Singapore has its fair share of problem with preachers promoting Islam in the small island. Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel – an imam from Tamil Nadu, India – was slapped with a fine of S$4,000 (US$2,850; £2,290; RM12,660) on Monday (Apr 3, 2017) after pleading guilty to a charge of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race.
The 47-year-old imam apparently made controversial remarks against Christians and Jews during his Friday sermon at Singapore’s Jamae Chulia mosque in January and February 2017, where he recited an old Arabic text – “God help us against Jews and Christians”. Mr. Nalla has been the Chief Imam at the mosque over the past 7 years – since 2010 under a work permit.
The text, however, is not an extract from the Quran / Koran. Instead, it was an old Arabic text that originated from the imam’s native village in India. The incident came under police investigation after a video of the incident was posted on Facebook, sparking heated debate. Besides fine, Singapore has decided to deport him. Nalla could have been jailed up to 3 years, or fined, or both.
District Judge Jasbendar Kaur said to the tearful Nalla – “As an imam, you have to exercise care when leading Friday prayers and giving spiritual guidance. Such remarks ‘can create friction and conflict’ between different religious groups and Singapore cannot afford (for this to happen). We can’t allow anyone to sow discord or promote enmity when we’ve worked so hard to promote harmony.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said – “Any religious leader from any religion who makes such statements will be held accountable for their actions. Under Singapore law, we cannot, regardless of his religion, allow anyone to preach or act divisively and justify that by reference to a religious text.”
Imam Nalla had on Friday apologised in front of Christian, Sikh, Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu representatives, as well as members of the Federation of Indian Muslims, saying that he was “filled with great remorse” for the inconvenience, tension and trauma caused by his remarks. His lawyer Noor Marican said the imam has accepted the punishment and is grateful that he was not sentenced to prison.
The Singapore police have also issued stern warnings to two Muslim Singaporeans connected to the video of the imam who made offensive remarks against Jews and Christians. Both have issued public apologies through the MHA. Terrence Kenneth John Nunis, 40, had uploaded it on Facebook instead of reporting it to the police.
Dr Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied, a 40-year-old associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), was warned for two Facebook posts he made on March 1 and 2. Khairudin, who was attached to NUS’ Department of Malay Studies, had posted a fictional conversation between an imam and a “silly convert”.
The NUS, which suspended Dr Khairudin during the police were investigation, said that it has also warned him for breaching the university’s code of conduct for staff and has now decided to lift the suspension. Khairudin said – “I now wish to apologise unreservedly to Singaporeans and NUS, since my posts were supportive of what the imam had said. I undertake not to repeat my conduct.”
While Imam Nalla has apologised, there’s a disturbing issue with the fiasco. In essence, this also means that such hateful words are normal in India and it is, perhaps, used by some Muslims against the Jews and Christians. There’s no telling if Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik was radicalised in a similar way in India, before he becomes an extremist today.
Still, Singapore’s decision to deport Mr. Nalla back to India is the right thing to do, although many said it was done after tremendous public pressure. It would send a strong message to Muslims that Islamic extremism, racism and radicalization have no place and will be dealt with accordingly in Singapore. The tiny nation cannot afford a terror attack.