Malaysia: Controversial Muslim Preacher Can Deliver Different Speech

Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
2016-04-12
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160412-MY-zakir-folo-620.jpg Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, shown here at a 2015 press conference in Putrajaya in July 2015, announced Tuesday that controversial Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik would be able to speak at an event on April 17.
AFP

A controversial Indian Muslim preacher will be allowed to give a talk on April 17 in the Malaysian state of Malacca, after all, but not on his original topic – “Similarities Between Hinduism and Islam.”

Popular Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik had been told Monday that his planned speech at the Universiti Teknikal Malaysia (UTeM) was cancelled over concerns that it could hurt religious sentiment in multi-racial Malaysia where Islam is the official religion, according to national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.

But that changed on Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he met with the police chief and they determined that Zakir could speak at the university on the topic of “Women’s Rights in Islam.”

Ahmad did not explain why the government decided to lift the ban, and, as of late Tuesday, Zakir had not commented on the government’s decision.

Upcoming talk

Zakir’s most high-profile talk in Malaysia, “Is the Quran God’s Word?”, is scheduled to be held at the National Hockey Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday – one day before the now on-again speech in Malacca.

According to a statement issued by Khalid, police did not question Zakir’s credibility or stature, but the talk’s original topic stirred a debate among people that could affect racial and religious sentiment.

“Any decision made is based on safety aspects with regard to the interests of all parties, in order to maintain public safety,” Khalid said.

The government’s latest decision occurred on the same day that a petrol bomb was thrown at a senior politician’s office in opposition-ruled Penang state after he allegedly described Zakir as Satan, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday.

Police said no one was injured in Tuesday’s attack. State Deputy Chief Minister P. Ramasamy said the attack could have been prompted by his recent Facebook posting that denounced Zakir.

“I regret the use of the word ‘Satan’ which has caused uneasiness and unhappiness among Muslims in Malaysia,” Ramasamy told AFP, adding that the word had been removed from his post.

History of controversy

Zakir, who heads the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, was criticized by the U.S. State Department several years ago when he called the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City and Washington an “inside job.”

The scholar, who previously visited Malaysia in 2012, drew about 30,000 to a speech in the northern state of Terengganu on Sunday. His appearances have not been without controversy, with members of Malaysia’s Indian and Hindu minority lodging complaints with police claiming that he had slandered other religions in the past.

In 2013, Zakir received the Maal Hijrah Icon, a top Islamic award in Malaysia, for his role as an international and influential Islamic scholar. He was also one of five recipients of the King Faisal International Prize from Saudi Arabia in 2015.

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