The India-born Islamic firebrand Zakir Naik, who was given refuge by former Prime Minister Abdul Razak in Malaysia in 2016 from prosecution in India, appears to have worn out his welcome and is expected to be deported although authorities are having trouble finding a country that wants him..
At a rally in early August in the rural, conservative east coast city of Kota Bahru in Kelantan state, Naik’s calumny against Hindus – and for good measure the Chinese, crossed the host nation’s red lines. Given enough rope to hang himself, he did.
Malaysian-Indian ministers in the cabinet demanded the 52-year-old cleric be deported to his country, where he is wanted for “promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures.” Malaysia’s police have summoned him twice to record statements under Section 504 of the Penal Code, for intentional insult to provoke a breach of the peace.
When India earlier filed an extradition request, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he would not deport Naik for fear he wouldn’t get a fair trial. He was ready to send him to any other country that would take him. That is a problem because other Muslim countries find him deviant too. No country is scrambling to take Naik. He is banned in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Australia, UK, Canada, many Middle East nations and nine states within the Malaysian Federation.
Naik is wanted in India for hate speech, money laundering and sponsoring Islamic terrorism. He was given a safe haven in Malaysia three years ago and bestowed an immediate permanent residency, which normally takes decades. Naik coincided with the meltdown of the ruling United Malays National Organization before the 2018 general election, which led it to ally with the rural Islamic party PAS to consolidate the rural Muslim vote.
Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS, with an Islamic state political agenda, appeals to the rural, economically laggard northern states of peninsular Malaya, where a majority of youth are processed through religious schools and are unemployable. PAS embraced Zakir Naik to draw crowds to its rallies. PAS lacks charismatic leaders and its own preachers find few willing to endure their tedium.
The controversial recent decision to make the Jawi script ‘Khat’ compulsory in national schools, is a calculated attempt by the current government to create employment for the thousands of Islamic graduates who would otherwise be a loafing opposition force. A similar policy by Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir decades ago created a national Islamic body of religious scholars in the prime minister’s office, which wrecked the civil service with irrelevant religious interference. It has an annual budget of MYR1 billion (US$239.5 million).
Feted by elites
In the initial novelty of his self-claimed comparative-religion scholarship, Naik gained access to the highest officials of the land, from sultans to state chief ministers, federal ministers, and Mahathir. Like all televangelists, he has the hypnotic conmanship to disarm critics and rouse bigots. He addressed universities, think-tanks and Islamic studies institutes as an academic.
He quotes selected texts from the Bible to vilify Christianity. His fluent Arabic reinforces his image as a Koranic expert. His Indian-Muslim origin festers a hatred of Hindus. Naik revels in an environment where there is resentment of non-Muslims. He can stoke and justify discrimination with official blessing. He thought he was home and safe among fellow-haters. That false security undid him.
By the book
Prime Minister Mahathir said “The rule of law will be imposed on controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, as he is alleged to have preached on racial politics and riled up racial tension. He was talking about sending Chinese back to China and Indians back to India. That is politics.” The prime minister reiterated that “whatever action we take will be in accordance with the law. This government respects the rule of law.”
The former Inspector-General of Police Rahim Noor questioned how this foreigner, wanted for crimes in his country, was given permanent residency “in the blink of an eye” without due diligence and background vetting. He urged the government to “revoke Zakir’s PR status and hand him over to the Indian government to face charges there.” Many local institutions and public figures, across the racial spectrum, have expressed similar sentiments.
India’s leading center of Islamic theology, the Darul Uloom Deoband, issued a fatwa against Naik for his shallow knowledge, half-truths, and denigration of other religions. It urged Muslims not to be misled by his television entertainment and out-of-context misrepresentations. While Islamic scholars in his own country slam him, Saudi Arabia welcomes Naik’s promotion of its retrograde Wahabism.
Men have rights
The comic contradiction in Zakir Naik’s public performances is that his rural audiences cannot follow what he says in English. Photos at Zakir’s rallies exhibit deep-snore crowds comatose at various angles, skull-capped heads thrown back or sideways, mouths open. They are defeated by English. Zakir Naik cannot reach them in Malay. It is a mutually incomprehensible mashup of eager bigots.
Rural Malays are enthralled by itinerant ‘medicine men’ in public squares, who regale them with riveting tales of vigour and sexual prowess from their magic potions. Zakir’s readiness to spout hate, gives him that circus-freak appeal, for a polity long muzzled by the Internal Security Act (ISA) which polices breach of race or religious taboos in the multiracial and multireligious society.
For the conservative, moderate Malaysian Islamic society, Zakir Naik proffers misogynistic sexual guidance to empower men to abuse ‘female slaves’ and young wives, or lacking both, to visit goats and cattle. Rural boys and men raised in a repressive sexual code which prevents them from dalliance with women are known to vent on themselves and animals. That is common throughout the Middle East, Pakistan, rural Malaya, and Indonesia. Zakir’s Islamic prescriptions are available in numerous videos on YouTube.