KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s cabinet discussed the permanent residency of Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik on Wednesday, with three 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 and faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, 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.
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.
The Malaysian ministers said Naik’s comments may have been aimed at driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia, an allegation that Naik 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,” 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.
M. Kulasegaran, minister of human resources, and Xavier Jayakumar, the minister of water, land and natural resources, also released statements urging Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to expel Naik.
Naik, who has repeatedly rejected the charges against him in India, said his detractors were quoting him out of context to malign him.
“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 on Wednesday.
Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted Mahathir as saying late on Tuesday that Naik cannot be sent back to India due to fears for his safety.
“If any (other) country wants to have him, they are welcome,” Mahathir said.
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”.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler