Thursday, June 02, 2005

Storm in a Teapot

A hodge-podge group of people led by a self-styled ‘god’ called Ayah Pin has emerged as the latest thorn in conservative Muslim Malaysia's side. Ayah Pin and his mainly Malay followers (Malays are constitutionally and incontrovertibly Muslims in Malaysia) belong to a deviationist sect called “Sky Kingdom,” founded by this simple 65-year old kampung man.

To the uninitiated, Ayah Pin, 65, once known as Ariffin Mohammed, seems like just another aging Malay villager. To his followers in the eastern Malaysian state of Terengganu, however, Ayah Pin is a reincarnation of everyone from Shiva to Buddha to Jesus Christ to, yes, the Prophet Mohammed.

On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon Ayah Pin's colorful Sky Kingdom compound near the town of Jerteh saw acolytes and visitors gathered around God, in person, at the coffee shop.

God is smoking Salem menthol cigarettes and his rheumy eyes suggest a lack of sleep, perhaps due to the late-night sessions of religious fervor and consultations held at his compound.

"When I was 10 years old, I found myself to be dead for 40 days and up in the sky. Since then, it's a long story and the details don't matter, but I've been dead 17 times and each time have come back to save the lives of all people, of any religion," says Ayah Pin.

His simple philosophy is that all religions are one, and should live in peace with each other.

"All things belong to Ayah, I am the Big Father. All Muslims belong to Ayah, all Hindus belong to Ayah, all Christians belong to Ayah ..."he says in a trailing voice. In most countries, Ayah Pin would be dismissed as the local crackpot and left at that.

Not so in Malaysia.

Here it is a daring thing to follow the Sky Kingdom. Four of Ayah Pin's followers have been labeled apostates by the government's religious authorities and forced to do time in jail for trying to leave Islam.
[Read full account on Weekend Standard here.]

The Sky Kingdom commune has been getting a lot of press lately since Ayah Pin and his sect ignored official orders to demolish giant structures including a teapot, an umbrella, and a concrete boat, among other objects, on their property. It is almost unimaginable for Muslims to turn apostates in the country, much less to thumb their noses at Islamic fundamentalism, but there you go.

The structures were built over 10 years ago at a cost of more than RM1mil. Ayah Pin told this to The Star during an interview at the commune yesterday. He was sitting in a wooden coffeeshop with about 30 followers of all races.

Rosli Abdul Samad, the liaison officer of the commune, said the structures combined the architectural elements of major religions such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. "It is aimed at promoting universal unity. The teapot signifies the purity of water and its medicinal values. It is associated with all major religions, including the water oozing from Lord Shiva’s forehead.

"The umbrella is a place for people to take shelter beneath God and it can also be associated with the nine planets in Hinduism. "The boat symbolises the love of parents." [More]

Malaysiakini speculates on a tantalising connection between the sect and the nation's ruling elite with this recent story.

Whenever Ayah Pin and his aides are in Kuala Lumpur, a visit to the Umno headquarters in Menara Dato Onn is inevitably on the itinerary. "It is just to discuss some business," quipped an aide when asked last year about these regular visits. We prefer to update them on our activities personally so that they’re aware of the situation on the ground."

Another described the visits as an opportunity to obtain Umno’s assurance that villagers will not be unduly harassed or barred from carrying on with their activities, so long as they do not go overboard. "We maintain a good relationship with Umno and we’re all supporters of the BN. As long as they know what we do and where we go, there is no problem with the authorities. We are not a threat to anyone," he repeatedly explained.

Last year, a group of Umno leaders even joined the group on a visit to an Orang Asli village in Endau-Rompin along the Pahang-Johor border. They stayed a few days to enjoy a cultural performance and to go deer-hunting, which is Ayah Pin’s hobby.

Related Stories:

In Malaysia, Islamic Civilisation is promoted
The big Pink Teapot

No comments: