Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Battle Royale Lies Ahead - Rufaqa Vs Islamic Officialdom.

It all started when the government outlawed a new Islamic sect that authorities feared could be a front for the revival of the Al-Arqam cult which was banned in the 1990s as heretical. About 16 members of the "Rufaqa" movement were to be charged before the Syariah court over the next few weeks for spreading deviant teachings. Punishments could range from fines to jail terms or both if the court finds the men guilty.

The government suspects Rufaqa, or "Comrades" in Arabic, could be a cover for the revival of the Al-Arqam movement, banned after winning 10,000 followers and up to 100,000 sympathisers, including some government officials.

Founder Ashaari Muhammad spent two years in jail, but soon after his release formed the Rufaqa Corporation, which runs multi-million-dollar businesses from restaurants to schools, with operations in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Jordan.

Followers of Al-Arqam claim supernatural powers, from averting death to the ability to bring down an aircraft simply by pointing at it.

Other bizarre teachings include a promise to absolve members' sins by transferring them to Ashaari, who is believed to be able to defer death, and the belief that an Islamic messiah from the east will appear just ahead of a prophesied doomsday.

Yesterday however Rufaqa fired the first salvo against what they consider as grave injustice to their reputation and business when they filed three defamation suits for RM150 million.

Today the Selangor Fatwa Council issued a fatwa (edict) declaring Rufaqa Corporation Sdn Bhd (SRC) illegal on grounds that the company was involved in efforts to revive the Al-Arqam movement which was banned in 1995.

State Religious Affairs, Youth and People Friendly Permanent Committee Chairman Datuk Abdul Rahman Palil said the fatwa, dated Dec 10, was made in accordance with Section 47 of the Islamic Religious Administration (Selangor) Enactment 2003.

He said the publication of a book on the former leader of the banned Al-Arqam, Ashaari Muhammad, by his (Ashaari) wife, Khatijah Aam was among the evidence that the company was involved in the movement.

"Although SRC denied its involvement in the publication of the book, they had openly sold the books and held a grand launching in Thailand and Indonesia," he told a press conference here today.

Abdul Rahman said SRC was not just a business entity as indicated by the membership in the company.

He said an information session to explain the fatwa on SRC would be held on Jan 8 for individuals, heads of organisations and the local authorities.

The state government, he added, would continue with measures to curb quarters from spreading deviationist teachings.

***** Once again we see that the civil courts have been dragged into an issue which has been hitherto under the purview of the syariah court. How long the divide can be maintained is difficult to predict, but a country that resolutely maintains two different legal systems simultaneously must be prepared for overlap and the consequences arising from that. Instead of running scared and avoid meeting the challenges, our civil courts should lead the way and show courage in coming out with its judgments.

The questions of law that will be raised and the implications of a civil court hearing will I'm sure be more than just to do with defamation and loss of business. It must necessarily take into consideration the government's use of Islamic laws and whether they have been applied appropriately.

If the protagonists are not summarily arrested under the I.S.A. and sent off to an unknown destination and are given their day in court, then we should all be prepared to witness a battle royale in the near future.
Picture Source
Selangor executive councillor for religious affairs Datuk Abdul Rahman Palil's response: GO AHEAD AND SUE

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