Imam who made offensive remarks to be repatriated; stern warnings for two others: MHA

Imam who made offensive remarks to be repatriated; stern warnings for two others: MHA
Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel Abdul Malik (left) and his lawyer outside the courts on Monday (April 3). Photo: Robin Choo
Published: 6:33 PM, April 3, 2017
Updated: 12:20 PM, April 4, 2017

SINGAPORE — The imam who made controversial remarks against Christians and Jews after his sermon earlier this year was fined S$4,000 on Monday (April 3), and will be repatriated to India.

In what is believed to be the first case here of a religious leader being prosecuted for delivering an inappropriate sermon, Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel Abdul Malik, 46, pleaded guilty to one count of committing an act which he knew was prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious groups and was likely to disturb the public tranquillity.

Nalla, who was dressed in a white jubah and accompanied to court by several religious leaders from different faiths, broke down after the sentence was delivered.

The incident came to light after footage of the imam’s sermon was uploaded on Facebook by Terence Kenneth John Nunis, 40. Separately, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said both Mr Nunis and National University of Singapore academic Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied, 40 — who had taken to the social media network to criticise the whistleblower — were issued stern warnings in lieu of prosecution. The two men also apologised for their roles in the episode.

On the action taken against Nalla, who is an Indian national, an MHA spokesperson said it was done “with some regret”. The imam had not been deliberately malicious, and he had worked diligently as Chief Imam at the Jamae Chulia Mosque over the past seven years, “attending to the needs of his congregation, and reaching out to other faiths”, the spokesperson added.

“Nevertheless, what he did was wrong. And he has admitted it,” the MHA spokesperson stressed.

“Given the nature of the breach, action had to be taken. The fair and impartial application of the law protects all communities, including Muslims and other minority religious communities. The Government has taken firm action against persons from other religions as well.”

While the imam had since made a public apology and met interfaith leaders to express regret, District Judge Jasbendar Kaur said a deterrent sentence was warranted given strong concerns from the public. Singapore cannot allow any person or group to sow discord or promote enmity among different religious or racial groups, the judge said.

Noting that the imam had shown a “strong sense of remorse” and took active steps to contain the harm caused, the judge pointed out that there were several aggravating factors, such as how he should have exercised greater care when leading the Friday prayers and providing spiritual guidance in his capacity as a religious leader.

During the Friday prayers on Jan 6, Nalla had finished delivering a sermon that was based on the script provided by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, before he began making his own supplication in Arabic.

He had uttered the following remarks in Arabic: “Grant us help against the Jews and Christians; Grant us help against the Jews and Christians”, the court was told. This was captured by Mr Gulam Hyder, 48, on his mobile phone, who later sent it to Mr Nunis, who posted the video on Facebook on Feb 24.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal said the phrase uttered by Nalla was not a quotation from the Qur’an and not a supplication that can be used in Singapore. Nalla had committed an act which he knew was prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious groups and was likely to disturb the public tranquillity, DPP Faizal added.  

At a meeting organised at his request last Friday, Nalla apologised to 30 religious leaders of the Christian, Sikh, Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, as well as members of the Federation of Indian Muslims.

Two days later, he visited Rabbi Mordechai Abergel to extend his apology as the latter was not able to attend the Friday session.

In his public apology, Nalla said the supplication was from an old text that originated from his village in India. “I fully admit that my said actions have no place, wheresoever, in this extremely multi-religious and multi-cultural society,” he added.  
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said on Facebook that the incident has been a “trying” one for the community, but Nalla’s apology over the weekend was “a meaningful gesture to reconcile with friends from other faiths”.

“The authorities have done the right thing by applying the law firmly and fairly, as this is in the best interest of all communities,” he said.

In a press statement, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu stressed that religious leaders must ensure that their teachings are suitable to Singapore’s context.

“They should not import foreign teachings that can cause misgivings and mistrust among the communities,” she said.

On the actions taken against Mr Nunis and Dr Khairudin, the MHA noted that both men were not primary offenders. But instead of reporting Nalla’s action to the police, the former chose to make the video public, which was in breach of the law.

As for Dr Khairudin, the MHA said the effect of his Facebook posts was to support the supplication that Nalla had used. The academic, who has been suspended by NUS, has been issued a warning letter following the conclusion of an internal investigation, said a university spokesperson, who added that he is expected to resume his duties.

Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Judge Jasvender Kaur as the district judge who ruled on the case. That is incorrect. It should be Judge Jasbendar Kaur. We are sorry for the error.