Malaysia will not deport the Islamic preacher back to India so as long as he ‘behaves himself’, says Mahathir

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That Malaysia’s narrative surrounding embattled preacher Zakir Naik is unsettling would be an understatement. A fugitive wanted in his native country of India, the evangelist has charmed his way into the heart of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the latter only too pleased to have Zakir stay put here.

Malaysia has lavished praise on this controversial preacher, celebrating him with a Tokoh Maal Hijrah award and a permanent resident (PR) status as was done by the previous Barisan Nasional government – despite the fact that Zakir is deemed a threat to communal ties and harmony.

Whilst the United Kingdom, Canada and Bangladesh have banished the controversial speaker from their soil, Malaysian premier Mahathir just days ago stunned everyone when he said Malaysia would not deport the Islamic preacher back to India so as long as he “behaves himself”.

“As long as he is not creating any problem, we won’t deport him because he has PR status,” Mahathir told reporters after chairing a Pakatan Harapan presidential council.

Mahathir also doubled down on his unwillingness to send Zakir back to India, saying the Pakatan Harapan government should not succumb to pressure to deport the preacher as it has considered various factors including the law.

Mahathir’s assurance contradicts news reports from India which stated that the Mumbai-born televangelist, wanted by the Indian government for alleged money laundering and terrorism, would finally be sent back.

Zakir himself had denied any notion of him returning to India and instead met up with Mahathir last Saturday (June 30).

How should peace-loving Malaysians react to Mahathir’s steadfast decision on allowing Zakir to carry on residing in Malaysia?

Zakir gained notoriety for his racially-inflammed and hate speeches which apparently had motivated one of the attackers in the 2016 Dhaka terror attack.

Unlike Malaysia, neighbour Singapore has little sympathy for Zakir and has denounced his divisive preaching and barred him from setting foot on the island.

Singapore in fact is focussing at tightening processes to keep foreign preachers with divisive teachings away from its shores.

In October last year, Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had showed Parliament videos of two preachers, including one featuring Zakir where the latter is heard advising followers not to vote for someone of another religion.

Malaysians losing sleep over Zakir’s stay here

Zakir had previously voiced support for Al Qaeda jihadists and Osama bin Laden, so much so in a 2006 lecture, he called for “every Muslim to be a terrorist”.

A troubled Zakir ran off to Saudi Arabia after the Indian authorities began probing him and his Islamic Research Foundation for alleged terror propaganda in 2016.

India filed radicalisation charges against Zakir last year and has been seeking his extradition from Malaysia ever since.

So why then is Malaysia reluctant to deport Zakir to India, that too when it has signed an extradition treaty with India?

For that matter, what about Zakir, the Islamic preacher who unabashedly chastises other faiths, has enchanted Mahathir?

In the past, there was former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who claimed Zakir a “very wise man”.

Then there was Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki who in 2016 defended Malaysia’s decision to make way for Zakir to conduct a lecture series on religion because Zakir is a “voice of moderation” for Islam.

When several countries have done due diligence and agreed that Zakir is a name synonymous with trouble, Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan federal government strangely is growing fond of him.

The English-conversing preacher has made an impact with the the local Muslim community and is often seen at the main mosque in the Putrajaya administrative capital.

So Zakir has succeeded in making himself comfortable in Malaysia. And he now sleeps peacefully knowing prime minister Mahathir has his back.

Malaysians on the other hand are losing sleep over Mahathir’s unconditional support for Zakir. They wonder what is prompting the 93-year-old premier to afford an extremist like Zakir a carefree life in Malaysia?

Would ‘race’ be Mahathir’s agenda in the Zakir Naik connection?

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