Sky Kingdom (Template:Lang-ms) is the name of the commune and sect founded by Ariffin Mohammed in Malaysia. The commune, based in Besut, Terengganu, was demolished by the government of Malaysia in August 2005. As of 2006, Ariffin Mohamed resides in exile in Narathiwat, Thailand, just over the border from Kelantan. Eighteen members of the Sky Kingdom commune remain at the mercy of the Malaysia's Higher Shariah Court, with 40 having received leniency upon renouncing the group.
Sky Kingdom attracted worldwide mass media attention in mid 2005, over concerns about efforts by the Malaysian government to suppress its followers as apostates from Islam. The controversy brought to light the issue of whether sharia law superseded the right to religious freedom under Article 11 of the Constitution of Malaysia. This attention was coupled with considerable bemusement over followers' central objects of veneration, which include a large cream-coloured teapot, prompting local and foreign media to dub the sect as the "teapot cult".
Sky Kingdom commune
The Template:Convert/acre, 33-building complex was located near the village of Kampung Batu 13, Hulu Besut, in the Besut district of Terengganu (some 400 km north of Kuala Lumpur and 20 km from Jerteh). Sky Kingdom had existed on the site since the mid-1980s, though the group itself dates back to the late 1970s. Before the commune was demolished, the group supported itself through rubber tapping, religious tourism, and confectionery production.
The Malaysian government has described the "teapot cult" of Sky Kingdom as one of 22 "heretical" Islamic "sects" or "cults" in Malaysia, which altogether have an estimated 22,800 adherents.
Most estimates of the numbers of followers of Sky Kingdom put them at several thousand, though this number would heavily depend on the criteria used for inclusion. As few as 25 now live on the commune, down from about 120 prior to the demolitions. Followers are mostly Malays but also include Africans, Indians, and British believers. One adherent is from New Zealand. Besides Malaysia, members are also said to be located in Singapore and Bali.
Beliefs and practices
A Muslim by birth, Ariffin Mohamed, also known as Ayah Pin (Ayah is a common honorific meaning "father"), claims to have direct contact with the heavens and is believed by his followers to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Shiva, and Muhammad. Devotees of Sky Kingdom believe that one day, Ayah Pin will return as the Imam Mahdi. His followers consider him the king of the sky, and the supreme object of devotion for all religions.
A major emphasis of the Sky Kingdom religion is ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious harmony. People of different religious backgrounds have joined. Ayah Pin has visited several Hindu temples and the group once hosted a visit by a Christian group, a rare move by Malaysian standards.
Ayah Pin accepts the existence of angels as well as a class of Malaysian forest fairies called Orang Bunian. Sky Kingdom also emphasizes the importance of spiritual healing as well as dream interpretation.
Ayah Pin used to conduct "sessions" on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. According to a witness, the sessions began with a special ritual whereby followers would usher Ayah Pin from the main building to a concrete boat in the compound in which he would lie. His followers would then start chanting for him until 4:00 am. After this ritual, a lengthy question-and-answer period will take place, with Ayah Pin seated on a dais facing an audience. Hymns would also be sung during the session.
The commune features some structures which are symbolic of the group's ideology. Some notable symbols include a two-story high cream coloured teapot with matching blue vase, costing RM 45 million. The teapot is said to symbolise the purity of water and "love pouring from heaven". It is the earthly model of a celestial prototype. According to Ayah Pin, it was inspired by the dreams of one of his followers, and reflects a similar vessel in the sky which God uses to shower his blessings on mankind. Followers who visits the commune for the first time have to drink "holy water" from the vase which is "perpetually" filled by the teapot.
Another notable feature in the compound is an equally large yellow umbrella, which offers "a place for people to take shelter beneath God." It is said that this can also be associated with the nine planets in Hinduism."
Other symbols present include an ornamental fishing boat, identified with Noah's Ark, and a crescent moon icon symbolizing people without a religion, including the Orang Asli (indigenous peoples of peninsular Malaysia) and the aforementioned Orang Bunian.
Ariffin Mohammed, the leader and founder of Sky Kingdom, was born in 1943 in Beris, Kampung Besar Bachok, Kelantan. In 1953, Ariffin became seriously ill and he alleged that an angel had visited him. Twenty years later the angel returned and Ariffin began his spiritual career. In 1975 a spiritual group was formed in Bagan Lebai Tahir, Butterworth, Penang. Whether Ariffin was the founder is unclear; during this phase he may have been a follower of Hassan Tuhan (also known as Anak Rimau), apparently another claimant to divinity.
Around the mid-1980s, the Sky Kingdom commune was formed on its present site in Besut. Some reports state that the office of Islamic Affairs declared the group to be deviant at this time. In 1995, Sky Kingdom's signature building projects began, as per divine revelation. Two years later, Local Religious Affairs council (Jawatankuasa Fatwa Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Melayu Terengganu) issued a fatwa against the group. Around this time, four adherents were arrested for renouncing Islam, but they were later freed on grounds that as ex-Muslims Malaysia's sharia court no longer enjoys jurisdiction over them.
In 2001 Ariffin renounced Islam. The Sharia court accused him of contravening Section 25 of the Enakmen Pentadbiran Hal Ehwal Agama Islam 1986 (Administration of Islamic Religious Affairs 1986), stating that his teachings and beliefs were false, deviant, corrupting and threatening to the public peace (membawa ancaman kepada ketenteraman orang awam serta merosakkan akidah). He pleaded guilty to the charge of "belittling Islam" (menghina Islam), and was jailed for 11 months and fined RM 2,900. The Religious Affairs Office hoped that Ariffin's arrest would prevent the movement's growth, however Sky Kingdom continued to attract new followers from among university students and Orang Asli.
On July 18, 2005, a group of masked vigilantes attacked the group's headquarters, smashing windows and torching buildings. Two days later, 58 followers were arrested, and on July 31 three of Ariffin's four wives were also arrested in Kelantan. Ariffin escaped arrest and remains at large. Forty-five members face charges of failing to observe the government fatwa (i.e. for continuing to be members of a sect declared as deviant), which carries a fine up to RM 3,000 or two years in prison. One of those arrested faced an additional charge of "humiliating Islam" (for claiming not to be a Muslim). Court cases promise to revolve around the issue of religious freedom, which is theoretically guaranteed by the Malaysian constitution.
On August 1, 2005, officials of the Besut Land Office destroyed Sky Kingdom's various buildings, citing Section 129 of the National Land Code (which punishes unauthorized construction with land confiscation). The titular landowner is Ariffin's first wife, who apparently failed to appear in court for a hearing on the matter. On September 1, 2005, at a hearing, a trial date for 45 followers accused of violating the government fatwa was set for three days beginning December 18 this year. All of the accused are represented by Wan Haidi Wan Jusoh of Ubaidullah Aziz and Co, who unsuccessfully petitioned the court to order his name blacked out by the media. The group had previously experienced great difficulty in attracting legal representation, presumably owing to attorneys' fear of reprisals or negative publicity.
As of 2007, after wide media coverage, the original Hulu Besut commune, now down to 24 members, had reportedly chosen a new leader—a former police chief inspector in his 30s. The group is suspicious of visitors, and routinely turns out the commune's lights whenever a car approaches at night, in order not to be found.
- Freedom of religion in Malaysia
- List of people who have claimed to be Jesus
- List of Buddha claimants
- People claiming to be the Mahdi
- List of messiah claimants
- Levett, Connie (August 20, 2005). "Bulldozers etch boundaries of religious freedom". The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/bulldozers-etch-boundaries-of-religious-freedom/2005/08/19/1124435143759.html. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Malaysian sect members arrested". BBC News. July 4, 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4648581.stm. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- Theophilus, Claudia. "Ayah Pin's Sky Kingdom (gallery)". Malaysiakini.com. http://www.malaysiakini.com/pages/ayah_pin/. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Teapot Cult Under Attack". Sky News. July 18, 2005. http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30000-13388811,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Ayah Pin Followers Wary of More Raids". Religion News Blog. July 11, 2005. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/11638. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Sect where blessings pour from a teapot". Sydney Morning Herald. March 5, 2005. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/10448/sect-where-blessings-pour-from-a-teapot. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Sky Kingdom". http://www.apologeticsindex.org/s/s53.html. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Pie in the sky (Feature and interview)". The Sun, Malaysia. July 8, 2005. http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=10057. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Masked group attacks Ayah Pin commune". The Sun, Malaysia. July 18, 2005. http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=10213. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "58 followers of Ayah Pin arrested". The Sun, Malaysia. July 21, 2005. http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=10254. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Three Wives Of Ayah Pin Detained". Bernama. July 31, 2005. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/11861/three-wives-of-ayah-pin-detained. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Lawyer to represent all 45 Sky Kingdom sect followers". New Straits Times. September 1, 2005. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/12121/lawyer-to-represent-all-45-sky-kingdom-sect-followers. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- "Pemimpin baru 'Kerajaan Langit'" (in Malay). Harian Metro. http://www.carigold.com/portal/forums/showthread.php?t=9060. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- Malaysiakini A site with many photos (pre-demolition)
- The Sun, Malaysia Pie in the Sky: Article and interview by Danny Lim
- Telegraph Gives some important political background
- Malaysian Woman Jailed For Worshipping Teapot