By Prarthana Mitra
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will soon make an official request to the Malaysian government, asking for the immediate extradition of controversial preacher Zakir Naik. The process to get him extradited began after reports about Naik being granted permanent residency in Malaysia emerged, at a time when the Muslim-majority country seemed ready to extradite Naik.
In October 2017, India had filed a charge sheet against popular Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) president and preacher Zakir Naik, accusing him of propagating communal hatred between religious groups, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This was around the time that the Malaysian deputy PM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had agreed to fully cooperate with the Indian government and extradite Naik if formal requests were sent under the “mutual legal assistance treaty”.
Who is Dr. Zakir Naik?
Is he a preacher, a scholar, an Islamic rights activist, or simply a charismatic con man who is facing alleged charges of terror funding and money laundering? These questions continue to baffle those who have been following Naik’s rise, from a doctor to a televangelist early in the 1990s, when India was witnessing a rise in far-right Hindu groups.
Naik claims that he is constitutionally entitled to proselytise for Islam and propagate his religion. However, the issue of conversion remains controversial in India, and Naik has been known to advocate terrorism on at least one count, although he has consistently denied these claims.
At a time when pop-philosophers like Jordan Peterson are on the rise, Naik is not far behind on the list. With 17 million likes on his Facebook page and 167,000 followers on Twitter, Naik has given more than 4,000 lectures on Islam across the world.
Naik fled India in the summer of 2016 after terrorists in Bangladesh claimed their shooting was inspired by his speeches. Bangladesh responded by banning Peace TV, which Naik founded in 2006 and which claims to reach 100 million people worldwide. Naik not only denied supporting violence but also released a video statement saying, “killing innocent beings is the second major sin in Islam.”
The government soon imposed a five-year ban on Mumbai-based non-profit Islamic IRF under anti-terror laws and has declared its president Naik an absconder. Awaiting compliance with an informal extradition request made to Malaysia, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) also charged Naik with indulging in unlawful activities and promoting religious hatred, accusing him of inciting youth to take up jihad.
In July 2017, his passport was revoked under the provisions of the Passport Act, 1967.
What lies ahead
“Our legal internal process is nearing completion. Once it is complete, we will make an official request to Malaysian government very soon to sent back Zakir Naik to India,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.“Maybe in the next couple of weeks, it will be clear what will be the nature of the request.”
However, latest reports say that Naik has been granted permanent residency which would nullify the clause of extradition and enable him to enjoy political asylum indefinitely.
Dr Maszlee Malik, Malaysia’s newly appointed education minister recently wrote that although the Muslim Professionals Forum (MLF) did not agree with Zakir Naik’s combative approach in spreading Islam, they supported his right to give his views.
“The MPF has stood on the sidelines since Zakir Naik’s early presence in Malaysia because we do not subscribe to his dialectical and combative approach, overbearing Islam over others, conscious or unconsciously proselytising, oftentimes oblivious of the local context and demography,” reported the opinion piece.
Mohammad Reyaz who spoke to Al Jazeera on the issue last year, believes, “The Islamophobia has filtered down to a stage where all conservative Muslims are seen as possible terrorists; the distinction between conservatism and extremism has got blurred.”
India is now awaiting Malaysia’s response on the extradition to make a final official request for the same.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.