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Last Updated: Monday, 4 July, 2005, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Malaysian sect members arrested
Ayah Pin's Sky Kingdom (Photo: Malaysia Kini)
The large teapot dominates Ayah Pin's Sky Kingdom
Malaysian police have arrested 21 suspected followers of a religious sect called the Sky Kingdom.

They were arrested for possessing documents contrary to Islam, according to an official in Terengganu state.

The Sky Kingdom is an inter-faith sect which claims to promote harmony between all of Malaysia's religious groups.

Known as much for building a giant teapot structure as for its teachings, the group has often been criticised for luring adherents away from Islam.

Members have been jailed in the past for attempting to renounce Islam, and the group's bizarre constructions have been deemed to be against local regulations.

'Teapot cult'

The 21 suspects who were arrested in pre-dawn raids on Sunday included a police officer, a member of a popular local rock group and the fourth wife of the sect's leader Ayah Pin.

Ayah Pin (Photo: Malaysia Kini)
Leader Ayah Pin believes he can save the world
They have all now been freed on bail pending a court appearance on 23 September, said Lim Char Boo, head of the Criminal Investigations Department in Terengganu.

The Sky Kingdom is led by the eccentric Ayah Pin, who claims he is the saviour of the world.

The group's controversial structures - which given it the nickname "teapot cult" - are said to combine architectural elements from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

The teapot is thought to signify the purity of water, while the umbrella signifies God, who shelters everyone in the world.

Ayah Pin, whose real name is Ariffin Mohamed, has attracted believers from many different religious groups with his message of love and tolerance.

He claims to allow his followers to be members of any faith, including Islam, but critics accuse him of luring Muslims away from the faith.

The raids on the Sky Kingdom commune reflect Malaysia's sensitivity towards such issues.

"The activities and teachings of Ayah Pin must be stopped. That is our goal," Muhammad Ramli Nuh, deputy chairman of Terengganu's Islamic development committee told the French news agency AFP.

The opposition fundamentalist Islamic Party, which ruled Terengganu state until last year, attempted to shut down the Sky Kingdom in 2000, but Ayah Pin's followers obtained a court order against the move.

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