Zakir Naik: Anti-terrorism test case
by Sandhya Jain on 30 May 2017 12 Comments

The whereabouts of India’s controversial Islamist preacher, Zakir Naik, have become a test case of the Muslim world’s commitment to anti-terrorism in deeds, not words. Wanted by a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai for his alleged role in a terror case, Naik, last spotted in Malaysia where he had secured permanent resident status some years ago, has reportedly been granted Saudi Arabian citizenship by King Salman, to “save him from arrest by Interpol”. The absconding Naik dismissed claims of Saudi citizenship as media gossip, but whatever the truth, it is up to Muslim countries that claim to fight terrorism to expel this preacher of hate and violence.


Naik preaches Salafism, an ultra-conservative cult at loggerheads with other Islamic sects, particularly Shiism. Prominent Sunni seminaries such as Deoband Darul Uloom are also at odds with Naik. Naik’s television channel, Peace TV, has been banned in Britain, Canada and Bangladesh; in 2012 he was denied entry to Canada and the UK after allegedly expressing support for al Qaeda.


Accused of radicalising youth in India, Bangladesh and other places, Naik, 51, has a non-bailable warrant (NBW) issued against him by the special NIA court. A Mumbai court has also issued a NBW against him in a money laundering case registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). With the arrest of Aamir Gazdar, his chief financial officer, the ED traced links to Pakistan and the D-Company. Some businessmen in Karachi, known to be close to Dawood Ibrahim, reportedly sent large sums of money to Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), which could potentially be one of the largest hawala rackets in India.


On May 20, 2017, the day US President Trump arrived in Riyadh, Middle East Monitor, a press monitoring body, reported that Zakir Naik had been granted Saudi citizenship at the personal behest of King Salman. The move was triggered by India’s revoking Naik’s passport to force him to return, an action pre-empted by Saudi citizenship. However, as India has approached Interpol to issue a red-corner notice against Naik, member nations are obliged to locate and provisionally arrest him, pending extradition.


Naik was in Saudi Arabia when some perpetrators of the terror attack at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery in July 2016, claimed to have been inspired by him. He denied the charges and promised to return to clear his name, but later surfaced in Malaysia, where his presence agitated the Hindu minority. After Bangladesh protested to New Delhi about Naik’s role in radicalising youth in that country, the NIA registered a case against him and some members of IRF, under section 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).


In November 2016, the Union Home Ministry banned IRF for five years under the UAPA; which has been upheld by the Delhi High Court tribunal’s in-camera hearings. IRF reportedly received over Rs 60 crore as donations and used the money for conversions; the NIA has recovered 78 affidavits relating to conversion of non-Muslims, many of whom were found to have migrated to Afghanistan to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The testimonies heard by the tribunal included Naik’s famous speech, “Every Muslim should be a terrorist”, which Rohan Imtiaz, an accused in the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, had submitted to his government authorities.


In Malaysia, agitated human rights activists filed a civil law suit against the government, in March 2017, accusing the regime of failing to protect the country from Zakir Naik, whom they claimed to be a security threat. The suit follows a clamour by Malaysian Hindus in 2016 against Naik living in Malaysia. Long unhappy over discrimination against minorities and creeping Islamism in the country, the activists demanded to know the status of his stay in the country. After weeks of evasion, deputy home minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed stated in December 2016 that Naik was free to travel in Malaysia as he is not on the country’s terror list. He was silent when asked how Zakir Naik could enter Malaysia when he was on the terror alert list in his home country.


Hindraf Chairman P. Waytha Moorthy urged the Home Minister to confirm reports that Naik enjoyed permanent resident status. Accusing Naik of “openly promoting terrorism, denigrating and ridiculing members of other faiths”, Waytha Moorthy, a former deputy prime minister, questioned the logic of keeping Naik in Malaysia when he is deemed a national security threat in many countries, including UK, Canada, Bangladesh and others. He alleged that the tele-evangelist was radicalising Malaysian Muslim youths and the over one million Bangladeshi and Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia.


In April 2017, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi admitted that Zakir Naik had received permanent resident status before he (Hamidi) assumed office in 2013. Waytha Moorthy promptly queried if Naik had satisfied certain criteria, such as providing a minimum deposit of US$2 million with source of funds verified; a certificate of conduct from his country of origin (India) and the government agency which provided the certificate. Obviously, these parameters were not applied to Naik; he is being protected by prominent citizens in the establishment.


Waytha Moorthy has petitioned the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee to advise the Malaysian representative there to deny Naik safe haven, revoke his permanent residency, freeze his assets and activities, and apply the “principle of extradition”. He avers, “The ability for Dr Zakir Naik to freely conduct public lecturers in Malaysian universities, public events, associate with local movements to train protégés with his ideology with the blessing of current government leaders does not sit very well with the non-Muslim community as well as a sizeable Muslim community in Malaysia”.


Some of Naik’s prominent followers include suicide bomber Najibullah Zazi (arrested in 2009 for allegedly conspiring to bomb the New York subway), Kafil Ahmed (who stormed the Glasgow airport in 2007), Rahil Sheikh (arrested over train blasts in Mumbai in 2006), Feroz Deshmukh (alleged mastermind of a 2006 arms haul in Aurangabad, India), Rohan Imtiaz (Dhaka bakery, 2016), and Ayaz Sultan (from India, who joined Islamic State in Syria).


Clearly, Zakir Naik has a proven ability to motivate youth across national frontiers to embrace terrorist activities. Muslim States must show that they do not underwrite such activities.  

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