Islamic group sues Malaysian authorities for defamation: report

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — An Muslim group is suing Malaysia’s Islamic authorities for defamation after it was accused as being a front for spreading deviant religious teachings, reports said Thursday.

Rufaqa Corporation, which runs legitimate businesses, came into the spotlight recently after some of its members were detained by Islamic religious police in central Selangor state amid fears it is seeking to revive the outlawed Al-Arqam sect.

Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for allegedly being heretical by projecting its leader, Ashaari Mohammed, as a messiah who had the authority to forgive sins of Muslims. Ashaari also heads Rufaqa.

Rufaqa has retaliated by filing a 150-million-ringgit (US$42.5 million, ‚¬35 million) suit against the Malaysian Islamic Development Department director-general, a Selangor state councilor of religious affairs and Rufaqa’s former legal adviser, the New Straits Times said.

It claimed the three made defamatory remarks, including accusing Rufaqa of operating as a business to spread illegal Al-Arqam teachings and is involved in attempts to revive the sect, the daily said.

“The defamation by the three individuals has damaged Rufaqa’s reputation and business, as some companies have withdrawn their agreements with us,” Khairil Anwer Ujang, who heads Rufaqa’s legal unit, was quoted as saying.

Malaysia

While Malaysia has a secular legal system, the country is ruled by a ‘moderate’ Muslim majority.

“Muslims in Malaysia come under the purview of religious courts that are not part of the secular federal legal system. Any attempt to deviate from Islamic teachings, or to leave the religion, can bring harsh penalties from the religious courts.” [Source]

Rufaqa was forced to take legal action as religious authorities had put it on trial through the media and convicted the company of wrongdoing, he said in the report.

Rufaqa runs businesses selling Islamic books, herbs and various services in several Southeast Asian countries. It also operates restaurants, health clinics, hotels and bakeries. Rufaqa officials could not be reached for comments.

Al-Arqam, which like Rufaqa also operated as a business group, flourished in rural Malaysia in the early 1990s and claimed to have 100,000 members before the government detained Ashaari and other top members in 1994. Ashaari has since been released.

The government of Malaysia, a country hailed as a model of moderate Islam, is wary of groups that preach radical Islam because of fears they could upset decades of carefully nurtured racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic country.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 28, 2006.
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