Life after Al-Arqam

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KUALALUMPUR: Once closely linked to the banned Islamic sect Al-Arqam, Global Ikhwan Holdings Sdn Bhd (GIHSB) is now trying to rebrand itself as a producer of halal products to meet domestic and international demand.

Chief executive officer Lokman Hakim told The Malaysian Insider demand is surging, given the various halal-related issues faced by Muslim consumers of late.

“We want to fill this vacuum, especially related to food, such as noodles and frozen foods. Some of those available, despite being slapped with halal labels, are questionable.

“So we started producing them and now, as they say, the rest is history,” he said at the company headquarters in Bandar Country Homes, Rawang.

During the time when it was linked to the Al-Arqam sect, it was known as the Al-Arqam Group of Companies. After the sect was banned in 1994, the business entity became known as Rufaqa, and later as Syarikat Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd. GIHSB came into existence in May, according to company records.

Business activities have always been important to the sect, founded by Ashaari Mohammad, who was once held under the Internal Security Act.

He died in May 2010, and the business empire was continued by his wife Hatijah Aam, better known as the woman who started the Obedient Wives Club.

Those days of controversy are over now, said Lokman, adding that he has fully repented of his past beliefs under Al-Arqam. Lokman said he and a group of other ex-followers had attended “500 hours of courses” conducted by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) as part of their “rehabilitation”.

But while the Al-Arqam stigma is gone, the business ethic of the old movement, which centred on “fardu kifayah” (community obligations), is still strong, allowing GIHSB to build a chain of business activities in the Rawang area, occupying several shoplots. These include its own clinic, launderette, mini market, eateries and surau.

Once identifiable through their attire of robes and turbans, many are now embracing baju Melayu and “kopiah” or skull caps. Apart from business activities, GIHSB is also involved in community services such as drug rehabilitation programmes, charity homes, and medical and dental services.

“We have eight drug rehabilitation centres in collaboration with the National Anti-Drug Agency and 30% of the inmates we monitor have recovered.

“Our programmes focus on instilling faith back into them. This is our way of helping both the government and the community,” said Lokman.

At the medical and dental clinics, patients can decide how much they are willing to pay for the services.

“If they can afford only RM5, we accept it. These are not commercial entities anyway,” Lokman said.

Lokman said GIHSB also has around 30 welfare homes across the nation. There used to be 80 homes but “unresolved issues” forced some to close, he said.

Future business plans include a new rice vermicelli processing factory in Pekan, Pahang, soon.

“We bought a processing machine from Thailand recently,” he said.

While Ashaari was alive, his teachings were considered deviant by the religious authorities as they purportedly included the use of supernatural powers and unorthodox ideas about communicating with the Prophet.

In May last year, his widow Hatijah was detained together with nine other group members at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport upon their return from Saudi Arabia. They were accused of trying to revive the banned sect.

She was placed under a one-year good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to contravening the fatwa which banned the sect by continuing with its teachings.

Hatijah, better known as Ummu Jah, renounced all past beliefs in a public ceremony with about 300 other followers in October last year. The renunciation ceremony also saw her publicly apologise to Jais, the National Fatwa Council, and the Islamic Development Department Malaysia (Jakim), as well as to all Muslims in the country.

In a statement to The Malaysian Insider for this article, she said: “We concur with the government’s serious efforts to restore our faith. Allah has moved us towards repentance and showed us the error of our ways.

“Repentance has become part of our culture. All GIHSB staff have also been told to pray and ask forgiveness from Allah,” she said.

Hatijah said GIHSB is also in the process of securing halal certification from Jakim.

“Plans for Global Ikhwan include encouraging all Muslims to unite and defend Islam through economic activities according to the al-Quran and Hadith.

“Islam is a way of life. So Global Ikhwan needs to have a network of projects which covers all aspects of the life of a Muslim. It now has networks in Australia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Europe, China and Russia,” she said. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 22, 2014.