Controversial Preacher Cancels Malaysia Speech after India Revokes Passport

Hata Wahari and Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka
160411-my-zakirnaik620.jpg Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz (left) presents Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik with the 2015 King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam, in Riyadh, March 1, 2015.
AFP/ HO/King Faisal Foundation

Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik has cancelled his scheduled Saturday appearance at a gathering of Muslim scholars in Malaysia’s Kelantan state, according to event organizer the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

Tuesday’s announcement came hours after India announced that it had revoked the passport of the Indian-born televangelist.

Naik, who was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia in May, notified organizers on Tuesday that he would not be able to attend the weekend event in the religiously conservative Malaysian state because of “unavoidable reasons,” PAS Information Chief Nasharuddin Tantawi confirmed to BenarNews.

Harakah Online, PAS’s news portal, reported that the preacher had apologized “for not being able to meet the invitation,” and announced a replacement speaker would be announced soon.

The Times of India reported the government moved swiftly to revoke Naik’s passport after learning about his planned participation at the Malaysian conference. The revocation would force him to seek special travel documents from Saudi Arabia or from Malaysia, allowing India to apply diplomatic pressure and present a list of cases against him.

Naik, the founder of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), had repeatedly ignored summons issued by India’s Enforcement Directorate to appear before a special court hearing allegations against his NGO.  He left India in in June 2016 and has since settled in Saudi Arabia, according to reports.

In November 2016, the Indian government imposed a five-year ban on Naik’s research foundation, citing violations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

It accused Naik of making inflammatory remarks including praising late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, supporting suicide attacks and denouncing Hindu gods during sermons delivered through Peace TV, a channel partly funded by the IRF.

Banned in Bangladesh, welcomed in Malaysia

Naik’s firebrand sermons are believed to have inspired at least two of the terrorists who killed 20 hostages during an overnight siege at a Dhaka café in July 2016, according to officials in Bangladesh. The government there has since blocked Naik’s Peace TV channel.

Naik is no longer welcome in Bangladesh, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.

“His speeches could have encouraged some of the militants. This is a government decision not to let him in Bangladesh,” Khan said. “In line with the government decision, the education ministry has shut the Peace schools in Bangladesh and the telecommunication ministry banned Peace TV transmission.”

Naik, however, does have fans among Bangladesh’s Sunni Muslim majority.

“Unlike the traditional Imams, Zakir Naik sermons contain new explanations of Islam; he relates the Quran with science and everyday life,” Ahmedul Kabir, a 55-year-old garment trader, told BenarNews.

“I have been his follower for more than 10 years, and I have never heard him telling that killing of people is justified. So, I do not see any rationale in banning his Peace TV,” he added.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities had planned to allow Naik to travel to Kelantan to appear at the PAS gathering, the country’s police chief told BenarNews on Monday.

Police did not investigate Naik because the government had not received any request from India to detain or prosecute him, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said.

“Zakir Naik could come to Malaysia at any time as he holds Malaysia’s permanent resident status,” Khalid said prior to India’s revocation of Naik’s passport. “At present, there is no criminal investigation or involvement in militant activities against him.”


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