Zakir Naik finds a home in Malaysia: report
02 November 2017
Zakir Naik, an Indian Islamic preacher and founder of Islamic Research Foundation, wanted by security agencies in India, is reported to have found refuge in Malaysia.
A Reuters report said he made a public appearance accompanied by a bodyguard at the Putra Mosque in Malaysia's administrative capital, where the prime minister and his cabinet members often worship.
Naik has been wanted in India for ''promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures,'' and the national Investigation Agency (NIA) had last week prepared charges against him.
Naik, a 52-year-old medical doctor, has been preaching death penalty for homosexuals and those who abandon Islam as their faith, according to media reports.
Bangladesh, another Muslim-majority nation, had suspended Peace TV channel, which features Naik's preachings, after some media reports claimed bombers of a Dhaka cafe that killed 22 people last year were admirers of the preacher (See: After Dhaka terror, Al-Qaeda calls for lone-wolf attacks in India). Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has granted permanent residency to Naik, after the UK denied him a visa.
Naik's presence in multi-cultural Malaysia with its substantial Christians, Hindu and Buddhist minorities is seen as a sign of top-level support for hardline Islam.
Razak, especially after the ruling coalition's worst-ever electoral performance in the 2013 general election, has stared currying favour to a politicised Islam, undermining Malayia's long-projected moderate Islamic image.
Since then, his ruling party has been trying to appease an increasingly conservative ethnic Malay-Muslim base and religion has become a battleground ahead of elections the prime minister has to call by mid-2018.
The Reuters report said Naik when asked by a female Reuters reporter about the investigation in India during his appearance at the Putra mosque last month, merely said, ''Sorry, it is not right for me to speak with ladies in public.''
Malaysian deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told parliament on Tuesday that Naik, who obtained permanent residency five years ago, was not being given ''preferential treatment''.
''Over the time spent in this country, he has not broken any laws or regulations. As such, there is no reason from a legal standpoint to detain or arrest him,'' Zahid said. The government has not received any official request from India ''related to terrorism allegations involving him'', he added.
Zahid and the prime minister posted photos on Facebook of their meetings with Naik last year in Malaysia, according to the Reuters report.
Meanwhile, a group of Malaysian activists has filed a suit in the High Court seeking to deport Naik, who they described as a threat to public peace in the multi-racial society where about 40 per cent of the population is non-Muslim.
Naik has denied charges levelled against him by Indian agencies, claiming that he was being targeted by the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi.
Malaysia's opposition Islamic Party (PAS) has defended Naik and has urged the government to disregard any potential Indian extradition request, claiming the ''allegations'' aim ''to block his influence and efforts to spread religious awareness among the international community.''
Islamic groups have stoked controversy for trying to impose their ethos in a multi-cultural country. Malaysian authorities cancelled a planned beer festival last month, citing security concerns, and for some years now international pop stars who wish to make appearances in Malaysia face restrictions over clothing and dancing.
Islam is the official religion in Malaysia. The laws, however, are secular, though the country does have sharia courts for civil cases for Muslims.