Police probing offensive poll on female Islamic teachers

Muslim leaders also condemn social media poll that asked people to rank a list of ustazah

The police are investigating an offensive poll online that ranked a list of ustazah, or female Islamic religious teachers, and which President Halimah Yacob and other leaders lashed out against yesterday.

The poll, which first came to light on Wednesday, had asked people to rank a list of ustazah according to their sexual attractiveness.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said yesterday it was aware of the post, which has caused "immense distress" to the individuals involved, and is very concerned by it. Muis has lodged a police report to expedite investigations into the matter and "bring the perpetrators to justice".

The police confirmed a report has been lodged and investigations are ongoing. The council will be providing support and counselling for the victims of the post.

Muis said it will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, adding that such behaviour is an abomination that must be stopped. "Our faith calls for mutual respect at all times, and emphasises, with utmost importance, the need to safeguard the honour and modesty of all members of society," it said.

The poll on social media platform MeWe was highlighted by Ustaz Muhammad Zahid Mohd Zin late on Wednesday in an Instagram post. MeWe lets users post comments, start polls, message one another and have group chats. A screengrab shows 1,005 had voted.

One list had at least 12 asatizah (religious teachers), but The Straits Times understands 20 to 30 asatizah were ranked.

"I got a distress call from an ustazah and was shocked," said Ustaz Zahid. "Who did this must be held accountable!"

Ustaz Irwan Hadi Shuhaimy, deputy director at the Office of the Mufti, made a similar post, expressing his disgust at the poll. He said those involved should be dealt with under the "full force of the law".

President Halimah said she was deeply perturbed by the poll, and called on Muis and the police to fully investigate the matter and punish those found guilty. Those who conducted and participated in the poll "deserve our strongest condemnation", she said on Facebook.

"Is there no limit to how low some will stoop to degrade and defile women?" Madam Halimah wrote. "This is not just the worst kind of harassment that's against our law, but amounts to an open invitation to commit sexual violence against women. We must not allow the anonymity of the Web to embolden those who wish to abuse, denigrate and violate women."

She added: "If indeed it's true that some are students studying the religion (of which I stand corrected), then we have to seriously consider whether they are fit to preach in the community once they complete their studies."

Several netizens alleged those behind the poll were students studying to become asatizah, and have urged Muis to not accredit them.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said on Facebook: "The authorities are looking into the matter thoroughly and those found guilty will be brought to justice accordingly."

Ustaz Mohamed Qusairy Thaha, acting chief executive of Islamic teachers group Pergas, said the group is pursuing the issue as well, and stands with all the asatizah affected as well as all women who are sexually harassed and abused.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim said those who started the poll and who voted in it must be held accountable. "This is totally unacceptable against women and our asatizah," he said.

Other Malay/Muslim MPs, including Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam and Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan of the Workers' Party, also criticised the poll.

They called on the public to reject the objectification of women and teach people, especially the young, why it is wrong to degrade women and men.

"I am happy to note that many in our community, especially men, stand up against such transgressions and condemn such actions," said Ms Rahayu. "But we do need to continue to educate and look at the gaps."

Ms Raeesah said: "When over a thousand men could find it in themselves to dehumanise our asatizahs in that way, surely we must conclude that this is but a symptom of a deeper wound in our society."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2021, with the headline Police probing offensive poll on female Islamic teachers. Subscribe