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The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid


On 25 October 2004, the Malaysian government made a historic
decision by releasing Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad, the former leader of
Darul Arqam, the Islamic movement which had been controversially
banned nationwide through a ruling issued by the National Fatwa
Council on 5 August 1994. He was freed from restrictions imposed
upon him since being arrested under the Internal Security Act on 2
September 1994.
1
The release ended what had arguably been one of
the longest, if not the longest, detention orders applied in Malaysia on
leaders of independent movements and organisations who had
mounted a challenge to the state. Speculation about the release had
spread for two months,
2
especially since the momentous decision by
the Federal Court to quash the conviction on former Deputy Prime
Minister Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy, thereby granting him freedom
after six years in prison. Despite the governments insistence that the
judiciary had come to its decision independently, the Malaysian public
widely saw the liberal hand of the executive influencing the court.
3
Since assuming power in late October 2003, Prime Minister Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi has made an effort to establish good governance and
a people-friendly image as hallmarks of his administration (Khoo
Boo Teik 2004: 810).
Despite the official purpose of detaining, under the Home
Ministers authority, anybody who has acted or is about to act or is
likely to act in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia
(ALIRAN 1988: 24), the Internal Security Act has often served as a
convenient tool for ruling politicians to stifle opposition, whether
coming from within or beyond ruling party circles. A detainee under
the Act can be held without trial for a preliminary period of sixty days
pending investigation, followed by a two-year period of confirmed
Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 39, no. 1 (2005), pp. 87128.
detention, renewable indefinitely on a two-yearly basis, subject to
recommendations from the Special Branch and an appointed Advisory
Board (Lent 1984: 4434). Upon release, detainees may have a further
restriction order imposed upon them, effectively confining their
movements to a designated locality and circumscribing their public
role (Barraclough 1985: 808). In Ustaz Ashaaris case, his movement
was confined to the Gombak district in Selangor from the end of
October 1994 until February 2002, when he was forcibly transported
to Labuan, off the coast of Sabah, where he remained until October
2004. Throughout the period, he had to report to the nearest police
station once a week and was not allowed to be outside his residence at
night. The identity of his visitors and the subject of conversations he
had with them were closely monitored.
Having established Darul Arqam, a seemingly innocent
religious study group in the lower middle class Dato Keramat suburb
in Kuala Lumpur in 1968, Ustaz Ashaari rapidly developed the
movement by means of intense self-purification and soul-searching
activities. Early recruits were generally young, first generation rural-
urban migrants who formed the upcoming Malay middle class. Such
urban spiritualism laid the foundation for a powerful sense of
solidarity and commitment among adherents, who were prepared to
sacrifice material comfort in order to create model Islamic villages
which sprouted around the country after the founding of Darul
Arqams pioneering Sungai Penchala settlement in the outskirts of
Kuala Lumpur in 1973. The settlements became bases where courses
on the essentials of Islam were organised, missionary activities were
planned, economic enterprises were set up, schools were built, medical
facilities were offered and publications were produced. In the 1980s,
Darul Arqam expanded internationally, as shown by Ustaz Ashaaris
decision in 1988 to travel abroad more or less continuously. By the
early 1990s, Darul Arqam had burgeoned into a self-styled business
empire with an extensive global network whose influence penetrated
mainstream socio-political circles. The clampdown on Darul Arqam in
1994 involved persistent vilification in the mainstream media, raids
into Darul Arqam communal villages by the security forces, wanton
confiscation of property, job and scholarship suspension, state-incited
88 Ahmad Fauzi
social boycott, a ban on overseas travel, detentions of Darul Arqam
leaders under the Internal Security Act and mass arrests of followers
for minor criminal offences such as failing to register marriages and
distributing illegal publications. The wholesale proscription of Darul
Arqam, by necessitating the closure of its economic activities and
institutions, led to its 8,000 strong workforce almost instantly
becoming unemployed. The former Darul Arqam members had to
undergo special classes of the state Islamic Centre (Pusat Islam), later
renamed the Islamic Advancement Department of Malaysia (JAKIM:
Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia).
4
Having had their livelihood disrupted if not destroyed, Darul
Arqams former followers paid a heavy price for its dissolution. These
Malay-Muslims, despite the anti-establishment tag put on them, had in
fact contributed to Malay economic development, thus realising a
major target of the New Economic Policy (Nagata 1984: 107, 113;
1997: 138). But in the true manner of neo-feudal Malay patronage
politics, these achievements were not acknowledged by the state
because they took place outside the network of state institutions and
parties dominated by ruling elites. Independent Malays were
considered dangerous because their power base and loyalty would be
necessarily independent of official corridors of political, economic
and social influence (cf. Nidzam Sulaiman 2002). The demise of Darul
Arqam abruptly stopped a bold attempt to create Malay-Muslims who
could develop independently from the state, though the states
crackdown on Darul Arqam was undertaken in the name of guarding
the sanctity of Islam.
Throughout the Darul Arqam versus the state saga, the
government consistently stressed that the stern measures against
Darul Arqam were based on religious rather than political grounds
(Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 2000: 36). As we proceed to examine this
claim in the following sections, it will become clear to readers that the
governments strategy of demonising Darul Arqam relied significantly
upon a compliant mainstream media, whose freedom had experienced
considerable erosion throughout Dr. Mahathir Mohamads
tempestuous Premiership (19812003). Steady restructuring of media
ownership since the 1970s meant that by the late 1980s, major
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 89
Malaysian newspapers and television stations had been either directly
controlled by the government or indirectly via share acquisitions by
investment subsidiaries of the ruling elites. To make matters worse,
Dr. Mahathirs era had been notoriously marked by unabashed
expression of and hold on to antipathetic views on press freedom
(Lent 1984: 451-2, Means 1991: 13741). From the moment of the
authorities declaration in 1986 of Darul Arqam being suspected of
practising deviant teachings, the media played a crucial role in building
a negative public image of Darul Arqam through a vicious onslaught
of libellous and biased coverage, the intensity of which fluctuated but
occasionally reached high points in 1986, 1988, 1991 and ultimately
1994.
The transformation of the relationship between Darul
Arqam and the Malaysian state
Darul Arqam had earned the deviant tag in the mid-1970s, when its
attempt to revive elementary Islamic practices, as manifested in its
manners of eating, dressing and communicating, was widely viewed as
antithetical to the modern values advocated by the socio-political
establishment. Allegedly displaying anti-progressive attitudes, Darul
Arqam pioneers fostered in many minds the image of religious fanatics
aspiring to recreate the age of the camel within their retreats
(Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1995: 2289). The earliest newspaper article
on Darul Arqam accused it of basically inventing a new religion
which demanded total abandonment of worldly comfort (Utusan
Melayu 26 May 1976). Public misinterpretation of Darul Arqams
endeavour was predictable in view of the widespread ignorance of
Islam beyond the paradigm set by the dominant post-Independence
liberal-capitalist thinking and refurbished by post-1969 leaders of
national reconstruction. Despite contemptuous responses to Darul
Arqam growing in society and the pro-establishment media, the
political authorities took hardly any notice (Muhammad Syukri Salleh
1992: 1027). A handful of recluses who seemingly shunned worldly
pursuits and were in turn shunned by society was hardly an irritation
to the state. Probably convinced that Darul Arqams influence would
remain marginal, the political elites were content to maintain minimal
90 Ahmad Fauzi
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 91
surveillance of Darul Arqam at a time when the political potential of
Islamic resurgence was beginning to cause apprehension in official
circles. The officially-sanctioned Islamic Centre did react to public
pressure by dispatching an investigation team to Darul Arqams main
settlement in Sungai Penchala, but despite reservations about Darul
Arqams alien world-view and lifestyle, this team came out with largely
positive findings (Mingguan Islam 21 Oct. 1988).
As Darul Arqams socio-economic and dakwah (missionary)
activities began to create a significant impression among the Malay-
Muslims, especially the urban youth who flocked in large numbers to
self-contained Darul Arqam villages to join their Islamic activities,
Darul Arqams exclusive anti-development image was tacitly accepted
as inaccurate. This change of perception was reflected in the official
cooperation extended to Darul Arqams economic projects, and the
reception of influential government figures at Darul Arqam functions
(Nagata 1984: 112, Hussin Mutalib 1990: 89). The cordial visit to
Darul Arqams principal headquarters by the Federal Territory mufti,
Syeikh Mohsin Salleh, in 1978 did much to dispel the notion that the
Islamic practices enjoined by Darul Arqam differed substantially from
those of the Muslim masses (Al Islam June 1978). A minor outcry
against Darul Arqam surfaced in 1979 amidst the expulsion of six
leading members for allegedly questioning Ustaz Ashaari Muhammads
unorthodox teachings, but this issue was quickly resolved by an
amicable discussion between Darul Arqam leaders and Islamic Centre
officials, and the consequent agreement of Ustaz Ashaari to clarify his
mystical beliefs in the following December issue of the Al-Arqam
newspaper (Kedah Religious Affairs Department 1994: 34,
Meuleman 1996: 52). The first official recognition of Darul Arqam by
the political establishment came in the same year when Ustaz Ashaari
was summoned to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr
Mahathir Mohamad, to explain the nature of Darul Arqams activities.
Having apparently been convinced that Darul Arqams struggle did
not forsake the world and was therefore not antithetical to the aims of
the New Economic Policy, Dr Mahathir was reported to have
expressed admiration for the ambitions of Darul Arqam (Ashaari
Muhammad 1993b: xxii).
5
Paradoxically, it was during Dr Mahathirs
term as prime minister that the relationship between Darul Arqam and
the Malaysian state deteriorated to the point at which reconciliation
became impossible.
In 1986, in the wake of the resignation of and revelations by
the erstwhile Deputy Sheikh Al-Arqam, Ustaz Mokhtar Yaakub, the
government began to unearth allegedly deviant (sesat) practices of
Darul Arqam. Propaganda against Darul Arqams peculiar lifestyle was
superseded by allegations of theological deviationism, which came
officially from the Islamic Affairs Division of the Prime Ministers
Department (BAHEIS: Bahagian Hal Ehwal Islam Jabatan Perdana
Menteri) and were sanctioned by its political masters.
6
There were
relentless media attacks on supposedly Darul Arqam doctrines.
7
At the
centre of the dispute were the theological status of the Aurad
Muhammadiah
8
and certain practices associated with it, and Darul
Arqams position with respect to the Imam al-Mahdi.
9
Darul Arqams
response to the allegations came not in the form of replies through the
government-controlled media or outbursts of unruly behaviour, but
rather through the intensification of dakwah, social services and
explanations to the public. Theologically, Ustaz Ashaari defended his
teachings in his book Aurad Muhammadiah Pegangan Darul Arqam
(Aurad Muhammadiah: The Conviction of Darul Arqam) (1986), to
which the Islamic Centre replied with an anonymously written
discourse, Penjelasan Terhadap Buku Aurad Muhammadiah Pegangan Darul
Arqam (An Explanation of the book Aurad Muhammadiah: The
Conviction of Darul Arqam) (1986).
The intellectual exchange of arguments between the
authorities and Darul Arqam, however, was short-lived. In 1988,
unambiguous declarations of Darul Arqams deviationism were made
by the Islamic Centre (Utusan Malaysia 22 Sept., 12 Oct. 1988; Berita
Harian 14 Oct. 1988), and followed by state religious councils.
10
The
book Aurad Muhammadiah Pegangan Darul Arqam was banned, and the
publishing permits of seven Darul Arqams newspapers and
magazines were revoked by the Home Affairs Ministry for fear they
would lead the public astray by disseminating the Aurad
Muhammadiah.
11
Denied of nearly all means of communication with
the public, Ustaz Ashaari questioned the banning and the unilateral
92 Ahmad Fauzi
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 93
declarations of Darul Arqams deviationism and replied to the book
Penjelasan with another book, Berhati-Hati Membuat Tuduhan (Be Careful
in Making Allegations) (1989). Nevertheless, response from the
authorities came in the form of intensified allegations and repressive
regulations.
Throughout the 1990s, the Malaysian public witnessed a
systematic campaign against Darul Arqam launched through the mass
media and the distribution of pamphlets, Friday sermons and public
lectures in mosques, offices, universities and places of public interest
(cf. Abdul Khaliq 1993: 816, Haswan 1993: 1223). With the
intervention of senior Malaysian political figures, allegations against
Darul Arqam mixed theological and non-theological, primarily
security, issues. Following a firm declaration by the Chief Director of
the Islamic Centre banning all Darul Arqam activities and products in
government departments, agencies and ministries a ban which
would also in due course cover statutory bodies, local authorities,
political organisations and the private sector (Utusan Malaysia 12 Sept.
1991)
12
the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, stated that the activities of
the Sheikh Al-Arqam would be investigated to ascertain whether or
not they were dangerous and threatened national security (Berita
Minggu 15 Sept. 1991). Pronouncing that the decision to ban Darul
Arqam was made by Islamic experts, Dr Mahathir unconditionally
declared that Darul Arqam had deviated from Islam (Utusan Malaysia
14 Sept. 1991, Berita Harian 14 Sept. 1991). A similar allegation was
later reiterated by his deputy, Ghafar Baba (Utusan Malaysia 28 Sept.
1991). These were followed by the commitment given by the Deputy
Home Affairs Minister, Megat Junid Megat Ayub, that Darul Arqam
leaders would be arrested under the Internal Security Act if their
actions were found to create tension and jeopardise national harmony
(Utusan Malaysia 27 Sept. 1991). On the sluggishness of the
government to enforce the ban, Deputy Minister at the Prime
Ministers Department, Dr. Abdul Hamid Othman, replied that
aggressive action against Darul Arqam would turn its supporters
towards militancy (Berita Harian 12 Oct. 1991, New Straits Times 18 Oct.
1992). Allegations surfaced of Ustaz Ashaaris extravagant lifestyle
abroad and of Darul Arqam illegally operating its own radio station
(Berita Harian 7 Dec. 1991, Utusan Malaysia 6 Oct. 1991). Permits for
newly published Darul Arqam magazines were revoked without any
justification being given.
13
In 1993, following Dr. Abdul Hamids accusation that Darul
Arqam was manipulating Islam to highlight the image of its leader as
a political hero (Berita Harian 24 Feb. 1993), the Chief Director of the
Islamic Centre claimed that militancy had crept into Darul Arqam,
which allegedly harboured designs to overthrow the government by
revolutionary means (Berita Harian 4 May, 6 May 1993). After the
Prime Minister stressed yet again that Darul Arqam activities would be
clamped down on (Utusan Malaysia 8 May 1993), a prominent United
Malays National Organisation (UMNO)
14
senator urged the
government to confiscate Ustaz Ashaaris passport. He claimed that
Darul Arqam was more dangerous than the communists, that Ustaz
Ashaari had ambitions to become Prime Minister, that Darul Arqam
members believed their leader was the Imam al-Mahdi, and that the
Darul Arqam lifestyle so promoted promiscuity that syphilis was rife
among its members (Berita Harian 26 May 1993).
15
While state religious officials and politicians in charge of
Islamic affairs tried to justify government actions from a theological
point of view, other politicians and bureaucrats from the ruling elite,
in their occasional outbursts, failed to portray the Darul Arqam versus
government controversy as a strictly non-political affair. For example,
the clampdown of 1994 was triggered by the Islamic Centres charge
that Darul Arqam had formed a 313-men suicide army based in
Bangkok in a plan to take over power in Malaysia through militant
means (Utusan Malaysia 13 June 1994, 14 June 1994). The Information
Minister, Mohamed Rahmat, simultaneously accused Darul Arqam of
harbouring extreme political ambitions (Utusan Malaysia 14 June 1994).
Immediately following the fatwa (legal ruling) banning Darul Arqam,
Deputy Minister at the Prime Ministers Department, Dr Abdul Hamid
Othman insisted that Darul Arqams concept of Imam al-Mahdi was a
political concept which had been associated with a religious struggle
(Utusan Malaysia 6 Aug. 1994). Following the Internal Security Act
arrests, the Malaysian Police Chief claimed to have extracted
information from Ustaz Ashaari, under interrogation, proving that
94 Ahmad Fauzi
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 95
Darul Arqam had plans to capture political power through magic and
violence (The Nation 17 Sept. 1994).
Clearly, as Darul Arqam expanded in size and influence, the
state had, on its own volition, transformed the nature of its
relationship with Darul Arqam from one of provisional toleration to
one of overt hostility. While concerns about Darul Arqams lifestyle
and religious beliefs and practices had ostensibly determined the
governments actions until the late 1980s, statements by ruling elites in
the 1990s suggested that antagonism between both parties had
assumed political proportions, despite official disclaimers to the
contrary. But insofar as it needed a religious justification to act against
Darul Arqam, which was not legally registered, the government had to
continue using Islam to conceal more directly political motives. Since
the Darul Arqam episode had always been presented by the
government as a purely religious affair devoid of political motives,
16
it
is pertinent to examine the contending arguments from just such a
perspective.
Theological dimensions in the Darul Arqam versus the
Malaysian state crisis
In its 5 August 1994 ruling outlawing Darul Arqam, the National
Fatwa Council listed nine facets of Darul Arqams teachings
considered to have deviated from Islam.
17
These, however, and other
charges of theological deviationism against Darul Arqam may be
classified under three broad headings; the theological validity of the
Aurad Muhammadiah, the nature of Darul Arqams belief in the
Imam al-Mahdi and fanaticism of Darul Arqam members towards
their leader. The first two issues had consistently been the sources of
contention between the official religious authorities and Darul Arqam,
as revealed in public statements by representatives of the Islamic
Affairs Division of the Prime Ministers Department (BAHEIS) and
the booklets and documents it published on the matter (Berita Harian
10 June 1993, 16 July 1994; BAHEIS 1986, 1993, n.d.). The issue of
Darul Arqams alleged fanaticism, although existent from the early
stages of the controversy, became conspicuous only in the 1990s, after
the unprecedented interest shown by hitherto indifferent politicians
who tried to justify their arguments in religious terms, hence practically
forcing the official ulama to follow suit.
Theological validity of the Aurad Muhammadiah
Dispute concerning the status of the Aurad Muhammadiah, as applied
by Darul Arqam, concerned both the tariqahs foundational basis and
elements of its practice. First and foremost, the official religious
authorities contested Darul Arqams belief that the Aurad
Muhammadiah was taught directly by the deceased Prophet
Muhammad to Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi during a
yaqazah
18
in Makkah, as related in the biography of the tariqahs
founder written by his eldest grandson, Mohd. Taha Suhaimi (1990:
267) and cited approvingly by Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986:
345). The authorities refuted the possibility of such a yaqazah, which
arguably implied that the shariah, as contained in the Quran and
Sunnah, was incomplete.
19
Acknowledging yaqazah apparently
degraded both the Quran and the missionary character of the Prophet
Muhammad (Berita Harian 10 June 1993), whose death in 632 was an
accomplished fact. Communication with the dead was said to be totally
impossible, for it went against both Divine Revelation and immutable
laws of nature, such that Darul Arqams claim that the founder of the
Aurad Muhammadiah received it directly from the Prophet
Muhammad was judged to be fabrication and nonsense (BAHEIS
1993: 15, 19; n.d.: 30). Moreover, it was argued that no mention of
yaqazah could be found in the stories of the Prophet Muhammads
companions, who were presumably more in need of his direct
guidance to confront chronic problems besetting Muslims of their
time (BAHEIS 1993: 11). Referring to a fatwa by the Makkan-based
Rabitah Al-Alam Al-Islami, a highly respected Islamic legal body,
BAHEIS declared that claims of the dead maintain[ing] physical
communication with the living, although the latter are allegedly
endowed with supernatural abilities, are absolutely false (1986: 7980).
Although Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 6871)
corroborated his claim with Quranic and Prophetic evidence allowing
for the Prophet Muhammads posthumous encounters with
succeeding generations among his ummah,
20
the authorities argued that
96 Ahmad Fauzi
his interpretations of the relevant texts had strayed from the
consensus of scholars of tafsir and hadith (BAHEIS 1986: 216,
6579; 1993: 20-1, n.d.: 12). Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 703)
also quoted anecdotes from classical sufi texts and personal admissions
of prominent sufi scholars proving that yaqazah with the Prophet
Muhammad had taken place, but the authenticity of his references was
severely questioned. For example, BAHEIS (1986: 26) rejected Ustaz
Ashaaris use of episodes from the mediaeval book Sharh al-sudur as
incapable of scientific authentication, and implied that such writings
were influenced by the Hindu doctrine of the reincarnation of the
soul. This disregarded the fact that Sharh al-sudur was compiled by Jalal
al-din al-Suyuti (d. 1505), the renowned Egyptian jurist universally
recognised as a great Islamic mujaddid (reformer) (cf. Atiqul Haque
1990: 11315), and who, according to Mohd. Taha Suhaimi (1990: 28)
and Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 71, 1989: 109), admitted to have
met and spoken with the deceased Prophet Muhammad seventy-five
times. The religious authorities manifestly held that the authoritative
reputation of a scholar was not enough to validate his findings and
compilations.
Of Darul Arqams ritual practices declared to have deviated
from true Islamic teachings, two towered in importance above others.
Firstly, there was the allegedly longer shahadah contained in the Aurad
Muhammadiah, whereby the practitioner was expected to
acknowledge, after the normal attestation of faith to Allah and the
Prophet Muhammad, the Righteous Caliphates of Abu Bakr (d. 635),
Umar (d. 644), Uthman (d. 656) and Ali (d. 661), and of the future
Muhammad al-Mahdi. The whole addition was deemed to be publicly
misleading, besides the claim that including Al-Mahdi as one of the
bearers of the Righteous Caliphate was a bidah (innovation) which
lacked evidence from the Quran, hadith or practices of the ulama
(BAHEIS 1986: 468, 1993: 223, n.d.: 245). Secondly, there was
Darul Arqams practice of tawassul
21
as contained in the tahlil
22
of
Aurad Muhammadiah. The authorities vehemently repudiated the
ability of godly people to mediate in the affairs of God and His
creatures, and implied that resorting to tawassul denied His
omnipotence and verged upon polytheism (BAHEIS 1986: 4952).
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 97
Defending his teachings, Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986:
89-90, 1989: 11012) pointed out that, grammatically, the apparently
additional portion of the shahadah ascribed to its Aurad Muhammadiah
version was in reality a separate recitation; the phrases shared no
connection, apart from being in juxtaposition with one another. The
relevant question then became whether mentioning the names of the
Prophet Muhammads companions and of Al-Mahdi, following the
conventional recitation of the shahadah, was permissible. Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad (1986: 904, 144-51; 1989: 11216, 118, 22731)
laboriously extracted evidence from the hadith and rulings by classical
and contemporary ulama permitting both the successive recitation and
tawassul. As, however, similar accusations figured in subsequent fatwa
on Darul Arqams deviationism, the authorities had clearly chosen to
ignore the sources cited by Ustaz Ashaari.
At this juncture, it should be discernible that theological
disagreement between Darul Arqam and the religious authorities
stemmed primarily from discrepancies in the sources used to buttress
each others arguments. While Ustaz Ashaari espoused the orthodox
Sunni theology as systematised by Abul Hassan al-Ashari (d. 936) and
Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944) and found in classical works of
mediaeval ulama who unanimously endorsed sufism,
23
the authorities
relied on the works of modern scholars belonging to the version of
reformist Islam whose intellectual origins could be traced to the
teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1263) and Muhammad ibn Abd al-
Wahhab (d. 1787), both of whom sought to purge sufism of its
allegedly heretical excesses. Among scholars who could be included in
this latter category, and whose arguments were utilised to emasculate
and disprove Quranic interpretations and hadiths brought forth by
Ustaz Ashaari, were Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), former Grand
Mufti of Egypt; Mahmud Syaltut, former rector of Al-Azhar
University; and Nasiruddeen al-Albani, a well-known Syrian-based
muhaddith (BAHEIS 1986). Contemporary orthodox Sunnis have
conventionally used the epithet Wahhabi to describe the followers of
this theological school which unanimously rejects the Asharite and
Maturidite systems of beliefs,
24
and have gone to great lengths to
refute these doctrines (cf. Sirajuddin Abbas 1991: chapters XXI,
98 Ahmad Fauzi
XXIII; Ibn Muhammad 1994: 78121, 1426). Embracing a
traditionalist system of beliefs which tolerated controversial spiritual
practices such as yaqazah, veneration of awliya and tawassul, Ustaz
Ashaari Muhammad identified the authorities theological doctrines as
resembling Wahhabi thought, which was in conflict with Sunni
thought and repudiated spiritual and sufi matters (1989: 110). He
suggested:
I am not sure how far the Islamic Centre accepts my suggestion that
its views are closer to those of the Wahhabis than of Sunnis. If that
were true, what harm is there in explaining to the public, that the
conflict between me and the Islamic Centre is actually a continuation
of the traditional conflict between Wahhabis and Sunnis, and not one
between true Islamic teachings and teachings said to be deviant or
deviationist (1989: 44).
The question of discordant sources apart, one may argue, by
a detailed examination of both sides discourses, that dispute between
the religious authorities and Darul Arqam might have been alleviated
had the former refrained from accusing the latter of subscribing to
views and practices it strenuously disavowed. For example, the
authorities accused Darul Arqam of adding phrases to the shahadah,
hence distorting a cardinal tenet of Islam, although this had been
categorically denied by Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 8990).
Further, the authorities accused Darul Arqam of honouring the
founder of the Aurad Muhammadiah as an anointed caliph, with the
same status as the four Righteous Caliphs, yet Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad had made it plain clear that the Muhammad al-Mahdi
mentioned after the Aurad Muhammadiahs shahadah was not
necessarily Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi, but rather the
awaited al-Mahdi (1986: 945). Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad also
painstakingly explained that by yaqazah, he did not mean a conscious
meeting with the original body form of the Prophet Muhammad,
which would indeed constitute a denial of the completeness of the
shariah, but rather with his soul (roh), from whom the acceptance of
any command had been declared as commendable by al-Suyuti, among
others (1986: 713). While such mistakes may have originally been the
result of an unfortunate misreading of Ustaz Ashaaris Aurad
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 99
Muhammadiah Pegangan Darul Arqam (1986), the fact that the same
allegations were reiterated in 1993 (Berita Harian 10 June 1993,
BAHEIS 1993: 2), despite Ustaz Ashaaris disavowal of such claims in
Berhati-Hati Membuat Tuduhan (1989: 77-8, 108, 11012) which went
unanswered, showed that the authorities had resorted to a deliberate
distortion of facts smacking of theological sophistry.
If Darul Arqam were guilty of adopting beliefs and practices
as portrayed by the authorities, their arguments in defence of their
teachings would have been less credible. But the authorities had to
misrepresent facts to convince the masses, who were perennially
exposed to only one side of the polemic, that Darul Arqam had indeed
deviated from the straight path. Darul Arqam was left defenceless in
the psychological warfare against the state as its publications were
successively proscribed, so that the public was made to digest not
Darul Arqams actual opinions and convictions, but what the
authorities wanted them to believe about Darul Arqam. Unlike
previous official campaigns against heterodox beliefs,
25
no Darul
Arqam member was charged in the shariah court for embracing or
propagating deviationist teachings, a fact which lends doubt to the
authorities claim that Darul Arqams teachings lacked proper Islamic
foundations.
Belief in Imam al-Mahdi
The fundamental point of dispute on this matter related to Darul
Arqams conditional belief that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-
Suhaimi was still alive and was being kept in a miraculous state by
God to prepare for his reappearance as Imam al-Mahdi, the messiah
whose advent was ordained by several hadiths.
26
Based on the
prevailing chaos in the contemporary world and the prediction made
by Jalal al-din al-Suyuti that Al-Mahdi would appear around 1407
Hijrah, Darul Arqam believed that Al-Mahdi was the anointed saviour
of the fifteenth Islamic century, and the last in the list of celebrated
mujaddids mentioned in the hadith, as related by Abu Dawud: Allah will
raise, at the head of each century, such people for this Ummah as will
revive its Religion for it (Ashaari Muhammad 1987a: 6, 4854; 1988:
257). This was not surprising since the coming of Al-Mahdi as a ruler
100 Ahmad Fauzi
who would bring justice and prosperity to the world had always been
a favourable topic of discussion and speculation among sufis, who
regarded the messiah as the final and greatest wali (saint) (Muhammad
Labib Ahmad 1980: 2931, 42). But Ustaz Ashaaris postulation that
the founder of the Aurad Muhammadiah was the most plausible
candidate for the Mahdi-ship was based on purely arbitrary
suggestions made by his grandson Mohd. Taha Suhaimi (1990: 67, New
Sunday Times 13 July 1986), and upon circumstantial evidence such as
an ancestral lineage reaching to the Prophet Muhammad through his
daughter Fatimah, and physical features and a name which accorded
with the description of Al-Mahdi in hadiths, as testified by his
contemporaries still alive (Ashaari Muhammad 1986: 178, 1989: 489).
One of them, known only as Kiyai Mahmud, was said to have heard
in person Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimis prediction that
the revival of the Aurad Muhammadiah, after a brief decline following
his occultation, would occur under the leadership of a man named
Ashaari Muhammad (1989: 84).
The religious authorities claim that the aforesaid beliefs
constituted theological deviationism was contested by Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad (1986: 16578), who expressed the view that the whole
issue of Al-Mahdi was not a matter of theological belief, such that
even a disavowal of Al-Mahdi would not negate ones aqidah (Islamic
belief). When the whole matter was not even a tenet of the Islamic
faith, unlike beliefs in God, His Messengers, Angels, His Books, the
Day of Judgement and qada and qadar (fate and predestination), how
could determining someone as Al-Mahdi constitute a deviation from
aqidah? Ustaz Ashaari supplied evidence showing that there were
prominent Sunni ulama who claimed to have met Al-Mahdi and agreed
with the Shiite view that Al-Mahdi had been born and was alive,
without risking being labelled as heterodox (Ashaari Muhammad 1986:
1704).
27
Paradoxically, part of the evidence came from a BAHEIS-
published book, Aliran Syiah (The Shiite Sect), by Wan Alias Abdullah
of the officially sanctioned Islamic Research Centre (Ashaari
Muhammad 1986: 173). Ustaz Ashaaris view that the question of
determining the person of Al-Mahdi fell within issues allowing
differences of opinion (khilafiah) based upon independent reasoning
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 101
(ijtihad), and was beyond matters affecting ones aqidah, was
purportedly supported by several contemporary scholars whom Ustaz
Ashaari listed (1986: 175). To Ustaz Ashaari, all matters concerning Al-
Mahdi were subsidiary branches rather than the core of the Islamic
creed, such that even holding a mistaken opinion on any aspect of
them did not make one accountable to God in the Hereafter (1986:
185, 1989: 79).
The authorities patently disagreed with the analysis above,
stating that there exists no avenue for us to deny that the question of
Imam Mahdi concerns the aqidah and determining the Imam Mahdi
is surely a false and misguided bidah (BAHEIS 1986: 64). But apart
from a fatwa by Mahmud Syaltut, whose unorthodox views had been
rejected by the majority of the Sunni ulama, BAHEIS failed to provide
any documentary evidence to support its stance (1986: 615).
Moreover, as Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1989: 467) pointed out,
BAHEIS arguments were replete with contradictions and confusing
statements. For instance, prior to its damning conclusions above, it had
agreed that to Sunnis, matters concerning Imam Mahdi are only
khilafiah (BAHEIS 1986: 63), thus implying that ijtihad was permissible
in such cases. But it also added that determining something on a
matter which is non-obligatory (khilafiah) surely becomes a bidah
(BAHEIS 1986: 63). Any student of fiqh could not help being
confounded by such a statement, for bidah, by definition, referred to
any belief or action which was in contradistinction to the Sunnah (al
Alwani 1993: 137), and the very fact that permissible differences of
opinion occurred among scholars on any issue indicated that no clear
guidance on it existed in the Quran and Sunnah, thus necessitating the
interpretative process of istinbat (inference).
BAHEIS had also erroneously claimed that the Prophets
companions and the scholars following them had made ijtihad on
matters whose bases were clear in the Quran and Sunnah (having nas
qati) (1986: 64). For, as had been asserted by Dr Taha Jabir al Alwani,
interpretation of a revealed text was only admissible in matters on
which there [was] no clear guidance in the Quran and the Sunnah and
which require[d] the use of rigorous reasoning (ijtihad), but in matters
pertaining to belief there [was] no room for ijtihad ... (al Alwani 1993:
102 Ahmad Fauzi
25). The whole purpose of BAHEIS arguments seemed to be
establishing that Ustaz Ashaari had committed a bidah by tentatively
determining the person of Al-Mahdi, but its failure to substantiate
them with any evidence from the revealed texts or consensus of
previous ulama clearly violated the conditions permitting legitimate
differences of opinion among scholars. These are, as outlined by al
Alwani:
Firstly, each disputant must have evidence or proof (dalil) to
authenticate his argument. Failure to provide such evidence would
invalidate an argument.
Secondly, the adoption of a divergent opinion should not lead to
anything preposterous or false. If the opinion is manifestly false from
the beginning, it should be abandoned straight away (al Alwani 1993:
81).
In a desperate effort to convince the public that Darul
Arqams opinions on Al-Mahdi were blasphemous and deviant, the
religious authorities again blatantly resorted to factual distortion. For
instance, as reported in Berita Harian (10 June 1993), to BAHEIS,
Ashaaris claim that Sheikh Muhammad Suhaimi Abdullah did not die
[was] impossible since even the most honourable Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him) died. This gave the impression that Darul Arqam
believed that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi would never
die, which obviously contradicted the Quran (XXI: 35): Every soul
shall have a taste of death. In its official fatwa of 5 August 1994, the
National Fatwa Council used the word resurrected to describe Darul
Arqams belief in the coming of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-
Suhaimi as Imam al-Mahdi, hence implying that it was a case of one
rising from the dead (The Star 6 Aug. 1994). But as Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad (1989: 117) and Mohd. Taha Suhaimi (1994: 100) stressed,
in response to bewildering allegations of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah
Al-Suhaimis immortality, they had said that Sheikh Muhammad
Abdullah Al-Suhaimi had not died, not that he would not die.
BAHEIS insistence that the real name of the founder of the
Aurad Muhammadiah was Muhammad Suhaimi Abdullah instead of
Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi, as appeared in his biography by
Mohd. Taha Suhaimi (1990), was another subtle attempt to deny his
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 103
claims to the Mahdi-ship, for hadiths had stated that al-Mahdi would
bear the same name as the Prophet Muhammad.
28
Clarification by
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1989: 78) was apparently not accepted by
BAHEIS (n.d.: 19), who claimed to have derived Sheikh Muhammad
Abdullah Al-Suhaimis real name from his original Javanese-language
biography authored by his son and Mohd. Taha Suhaimis father,
Sheikh Muhammad Fadhlullah Suhaimi.
29
But Mohd. Taha Suhaimi
(1994: 901), by presenting evidence from books which his
grandfather himself wrote and printed, verified that Sheikh
Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimis real name did indeed resemble that
of the Prophet Muhammad. Mohd. Taha Suhaimi also explained that
his father, having gone to study in Egypt at a young age and settled in
Java for a significant duration thereafter, was never in close
companionship with his grandfather, such that intimate details of
Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimis traits and life were missing
from the biography he wrote (1994: 72, 95).
Perhaps most significantly, BAHEIS (n.d.: 22) accused Darul
Arqam of deciding for certain the person of Al-Mahdi, whereas Ustaz
Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 184; 1989: 478) had emphasised that his
belief in Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi as Al-Mahdi was
zanni (uncertain) instead of qati (certain) since it had not yet
happened. This was appropriate for such a belief derived from ijtihad.
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1986: 1824) said his attitude was one of
tawaqquf, that is not wholly rejecting, yet not necessarily accepting,
circumstantial evidence and oral testimonies supporting the view that
Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi was Al-Mahdi. Since the
conviction could turn out to be wrong (Ashaari Muhammad 1989: 48),
the so-called determination of the person of Al-Mahdi was nothing
more than a prediction (Ashaari Muhammad 1988: xi). Furthermore,
since the belief was the result of a personal ijtihad by Ustaz Ashaari, it
was unfair of the authorities to implicate all Darul Arqam members
and practitioners of the Aurad Muhammadiah with it. Ustaz Ashaari
himself insisted that he never forced Darul Arqam members to
subscribe to this personal view of his as derived from the view of
Mohd. Taha Suhaimi, and that it bore no connection with the Aurad
Muhammadiah as a tariqah (Ashaari Muhammad 1986: 95, 186).
104 Ahmad Fauzi
Fanaticism of Darul Arqam members
Charges of fanaticism against Darul Arqam most probably carried
political motives from the beginning, but they were carefully shrouded
by religious language and terminology so as to make politicians
statements incriminating Darul Arqam appear theologically justified.
In his 1995 Eid al-Fitr
30
address broadcast nationwide, Prime Minister
Dr Mahathir Mohamad denounced fanatical teachings which
encouraged the blind following of leaders, and gave the example of
Darul Arqam as an originally innocent movement which eventually
cultivated fanaticism through attempts to create a personality cult
around its leader who was allegedly glorified as Imam al-Mahdi.
Fanaticism was thus singled out as the reason why the government
disbanded Darul Arqam and rehabilitated its leaders and followers
according to true Islamic teachings (Utusan Malaysia 3 Mar. 1995). As
a matter of fact, instead of the conventional allegations of Darul
Arqams heresy as outlined in the previous two sub-sections, it was the
issue of fanaticism which pre-occupied the authorities in its conflict
against Darul Arqam in the period immediately preceding National
Fatwa Council NFCs decisive fatwa on 5 August 1994. It was the case
of an old issue, Darul Arqams deviationism, being presented by
official and unofficial state organs in a new fashion, centring upon the
dominating personality of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad.
Immediately before the allegation of Darul Arqams operating
a suicide army in Thailand surfaced, Deputy Home Affairs Minister,
Megat Junid Megat Ayub, had already declared that stern action would
be taken against a religious group which was so obedient to its
leadership that it repudiated the validity of the national leadership and
administration (Berita Minggu 12 June 1994). We might have expected
revelations of a Darul Arqam suicide army to have come from the
Home Affairs or Foreign Ministry, but ironically, the unsubstantiated
allegation was advanced by the Chief Director of the Islamic Centre,
Zainal Abidin Abdul Kadir. He further claimed that the armed squad
would fight against anyone who refused to accept its leader as Imam
al-Mahdi, as chosen by the Prophet Muhammad and destined to rule
the world (Utusan Malaysia 13 June 1994). The Prime Minster then
rebuked Darul Arqam as an organisation whose strength was based on
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 105
fanaticism and the power of personality, whose leader harboured
ambitions to rule the country and was regarded like a prophet and
Imam al-Mahdi by his followers (Utusan Malaysia 18 June 1994).
Deputy Minister at the Prime Ministers Department, Dr Abdul Hamid
Othman, accused Darul Arqam members of having been brainwashed
into blindly executing any command coming from Ustaz Ashaari, who
himself was accused of self-exaltation, through concepts such as
abuya (father of the community), his alleged origins from the tribe of
Tamim, khawariq al-adah (defiance of natural laws) and his position as
the main vizier of Imam al-Mahdi, to a position attainable only by
Gods Messenger (Utusan Malaysia 21 June 1994). He revealed the
governments intention to broadcast a video-recording showing Ustaz
Ashaari claiming himself as Al-Mahdi and the operations of Darul
Arqams suicide army (Utusan Malaysia 24 June 1994).
31
By later
alleging that the concept of Imam al-Mahdi as brought forth by Ustaz
Ashaari was political in nature not to mould ones faith but to
inculcate fanaticism in ones leader Dr Abdul Hamid had
unwittingly divulged the governments fears of Darul Arqam and
Mahdism as a political threat (Utusan Malaysia 27 June 1994). Despite
denials by the Thai government and police as to a Darul Arqam-
operated suicide army in Bangkok,
32
Dr Abdul Hamid, in a
parliamentary statement, maintained that the formation of such an
army took place as a material and personal sacrifice to protect Ustaz
Ashaari (Utusan Malaysia 5 July 1994). The formation of the army was
even mentioned as part of Darul Arqams deviant teachings by
Abdullah Fahim, chief research officer at the Islamic Centre (Berita
Harian 16 July 1994). The Police Chief, Rahim Mohd. Noor,
condemned Darul Arqams allegedly excessive glorification of its
leader as potentially threatening public order, and raised fears that the
tragic aftermath of cult movements, like those of David Koresh in
Texas in 1993 and Jim Jones in French Guyana in 1978, might occur
in Malaysia (Utusan Malaysia 12 July 1994). Darul Arqams schools were
censured by both Dr Abdul Hamid Othman and Zainal Abidin Abdul
Kadir for allegedly neglecting the modern sciences and emphasising
instead the creation of a cult figure out of Ustaz Ashaari (Sunday Star
31 July 1994, Berita Harian 1 Aug. 1994).
106 Ahmad Fauzi
Evidently, as the promulgation of the fatwa of 5 August 1994
neared, the leading theme behind Darul Arqams alleged deviationism
shifted from issues concerning the Aurad Muhammadiah and Imam
al-Mahdi to those related to the authoritarian nature of the leadership
in Darul Arqam. Hero worship charges concurrently shifted attention
from the mysterious figure of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-
Suhaimi to that of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad who was in a position
to respond to provocations, albeit from abroad, and who could be
acted against as a Malaysian citizen. To give a religious colouring to the
newly created atmosphere and thus maintain the semblance of a
Darul Arqam versus the state crisis that was wholly apolitical, the
authorities persistently imposed upon Ustaz Ashaari the image of a
militant cult leader who was idolised to an extent exceeding the
reverence accorded to the Prophet Muhammad, who exclusively
claimed for himself the mantle of prophethood and Mahdi-ship, and
who manipulated countless innocent followers towards
accomplishing his selfish aims.
33
Unequivocal denials by the accused
and interested parties, such as the Thailand government with regard to
the suicide army allegation, were brushed aside.
34
Yet, a week before
the promulgation of the fatwa proscribing Darul Arqam, Abdullah
Fahim, chief research officer at the Islamic Centre, sensationally
confessed to Reuter reporters that the suicide army charge against
Darul Arqam was actually a propaganda exercise to get people
ready for a comprehensive fatwa banning Darul Arqam (Daily Express
Sabah 30 July 1994). Significantly, this admission appeared only in an
obscure regional newspaper which the masses of Malay-Muslims in
Peninsular Malaysia could not have obtained.
In the fatwa of 5 August 1994, two main allegations of
theological deviationism were levelled against Ustaz Ashaari in his
personal capacity. Firstly, that he claimed to have consciously met and
had a dialogue with the Prophet Muhammad. This accusation
originally surfaced after the alleged discovery of a tape-recording of
the said dialogue, in which the Prophet was said to have acknowledged
Darul Arqam as a bona fide Islamic group (Berita Harian 16 July 1994).
The recording was played to representatives of the media, before
being heard on television on 29 July 1994 and printed in Utusan
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 107
Malaysia on 6 August 1994. Whereas the Prime Minister and his deputy
respectively questioned the respect accorded to Ustaz Ashaari by the
so-called Prophet Muhammad who addressed him as Sir, and the
substandard language used throughout the dialogue (New Straits Times
2 Aug. 1994, Berita Harian 21 Aug. 1994), Dr Abdul Hamid Othman
disputed the whole basis of the alleged encounter as a logical
impossibility which strayed from Islam (Berita Minggu 17 July 1994).
This pitted both sides in an irreconcilable position, with regard to
theological arguments permitting and denying the possibility of
yaqazah with the Prophet Muhammad. Even if we allow that yaqazah
could not take place, it was instructive that the allegation of the tape-
recording being really concocted by Darul Arqam was never
scientifically verified in court. This raised the possibility that it was a
pre-meditated fabrication by the government.
35
Secondly, that Ustaz Ashaari was claimed to have been
endowed with the divine power of creation as summarised by the term
kun fayakun (be and shall be).
36
Believers in such claims would have
involved themselves in shirk (polytheism) an unpardonable sin in
Islam. The source of the allegation came from an article written by
Khadijah Aam, Ustaz Ashaaris wife and head of Darul Arqams
Qismu Muslimah, entitled Ayatullah in an internal Darul Arqam
publication, Siri Terkini Era Kasih Sayang (Latest on the Era of Love
and Care) (1994). In the article, she praised Ustaz Ashaari as an
ayatullah, that is a sign of the greatness of God through whom His
blessings were showered on to mankind. The controversial phrase
appeared to be, If Allah is endowed with the attribute of kun fayakun,
we can observe the representation of this attribute of His in His
people. Khadijahs use of the nomenclature ayatullah must have caused
shudders among the authorities for its resemblance with the title of
Shiite imams, and was regarded in official quarters as another explicit
recognition of Ustaz Ashaari as the promised messiah.
37
However, the crux of the dispute lay in the disparate writing
and interpretative processes utilised. While the authorities relied on a
literal understanding of Khadijahs text, Khadijahs work evidently
bore hallmarks of a sufi discourse competently written in modern
Malay prose. Since the article was meant for an internal Darul Arqam
108 Ahmad Fauzi
readership, it should not have been interpreted out of context, that is
beyond the confines of sufi literary traditions. A thorough
examination of classical sufi texts would reveal that discourses
smacking of semi-pantheistic doctrines and advocating a seemingly
fanatical adoration of a sufi master are not uncommon, written and
comprehended in a state of zauk.
38
For example, the controversial
Andalusian sufi, Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), poetically wrote:
So if one say I am God, then hearken to him, for it is God (whose
name be exalted) saying I am God, not he. But thou hast not attained
to that to which he has attained; for if thou hadst attained to that
which he has attained, thou wouldest understand what he says, and say
what he says, and see what he sees.
39
(Ibn Arabi 1976: 21).
The hypocrisy of the governments stance with regard to
Darul Arqams deviationism, could be gauged by the continual selling
of sufi-inclined religious books whose doctrines were akin to Darul
Arqams beliefs and practices alleged to be deviant. One may wonder,
if the government was consistent in its theological position and its
concern to protect the faith of its people, why did they not declare all
such materials which indirectly approved Darul Arqams controversial
religious stance as illegal, and prosecute their authors or translators
who were Malaysian citizens? During his several visits to Malaysia after
1988, the year in which Ustaz Ashaaris Aurad Muhammadiah Pegangan
Darul Arqam was banned, the present author managed to purchase
such books from open shelves in public bookshops. Any reader would
be startled to discover that the books candidly accepted the theological
validity of, among others, yaqazah with the late Prophet Muhammad
and determination of Al-Mahdi.
For example, in Husain Hasan Tomais Masalah Berjumpa
Rasulullah Ketika Jaga Selepas Wafatnya (The Question of Consciously
Meeting the Messenger of Allah After His Death) (1989), translated
with explanatory notes by a Malay scholar, Ustaz Anuar Abdul
Rahman, the author presented a concrete defence of the North
African-based Tijaniyyah sufi order, whose founder, Sheikh Ahmad
ibn Muhammad al-Tijani (d. 1815) also claimed to have received the
practice of his tariqah directly from the Prophet Muhammad. In
Tazkiratul-Auliya: 62 Orang Wali Allah (Reminders of Saints: Sixty-two
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 109
Saints of Allah) (1990), translated into Malay by Abdul Majid Haji
Khatib, Fariduddin Attar narrated the anecdote of a medieval wali,
Abu al-Hasan al-Khirqani, who claimed to teach hadith just as he was
directly taught by the Prophet Muhammad, telling his student:
The Prophet is always with me when I teach you. When a false hadith
is recited, his facial expression changes in disapproval. From there, I
know whether a reputed hadith is true or untrue. (Attar 1990: 125).
In the document Mengenal Al-Tarekat Al-Ahmadiah
(Introducing the Ahmadiyyah sufi order) (1993), written jointly by
Mohd. Murtadza Sheikh Haji Ahmad, the mufti of Negeri Sembilan,
and Professor Mahmud Saedon Awang Othman of the International
Islamic University, the authors more than once explicitly referred to
the conscious meetings of Sheikh Ahmad ibn Idris (d. 1837) and of
his disciple Syeikh Ibrahim al-Rasyidi with the Prophet Muhammad in
connection with the origins of the Ahmadiyyah sufi order.
40
While the
yaqazah of Sheikh Ahmad Idris, a teacher of Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani,
has also been mentioned by other researchers (Tomai 1989: 1003,
Wan Mohd. Shaghir Abdullah 2000: 1245), the fact that both the
aforesaid authors were members of the National Fatwa Council which
declared Darul Arqam as heterodox, would astonish any reader.
Furthermore, the book was published by the Negeri Sembilan Islamic
Affairs Department and contained a preface by the states UMNO
Chief Minister.
On the issue of Al-Mahdi, a writer not known to have any
connection with Darul Arqam, boldly stated, in close resemblance with
Ustaz Ashaaris views, that:
Meanwhile, the author has discovered a book entitled Manakib asy-
Syeikh as-Saiyid Muhammad bin Abdullah as-Suhaimi, founder of the
Suhaimi
41
sufi order famous in the Malay world. In the book, it is
mentioned that Syeikh Suhaimi, said to have died or disappeared in
1929, will reappear and assume an important position as decided by
the Council of Saints. He will be easily recognisable through several
distinctive physical features, such as a mole on his right cheek. Besides
that, the Manakib also proves that Syeikh Suhaimi is a descendant of
the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) it could therefore be
concluded that Syeikh Suhaimi will reappear as the awaited Imam Mahdi.
110 Ahmad Fauzi
However, before disappearing, he reminded his disciples to sustain
and implement the laws of Allah. (Muhammad Labib Ahmad 1980:
44, emphasis added).
On the whole, theological allegations against Darul Arqam
were never properly investigated or proven, but were judged to be true
based on a malicious campaign of trial by media. As far as the media
coverage of the Darul Arqam versus the state controversy from a
religious perspective was concerned, a balanced view, that is one which
gave exposure to perspectives from schools of Islamic thought not
subscribed to by the authorities, was perennially elusive. Even if there
were remarks representing views congruent with those of the accused,
they were relegated to obscure sections of a publication, given minute
portions of a page, or even outright distorted, such that the balance of
the argument would eventually be in the authorities favour.
42
It was
this biased environment which may explain Darul Arqams reluctance
to speak out through the media. At the end of the day, the Malaysian
state succeeded in pushing its sinister portrayal of Darul Arqam down
the throats of the Malay-Muslim population, with the exception of an
informed minority whose overt or covert dependence on state
patronage and resources cowed them into silence and unwilling
submission to the establishment.
Concluding remarks
In Malaysia, the present authors attempt to rethink theological
controversies surrounding the banning of Darul Arqam would most
probably be frowned upon by mainstream Malay-Muslims. Refusal to
acknowledge religious pluralism in Malaysia developed out of a
peculiar Islamic administrative structure which overrules diversity
between Islamic traditions and organisations and from an obsessive
desire of Malay ruling elites to ward off any signs of Malay-Muslim
disunity in the context of maintaining a delicate political balance
between Muslims and non-Muslims (Meuleman 1996: 56). As such,
constitutional freedom of religion applies only with respect to Islam
vis--vis other religions, but not among different interpretations of
Islam. The Malaysian government, as represented by its religious
bureaucracy, considers its version of religious orthodoxy to be
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 111
universally applicable to the Malay-Muslim population, although
legitimate evidence indicates that alternative positions, as adopted for
instance by Darul Arqam, have been tolerated within the framework of
acceptable differences of opinion in the Islamic intellectual tradition.
In fact, it could be argued that before the onset of Wahhabi reformism
in Arabia and its global dissemination, made possible by Saudi Arabias
patronage of the pilgrimage and massive Middle Eastern oil wealth, it
was traditionalist doctrines familiar to the world of sufism, as upheld
by Darul Arqam, that were dominant among the ummah and certainly
in the Malay world (Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 2001b; 2001c).
Although Malaysia and Indonesia share a similar Islamic
heritage, in Indonesia, a higher degree of tolerance of unofficial
Islamic viewpoints prevails. In Darul Arqams case, despite a public
statement by the Ulama Council of Indonesia (Majlis Ulama Indonesia)
on 13 August 1994 proclaiming Darul Arqams deviationism for
reasons not dissimilar to the ones in the Malaysian fatwa and proposing
a national ban on Darul Arqam (Media Dakwah September 1994,
Kompas 14 Aug. 1994), the Indonesian fatwa was not universally
endorsed by the ulama, intellectuals and the government of Indonesia.
The Indonesian Council, and for that matter, the Malaysian
government, was dealt a severe blow when the Nahdatul Ulama,
Indonesias largest Islamic organisation with sixty-million members,
issued an opposite fatwa which exonerated Darul Arqam from charges
of deviationism and exhorted the government not to ban Darul
Arqam on the basis of aqidah (Pengurus Besar NU 1994, Kompas 13 Aug.
1994, Dunia Islam October 1994). Eventually, as proclaimed by the
Attorney-General on 5 October 1994, Darul Arqam was spared from
a national ban since it had hitherto posed no threat to Indonesias
security and stability (Straits Times Singapore 6 Oct. 1994, Utusan
Malaysia 6 Oct. 1994).
Within the Indonesian scholarly community, discussions
putting forth different sides of arguments pertaining to the Darul
Arqam affair flourished.
43
Although the Indonesian Islamic authorities
had also been penetrated by Wahhabi elements, they failed to impose
their viewpoints by letter of the law. Respectable sections of society
were too familiar with the traditionalist-modernist dimension of
112 Ahmad Fauzi
doctrinal conflict to be coaxed by any interested party into
excommunicating either school. As Meuleman noted, in Indonesia,
representatives of the traditionalist style of Islam ... considered the
Darul Arqam doctrine as acceptable within the Islamic tradition, and
although at first glance, Indonesia looked less democratic than
Malaysia, its handling of the Darul Arqam affair indicated that
Indonesia offered more religious tolerance and dynamism and more
open discussions between various religious figures and organisations
or scholars than Malaysia (1996: 602). In Malaysia, by contrast, the
highly limited scope of academic discussion was confirmed by the
impression Meuleman obtained in an interview with a Malaysian
scholar, that one should be careful not to discuss certain issues or
express certain opinions before the wrong forum (1996: 56).
In the ten years of state-imposed solitary confinement,
neither Ustaz Ashaari nor any former Darul Arqam member was
formally accused in a syariah court for professing or disseminating
heterodox teachings. Yet, during this period, there were those who
were formally charged for subscribing to similarly unorthodox
beliefs.
44
The difference appears to be that while other individuals
possessed no systematically organised mass following, Ustaz Ashaari
did. Despite the ten-year blanket imposed on him, he has since 1997
regrouped some of his former followers in a bustling business entity
formally registered as Rufaqa Corporation (Muhammad Syukri Salleh
2003: 1428).
45
Ustaz Ashaaris release shows that Rufaqa has reached
a modus vivendi with Abdullah Ahmad Badawis administration, that
Rufaqa focuses purely on economic activities, without indulging its
members in theological controversy.
The states strong-arm tactics in defeating the challenge posed
by Darul Arqam was indicative of the growth of authoritarianism that
had been a major trait of the Mahathir era (Case 1993: 198ff.; Khoo
Boo Teik 1995: chapter 7; Crouch 1996: 240). In spite of theological
haziness surrounding the states case against Darul Arqam, Islam in
Malaysia had been sufficiently centralised, bureaucratised and managed
in such a way that those who dared to stray from an officially defined
orthodoxy risked social ostracism as a price for their heresy, which,
unfortunately, might have been politically rather than theologically
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 113
motivated (Nagata 2004: 111). In April 2003, the Home Ministry
banned the present authors Malaysia Daulah Pemuda Bani Tamim: Rahsia
Keagungan Ummah (The Malaysian State of the Youth of Bani Tamim:
Secrets of the Glorious Ummah) a study of the messianic ideology
centred around the youth of Bani Tamim. Altogether, under the
Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (Amended 1987), thirty-
five books were gazetted as detrimental to the public peace (New
Straits Times 9 April 2003). Malaysia Daulah Pemuda Bani Tamim was
wholly theoretical in orientation, without juxtaposing any particular
figure or group as the candidate most fitting the credentials of the
youth of Bani Tamim. It does not contain arguments supporting
Darul Arqams theological position which made it unacceptable to the
religious establishment. The book does, however, mention that Ustaz
Ashaari Muhammad, utterly convinced that Malaysia was the
provenance of the youth of Bani Tamim, has been the one who most
recently strove to realise the hadiths related to this concept (Ahmad
Fauzi Abdul Hamid 1999a: 1535). Deviation from religious
orthodoxy becomes sensitive to the Malaysian state whenever it is
deemed to constitute a challenge to the hegemony of religio-political
elites. It is not religious heterodoxy as a false doctrine in itself which
bothers the Malaysian authorities, but rather, whether or not the elites
are affected by it.
Appendix: Summary of the fatwa banning Darul Arqam
and its legal implications
(Sources: The Star, 6 August 1994; The Sun, 6 August 1994)
On 5 August 1994, the National Fatwa Council, under the
chairmanship of the Royal Mufti Ahmad Tajuddin Abdul Rahman,
issued a fatwa banning Ashaari Muhammads Darul Arqam movement,
after a unanimous agreement by members that Darul Arqam was
deviant. Ten aspects of Darul Arqams teachings were considered by
the Council to have deviated from Islam:
1. The belief that Sheikh Muhammad As-Suhaimi, the founder of
Aurad Muhammadiah (the philosophy of Al Arqam), would be
resurrected as Imam Mahdi, a messiah.
114 Ahmad Fauzi
2. The belief that Sheikh Muhammad As-Suhaimi had a conscious
meeting with Prophet Muhammad in the Kaabah and received the
Aurad Muhammadiah from him.
3. Adding false information to a prayer by saying that Sheikh
Muhammad As-Suhaimi was Imam Mahdi and giving him equal status
to the four Righteous Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali.
4. Wrongly defining the meaning of Verse Three of Surah An-Nisa
(Chapter IV: Women) in the Quran by claiming that the origin of
marriage began with two wives and then the third and fourth. This
conflicted with the accepted translation and opposed the consensus of
recognised scholars on marriage.
5. The claim by Al Arqam leader Ashaari Muhammad that he had a
conscious meeting with Prophet Muhammad and his followers and
had a dialogue with the Prophet.
6. Al Arqam followers were so entranced by their leader that they
idolised Ashaari and believed he could perform miracles, was a saint
and protector.
7. Ashaari also claimed that the Prophet acknowledged the bona fides of
Al Arqam teachings.
8. It was claimed that Ashaari was given the power of Kun-Fayakun (be
and shall be) possessed by Allah. The claim could give rise to shirk
(polytheism), by comparing Allah with His creations.
9. Al Arqam failed to observe state Islamic laws and enactments and
other written laws regarding Islamic affairs, did not comply with
decisions of recognised scholars of the Sunni sect and ignored advice
and rulings of state ulama and mufti.
10. Ashaari claimed he was a descendant of Bani Tamim Arab when
in fact he was of the Bawean Malay descent.
The fatwa imposed a ban on Darul Arqams practices, materials and
activities. Specifically, it prohibited members of the public from:
1. Adopting Darul Arqams ideology, philosophy and practice which
go against Islamic teachings and practice.
2a. Using Darul Arqams publicity materials such as photographs,
posters, graphs, circulars, film slides and newspaper advertisements.
2b. Possessing Darul Arqams books, magazines, pamphlets, films,
audio tapes, laser discs, phonography, compact discs and all forms of
recordings.
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 115
2c. Displaying any symbol, diagram or sign that could identify the
group with any movable or immovable property.
3. Becoming a member or leader, holding ceramah (religious talks),
conducting classes or becoming involved in economic, social, art,
cultural or other activities for the purpose of upholding and
expanding the movement.
As a consequence of the fatwa, the following actions, applying full
weight of the law, were to be taken against Darul Arqam:
1. Under the Education Act, all Darul Arqam schools are to close
because they are not registered with the Education Ministry or any
religious authority. Students are to be put in special classes in
government schools.
2. Under the Companies Act, Registrar of Companies regulations
prohibit the use of words connected with Islam, like the names of
friends of the Prophet, for a company name or logo, without the
approval of the Islamic Centre. Al Arqam is the name of a friend of
a Prophet. It did not seek approval and this by itself will render the
symbol invalid.
3. The Societies Act specifies that the symbol of any society must be
approved by the registrar. The use of Ashaaris photograph on badges
worn by Darul Arqam followers is disallowed. The Act prohibits the
collection of money.
4. The Printing Presses and Publications Act imposes a ban on the
movements publications.
5. District councils are to remove any symbol associated with the
movement.
6. The National Film Development Corporation is to prohibit any film
production by the movement.
7. Under the Internal Security Act, it is up to the police to use their
discretion to enforce the ban.
8. The Public Services Department will act against civil servants who
are members of Darul Arqam.
9. Darul Arqams assets may be frozen if it can be established these
assets are not registered under the name of movement but under the
names of individual members.
116 Ahmad Fauzi
Dr Ahmad Fauzi is a Senior Lecturer in Politics in the School of Distance
Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. His email address is:
afauzi@usm.my
Notes
1. Ex-leader of Al Arqam can now move freely, New , 27.10.04; Former
leader of Islamic sect freed,Straits Times(Singapore), 28.10.04.
2. Pengikut yakin Ashaari akan dibebaskan, Kosmo!, 08.09.04; Abu Ya
Ashaari bebas!, Buletin Demokrasi, 28.09.04; Jakim serah kepada KDN
tempoh tahanan terhad Asaari, Utusan Malaysia, 12.10.04.
3. Was there a deal?,Straits Times (Singapore), 04.09.04; Time for Healing: In
a stunning decision, Malaysias highest court allows Anwar Ibrahim to go
free. Can he be a political force again?, Time, 13.09.04.
4. For background information on the Darul Arqam versus the state conflict,
see also Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid (1999b: 5-18, 2001a).
5. Subky Latiff, Arqam Yang Pernah Disanjung oleh Dr. M, Harakah,
28.10.91.
6. See the preface to the book Penjelasan Terhadap Buku Aurad Muhammadiah
Pegangan Darul Arqam by Dr. Mohd. Yusof Nor, then Deputy Minister at
the Prime Ministers Department, 06.11.86.
7. Yayasan Arqam Berpecah Belah, Utusan Malaysia, 18.06.86; Kewajipan
Memerangi Kesesatan, Utusan Malaysia, editorial, 28.06.86; Haji Mokhtar
Dedah Kepercayaan Pengikut al-Arqam: Buku Tarikat Disimpan sebagai
Pasport Tentera Imam Mahdi, Utusan Malaysia, 12.07.86; Al-Arqam
Adakan Tentera Berpedang Sambut Kebangkitan Imam Mahadi, Utusan
Malaysia, 16.10.86.
8. Aurad Muhammadiah refers to the tariqah (sufi order) practised by Darul
Arqam members. Technically, Aurad Muhammadiah consisted of the
recitation, individually after each daily prayer and preferably in
congregation on Thursday nights, of seven verses in the correct order,
preceded by reading the first chapter of the Quran. These verses, four and
three of which were to be read ten and fifty times respectively, were
together a collection of Quranic verses, the kalimah shahadah (attestation of
faith to God and the Prophet Muhammad as His Messenger) and a
salutation of peace upon the Prophet Muhammad (salawat) (cf. Ashaari
Muhammad 1986: chapter 5).
9. Imam al-Mahdi is the Islamic version of the messiah who will appear
towards the end of the world to restore Islamic political supremacy and
universal justice, heralding the ensuing advent of Jesus Christ.
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 117
10. As religious matters are under jurisdiction of the states according to the
Federal Constitution, consent of states religious authorities, headed by
muftis, was needed for any legal action to be taken against Darul Arqam.
For examples of state religious councils pronouncements on Darul
Arqams deviationism, see Kedah Religious Affairs Department (1994)
and Ashaari Muhammad (1989: 74-7, 98-100). For Ustaz Ashaaris replies,
see pp. 77-93, 100-19.
11. The newspapers and magazines affected by this ban were Al Arqam (jawi
script), Al Arqam (romanised script), Al Arqam (English), Mingguan Islam,
Al Munir, Al Mukminah a womens magazine, and Al Ain a childrens
magazine.
12. For the formal letter of ban, written by Zainal Abidin Abdul Kadir, Chief
Director of the Islamic Centre, on behalf of the federal Chief Secretary,
see Utusan Malaysia, 11.10.91.
13. In October 1991, four magazines viz. Al Qiadah, An Nasihah, Anak Soleh
and Generasi were banned. In November 1992, the permit of the magazine
Amal was revoked after only two issues, and in March 1993, the magazine
Ratu, a week after the publication of its premier issue, encountered a similar
fate; see Darul Arqam (1993: 191). From then onwards, Darul Arqam
publications purely served the internal market, that is, for members only.
14. The chief Malay component of the ruling National Front (BN: Barisan
Nasional) coalition.
15. For the complete statement of Senator Nazri Abdul Aziz in Parliament,
see Ashaari Muhammad (1993b: 11011).
16. Anwar on banning of Al Arqam, Malaysian Digest, August/September
1994; Abdullah: No reason to give members asylum, New Straits Times,
05.09.94; A butterfly upon a wheel, The Economist, 10.09.94.
17. The official pronouncement of the fatwa made headline news of all
national daily newspapers on 6 August 1994. See the appendix at the end of
this article.
18. Meeting, in a state of consciousness and zauk (spiritual intoxication),
between two human beings, one or both of whom may have been deceased
and therefore present in spiritual and not physical form. Sufis regard
yaqazah with the late Prophet Muhammad as a karamah accorded to the
awliya (saints); see Tomai (1989).
19. The position of the Islamic Centre on yaqazah was clarified by Dr Abdul
Hamid Othman, Deputy Minister at the Prime Ministers Department, as
follows: Muslims believe that the Prophet can only be met in dreams and
not directly. If the Prophet can be encountered in such a [direct]
circumstance, then whatever explanations that occur in the Quran are not
118 Ahmad Fauzi
correct (Berita Minggu 17.07.94). The respective Quranic verse and hadith
to support this view are: This day have I perfected your religion for you,
completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your
religion (Quran V: 3), and I leave behind the Quran and my Sunnah and as
long as you hold on to both of them you will not be lost (related by Hakim)
(BAHEIS 1986: 27, n.d.: 12).
20. For example, the verse And say not of those who are slain in the way of
Allah: They are dead. Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not
(Quran II: 154) and the hadith The prophets live in their graves and they
pray (related by Baihaqi) (Ashaari Muhammad 1986: 68).
21. The practice of invoking intermediaries, usually the saints, when making
doa (supplication) to God. The issue of whether tawassul is permissible or
not in Islam has long been a source of contention between Islamic
traditionalists, who allow it, and Islamic modernists, who forbid it. See
Sirajuddin Abbas (1991: 284-301, 316-26) and Deliar Noer (1975: 56-7).
22. Tahlil refers to religious chantings which testify that Allah is the One and
Only God. The tahlil of Aurad Muhammadiah refers to specific chantings
recited in congregation by practitioners of the Aurad Muhammadiah on
Thursday and Sunday nights (Ashaari Muhammad 1986: 11927).
23. For an exposition and defence of doctrines of the orthodox Sunni
theology, see Sirajuddin Abbas (1991: chapters II, III, XXVIII) and Ibn
Muhammad (1994: 12241, 1479).
24. The term Wahhabi was derived from the name of the reformer of Najd
(in present-day Saudi Arabia), Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1787). It
has been suggested that this epithet is a misnomer, for its implied
sanctification of ibn Abd al-Wahhab was contrary to his opposition against
veneration of humans, and that the so-called Wahhabis preferred to be
known as muwahhidun (unitarians). (Mortimer 1982: 64, Sirajuddin Abbas
1991: 309).
25. For an account of such heterodox groups and the measures taken to
combat them, see Jamil (1988: chapter 4) and Mustaffa Suhaimi (2000: 142-
55).
26. For hadiths on the coming and characteristics of Imam al-Mahdi, see Ibn
Kathir (1991: chapter 6) and As-Siddiq (1985).
27. Twelver Shiites (Shiah Ithna Ashariah), the dominant Shiite sect in Iran and
most of the world, believe that Imam al-Mahdi is their twelfth Imam,
Muhammad Hassan al-Askari, who allegedly disappeared into a tunnel in
Sammara, Iraq, in 260 Hijrah at five years of age. Sunni scholars claim that
this belief is based on fabricated evidence; see Sirajuddin Abbas (1991: 127-
8) and Ibn Kathir (1991: 20). Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad personally refuted
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 119
Shiite doctrines, including the one on Al-Mahdi, in Bahaya Syiah (Dangers
of Shiism) (1987b), but unlike the authorities attitude towards Darul
Arqam, he stopped short labelling Shiites as deviants or infidels (p. 134).
28. An example is the hadith narrated by Abd Allah ibn Masud, reported by
Abu Dawud and mentioned by Ibn Kathir (1991: 21) in connection with al-
Mahdi, where the Prophet Muhammad said: If there were only one day left
for the world, that day would be lengthened until a man from among my
descendants or from among the people of my household, was sent; his
name will be the same as my name, and his fathers name will be the same
as my fathers name. He will fill the earth with justice and fairness, just as it
will have been filled with injustice and oppression. The world will not end
until a man of my household, whose name is the same as mine, holds sway.
29. Unlike his father, who was well-known in his lifetime among the Aurad
Muhammadiah circle and other sufi groups mainly for his supernatural
abilities, Sheikh Muhammad Fadhlullah Suhaimi (d. 1963) excelled as a
conventional religious scholar prominent for his founding of the Islamic
College in Klang and vociferous defence of orthodox Sunni theology
against the onslaught of Wahhabism, leading to his famed debate against
the Indonesian modernist scholar , A. Hassan Bandong, in Penang in 1953.
He is mentioned twice by Safie Ibrahim (1981: 1718), in connection with
his article in Utusan Melayu (27.07.51) advocating the unification of
religious administrations of Malay states, and his chairing a conference of
ulama which was instrumental in leading to the formation of PAS. William
Roff, in his study of Malay-Indonesian students in Cairo in the 1920s, refers
to Ata Allah Suhaimi, chairman of the organising committee of
commemorative celebrations to honour founders of the Seruan Azhar
journal, as a younger brother of the well-known alim Fadlullah Suhaimi,
who lived and taught in Singapore and Malaya for many years (1970: 85, fn.
37). In passing, it may be mentioned that the present Malaysian ambassador
to Saudi Arabia and former UMNO Chief Minister of Terengganu from
1974 to 1999, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, is Sheikh Muhammad Fadhlullah
Suhaimis son-in-law and reputedly a practitioner of the Aurad
Muhammadiah; a fact which he had never admitted in public, probably to
safeguard his political interests.
30. Day of celebration to mark the end of the month of Ramadan, throughout
which Muslims are obliged to fast from dawn until sunset every day.
31. The video-recording was eventually never shown on television, lending
credence to suspicions that it was a government hoax and propaganda
effort.
32. Thai police investigations failed to provide any concrete evidence to
120 Ahmad Fauzi
substantiate the suicide army charge (Thailand Times 26.06.94, Bangkok Post
28.06.94, The Star 12.07.94). In a letter published in the New Straits Times
(23.06.94), Surapong Posayanood, the Thai ambassador to Malaysia, wrote:
As regards the Al-Arqam movement, the embassy takes note that there are
still differences of opinion within Malaysia and that a dialogue between the
two sides has been advocated ... With regard to the alleged training of the
armed unit in Thailand, there has been no clear evidence put forward by
any party.
33. Pusat Islam atur strategi selamatkan 6,000 pengikut, Berita Minggu,
17.07.94.
34. For explicit Darul Arqam denials of operating a suicide army and of
Ustaz Ashaaris claims to Mahdiship, see respectively, the statement by
Hassan Mokhtar, secretary of the Majlis Syuyukh, in Arqam nafi punyai
tentera Al-Mahadi, Utusan Malaysia, 14.06.94; and Asiaweeks (20.07.94)
interview with Ustaz Ashaari, who called the accusation a big lie which had
been clarified many times.
35. As believed by some Darul Arqam members and sympathisers (personal
communication). Some others, perhaps the more committed ones, upheld
the basic veracity of the recording, but suspected that such inside
information could only have reached the authorities via government agents
who had infiltrated Darul Arqam and who may have defiled the original
contents.
36. The term is derived from the Quran; for example Verily, when He intends
a thing, His Command is, Be, and it is! (Quran: XXXVI: 82).
37. See for example Action against staff with Al-Arqam links, New Straits
Times, 06.07.94, and the text of the Friday sermon entitled Penyelewengan Al-
Arqam (Al Arqams Deviationism) delivered at the National Mosque, Kuala
Lumpur on 05.08.94, in Utusan Malaysia, 11.08.94.
38. One is reminded of the ulamas misunderstanding of the paroxysmal
utterances of the phrase anal-haq, meaning I am the Truth i.e. God by the
legendary Persian sufi al-Hallaj (d. 921), who was ultimately condemned to
death on charges of heresy (Attar 1990: 11320, Al-Jiasi 1976: 72). In
Aurad Muhammadiah Pegangan Darul Arqam, Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad
(1986: 181) acknowledged the supernatural abilities of al-Hallaj. This
apparent approbation of al-Hallajs mysticism was at least partly indicative
of Ustaz Ashaaris sufi inclinations.
39. This saying was itself derived from a Prophet Muhammads hadith, which,
given a mystical interpretation, would probably absolve Darul Arqam of
charges of deviously comparing God with His creation. The hadith, related
by Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, reads: Allah the Almighty
The banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia 121
has said: Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, I shall be at war
with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved
by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him, and My servant
continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love
him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with
which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he
walks. Were he to ask (something) of Me, I would surely give it to him; and
were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it (An-Nawawi
1976: 118).
40. The Ahmadiyyah sufi order derived its name from the afore-mentioned
Sheikh Ahmad ibn Idris, a progenitor of Islamic revival in nineteenth-
century North Africa. Despite his strong sufi credentials, Sheikh Ahmad
ibn Idris has not unusually been identified by scholars as a fundamentalist,
whose criticism of degenerated forms of mysticism bore resemblance with
Wahhabi views and earned him the wrath of traditional sufi brotherhoods.
Disciples of Sheikh Ahmad ibn Idris were instrumental in the founding of
the Tijaniyyah and Sanusiyyah sufi orders, both of which were similarly
revivalist in orientation. See Mortimer (1982: 724) and Tomai (1989:
1023, fn. 97).
41. That the author mentioned here Suhaimi instead of Aurad
Muhammadiah may be due to factual misinformation in his research, or to
the possibility that the Suhaimi tariqah was another name for Aurad
Muhammadiah. It has not been known that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah
Al-Suhaimi had founded any other tariqah besides the Aurad
Muhammadiah, although he did mention that before practising the Aurad
Muhammadiah, he was a practitioner of the Alawiyah tariqah (As-Suhaimi
n.d.: 3).
42. Personal conclusion from the scrutiny of mainstream newspaper articles
and reports on the Darul Arqam versus the state conflict from June to
August 1994.
43. cf. special report in Editor, Al Arqam: Pro dan Kontra (Pros and Cons of
Al Arqam), June 1990; Azyumardi Azra, Terlalu Banyak Campur Tangan
Politik (Too Much Political Interference), Dunia Islam, October 1994;
interviews in the special report in Sinar, Kerajaan Bisnis Darul Arqam
(The Business Government of Darul Arqam), 01.08.94; Jalaluddin
Rachmat, viewpoint in Sinar, 08.08.94.
44. cf. Nordin tidak mengaku salah, Berita Harian, 09.04.96; Nordin
mengaku Imam Mahadi kurun ke-15, Berita Minggu, 21.03.04.
45. cf. Former Al-Arqam redefines itself: The movement now concentrates
on its business enterprises, New Sunday Times, 30.04.00.
122 Ahmad Fauzi
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