Deviant sect fiasco: Untrue that MUIS was alerted to case in 2018; “affected individuals” came forward earlier in 2015, individuals allege

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)’s claim that it was alerted to a deviant sect in 2018 is untrue, as “affected individuals” and witnesses had approached the statutory board with their complaints, appeal and proof earlier in 2015, two individuals alleged.

In a joint statement on Friday (19 Mar), Damanhuri Abas, a Singapore Democratic Party member, and another individual, Azman Mohamed — whose then-wife was lured into the cult — said that as far back as Oct 2015, Mr Azman had put forward a complaint at MUIS’ office at Braddell Road, detailing the sect’s activities and practices with documentary evidence.

In an email dated 19 Oct 2015, Mr Azman had also referred MUIS to three witnesses who were able to vouch for his complaint, as seen in the email.

Source: Azman Mohamed

About a month later, Mr Azman had sent another complaint to MUIS via email.

In the email dated 7 Nov 2015, Mr Azman raised concerns about how the sect was growing, with two new individuals joining the group at the time. It was stated that the sect intended to find five more.

He also mentioned two witnesses who were willing to step forward — one being the husband of one of the sect members, and the other being the brother of another sect member.

Mr Azman also gave MUIS another three sets of documentary evidence, on top of the previous 20, detailing the religious practices of the sect.

Some of the alleged practices include feeding birds at Mount Faber to “receive abundant sustenance” and kissing the hand of the self-anointed spiritual leader — referred to as Mbah or “holy spirit” when such a spirit supposedly enters his body — “as usual” in public to “avoid slander”.

Exhibit B: Email complaint to MUIS, dated 7 Nov 2015
Source: Azman Mohamed

An undated letter by Mr Azman provided further details on the sect’s practices.

He described how his then-wife would attend meetings “at GM”, which will usually end “very late till early morning”, around 2 am after sending the last group member.

She also continued the practice of kissing Mbah’s hand despite Mr Azman asking her to stop doing so, as physical contact between individuals of different genders who are not spouses or certain family members is prohibited in Islam.

The letter also described how, according to his then-wife, Mbah was a ‘healer’ and was able to see supernatural beings.

Her level of fanaticism towards Mbah, said Mr Azman, had even prompted her to end their 18-year marriage after Mr Azman raised the prospect of divorce if she continued to kiss Mbah’s hand and participate in the “GM Meeting” activities.

The letter ended with a plea to MUIS to conduct investigations into the sect to avoid more women from falling prey to the “deviated ideologies”.

Exhibit C: Letter to MUIS, undated
Source: Azman Mohamed

While the letter itself was not dated, the metadata of the letter showed that it was created on 21 Sep 2015, and sent out to MUIS on 11 May 2016.

Source: Azman Mohamed

On 30 Oct 2017, Mr Azman sent another letter to MUIS on the matter, specifically addressed to the Mufti of Singapore, Mohamed Fatris Bakaram. The letter was copied to the then-Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim.

The letter shed light on the group’s practices, including gambling which is forbidden in Islam but is considered permissible by the sect.

“This is also based on my personal experience when my ex-wife had asked me to buy 4D on (Mbah)’s behalf before our divorce. I was shocked and when questioned, my ex-wife said that it was just to “try out (Mbah)’s prediction” and if won, the earnings would go to the needy,” Mr Azman wrote.

Mr Azman also mentioned the divorces that affected families had endured as a result of the deviant sect.

“With each divorce that has taken place, the children are usually placed in the mother’s custody. While I managed to have my eldest daughter, my youngest daughter is in my ex-wife’s custody.

“As a result, I have very little or no contact with my youngest daughter and this saddens me deeply. The children’s upbringing and state of mind are of major concern when (Mbah) becomes their father figure,” he lamented.

Exhibit D: Letter to the Mufti of Singapore, dated 30 Oct 2017
Source: Azman Mohamed
Source: Azman Mohamed

On 22 Jan 2019, an ex-student of the sect sent an email to MUIS to report the deviant practices of the group, prompting the statutory board on its purported inaction over the matter despite the previous complaints it had received.

A full report on the sect was also sent to MUIS. Among others, the report mentioned that the sect leader has taken several of the women followers as his “spiritual wives”. The report also described their rotational wifely duties and ritual baths, in which Mbah was supposedly able to see colours appearing after the bath.

One of the sect’s teachings as highlighted in the report, based on a kuliah or religious lecture, was that adherents were required to “divorce” their faeces — a ritual called talak najis — so that they can dissociate themselves from the impurities.

According to the letter, during one of the kuliah, one of the attendees had requested proof for some of the teachings propagated by Mbah.

The said proof was sought in the form of relevant Qur’anic verses, hadith, dalil or other authoritative religious sources. Mbah was enraged by this, and the kuliah stopped midway, according to the letter.

The letter ended with an appeal to MUIS to take “prompt and effective action against this small religious cult that has destroyed several families in Singapore”.

Exhibit E: Complaint and report to MUIS by ex-student of deviant sect, dated 22 Jan 2019
Source: Damanhuri Abas, Azman Mohamed
Source: Damanhuri Abas, Azman Mohamed

Another former student of the deviant sect wrote to MUIS President, Alami Musa on 23 Jan 2019, seeking his intervention in the issue.

The complainant said that he was told by Mr Azman that no action could be taken against the cult as there was “no solid proof”.

The complainant subsequently came forward to provide supporting evidence in the form of a report, as someone who was once part of the deviant sect.

However, the complainant did not receive any response.

Exhibit F: Letter to MUIS President, dated 23 Jan 2019
Source: Damanhuri Abas, Azman Mohamed
Source: Damanhuri Abas, Azman Mohamed

The activities of the deviant sect were only made public through an exposé by The Straits Times on 9 Nov last year.

Mr Azman, alongside another, was sued by the sect members in Jan this year for supposedly exposing and “defaming” them through his public allegations.

“The sect sued everybody except The Straits Times that exposed their story,” said Mr Azman and Mr Damanhuri.

“By their LODs (Letters of Demand), the sect forced this matter out in the open where issues concerning them will have a public airing,” they added.

The ex-husbands of the women in the cult defended their positions and have engaged a lawyer to defend themselves against the defamation suit.

A day after that, MUIS issued a statement saying that its Fatwa Committee “had interviewed the individual soon after MUIS had been alerted to the case in 2018”.

MUIS said to have not approached affected individuals

In its second statement on the matter, dated 27 Nov last year, MUIS said that it would be “reaching out to affected individuals who have approached us on the matter to render support and assistance”.

However, Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman said that no MUIS officer has approached these “affected individuals”.

In another statement on 1 Dec last year, MUIS said that allegations regarding how it had failed to take action for four years against the deviant sect “are factually inaccurate”.

The statutory board reiterated its stance from the previous month, stating that it had already investigated the matter in 2018 and had taken “the necessary actions, including interviewing the individual in question, and issuing a formal advisory for him to cease his activities”.

MUIS also reiterated that it was in the midst of “working with the relevant agencies to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter”, adding that it has invited the public, especially those who received these teachings to come forward by 11 Dec “if they have credible evidence such as emails, documents, lecture notes, as well as audio and video recordings”.

MUIS’ apparent inaction raises questions on its investigation process, competency in curbing and preventing deviant teachings in S’pore

Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman in their joint statement also questioned how MUIS had conducted its investigations in 2018 when it did not call the “affected individuals” and witnesses in the process, despite opportunities to do so.

“The nature of “MUIS’ investigation” is questionable, especially when key complainants and witnesses were not called during the so-called “investigation”, despite their willingness to come forward with testimonies and documentary proof,” they said.

MUIS’ response, they added, “raises valid concerns on how MUIS handled this case, when” nothing appears to have transpired out of its investigations “over a span of 5 years”.

Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman said that MUIS’ handling of the deviant sect case brings into question “whether MUIS indeed has the will and the competency to handle such cases”.

“It is not just about fighting the fire when it happens, but it is also about preventing the fire; about having a system to heal and help affected families,” they said.

“How much longer will it take for MUIS to resolve this issue? This matter has been with MUIS since 2015,” said Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman.

Noting that Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament, Faisal Manap of the Workers’ Party had asked the current Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli on the status of the case in Parliament earlier this month, they said that contrary to Mr Masagos’ answer, neither MUIS nor the Fatwa Committee has issued any fatwa on the matter.

“Nor is it true that MUIS or the Fatwa Committee has “immediately stop the spread of deviant teaching” or prevent “the public from falling prey to the false teaching of Islam”,” they added.

Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman also stressed that despite having patiently used the right channels available to reach MUIS on the matter, the ex-husbands who were victimised by the deviant sect feel as though they have not been “reciprocated in kind”.

“As a Muslim organization, it is disappointing that MUIS at times does not even reply to acknowledge our communication.

“Maybe it should at least comply with the expected standards of a Statutory Board that it is and perform the basics expected of responding to letters and feedback,” they said.

Mr Damanhuri and Mr Azman stressed that initially, they did not want to publicise the issue.

The LODs issued by the deviant sect, coupled with MUIS’ apparent “inaction and inaccurate narratives”, however, have compelled them to bring the matter into the public eye.

“Thus, in the bigger interest of ensuring our public institutions live up to their role to ensure safety and protection of the community from further harm that we have personally suffered, we had to share our side of things,” they said.

In a Facebook video released on Friday, Mr Damanhuri said that releasing the chronology of events pertaining to the complaints made against the deviant sect is aimed at helping the public “understand better the efforts by us as complainants over the years in patiently seeking appropriate action and intervention from MUIS”.

This is given MUIS’ standing “as the authority responsible to safeguard the community from such dangerous distorted ideologies masquerading as true Islamic teaching,” he said.

“Divorces and family breakups impacting many children have resulted involving several members of the sect indicating a clear troubling pattern. This has to stop and not be allowed to extend to other potential victims,” said Mr Damanhuri.

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