Batam - A "regional gathering" of some 1,000 men wearing turbans and clad in qamish (Arab-Muslim coats) in this Indonesian island has raised more than a few eyebrows. There are fears that the meeting of the little-known group, Jamaah Usaha Dakwah, or the "preaching community", will in, one way or another, contribute to the further spread of militant ideas and radicalism in Indonesiaand its neighbours.
The group is believed to be linked to Jamaah Tabligh, a movement originating in India which advocates orthodox Islamic practices. During their three-day meeting, which began on Nov 26, participants took part in religious discourses led by clerics and group discussions on various issues. Apart from Indonesia, the participants came from Malaysia, Singaporeand Thailand.
The head of the group's board of patrons, known only as Mr Zaher, said the Jamaah Usaha Dakwah was merely spreading the "true" teachings of Islam. But he was reluctant to provide more details.
"If you want to know more about us, leave your family and join us for three days and you shall understand," he told The Jakarta Post.
A member of the group, Mr Haris, said those who wish to join must first take part in a three-day orientation. If they are approved, they can get membership for three days, 40 days, four months or even a lifetime.
"I have joined it for 40 days and I even had to go to Thailand," Mr Haris said. He claimed that he once shook hands with Al-Farouq, an alleged Al-Qaeda senior leader who escaped from a US-run prison in Afghanistanin July.
Mr Haris said he met Al-Farouq during a gathering in Tanjung Pinang, Riau, before the latter became a wanted man.
* Group linked to terror fugitive meets in Batam (The Straits Times, Nov 30)