SINGAPORE: A religious teacher was jailed for one year and four months on Thursday (Apr 11) for molesting a woman in the classroom of a mosque where he served.
The 73-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the 36-year-old victim, was an accredited Islamic teacher under a scheme administered by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
He conducted classes at various mosques around Singapore. He was also a family friend of the victim, whose family had known him for more than a decade.
The victim looked up to him and called him ustaz, an Arabic term meaning religious teacher.
Sometime around 2015, the elderly man began giving classes to the victim and another woman in a mosque - which was not named in court documents - as the victim wanted to improve her recitation of the Quran.
USTAZ SUGGESTS BLACK MAGIC WAS USED ON VICTIM
During a conversation a week before the offence, the ustaz told the victim that someone who had a grudge against her might have used black magic on her, the court heard.
He suggested that this was the reason for her inability to conceive, even though she had been married for nine years, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien.
The ustaz asked the woman to show him her palms, and she did so. He told her that blood was not flowing properly in her veins as it was "blocked by something", even though the victim and her classmate could not see anything unusual.
The religious teacher told the victim to bring a knife and lime with her to class the next week, saying he treated her like a daughter and wanted to cure her by chasing the "jinx" away.
A week later on Aug 26, 2017, the victim went to the mosque with the items as instructed.
In their usual classroom, the ustaz told the victim that one of her husband's relatives might have "done something" to her, as they had wanted to matchmake her husband with another woman.
To prove his point, the ustaz cut the lime and rubbed it on the victim's palms. He said there was "something" in the victim preventing her from conceiving, and that he would help to get rid of it.
USTAZ TOLD CLASSMATE TO LEAVE
At about 2pm that day, the ustaz told the victim's classmate to switch off the lights at the back of the classroom, and to keep watch outside so that nobody would enter the room.
The ustaz then took the victim to a corner, where she lifted her top and bra as directed by the teacher.
The ustaz molested the woman while muttering some words under his breath. He then asked her to perform the same actions on him, which she did.
"Subsequently, the victim came to her senses, pushed the accused away and pulled her clothing back down over her body," said the prosecutor.
She told the teacher, who remained "very calm", that what they were doing did not feel right and that her classmate should be in the room.
The ustaz cut the lime again and told her the fact that it had no seeds showed that she had been partly cured, before pointing to the veins on her hands and claiming that the blood there was now flowing properly.
He then called the other woman back into the classroom and the three of them continued with their class. After the lesson, the ustaz told the victim not to tell her family about what had happened.
The victim later went to a homeopathic clinic where a practitioner told her that "there was nothing wrong with her" and black magic had not been used on her to stop her from conceiving.
Realising what had happened, the victim filed a police report.
The ustaz, who arrived in court on Thursday in a wheelchair and with a walking stick, had initially claimed trial. Two days before the start of the trial, however, he pleaded guilty to a single charge of using criminal force to outrage the woman's modesty.
MAN SUFFERING FROM POOR HEALTH: DEFENCE
His lawyer Gino Hardial Singh had asked for a sentence of 11 months' jail, while the prosecution asked for 16 months' jail.
Mr Singh said his client is turning 74 in June and is in poor health, suffering a variety of illnesses including coronary artery disease, diabetes and a degenerative spinal condition.
"He is extremely remorseful. He is unable to explain what came over him and regrets any harm he may have caused to the victim," said the lawyer. "He has had a stellar past within the Muslim community. His plea of guilt and offer of compensation of S$5,000 is indicative of his deep and sincere remorse."
He added that the ustaz has no previous convictions and has made "valuable contributions to his religious community, leading haj courses and trips".
The prosecutor accepted that the ustaz suffers from a number of illnesses and takes "a buffet of pills", but pointed out that he "was not in a wheelchair at the time the offences were committed".
He said he had also checked with the prisons on whether they could handle an inmate with the ustaz's medical history, and was given written confirmation that they could.
The prosecutor said the victim regarded the ustaz as a grandfather figure, and that there was premeditation.
The prosecution did not ask for an additional sentence in lieu of caning.
The judge said she noted the ustaz's plea of guilt but did not consider his ill health in mitigating. She granted his request to defer sentence to May 15, after Ramadan and after his daughter gives birth.