Minister meets imam who was fined for making offensive remarks and will be heading home

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Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel at the breakfast meeting.
(From left) Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel at the breakfast meeting. PHOTO: BA'ALWIE MOSQUE
Mr Shanmugam and Imam Nalla at the breakfast meeting. PHOTO: BA'ALWIE MOSQUE

SINGAPORE - The Islamic religious teacher who was fined $4,000 for making offensive remarks about Christians and Jews will be returning home on Thursday (April 6).

On Wednesday morning, Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel met Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who told him he appreciated the sincerity of the imam's apology.

The breakfast meeting at Ba'alwie Mosque was organised by its imam, Habib Hassan Al-Attas, who invited the minister to meet Imam Nalla.

"I accepted Imam Hassan's invitation to meet the imam and have breakfast with him," Mr Shanmugam said in a statement in response to media queries.

"I thought it would be good to meet and tell the Imam that I appreciated the sincerity with which he had shown his remorse," the minister added.

The meeting came two days after the State Courts fined Imam Nalla $4,000 on Monday for 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 tranquility. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also said in a statement that day that the imam will be repatriated.

Imam Nalla, 46, 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 the Christians".

The imam clarified in a public apology last Friday, when he met leaders from various faiths, including Bishop Terry Kee, that the additional prayer he read was not from the Quran, but an old Arabic text originating from his village in India. He also visited the Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street on Sunday to apologise personally to Rabbi Mordechai Abergel and the Jewish community.

Mr Shanmugam said: "Imam Nalla had shown remorse and regret for what he did. He also met the leaders of other faiths, including the Rabbi, at the synagogue, to apologise for his actions. That showed real sincerity and courage.

"Action had to be taken against the Imam. But as the MHA statement of 3 April 2017 pointed out, the action against him was taken with some regret."

Also at the breakfast were leaders from the Federation of Indian Muslims and the Jamae Chulia Mosque.

Mr Shanmugam and imam Nalla with leaders from the Federation of Indian Muslims and the Jamae Chulia Mosque. PHOTO: BA'ALWIE MOSQUE

In a separate statement, the imam said he fully understood and accepted the decision to prosecute him and the episode was a "priceless lesson" to him.

He added he was reassured the charge against him "was not one out of witch-hunt, but solely to preserve the sanctity of interfaith harmony".

"And this is what I am bringing with me back to India," he added.

"To the people of Singapore, I am really grateful for, and humbled by, the way they had reacted to my indiscretion, and graciously forgave me upon my apology," he said.

He added that Bishop Terry Kee and Rabbi Abergel both received him "with warmth and grace, bore no grudges, and their message was that all mortal men make mistakes and that we must move forward consciously for the sake of social trust and religious cohesion".

"This is the one thing I will not forget, and we all must not take for granted."

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 law, the imam could have been jailed for up to three years, fined, or both.

District Judge Jasbendar Kaur said when she fined the imam on Monday: "Your strong sense of remorse and the active steps that you have taken to contain the harm caused are compelling mitigating factors."

Police also issued stern warnings to two Muslim Singaporeans linked to the video - Terence Kenneth John Nunis and Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied, both 40, who uploaded it on Facebook and supported the imam's remarks respectively. Both have also apologised for their actions.

Separately, the Association of Muslim Lawyers (AML) said it welcomed the closure of the case. "Given our country's great diversity where peace and public order hinge critically on social cohesiveness and interfaith harmony, the court had strongly underlined the public interest concerns against acts which cause frictions or conflicts among the different denominations," it said in a statement.

"It is notably reassuring that the court had tempered justice with mercy, as the Imam had expended great efforts and on his own accord apologised publicly to all Singaporeans especially the Christians, Jews and Muslims. The AML supports the court's judicial wisdom in this case," it added.

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