SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore on Monday said it would repatriate the chief cleric of a Muslim mosque for offensive remarks targeting Christians and Jews, a decision that aimed to “repudiate divisive speech”.
Authorities in the multi-ethnic city-state, an outpost of stability in a region where religious tension is not uncommon, are sensitive to public remarks they deem might adversely affect religious and social harmony.
During Friday prayers on Jan. 6, the cleric, Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel Abdul Malik, made use of the phrase, “Grant us help against the Jews and the Christians,” the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on its website.
The 46-year-old, popularly known as “Nalla”, admitted making the remarks, apologised and “recognised that it was unacceptable in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context,” the ministry said in a statement.
He pleaded guilty in a Singapore court, and was fined S$4,000 ($2,862), it added.
“He will be repatriated,” it said. “Any religious leader from any religion who makes such statements will be held accountable for their actions.”
The government had “the responsibility to act quickly and firmly to repudiate divisive speech, even if the course of action is sometimes difficult,” it added.
“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.”
Reuters was unable to contact Nalla for comment. Domestic media said he had Indian nationality.
“I fully respect the laws of the land and appreciate the concerns of her people,” the Straits Times newspaper on Friday quoted him as saying.
“I am truly sorry that I had offended you, and I must bear full responsibility for my actions.”
Muslims and Christians account for about 15 percent each of Singapore’s resident population, while Buddhists and Taoists make up just over half, according to a 2010 census.
($1=1.3975 Singapore dollars)
Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Clarence Fernandez