrete boat and a temple-like structure that was under construction were also demolished. About 30 members of the commune watched but did not intervene.
Members and visitors to the commune believe that water from the teapot, which poured into the giant vase, held purifying powers. They follow the teaching of Ariffin Mohammed, 65, better known as Ayah (“Master”) Pin, who holds that every religion is equally valid and that anyone can find his or her own path to God. His settlement has been a popular destination for Muslim, Chinese and Indian Malaysians, as well as foreign tourists.
The main problem for the authorities was that, as a Muslim, Ayah Pin committed the heresy of claiming to have a direct link to the Almighty, bypassing the Prophet Mohammed.
Malaysia is traditionally a liberal Islamic state and the commune has been sanctioned for 30 years. But in recent years Islamic parties have grown in strength and the government has bowed to the wishes of the activists among them.
Apostasy is illegal for Muslims, although the raid was carried out on the grounds that inappropriate buildings had been constructed on agricultural land. Religious police raided the compound twice last month and nearly 50 of its members are due in an Islamic court this week, charged with deviation.
A mob of robed zealots, popularly believed to have the authorities’ approval, also descended on the compound and set fire to its icons.
Ayah Pin’s aide, Tunku Muda Tunku Abdullah, said: “Ayah Pin has communication with Sky Kingdom – that is God.”
Sitting on the porch of his wooden home before the demolition, he said: “Ayah Pin does not care about race or religion. He just wants to bring people together. There is no restriction on practising your own faith and at the same time belonging in the Sky Kingdom.”
In nearby Kampung Batu 13 – the name means “13th stone village” and derives from the British colonial practice of describing locations by the number of mile markers from the nearest post office – a rubber plantation owner who would not give his name said he was a frequent visitor to the compound and that most people there were well-educated professionals.
“When you come out you come back with inner peace,” he said.
Some analysts believe that action was taken against the group because its growing profile was posing awkward questions of Malay identity, a touchstone issue in a racially diverse country where Malays hold political power but Chinese, about a quarter of the population, dominate the economy.
But the religious authorities fully approve of the state’s actions. Haji Mohammed bin Junoh, the imam of the largest mosque in the area, said: “Pin is a deviationist. It is possible that he is dealing with Satan.”