SINGAPORE: An imam who made controversial remarks against Christians and Jews during his Friday sermon at a mosque was on Monday (Apr 3) handed a fine of S$4,000, after pleading guilty to a charge of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race.
Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel arrived at the State Courts accompanied by religious leaders from other faiths, who came to “support him and give him assurance”, his lawyer Noor Marican said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a separate press release on Monday that Nalla has paid the fine and will be repatriated.
"Any religious leader from any religion who makes such statements will be held accountable for their actions," MHA said. "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."
The imam, who is from India, 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.
In January and February 2017, the imam made supplications at Friday prayers where he recited an old Arabic text which originated from his village in India. The text read: “God help us against Jews and Christians”, which is not an extract from the Quran.
The incident came under police investigation after a video of the incident was posted on Facebook, sparking heated debate.
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”, she added.
Nalla could have been jailed up to three years and or fined.
Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel leaving the State Courts. (Photo: Vanessa Paige Chelvan)
After the police concluded investigations into the case, Nalla also visited Rabbi Moderchai Abergel at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Sunday to extend his apology to the Jewish community in Singapore - which the rabbi accepted.
The action against Nalla was "taken with some regret," said MHA on Monday. "He has not been deliberately malicious," it added, noting that he has worked hard as chief imam at the Jamae Chulia Mosque over the past seven years.
"Nevertheless, what he did was wrong ... The fair and impartial application of the law protects all communities, including Muslims and other minority religious communities," said MHA.
Mr Marican said the imam has accepted the punishment and is grateful that he was not sentenced to prison. "Today he has learnt his lesson. Hopefully the inter-faith community and all Singaporeans can move forward," he told reporters outside the court.
TWO OTHERS GIVEN STERN WARNINGS
MHA also gave updates on the police investigations involving Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied and Terence Kenneth John Nunis.
Associate Professor Khairudin Aljunied, who is part of the National University of Singapore's Department of Malay Studies, had on Mar 1 and 2 posted on Facebook in support of the supplication that Nalla used. MHA said Assoc Prof Khairudin's comments were "contrary to the law" and his actions were assessed to be an offence under the Penal Code.
However, he has apologised for his actions and, on the the specific facts of the case and given he was not the primary offender, he was given a stern warning in lieu of prosecution, the ministry said. NUS had on Mar 8 announced it had suspended the academic.
On Terence Nunis, who made public the video of Nalla's sermon, MHA said the public prosecutor had also assessed that his actions were in breach of the law.
Given that Mr Nunis has apologised for his conduct and said he would not repeat the offence, he was given a stern warning in lieu of prosecution, the ministry added.