OPINION: A foreigner who has stirred up political chaos in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (Sin Chew Daily/ANN) - Controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik should be expelled from Malaysia to prevent racial and religious harmony among ethnic groups from deteriorating further. The Pakatan Harapan has spent too much time dealing with issues revolving around Zakir and this has since eroded people’s confidence on the Pakatan Harapan government. 

Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik is on wanted list in India due to his extreme religious remarks and allegedly involved in money laundering. Many Muslim countries have denied him entry too. In Malaysia, he is well-received by the government. The Pakatan Harapan is split because of him. The ground sentiment is also divided into two according to racial and religious lines. One side has defended him while the other side asked for his repatriation. 

As a Muslim preacher, Zakir Naik is popular in the Muslim community. He has his charm. While promoting Islam, he used to downgrade other religions, especially Hindu and Christians. As a guest in Malaysia, he has crossed the red line by making such remarks, infringing into other religions. 

He is allowed to speak in roadshow. If he is merely promoting Islam, no one is against him. But he insults other religions in his speeches and utters racist remarks, questioning the loyalty of Malaysian Indians. He has also described Malaysian Chinese as guests too. This obviously has clashed with the Constitution stressing on people of all races and ethnic groups living in harmony under the same roof. 

Zakir’s remarks have provoked the Malaysian Indians and Chinese. Political leaders such as Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman have condemned him for his improper remarks. But he claimed that the content of his speech has been distorted and even issued legal notice to politicians such as Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran and Penang Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy who have condemned his remarks.

Police have since stepped-in to investigate on Zakir due to strong reaction on the ground. He has been banned from making public speeches. Many states have also announced the decision of not allowing him to speak. Zakir apologised over his racial remarks after sensing the turn of events. 

Despite Zakir was called by the police for interrogation, no legal action has since been taken against him so far. He is still free to move around in Malaysia. The latest development is that he has been invited to attend an event in Malacca. Two executive councillor members held contrasting views on his visit. Zakir is still well-received among Muslim leaders and Muslim community. 

All these are related to Dr Mahathir’s attitude. Even if Dr Mahathir has criticised Zakir’s racist remarks, this does not mean that he has changed his attitude towards Zakir. Dr Mahathir still insists on not repatriating Zakir on the ground that no country would take him. He even stressed that if Zakir is extradited, he risks being killed. 

Zakir is allowed to remain in Malaysia as he has political values. Dr Mahathir’s Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia needs Zakir to win the support of Malay voters. Umno collaborates with PAS and this has pressured Pakatan Harapan in terms of competition. Dr Mahathir’s aim is to unite the Malays. He would not revoke Zakir’s permanent residency in Malaysia nor repatriate him to India. Under international extradition rules, Malaysia should handover Zakir to India for the latter to prove his innocence in local court. 

Under political need, Pribumi has followed Dr Mahathir on this matter. Syed Saddiq, who has condemned Zakir earlier, made a 180 degree turn in his attitude towards Zakir. He invited Zakir to dine with him, urged all Malaysians to move forward by letting go and not to be trapped by Zakir’s acts and remarks. Those open-minded Malays are stunned by Syed Saddiq’s remarks too. Malacca state executive councillor Mohd Rafiq Naizamohideen is another Pribumi leader who defended Zakir and clashed with his counterpart in Pakatan Harapan. 

The stand of Malay leaders in other parties under Pakatan Harapan is also ambiguous. Parti Keadilan Rakyat chairman Anwar Ibrahim disagreed with Zakir’s racial remarks. But he also said Zakir should be grateful to the government for allowing him to remain in Malaysia. Anwar supported Dr Mahathir’s move of not extraditing Zakir and said he hoped that local organisations should stop holding rallies over the matter which will cause more tensions in racial ties. Parti Amanah Negara secretary-general Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahr in a statement, claimed that Zakir has been used by someone as propaganda in order to incite hatred among ethnic groups and religions. He also said Malaysians’ common enemy are those individuals or groups to promote racism and religions for their personal interests. 

On the opposition side, former Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who granted Zakir permanent residency was extremely low profile on this matter. Najib has assumed Zakir is someone convenient for him to garner Malays’ support. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) president Hadi Awang shares the same stand with Dr Mahathir on the latter’s refusal to repatriate Zakir and claims the move is in line with Geneva Conventions. Hadi also accused the Democratic Action Party, one of the coalition members of Pakatan Rakyat for raising the issue. Nik Abduh, vice president of PAS said those Muslims who want to expel Zakir are hypocrites while those non-Muslims are traitors and enemy of Islam. 

All these clearly show that Zakir commands value in the politics of Malaysia. 

Until now Dr Mahathir is not prepared to take action against Zakir. Even if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made request for Zakir to be extradited back to India during his meeting with Dr Mahathir in Russia, Dr Mahathir remains unmoved.  Dr Mahathir owes an explanation to Malaysians why does he choose to do so. 

Racial ties among ethnic groups are deteriorating. Even if political power has changed hand, situation remains the same and even more challenging now. It is time for Pakatan Harapan to look after the interests of Malaysians and not to comply with extremism. People who incite hatred ought to be stopped. Pakatan Harapan should revoke Zakir’s permanent residency immediately and expel him to prevent racial and religious harmony which have been threading on thin ice to be damaged. Pakatan Harapan has spent too much time to handle Zakir’s issues. This has eroded people’s confidence on the Pakatan Harapan government. 

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