Police in Gowa, South Sulawesi recently arrested an elderly man named Puang Lalang on suspicion of blasphemy over his leadership of a sect that was considered too deviant for Indonesia.
According to the police, Puang Lalang founded the Tajul Khalwatiyah Syekh Yusuf school — an Islamic offshoot — in 1999 and declared himself a prophet.
In mainstream Islamic beliefs, the Prophet Muhammad is believed to be the last messenger of God.
“The suspect spread misguided beliefs by having followers take a pledge, indoctrinating them and promising them safety in life and the afterlife,” Gowa Police Shinto Silitonga told reporters this week.
Police suspect that the sect was a vehicle for self-enrichment for Puang Lalang. According to the police, Puang Lalang charged followers IDR10,000-50,000 (US$0.71-3.57) for the aptly-named “heaven card” to signify membership. He also mandated members to pay religious alms, which amounted to IDR5,000 for every kilogram of the followers’ body weight.
Furthermore, Puang Lalang claimed that he could prolong his followers’ lives by 15 years.
By the time of his arrest, Puang Lalang had sold 317 of his heaven cards.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest clerical body in Indonesia, issued a fatwa (religious edict) declaring Puang Lalang’s sect to be misguided. His recent arrest came after his teachings reportedly caused a public nuisance in the area.
Puang Lalang was charged with financial fraud and blasphemy, and may be looking at around 20 years in prison if found guilty.
In the past, there have been several cases of sect leaders being jailed under Indonesia’s controversial blasphemy laws, as Indonesia officially only recognizes six religions and criminalizes any teachings that deviate from the mainstream beliefs of those religions.
One of the most recent examples of this was the five-year prison sentence given in March 2017 to the founder of the Gafatar sect, Ahmad Moshaddeq, who also claimed to be another Islamic prophet and thus had his teachings criminalized as heretical.
Another high-profile sect leader in Indonesia is Lia Eden, (the founder and leader of a cult called God’s Kingdom of Eden) who claims to be the reincarnation of Mother Mary and that her son is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Lia Eden, who once wrote a letter to President Jokowi asking to allow a UFO to land in Jakarta (which, as far as anybody knows, didn’t happen), has been jailed twice for blasphemy after she publicly denounced and criticized Indonesia’s officially recognized religions.