Malaysia’s cabinet has discussed the permanent residency of Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, with four ministers demanding his expulsion for allegedly making racially sensitive remarks in the multi-ethnic nation.
Naik, who has lived in Malaysia for about three years, has come under fire for his recent comments that Hindus in the Southeast Asian country had “100 times more rights” than the Muslim minority in India, and that they sometimes believed in the Indian government more than the Malaysian one.
Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60 percent of its 32 million people. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians, most of whom are Hindus.
“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,” Gobind Singh Deo, minister of communications and multimedia, said in a 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,” he added.
Malaysia’s Minister of Human Resources M Kulasegaran said Naik’s comments could have been aimed at creating a fissure in the multiracial nation so he could win the favour of Muslims.
He said Naik did not deserve the status of a permanent resident.
Naik, who has repeatedly rejected the charges against him in India, denied the allegations made by Kulasegaran and others in Malaysia.
“My praise of the Malaysian government for its Islamic and fair treatment of Hindu minorities is being twisted and misquoted to suit political gains and create communal rifts,” he said in a statement to reporters on Wednesday.
‘Potential racial and religious division’
Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar said if Malaysia was to ignore Naik’s statements and allow him to stay in Malaysia, it would lead to “potential racial and religious division”.
“We do not need such individuals to issue seditious statements with the intention of driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia,” said Jayakumar.
Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as saying late on Tuesday that Naik cannot be sent back to India for “fear of being killed” there.
“If any [other] country wants to have him, they are welcome,” he said, according to Bernama.
The National Patriots Association, a group of Malaysian military and police veterans, also denounced Naik’s comments, saying that many ethnic Indians in Malaysia had served in the country’s security forces.
India banned Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation in late 2016, accusing him of encouraging and aiding its followers to “promote or attempt to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious communities and groups”.
With additional reporting by Amy Chew in Kuala Lumpur