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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Hosting Zakir Naik, Malaysia cocks the snook at India

From Malladi Rama Rao
New Delhi, 07 December, (

Malaysia hosting Zakir Naik, wanted in India for fomenting militancy, should not come as a surprise since he was granted permanent resident (PR) status five years ago.

Naik has made Malaysia his transitory home during his world tour as an Islamic televangelist, long before he grew controversial in India and attracted the ire of the authorities.

He is not a Malaysian citizen. Although Malaysia has a scheme for granting citizenship under “Malaysia My Home”, Naik has not availed it and has for various reasons ranging from his support base and huge property, chosen to remain an Indian citizen.

What should come as a surprise to Indians is that his host, Malaysia, although an Islamic nation, is multi-ethnic and prides in its multi-racial, multi-religious polity. Under Mahathir Mohamad, who was the prime minister for 22 years, Malaysia has taken pride in practicing what it calls moderate Islam, different from the hard-line Wahabi West Asian one.

That, again, should not come as a surprise as the present Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, himself a moderate, is politically fighting Mahathir, the non-agenarian statesman who has fought every prime minister who came after him.

Yet another matter that should not cause surprise is that Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and the alliance Barisan Nsional (BN), that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, has been leaning towards hard-line, conservative Islam as he faces crucial elections next year. His party and his ruling alliance have lost control of three states. Significantly, these three states witnessed the rise of pan-Islamic party (PAS).

Islamic conservatives are consolidating in Malaysia. Now Najib is competing with PAS and the opposition for winning the Malay vote.

In supporting Naik, both Najib’s party and PAS are one. Naik was the star at a religious conference that PAS had organized in July this year.

This pan-party support secures Naik’s position in Malaysia where he is very popular among the Malays, the Muslims who are the backbone of the society and get preferential treatment as they are designated as “Boomiputera” (sons of the soil).

However, Malaysia and other Muslim groups form 61 per cent of the population of 29 million. The Malaysian establishment is striving to boost this majority by including Muslims from neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia and even distant Sri Lanka. Ethnic Indian Muslims are also striving to be included as ‘Boomiputeras’.

Over 24 percent of Malaysia’s population is ethnic Chinese and at 2.1 million, ethnic Indians, a bulk of them Tamils form eight percent of the nation’s population. They are also the largest Indian diaspora.

The ethnic Indians are politically divided into several political parties, but the largest of them are with Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which is a constituent of the ruling Barisan Nasional.

To his credit, MIC president, Dr S. Subramaniam, who is also Malaysia’s Health Minister has opposed the hosting of Zakir Naik.

On April 20 this year, the minister said: Malaysia doesn't need Dr Zakir Naik as the country's own Islamic scholars are far more adept and competent in advocating the faith to Malaysians.

The minister has the traditional title of Datuk Seri.

The MIC president said that “Malaysia's Islamic foundation, and its multi-religious national texture are not going to be nourished by Dr Zakir's preaching.

"On the contrary, it would only be inciting divisive forces to distort the unifying tenets of Islam as currently practiced in the country," he said in a statement.

Dr Subramaniam said that Malaysia is well acknowledged among other Islamic countries as a progressive nation with strong Islamic value systems embedded within its national character.

He added that Peace TV, the television channel owned by Dr Zakir has been banned in Bangladesh, Canada and in the United Kingdom.

He said that when a large Muslim country like Bangladesh has taken action against Dr Zakir, Malaysia should never allow him to remain in our midst advocating his nefarious and divisive form of Islamic worldview.

"Given the space, Zakir Naik would also infiltrate into our national space to disrupt national harmony which could lead to undesirable actions of grave consequence to national peace and stability.

"Zakir Naik should not be allowed to use his questionable religious credentials to solicit support from Malaysia to be shielded from possible prosecution in India," he said.

However, his senior in the Najib government, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed that Dr Zakir was given PR status about five years ago. He contended that Naik was not receiving any preferential treatment from the Malaysian Government.

He also offered Malaysia’s assistance to the Indian authorities in the investigations by the Indian NIA, and that would cover Naik’s stay.

Malaysian Government has taken the stand that during his stay in the country, Naik has not broken any local law.

Hamidi told Parliament: "Over the time spent in this country, he has not broken any laws or regulations. As such, there is no reason from a legal standpoint to detain or arrest him." He added that Kuala Lumper has not received any official request from India "related to terrorism allegations involving Naik".

Zahid Hamidi and Prime Minister Najib have both posted photos on Facebook of their meetings with Naik last year in Malaysia.

However, there has been alarm in the way Naik’s public speeches are creating a fervour among his listeners, including non-Muslims, some of whom have converted to Islam.

It is now clear that support for a more politicised Islam has grown in recent years in Malaysia under PM Najib Razak.

Critics see Naik's presence in Malaysia as another sign of top-level support for hard-line Islam in a country with substantial minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, and which has long projected a moderate Islamic image.

Najib’s UMNO party has been trying to appease an increasingly conservative ethnic Malay-Muslim base and religion has become a battleground ahead of elections the prime minister has to call by mid-2018.

Bangladesh suspended Peace TV channel, which features Naik's preachings, after some media reports claimed bombers of a Dhaka cafe that killed 22 people last year were Naik’s admirers. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Malaysian government accommodates Naik because "he remains a reasonably popular character amongst Malays, who gloss over his more controversial aspects," said Rashaad Ali, an analyst with S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore.

"If the government were to kick him out of the country, it causes them to lose religious credibility in the eyes of the public."

At his appearance at the Putra mosque last month, a female Reuters reporter asked about the investigation in India. Naik replied: "Sorry, it is not right for me to speak with ladies in public."

Naik did not respond to subsequent requests for comment from Reuters.

A group of Malaysian activists has filed a suit in the High Court to deport Naik, saying he is a threat to public peace in the multi-racial society - about 40 percent of Malaysia's population is non-Muslim.

Officials at the Putra Mosque said Naik has been attending Friday prayers there for about a month. He has also been spotted in other mosques, hospitals and restaurants in the administrative capital in recent months, according to witnesses that Reuters spoke to.

Malaysia's opposition Islamic Party (PAS), which has defended Naik in the past, has since urged the government to disregard any potential Indian extradition request, saying the allegations aim "to block his influence and efforts to spread religious awareness among the international community."

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia. The laws, however, are secular, though the country does have sharia courts for civil cases for Muslims.

Malaysia's nine sultans, who take turns as the mostly ceremonial monarch, are the official guardians of Islam in Malaysia; last month they called for unity and religious harmony after what they described as "excessive actions" in the name of Islam. One of them harshly condemned a Muslim-only launderette.

"We are seeing this gravitation towards fundamentalism and a conservative idea of Islam because the current government doesn't want to be seen as secular anymore," said Ahmad Farouk Musa, founder of a moderate Islam think-tank, Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).

To ensure Malay support, the government thinks it has "to have Islamic credentials just like PAS," Farouk told Reuters. He remarked: "Islam sells."

In September, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol was detained for giving "an unauthorised speech" in the Malaysian capital, in which he argued that governments shouldn't police religion or morality. Zahid, also the home minister, said Akyol's book "Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty" has been banned as it "contravened norms of the society in Malaysia".

-Asian Tribune-

Hosting Zakir Naik, Malaysia cocks the snook at India
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