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Islamic religious police in Malaysia have detained two top members of a new movement that officials fear is trying to revive a cult banned for being deviant and heretical, news reports said Saturday.
The two officials of Rufaqa Corporation Sdn. Bhd, were taken into custody on Friday just as they finished telling local reporters that they were not involved in the banned group, although both groups have the same leader, the reports said.
The Rufaqa movement, which also runs several legitimate businesses, came into the spotlight recently after reports it was a reincarnation of the banned Al-Arqam sect.
Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for allegedly preaching deviant Islam by projecting its leader, Ashaari Mohammed, as a messiah who had the authority to forgive sins of Muslims.
The New Straits Times said a 20-member team of the Selangor state Islamic Affairs Department came to the company's office where the two officials, Zulkifli Awang Kecik and Abu Zarim Taharem, had called the news conference.
They were arrested on suspicion of violating a fatwa, or religious edict by Islamic officials, banning the teachings of the Al-Arqam movement, The Star newspaper said.
It said both were released on a personal bond, and it is not clear what punishment they face if found guilty by Islamic courts. The New Straits Times said one of the officials was featured in a widely-circulated video disc, speaking on the teachings of Al-Arqam.
The government of Malaysia, a country hailed as a model of moderate Islam, is wary of groups that preach radical Islam because of fears they could upset decades of carefully nurtured racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic country.
Rufaqa, which also is headed by Ashaari, runs businesses selling Islamic books, herbs and various services in several Southeast Asian countries. It also operates restaurants, health clinics, hotels and bakeries.
Al-Arqam, which like Rufaqa also operated as a business group, flourished in rural Malaysia in the early 1990s before the government detained Ashaari and other top members in 1994. It claimed to have 100,000 members.