The group he founded has now been in the headlines of the Malaysian press for more than a week, since it was revealed that a multi-national business he owns, Rufaqa Corporation, has been exposed as a front for the revival of Al-Arqam. Two officials of the company were taken into custody on Friday. On Saturday four more businessmen, or "sheikhs" were arrested in a raid, but were later released. The four are expected to be charged by a Syariah (Islamic) court next week.
At Shah Alam, capital city of Selangor state, officials from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS or MAIS) infiltrated the Rufaqa group and over four months documented some of the "heresies" which the cult was now preaching. They found that the new revival of Al-Arqam is more extreme than its predecessor.
The group is, like most Islamic groups, virulently anti-semitic. JAIS officials found that its recruits were told that they could only effectively fight Jews if they joined up. And the sect promised gifts of supernatural powers to those who followed the teachings of Ashaari Muhammad. A prayer taught to the neophytes runs thus:
"Those who fight in this battle will receive the same power bestowed upon the Prophet by Allah. The pinnacle of this miracle is when you point a finger towards an aeroplane intending it to fall, and it will fall."
Another states: "If we become followers of Fata At-Tamimi, practicing this sect, the miracles of Imam Mahdi will flow within everyone, only then we can battle the Jews and Nasrani (Christians). Otherwise everyone will become followers of Dajjal or the beast."
The Mahdi is the Muslim "messiah" who is said to return one day. In the original teachings of Al-Arqam, the Imam Mahdi was regarded as Muhammad As-Suhaimi, who died in Klang, Selangor, in 1925. "Fata At-Tamimi" is the "herald" who announces the advent of the Mahdi and reforms Islam to its true state to allow the Mahdi to return. In some circles he is said to come from the East and will have his path obstructed, yet he will persevere - in this case, Fata At-Tamimi is assumed to be Ashaari Muhammad.
In the Hadith of Sunan Abu Dawud (Book 36, Number 4272), Mohammed is said to have prophesied that "The Mahdi will be of my stock, and will have a broad forehead a prominent nose. He will fill the earth will equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny, and he will rule for seven years." Muhammad As-Suhaimi is said to be a descendant of Mohammed.
Ashaari Muhammad founded Al-Arqam in 1968, and by the time it was officially blacklisted in Malaysia in August 1994, it had gained an estimated 100,000 followers.
He took as his inspiration the works of the Sufi Sheikh Muhammad Bin 'Abdullah as-Suhaimi, but placed the Sheikh on a pedestal which as-Suhaimi's late grandson would never have done. By declaring as-Suhaimi as the Imam Mahdi, Ashaari was already veering into the realms of Islamic heresy. His declaration that the Mahdi would rise from the dead was among the claims which led to the group becoming outlawed in 1994.
Ashaari told his followers that he was receiving dreams, which came directly from the "prophet Mohammed". As such, he was casting himself as a prophet. He declared that he had the power to forgive people's sins, another heresy in Islam.
Like many unscrupulous cult leaders, Ashaari told his followers to leave their homes if their families did not believe in his teachings, and many worked for a pittance at the numerous businesses which Ashaari owned. They lived in Al-Arqam "communes". By the time of Aashari's arrest, he had established 48 of these across Malaysia. Each commune had its own