SINGAPORE - If it is true that Islamic studies graduates here were behind an online poll sexualising local female Islamic religious teachers, these graduates will not be allowed to teach Islam to the Muslim community in Singapore in any form, said the Asatizah Recognition Board (ARB) on Saturday (May 29).
Several netizens have alleged that those who started the poll on social media platform MeWe were students studying to become asatizah, or religious teachers, and have urged the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) not to accredit them.
The ARB, which oversees the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, said it will not hesitate to take stern action against the perpetrators if the allegations are proven true.
Thereafter, it will monitor the progress of the alleged offenders and will continue to advise and counsel them so that they are aware of their offences and repent.
In a strongly worded statement condemning the poll, the ARB said the poll misused photos of ustazah, or female Islamic religious teachers, to sexually harass them, violating the norms of decency and morals in Islam.
Expressing its regret over the incident, the ARB added: "This matter is very serious and needs to be addressed immediately."
However, it also urged the Muslim community not to speculate further on the case as it is now under police investigation.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said on Friday that the poll constitutes prohibited content under Singapore's Internet Code of Practice.
It has since contacted MeWe to remove the offending poll if it still remains on the platform. It has also spoken to other social media platforms to ensure that the post does not surface on their platforms.
The Straits Times understands that the poll has already been removed.
The MeWe poll was first highlighted by Ustaz Muhammad Zahid Mohd Zin on Wednesday in an Instagram post.
It showed a list of at least 12 female asatizah being ranked according to their sexual attractiveness, with 1,005 MeWe users participating in the poll. The poll had also suggested committing sexual violence against the religious teachers on the list.
Muis said on Thursday that the poll had caused "immense distress" to the individuals involved. It lodged a police report to expedite investigations into the matter and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Religious and political leaders have also poured scorn on the poll.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli called the online poll vile and abhorrent, and said he was "absolutely repulsed" by it.
President Halimah Yacob said the poll was not only "the worst kind of harassment" but also amounted to an open invitation to commit sexual violence against women.
She also pointed out allegations that Islamic studies students were among those who had conducted the poll and participated in it.
Said President Halimah: "If indeed it's true... then we have to seriously consider whether they are fit to preach in the community once they complete their studies."
Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann, who was previously Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said the poll is an example of a digital safety gap women here face.
Ms Sim said she and Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information and Health Rahayu Mahzam will host an online session next Saturday to meet those who are disturbed by the poll and wish to combat such online harms.
Muslim groups Beyond The Hijab, Crit Talk, End FGC Singapore, Lepak Conversations and Penawar issued a joint statement on Friday calling on Muis and Muslim leaders to take concrete action.
Proposals made by the five groups include comprehensive sexuality education in local madrasahs and mandatory training for religious teachers and students on how to respond to sexual assault cases, as well as on gender sensitivity.
The groups also urged the authorities to reconsider the granting of certifications under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme if background checks on any asatizahs here reveal past misogynistic and sexist behaviour.
Said the five groups: "While we are reassured that figures from the Malay-Muslim community have spoken up, we believe that they have the responsibility to act on this matter decisively, and to address the root of the problem - deep-seated misogyny and sexism in our communities."