May 8, 2016

Ariffin Mohammed, cult leader – obituary

The Telegraph
MAY 5, 2016


Ariffin Mohammed
Ariffin Mohammed, who has died aged 74, incurred the wrath of the Malaysian authorities by founding a religious sect which worshipped a bizarre assortment of mostly concrete structures, including a giant teapot, vase and umbrella, on his "Sky Kingdom" commune on the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula.

Known to his followers as Ayah ("Master") Pin, Ariffin was nothing if not ecumenical, claiming to be a reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Shiva and Mohammed – as well as the King of the Sky. He claimed to be able to make himself invisible, and to be gifted with the ability to kill a man using the power of thought.

His cult had no moral or religious teachings of its own. Instead Ariffin claimed that members could follow any religion they chose and be sure that their prayers would be answered, because "I am representing the ministers of the sky kingdom, to unite humankind, regardless of race or religion."

Founded in the mid-1980s, the Sky Kingdom attracted thousands of followers and in the mid-1990s, following a divine revelation, embarked on a series of Disney World style building projects.

As well as ceremonial buildings, they dug a well which pumped holy water into a giant teapot, which in turn poured it into a giant blue vase. They built faux Greco-Roman pillars and a huge 23 ft high golden umbrella to offer shelter "beneath God". Other monuments included a concrete fishing boat representing Noah's Ark.

Apostasy from Islam is illegal in Malaysia, and in 1997 the local religious affairs council issued a fatwa against the group. In theory, however, religious freedom is guaranteed by the Malaysian constitution and for a time Ariffin and his subversive teapot were left in peace. But as Islamic parties began to grow in strength the government came under increasing pressure to act.

In 2001 Ariffin was convicted of "belittling Islam", jailed for 11 months and fined 2,900 Malaysian ringgits. The Religious Affairs Office hoped that his incarceration would cause the movement to collapse, but it continued to attract new followers, especially among students and indigenous minority groups.

In July 2005 the commune hit the world's headlines when a group of robed zealots, popularly believed to have the authorities' approval, attacked the group's headquarters, throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing windows and setting fire to buildings and icons.

The authorities described the assailants as "ordinary members of the public who are so angry with the deviationist teachings of Ayah Pin that they decided to take matters into their own hands", and when cult followers went to report the attack to the police, 48 of them, including three of Ariffin's four wives, were arrested and charged with violating a fatwa banning contact with their leader.

A few days later about 40 workers with bulldozers and trucks descended on the commune to destroy the teapot, boat, vase and other structures – a raid carried out on the grounds that inappropriate buildings had been constructed on agricultural land.

Ariffin Mohammed was born in 1943 into a Muslim family. Aged 10 he became seriously ill and, by his own account, was visited by an angel. Years later the angel returned, setting him on his path as a spiritual leader.

After the July 2005 attack, Ariffin went on the run, eventually slipping over the border into Thailand. In 2007 the commune, down to 24 members, reportedly chose a new leader – a former chief inspector of police. However, the faithful are said to believe that Araffin will return one day as the Imam Mahdi.

Ariffin Mohammed, born 1943, died April 22 2016

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