Three cabinet ministers urged Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday to expel controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik from Malaysia over what they said were inflammatory speeches undermining race relations in the country.
Xavier Jayakumar, the minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources, said he told a cabinet meeting that Naik should be sent away because the preacher’s permanent resident status was not a license “to shoot his mouth off when he pleases.”
“Having raised the matter with my fellow colleagues in the cabinet this morning, I along with others have expressed our stance that action against him must be taken and that Naik should not be allowed to remain in the country,” Jayakumar said in a statement after the meeting.
“The prime minister has noted the concerns that were raised and will consider our position in his decision-making process.”
Gobind Singh Deo, the minister of Communication and Multimedia, and Human Resources Minister M. Kula Segaran issued a joint statement echoing Jayakumar’s call that Naik be expelled.
The two MPs expressed concern over speeches and statements by Naik “which have been inflammatory in nature.”
“We therefore express our objections to Zakir Naik … holding any further events here in Malaysia or making further statements which impact on race relations and public order,” they said.
A video of a sermon that Naik gave on Aug. 8 during a speaking tour of Kelantan, a conservative and predominantly Muslim state in Malaysia, showed him allegedly questioning the loyalty of the country’s ethnic Indian community. He suggested they trusted India’s government more than they trusted Mahathir.
In the same sermon, Naik also remarked that another minority group, Malaysian Chinese, were “guests” in the country and should be asked to “go back to China.”
“You know someone called me a guest. So I said, before me, the Chinese were the guests. If you want the new guest to go first, ask the old guest to go back,” Naik said, referring to calls for him to be sent back to India where he is wanted for alleged crimes including supporting terrorism and tax evasion.
Indian authorities accused Naik, a televangelist preacher, of inspiring some of the militants who carried out an Islamic State-linked terrorist attack at a café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages, were killed in July 2016.
In November 2017, India’s Hindu nationalist-led government said Naik faced charges of money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV. India and Bangladesh have banned his channel.
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s minister of youth and sports, reprimanded Naik for what he described as the preacher’s dismissal of national unity and loyalty to the country.
“An attack against the Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters is an attack against all Malaysians,” the minister told reporters when asked if he agreed with his fellow cabinet members.
The ministers did not call for Naik, who has Saudi Arabian citizenship, to be deported to India to face the criminal charges.
Details on Naik’s permanent residency in Malaysia are unclear but reports claim it was awarded to him in 2012, when he first visited the country. A year later, the government of then-Prime Minister Najib Razak presented him an “Islamic Role Model” award.
Muslim Malays, along with other indigenous people, make up 69.3 percent of Malaysia’s 32.6 million population while ethnic Chinese comprise 22.8 percent and ethnic Indians consist of 6.9 percent, according to figures provided by the Statistics Department last month.
On Tuesday, Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan, an association of former military officers, released a statement telling Naik to “shut up.”
“Questioning the loyalty and the honesty of the ethnic Malaysian Indians is irresponsible. Many of them, along with other races, fought for this country,” said group president Arshad Raji, a retired brigadier general.
That same day, the preacher defended himself, saying others had twisted his praises of the Malaysian government’s fair treatment of minorities.
“The allegations reported in the media are mischievous and designed to not only politicize me but also create religious disharmony within the community. Recordings of my talks will reveal that the reality is the opposite of what is being alleged,” Naik said.
BenarNews reached out to Naik’s lawyer on Wednesday to respond to the ministers’ statements.
“I cannot comment. My client asked his defense team to stand down,” lawyer Buzze Azam said.
Support from Mahathir
Prime Minister Mahathir has supported Naik remaining in Malaysia, announcing in July 2018 that Malaysia would not deport the preacher.
“As long as he is not causing trouble he will not be deported. He is a Malaysian permanent resident,” Mahathir said at the time.
On Tuesday, before hearing from his cabinet members, Mahathir stuck by his previous statement.
“The problem is that the government could not send Naik back to India because he faces the risk of being killed. But if there is country willing to take him, they are welcome to do so,” he said.
Last year, Mahathir led the opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition to a stunning victory in a general election. The alliance, anchored by the multiracial People’s Justice Party, had pledged in its campaign platform to defend the rights of all Malaysians regardless of race or religion.