India has filed radicalisation charges against controversial Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, who is currently on the run from the Indian authorities, amid strident defence by Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) that the cleric was deliberately accused of being a terrorist.
Dr Zakir was charged in absentia under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for heading an “unlawful association”, the Times of Indian reported on Friday (Oct 27).
The founder of Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) was also charged with inciting youth to take up terror acts and join global terror groups such as the Islamic State (IS).
The charge sheet prepared by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against Dr Zakir which ran into “thousands of pages” noted that the televangelist has “deliberately insulted the religious beliefs of Hindus, Christians and Islamic sects.”
The NIA also said Dr Zakir had delivered more than 1,500 public lectures or talks in India and abroad since 1994 and that his public speeches had on a number of occasions “led to communal tension… creating serious law and order situations”.
“Naik was not considered an Islamic scholar, although he had memorised the Quran and Hadith,” the NIA said in the charge sheet, adding: “His knowledge of Islam was very poor”.
In the charge sheet, witnesses also told the NIA that they were previously influenced by Dr Zakir’s oratory at IRF’s “peace conferences” in 2007 and 2008.
Dr Zakir, who is a fugitive in India, allegedly fled to Saudi Arabia after the Indian authorities started investigating him and the IRF for alleged terror propaganda.
He has previously voiced support for Al Qaeda jihadists and Osama bin Laden and, in a 2006 lecture, he called for “every Muslim to be a terrorist”. The British and Canadian governments have banned the him from entering their country because of his inflammatory speeches.
The cleric, however, has denied allegations that he is a terrorist and said he is ready to go to court, provided it is at an international or Malaysian court, to prove his innocence.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi revealed in April that Dr Zakir has had permanent residence status in Malaysia for five years. He has been welcomed by some senior clerics in Malaysia and PAS leaders, and met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last year.
However, the preacher is also a central figure in a March 1 civil lawsuit filed by 19 Malaysian human rights activists against the federal government, which it accused of failing to protect the country from Dr Zakir, who they claim to be a security threat.
Despite the charges against Dr Zakir, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has come to the cleric’s defence.
“For Muslim individuals like Dr Zakir Naik, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” Mr Hadi said in an opinion piece on Islamophobia published Friday in his party’s mouthpiece HarakahDaily.
Mr Hadi had compared the allegations against Dr Zakir to the act on Babylonian king Nimrod, who was said to have sentenced Prophet Abraham to be burned on a stake after he lost a debate against the latter.
Earlier this week, PAS had wanted Malaysia to refuse India’s request demanding the return of Dr Zakir to facilitate investigation for alleged terror activities.
The Islamist Opposition party’s information chief Nasrudin Hassan had said the televangelist was a well-respected individual and that claims that the latter was radicalising or preaching terrorism was untrue.