SINGAPORE — An Islamic preacher who sought to emulate the success of charismatic churches and managed to attract thousands of followers ran foul of the law in 2018 when the police refused him a permit to hold an event.
Undeterred, Fahrorazi Sohoi, who is known as Ustaz Razi, went ahead, switching his planned venue to commemorate the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and paying for the event to be advertised in the Berita Harian Malay newspaper on the eve of the gathering.
Some 400 people attended the three-hour event at the Pu Tian Building along Lorong 33 Geylang on 11 November 2018, about a week before the prophet’s birthday according to the Islamic calendar.
A member of the public called the police to complain about the crowd.
At the State Courts on Wednesday (28 January), Razi, a Singaporean who is now 49, was fined $2,000 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of organising a public assembly without a permit under the Public Order Act.
Didn’t heed police advice
Razi is currently not on the Islamic Religious Council’s online list of accredited religious teachers. He has operated FR Quran Centre for the past decade, although the company is registered in the name of his friend Osman Sarkam.
On 23 September 2018, Razi invited Mohamad Yazid Bin Yunos, also known as Ustaz Yazid, to speak at an the event he was planning. Razi would emcee the event while Yazid would give a talk about the significance of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and his way of life.
In the lead up to the event, Razi sent 800 invitations through the FR Quran Centre Facebook page, distributed flyers and also invited students of religious classes he conducted.
On 17 October, the former Ustaz, or religious teacher, applied to the police for a permit to hold the event at the Singapore Sepak Takraw Federation in Bedok North. The application was made via TBQ Healthcare, which is operated by a Herman Sudil.
The next month, on 5 November, the police told Razi via email that this application was rejected. The police also advised that it would be an offence to hold the event without a permit.
Two days later, Razi wrote in to appeal against the decision. “He highlighted that the persons speaking and reciting religious verses at the event have clean records and that arrangements had already been finalised,” Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhi Hao told District Judge Salina Ishak.
The police rejected the appeal on 9 November and again advised him not to proceed with the event without a permit.
“Later that afternoon, the accused cancelled the Bedok North venue and proceeded to lease the auditorium of the Pu Tian Building instead,” said DPP Tan.
“Even after the permit application was rejected, the accused continued to publicise the event on Facebook, announcing the change in venue to the Pu Tian Building. On 10 November 2018, he placed an advertisement for the event in the Berita Harian newspaper,” the prosecutor added.
Some 30 volunteers helped to usher the crowd on the day of the event, and members of the public were able to freely walk in without prior registration.
Razi was charged for his Public Order Act offence in August 2019. He could have been fined up to $5,000.
Meanwhile, Osman was given a stern warning for helping to organise the event and Yazid got a verbal advisory for participating in it.
On Thursday, the police confirmed that the Islamic Religious Council had made reports against FR Quran Centre and Osman for allegedly operating an unregistered religious school. The centre is also alleged to have engaged Razi to provide religious instruction, even though he is not an accredited religious teacher.
The police said investigations into possible offences under the Administration of Muslim Law (Muslim Religious School) Rules 2016 are ongoing.
Studied charismatic churches
According to a 2010 report in local broadsheet The Straits Times, Razi had thousands of followers. His charismatic style of preaching with the use of humour would often see his classes at mosques packed.
He would also hold events at the Singapore Expo. Razi told the newspaper that his first large-scale sermon at the venue in 2005 attracted more than 15,000 people. He would organise sermons for occasions such at the Islamic new year and the prophet’s birthday, hiring some 30 buses to ferry his followers to the venue.
His inspiration, he told the paper, were the charismatic churches such as City Harvest. “I notice that every Sunday, they will rent huge halls at the Singapore Expo and busloads of worshippers will turn up. It's really amazing how they are able to attract so many people,” The Straits Times quoted as saying.
“I think we can learn a thing or two from the way Christians worship. There's nothing wrong with learning from others and borrowing their strategies,” he reportedly added.
Razi was also reported to run a travel agency which organised pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
In August 2018, he was charged at the State Courts with cheating Mohammad Farehan Mohammad Hussein into paying him $1,550 for a VIP Haj by invitation from the Saudi embassy.
Farehan was allegedly one of more than 80 victims who lost some $98,000 in the purported scam. The victims had supposedly handed over their passports to Razi but never received confirmation of their flights and visas.
Razi was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on the cheating charge in October 2019. The charge remains in the State Courts’ system and could be revived against him.
In August last year, another suspect in the scam, Mohd Ramlee AB Samad, 60, was handed 85 charges of cheating the victims.
Ramlee allegedly duped them into believing that places on a discounted Haj trip were available, causing them to hand over their passports or cash to Razi.
The relationship between the two men is not known.
Ramlee’s case is pending before the court.
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