Some properties in Geylang’s red-light district have come under the management of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
This emerged after the High Court recently ruled that the properties donated more than half a century ago to fund a girls’ school in India were subject to a wakaf, or a charitable trust. All such properties, according to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Amla), come under Muis’ control.
Muis – which started legal action against the trustees of the properties as it was concerned they were being used for “either nefarious or suspect businesses” – was not ready to speak about the case, explaining that the trustees may appeal against the decision.
But the case has raised questions about the future of these properties, believed to be worth between $25 million and $30 million, and which include 10 odd-numbered units in Lorong 18 Geylang.
The properties also include a plot of vacant land in Geylang and a Kampong Glam shophouse occupied by a restaurant now.
Muis started legal action against the trustees of the properties as it was concerned they were being used for “either nefarious or suspect businesses”.
In 1946, Haji Mohamed Amin Fazal Ellahi willed that a third of his properties should be used to maintain the Aminia Muslim Girls School in Delhi. He died in 1949.
In 2000, the school’s trustees instructed their agent in Singapore to register the trust with Muis, which in turn lodged caveats on the properties. In 2001, the defendants were appointed the trustees.
A decade later, they requested that Muis withdraw its caveats.
When Muis’ request for more information on the properties was turned down, it conducted inquiries and grew concerned about how these trust properties, most of which were in Geylang, were being used.
It also discovered that a restaurant and bar were operating at the Kampong Glam property.
Muis then took the matter to court, which had to decide if the properties were subject to a wakaf, as the original will never set this out explicitly.
One of the arguments put forward by lawyer G. Raman, who acted for the trustees, was that the properties were an outright gift to the school, and so was not subject to wakaf.
However, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, who acted for Muis, argued that Mr Mohamed’s intention to create a wakaf could be gleaned from the circumstances, including how the grant was in favour of educating girls in Islamic culture and religion.
Each side called on a Muslim law expert to testify. Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah, in judgment grounds released on Thursday, pointed out there was no dispute between the two sides as to what constituted a wakaf.
He rejected the trustees’ claim that the properties were an outright gift, saying that the language of the will showed the proceeds from the properties had to be used for the school’s maintenance in perpetuity, a key characteristic of a wakaf.
“What the Delhi school was not to be given was the proceeds as a lump sum , to do as it wished,” said the judge.
The Delhi-based trustees, Mr Saeed Salman and Mr Mohamed Salim Mokatif, have engaged Rajah and Tann Senior Counsel Francis Xavier to pursue an appeal.
When asked about the current use of the properties, Mr Xavier confirmed they are being rented out. He added that the trustees have previously evicted tenants found to be carrying out illegal activities such as gambling.
They have also stipulated that no alcohol be served on the restaurant’s premises.