The Banning of Darul Arqam – A ‘Sect’ With No Name

The video is available for viewing here   : Al Arqam Sect With No Name – Malaysia


This entry is extracted from the full article : The Banning of Darul Arqam in Malaysia by Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, published in the Journal – Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs – RIMA – ( Volume 39, Number 1 , 2005 ) Click : rima-391-2005-cover1

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. 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.

In Ustaz Ashaari’s 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 ruralurban 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 Arqam’s pioneering Sungai Penchala settlement in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in 1973.

In the 1980s, Darul Arqam expanded internationally, as shown by Ustaz Ashaari’s 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 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.

Having had their livelihood disrupted if not destroyed, Darul Arqam’s 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 state’s crackdown on Darul Arqam was undertaken in the name of guarding the sanctity of Islam.

The government’s strategy of demonising Darul Arqam relied significantly upon a compliant mainstream media, whose freedom had experienced considerable erosion throughout Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s tempestuous Premiership (1981-2003).

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.

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.

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 Centre’s 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.

Belief in Imam al-Mahdi

The fundamental point of dispute on this matter related to Darul Arqam’s 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. 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, 48-54; 1988: 257).

This was not surprising since the coming of Al-Mahdi as a ruler 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: 29-31, 42).

But Ustaz Ashaari’s 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: 48-9).

One of them, known only as Kiyai Mahmud, was said to have heard in person Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi’s 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).

Immediately before the allegation of Darul Arqam’s 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.

On the issue of Al-Mahdi, a writer not known to have any connection with Darul Arqam, boldly stated, in close resemblance with Ustaz Ashaari’s views, that:

“Meanwhile, the author has discovered a book entitled Manakib asy-Syeikh as-Saiyid Muhammad bin Abdullah as-Suhaimi, founder of the Suhaimi sufi order famous in the Malay world. In the book, it is
mentioned that Syeikh Suhaimi, said to have ‘died’ or disappeared in1929, 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.However, before disappearing, he reminded his disciples to sustain
and implement the laws of Allah ”
 (Muhammad Labib Ahmad)

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. 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.


Formerly known as Rufaqa Coorporation ( recently dissolved in January 2008 ), the business corporation is now known in Malaysia as Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd. In Indonesia it is registered as PT Global Ikhwan.


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