SINGAPORE — While greeting an eight-year-old female student, a religious teacher kissed her on both of her cheeks before pecking her on the lips.
The man had initially thought there was nothing wrong with his actions and he now regrets them, according to his lawyer.
On Monday (16 March), the former freelance Islamic teacher, 66, was sentenced to six weeks’ jail by a district judge.
The man, an accredited Islamic Teacher under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme by the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), had pleaded guilty on 15 October last year to one count of committing an indecent act with a child in January last year. He had another charge, also involving kissing the girl on her lips on another occasion, taken into consideration for sentencing.
As a religious teacher, the man would conduct Quranic recitation classes at his flat at least three nights a week. The victim, now 10, attended the recitation classes with her brother twice weekly at the flat since she was in Primary 1. Both the girl and the man cannot be named to protect the former’s identity.
During their sessions, the girl and her brother would arrive at the flat around 8pm with their maid and stay for more than half an hour. Both children addressed the man as “Pak Ustaz”, which is an Arabic term for religious teacher.
In 2018, the girl noticed that the man began kissing her on her cheeks when she greeted the man upon arrival. He did the same to her brother.
However in January 2019, when the girl was 8, the man kissed her on her lips after kissing both her cheeks. He told her not to tell anybody about the act. The girl noticed that the man had not kissed her brother on the lips.
The girl told her mother about the kiss, as she was afraid something might happen to her. The girl’s father made a police report.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien had called for a jail term of at least two months in an earlier hearing, stating that the victim was a pre-pubescent girl and that there had been skin to skin contact. The man had also been her Quran recitation teacher, with a primary duty to impart knowledge and teach the victim the correct manner to recite verses.
“There was an egregious abuse of trust and religious authority. The accused was someone the victim had known for some time as she has been attending his Quranic recitation classes since she was in Primary 1... she and her younger brother treated him as a grandfather figure,” said the prosecutor.
Lawyer Rajan Nair said that his client, a freelance religious teacher since 1991, taught 20 students in 2018 and did not charge them, although the students’ parents would given him token sums of about $200 each month.
He would hold lessons for about three students each time, and each would take turns to recite the Quran, said the lawyer. His client would greet them by the practice of salaam, which involves a verbal greeting and kissing of hands between Muslims and their elders. This was when he pecked the girl on her lips, but it was in the presence of others, including his wife, the girl’s maid, and other students, said the lawyer.
His client had told the victim that once she reached the age of 9, he would not kiss or embrace her as the acts would be inappropriate. While his client had now accepted that it was inappropriate for him to kiss the girl, he had not intended to pressure her into the act.
“My client did not consider it was an indecent act, in retrospect he accepts that the acts were indecent,” said the lawyer.
His client’s life revolved around religious teachings and voluntary work, but he had stopped since the court case began and now regrets his act, said the lawyer.
The hearing was later adjourned to consider whether the teacher had qualified his guilty plea.
On Monday, District Judge Teo Guan Kee noted that the teacher accepted his act was an indecent one. The judge noted that the sentence could be adjusted to reflect the man’s lack of knowledge about his actions.
For committing an indecent act with a child, the man could have been jailed up to five years and/or fined up to $10,000 on a first offence.
In response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore, Muis said on Monday the man has been suspended under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme since January 2019. A criminal act will automatically deregister an individual from the scheme. Hence, the man will no longer be allowed to teach Al-Quran or conduct classes on Islam in Singapore, Muis added.
“Muis and the Asatizah Recognition Board take a serious stance on cases of this nature, and will not hesitate to take action to ensure that the safety and welfare of the public, in particular our children, are safeguarded. No individual should be allowed to abuse his or her position of authority or influence as a religious teacher,” said Ustaz Mahmoud Mathlub Sidek, Assistant Director in the Office of Mufti (Asatizah Recognition).
Muis reminds the public to be vigilant and report errant behaviour to the relevant authorities.
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