Sunday, 5 March 2017

Imam being probed over comments on Christians and Jews

Government will not tolerate religious preaching that encourages violence: Shanmugam
Police looking into conduct of all involved in imam case
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

The police are looking into the conduct of everyone involved in the case of an imam who allegedly made insensitive comments about Christians and Jews, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He told Parliament yesterday that the Government will not tolerate any religious preaching that encourages violence or seeks to pit one religion against another.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) had sought an update on the case.

A video of an imam reciting a prayer in Arabic at Jamae Mosque in South Bridge Road was uploaded on Facebook last week.

The imam was reported to have quoted a verse from the Quran, said Mr Shanmugam, and he seemed to have said "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians", among other things.

A police report has been lodged.



Investigations are ongoing, Mr Shanmugam said during the debate on the Home Affairs Ministry's budget, adding: "We will know the context of what he said, once the investigations have finished."

Mr Shanmugam made clear the Government's position on the issue.

If the imam had referred to the phrase to say, for instance, that such phrases can promote ill will against other communities, and that this is not acceptable in a multi-religious society, then there can be no objection.

But, said Mr Shanmugam, "if he had said that Jews and Christians should be defeated, and for God to grant Muslim brothers victory over them, to make that very point, then that is completely unacceptable".

"And if any member disagrees, I welcome him or her to stand up and clarify," he told the House.

"The Government has taken a strict position when Muslims have been attacked. People have been charged, sent to jail," he said, citing the example of a Christian couple sentenced to eight weeks in jail in 2009 for distributing publications that cast Islam in a negative light.

The same applies to any attack on any other religion, Mr Shanmugam noted, saying: "We will not tolerate any religious preaching that encourages violence or seeks to pit one religion against another."

If the imam is found not to have made any inflammatory suggestion, no action will be taken, and a public statement will be issued.

But if he had indeed made such suggestions or engaged in such preaching, appropriate action will be taken, said Mr Shanmugam.

"We have to be fair to the imam," he said, adding: "The Government's position has to be made clear because matters like this have the potential to escalate, with people jumping in, opinions being formed and hardened along religious lines."

He also called out National University of Singapore academic Khairudin Aljunied for criticising the person who made public what the imam said.

Dr Khairudin, a tenured associate professor in the university's Department of Malay Studies, had posted his comments on Facebook.

"Mr Khairudin has encouraged vilification of that individual. Looking at what he has said, he seems to suggest that it is okay for the imam to say that Jews and Christians should be defeated," said Mr Shanmugam.

"He assumes that the imam intended to mean that, and Mr Khairudin sees nothing wrong with that, even if the imam had intended the meaning of his words.

"Mr Khairudin's positions and actions are quite unacceptable. He has jumped into this, without verifying the facts and without checking the context. He supports a position that is quite contrary to the norms, values and laws in Singapore."

The police will look thoroughly into the issues and the conduct of all involved, Mr Shanmugam said, adding: "When such issues arise, it is best that parties refer (them) to the police. Going public may inflame the views further."

The video of the imam was posted online by investment associate Terence Nunis. He said that it had been taken in early January and sent to him by a friend who had heard the sermon at Jamae Mosque.



The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) earlier this week told the media that it is assisting the police with their investigations.

As part of due process, the imam has been placed on leave while investigations are ongoing, it said.

Mr de Souza yesterday commended MUIS on its "courageous and generous position".

"What we have attained, what we have enjoyed, we need to maintain, nurture and strengthen," he said.

MUIS said in a statement in response to media queries last night: "MUIS appreciates and fully supports the Government's firm and consistent position in the matter.

"MUIS shares the view that there can be no room for discourse that promotes intolerance, enmity or violence against other communities."

























Police will consult wide variety of people in probe
The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Two MPs yesterday sought clarifications from Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam after he spoke on the case of the imam accused of making insensitive remarks against Jews and Christians.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC): I would like to ask whether the police in their investigation would be consulting the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to establish whether it was really out of context or indeed was inflammatory?

Mr Shanmugam: The police will interact with, speak with a wide variety of people in coming to their conclusion. Ultimately, the police will be guided by advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers, taking into account the facts, the videos which are available, a proper translation of what was said. Everything will be looked into.

Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC): I just want to get a confirmation, as well as affirmation, from the minister on whether MUIS and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association will be consulted, because I believe that they will be able to provide a more accurate interpretation of the imam's text, since he seems to be quoting from the verse from the Quran.





Mr Shanmugam: Can I ask the member whether he thinks that it is all right to quote from a text and encourage violence against others? Can I have a direct answer, please?

Mr Faisal: Madam (Speaker), from my own knowledge, the verses in the Quran are always in the context of giving out mercy to the people and the universe.

Mr Shanmugam: That is not the question I asked, and I didn't refer to the Quran. Do you think it is all right for someone to refer to any holy text to encourage violence either by quoting directly or speaking, encouraging such violence? Yes or no?

Mr Faisal: It is wrong, Madam.

Mr Shanmugam: Thank you. That is a question the police will be considering. Thank you.















No room for religious extremism in Singapore, say Muslim leaders
Shanmugam welcomes their commitment to harmony, says Govt does not take sides
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 5 Mar 2017

Muslim leaders yesterday made clear their stand against religious extremism and called for calm amid the ongoing controversy over an imam's reportedly offensive remarks.

Singapore's top Muslim leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, said in a Facebook post that while the community holds fast to its faith, it has to ensure its religious texts are read appropriately and not misunderstood, as this would smear the good name of Islam and Muslims here.

His comments came a day after the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said there can be no room for discourse that promotes intolerance, enmity or violence against other communities.



Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday welcomed these statements, saying in comments to Malay daily Berita Harian that they "show clearly that the Muslim community strongly values our commitment to religious harmony in Singapore".

"This shows the spirit of multiracial, multi-religious harmony in Singapore. It is a very heart-warming move, and the majority of Singaporeans will both be reassured, and also welcome these statements."

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim also called for calm and unity in a Facebook post, saying: "There is no space in Singapore for extremism or exclusivism because we uphold values of mutual respect and harmony. We utterly reject any speech or actions that foster ill will between communities. This is the Singapore way."



Their comments came a day after Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that police are looking into the conduct of everyone involved in the case.

Last month, investment associate Terence Nunis posted a video online of an imam at Jamae Mosque who, after a sermon, reportedly recited a prayer in Arabic that said "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians", among other things.

The video gained traction online and offline and, as part of due process, the imam has been placed on leave while investigations, which MUIS is assisting in, are ongoing.

It has also sparked a storm in the community, and Dr Yaacob noted: "Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah (religious teachers) in our mosques."

Some also felt the imam's recitation had been taken out of context.

Mr Shanmugam said police will investigate the case thoroughly and interview all parties involved, including those who filmed and publicised the video.

"Whether there is a case for further action against any of the parties, will depend on the outcome of investigations," he added.

"The Government does not take sides in this issue - if anyone is found to have committed an offence, action will be taken."

Dr Yaacob agreed, saying in his post that it is important to step back and reflect on the incident.

There will not be any double standards in dealing with race and religious harmony issues, he said.

"If one of us, a preacher or otherwise, has crossed the line, he or she must be taken to task," he noted. "This has been done in other cases involving other religious groups which have crossed the line."

Both he and Mr Shanmugam also stressed that while it was right to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, some sensitive matters may be better reported directly to the authorities rather than aired online.

Said Dr Yaacob, who is also Communications and Information Minister: "One must also ask whether the manner in which this is done is appropriate, or if it sows more discord and causes tension in our society."

Mr Shanmugam said he had been asked if it was all right for the video of the imam's preaching to have been uploaded on social media.

"Today, many take it as a norm to post - the more sensational, the more it's likely to multiply its reach.

"The right thing to do, though, is that when a matter like this is encountered, it should be reported to the police, and not put out on social media. That will allow police to focus their investigations on the subject of the complaint," he added.

"If the matter is publicly posted, it could lead to a groundswell of feelings, in this case, both from Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

"It could cause confusion about religion, and increase tensions and so on. We don't want that in Singapore," he said.

The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) said its members would endeavour to spread the correct teachings on Islam, as it has been doing with groups like the Religious Rehabilitation Group and mosques.

"We have to support the shared peace and prosperity we enjoy," said Pergas chair Hasbi Hassan.

Dr Yaacob noted that Dr Fatris took his Facebook account offline for one day to "cool things down" because he saw emotions being whipped up.

The minister shared Dr Fatris' latest post yesterday, where the Mufti said he did not agree with the approach taken by some to sensationalise the video on social media.

"Whatever our views, it is not appropriate to act or comment in a way that hurts feelings or creates public unease," Dr Fatris said, adding that no one should give the wrong impression of Islam or the community, which has done much to help build social and religious harmony.



Mr Shanmugam, in his remarks, also had strong words for those who have attacked MUIS and the Mufti over this case and in the past.

He noted that they play a critical role in keeping religious harmony and harmonious inter-faith relations. "Regrettably, some people have been attacking them. The Mufti himself has been attacked, in rude and unacceptable language.

"Just because these people may not agree with the Mufti, or the Islamic authorities, does not mean they should use rude and abusive language against them. I find that very saddening - kurang ajar," he said, using the Malay term for lack of good upbringing.

"We are keeping a close watch on people who do these things. If the conduct crosses over and becomes criminal, action will be taken."














Imam being probed over comments on Christians and Jews
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2017

The authorities are investigating a case involving an imam who allegedly made insensitive comments about Christians and Jews.

Investment associate Terence Nunis, 40, posted a video on a Facebook page last Friday of what appeared to be an imam saying a prayer after a sermon at Jamae Mosque in South Bridge Road.

The video, which Mr Nunis said was taken in early January and sent to him by a friend who had attended the sermon, showed the imam - who is believed to be from South India - using the Arabic word "fanswurna" when he spoke about Christians and Jews.

Mr Nunis, who is a Muslim, said the use of the word "fanswurna" - which means "to overcome" or "to grant victory over" - in relation to other religions is problematic.

"In this case, the flavour is far from benign and the implicit meaning is more than just being better than them... but to dominate them," Mr Nunis told The Straits Times.

He also said in his Facebook post that the imam had made similar comments last Friday.

The police confirmed that a report had been lodged over the imam's remarks.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said it is aware of the case.

It is assisting the police with their investigations.

"As part of due process, the individual has been placed on leave while investigations are ongoing," added a spokesman.

The spokesman also said that MUIS takes "a very serious view of any behaviour or speech which promotes feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different faith communities".











NUS prof suspended over remarks on imam case

Varsity, which takes a serious view of actions that condone hatred, plans probe
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2017

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has suspended the academic who openly criticised the man who made public an imam's comments.

The university told The Straits Times yesterday that it suspended Associate Professor Khairudin Aljunied from his duties on Monday.

"The suspension follows from (his) purported comments made in relation to insensitive remarks about Christians and Jews allegedly made by a religious leader," an NUS spokesman said.

"As part of due process, NUS will launch an internal investigation into Assoc Prof Khairudin's involvement in this incident. Assoc Prof Khairudin will continue to be paid his full salary during his suspension," the spokesman added.

"NUS takes a serious view of any actions or speech that condone the promotion of hatred, ill will and enmity that targets specific faith communities."


She also said: "All members of the NUS community must observe standards and policies on staff conduct. These...include respecting different views, and the practice of responsible communication."

When contacted, Prof Khairudin said that he was unable to comment, owing to the ongoing investigations.



Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam told Parliament last Friday that police are looking into the conduct of everyone involved in the case.

Last month, investment associate Terence Nunis, a Muslim who is a convert, posted a video online. It showed an imam at Jamae Mosque who, after a sermon, reportedly recited a prayer in Arabic that said "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians", among other things. Mr Nunis' post and the video were spread widely.

The imam, who is not named, was then placed on leave as part of due process, as police investigations began. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) is assisting in the probe as well.

The case generated strong reactions in the Muslim community, with some feeling the post could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and religious leaders.

Prof Khairudin, a tenured academic in NUS' Malay studies department, posted on his Facebook page a fictional conversation between an imam and a "silly convert". In the post, he described the convert as being stupid for getting upset over several verses.

Mr Shanmugam said on Friday that Prof Khairudin had "encouraged vilification" of the whistleblowing individual.

"He supports a position that is quite contrary to the norms, values and laws in Singapore," the minister said. He added on Saturday that the police will investigate the case thoroughly and interview all parties involved, including those who filmed and publicised the video.

"Whether there is a case for further action against any of the parties will depend on the outcome of investigations," he said.

"The Government does not take sides in this issue - if anyone is found to have committed an offence, action will be taken."










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