Imam fined $4k over offensive remarks, will be repatriated

Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel leaving court yesterday with religious leaders Haja Maideen of the United Indian Muslim Association, Harbans Singh and Phra Goh Chun Kiang, and lawyer Noor Mohamed Marican. In sentencing, the judge noted the imam's "st
Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel leaving court yesterday with religious leaders Haja Maideen of the United Indian Muslim Association, Harbans Singh and Phra Goh Chun Kiang, and lawyer Noor Mohamed Marican. In sentencing, the judge noted the imam's "strong sense of remorse" and active steps taken to contain the harm caused.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Indian national admits committing an act he knew was prejudicial to maintaining harmony among religions

The Islamic religious leader who made offensive remarks about Christians and Jews has been fined $4,000. Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel, an Indian national, will also be asked to leave Singapore.

The 46-year-old was charged in the State Courts yesterday over the offence of committing an act which he knew was prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious groups, and which was likely to disturb the public tranquillity.

Nalla pleaded guilty to the charge and admitted to committing the offence on Jan 6 at the Jamae Chulia Mosque in South Bridge Road, where he was chief imam.

After the Friday sermon that day, he recited a prayer on his own in Arabic which said: "Grant us help against the Jews and Christians."

The court papers said: "The accused knew what the words meant and knew that the phrase may also be interpreted as asking God to grant Muslims victory against the Jews and Christians."

 
 
 
 

The imam clarified in a public apology last Friday, when he met leaders of various religious groups, that the additional prayer he read was not from the Quran, but an old Arabic text originating from his village in India.

A video of the prayer was circulated online in February, causing some disquiet in the Muslim community as well as the wider public, and prompting a police investigation into the matter.

Under the Penal Code, Nalla could have been jailed for up to three years, or fined, or both.

Mr Noor Mohamed Marican, his lawyer, yesterday asked the court to fine him not more than $2,000.

He said the imam recognised that his actions were wrong, has sincerely expressed his remorse, and apologised to Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as to the Muslim community and the public.

"He publicly acknowledged that he has made a serious mistake and that he must respect the laws of Singapore," the lawyer said. "We ask for mercy, Your Honour."

District Judge Jasbendar Kaur sentenced him to a $4,000 fine after considering the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case.

She rapped the imam for not being sensitive when leading prayers in the mosque.

"Having lived in Singapore since 2010, you would have been aware of the fact that Singapore is a multiracial and multi-religious society and that it was necessary for you to be sensitive and not to say anything in your sermons that may undermine the harmony that exists among the different races and religions," she said.

"This incident demonstrated that comments made, albeit irresponsibly or thoughtlessly, to a small group of people, can easily be uploaded onto the Internet that provides access to a potential audience of thousands and sometimes millions," she added.

"Your strong sense of remorse and the active steps that you have taken to contain the harm caused are compelling mitigating factors."

The imam, who turned up in court with Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist leaders, was calm when the sentence was read.

He said through a volunteer after the hearing that he expects to lose his job and be sent back to India.

Shortly after the session ended, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement that the imam will be repatriated. The phrase he recited, it added, "was and is unacceptable in a multiracial and multi-religious society".

"The action against Nalla has been taken with some regret," it said.

"Nalla has 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. He has not been deliberately malicious."

"Nevertheless, what he did was wrong. And he has admitted it. Given the nature of the breach, action had to be taken," added the ministry.

"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."

Correction note: This story has been edited to correct the name of District Judge Jasbendar Kaur. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'Imam fined $4k over offensive remarks, will be repatriated'. Print Edition | Subscribe