Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik on Saturday claimed that a representative of the Narendra Modi government had approached him in Malaysia in September, and offered him safe passage to India in return for support for the government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, and other related decisions.
Naik has been in self-imposed exile in Malaysia since 2016, when he came to security agencies’ notice because of allegations that he had inspired one of the terrorists who carried out an attack at a Dhaka restaurant in July 2016. The same year his Islamic Research Foundation was banned in India. Naik has repeatedly denied the accusations. In June, New Delhi formally made an extradition request to Kuala Lumpur.
Two months later, the preacher was banned from delivering public speeches in Malaysia after he said the Chinese should leave the country as they were “old guests”. He also said Hindus in Malaysia had “100 times more rights” than Muslims in India, and claimed Hindus were more loyal to Modi than the Malaysian prime minister.
In a YouTube video on Saturday, Naik said the representative told him he had met Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah before visiting him. “I thought, imagine, the same BJP government, who hounded me for three-and-a-half years; the same prime minister of India Narendra Modi, who used my name no less than nine times in a span of two minutes, in an election speech in May 2019, now they are bartering with me for a safe passage?” Naik said. “It is too straight to be true.”
Naik said he was responding to media speculation about Pakistani-American Islamic scholar and preacher Yasir Qadhi, who initially claimed earlier this week that the BJP government had said it would drop money laundering charges against Naik if he supported it on Kashmir. Qadhi had also met Naik on November 9.
Naik claimed the representative told him that the government would like to use the preacher’s connections to improve India’s relationship with other Muslim countries. “And I said, as long as you do not ask me to do anything against the teachings of the Quran, against the teachings of the Sahih Hadith, as long as it benefits the Muslim ummah, I have no problem in cooperating with you,” the preacher added.
Naik claimed he “flatly refused” the government’s offer. “I said according to me revoking Article 370 is unconstitutional, and it is taking away the rights of the people of Kashmir,” he added. “I cannot support an Act of injustice, and neither can I betray the people of Kashmir.”
The preacher claimed he was told that he was free to speak against any enforcement agency in India, but not against the government and Prime Minister Modi. “I told him, according to me, the National Investigation Agency, the Enforcement Directorate...they are not to blame,” Naik added. He said the agencies were just obeying the government.
The preacher claimed he also told the government representative that he was not in Malaysia to speak against any government, but to spread the message of Islam. He added that on December 17, he had given a press statement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and expressed astonishment at Indian clerics who had backed the government on Kashmir. “Now I realise that these Muslim leaders may have been pressurised, may have been forced to support the unjust BJP government, or face the consequences,” Naik said.
In a message for Indian Muslims, he said: “It is noble to speak against injustice. But if you fear backlash, the least you can do is keep quiet. But supporting an unjust act is un-Islamic.” Naik claimed Muslims supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act were “bartering their place in heaven for security in the material world”.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 and signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 13, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in last month’s protests against the citizenship law. Of these, 19 died in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka.