Three Malaysian ministers on Wednesday demanded that controversial preacher Zakir Naik, who has been granted permanent residency in the country, should be expelled for questioning the loyalty of Malaysian Hindus and making racially sensitive remarks.
The ministers raised the demand during a meeting of Malaysia’s cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. They said Naik’s comments were aimed at driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims, an allegation the preacher denied.
“We have expressed our position, which is that action must be taken and that Zakir Naik should no longer be allowed to remain in Malaysia,” communications minister Gobind Singh Deo and human resources minister M Kulasegaran said in a joint statement.
“The prime minister has taken note of our concerns. We leave it to him to consider the position and to decide soonest possible what will be done to deal with the problem,” they added.
Their position was backed by natural resources minister Xavier Jayakumar, who also issued a statement urging Mahathir to expel Naik.
Kulasegaran, one of the senior-most Hindu politicians in the Malaysian coalition government, first raised the issue on Tuesday in a statement that said Naik’s “actions do not reflect one deserving of a permanent resident status”. He had said the time had come for the “fugitive foreigner to leave Malaysia and to face charges of terrorism and money laundering...in India”.
Naik earned the ire of the ministers after he compared Hindus in Malaysia to Muslims in India during a speech on August 8 and said the former enjoyed more than 100% rights in Malaysia. He also said Hindus in Malaysia, despite the benefits, were more loyal to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi than to Mahathir. Videos of the speech showed he also made derogatory remarks about Chinese Malaysians.
Though the three ministers belong to minority communities, their position was supported by Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, who said: “An attack against our Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters is an attack against all Malaysians.”
Deo and Kulasegaran also said Naik shouldn’t be allowed to hold any more events in Malaysia as many people had raised concerns over his “inflammatory” speeches and statements that impact race relations and public order.
Naik contended on Wednesday he had been misquoted. “On the charges against me by the Modi government, my stance was very categorical. I found it unfair that a certain group of Hindus in Malaysia seem to trust the Modi government more than Interpol or the Indian courts or the Malaysian government itself,” he said in a statement.
Kulasegaran has raised the issue of the preacher during a meeting of the Malaysian cabinet in July last year along with the two other ministers.
India is yet to hear from Malaysia on a request to extradite Naik, who faces charges of money laundering and inciting terrorism. Naik has lived in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia since he left India almost three years ago and his case has become an irritant in India-Malaysia ties.