KUALA LUMPUR • Controversial India-born Islamic preacher Zakir Naik apologised yesterday for making racially sensitive remarks in Malaysia, after police in the country banned him from speaking in public and questioned him for hours over his comments.
Dr Zakir, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in his native India, has come under fire for comments that pitted Malaysia's ethnic and religious minorities against the predominantly Muslim Malay majority.
Police had grilled Dr Zakir for 10 hours on Monday about a speech earlier this month in which he said the Hindus in Malaysia had "100 times more rights" than the Muslim minority in India and that Malaysian Chinese were guests of the country who should leave first, amid mounting calls for him to be deported to India.
The preacher also claimed that the Hindus in Malaysia were more loyal to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi than to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
His remarks, made in a lecture in Kota Baru, Kelantan, triggered 115 public complaints and an investigation by the police for intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.
Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60 per cent of its 32 million people. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians, most of whom are Hindus.
Dr Zakir, who has lived in Malaysia for about three years, apologised for his remarks but insisted that he was not a racist. He said his detractors had taken his comments out of context and added "strange fabrications to them".
"It was never my intention to upset any individual or community," he said in a statement yesterday.
"It is against the basic tenets of Islam, and I would like to convey my heartfelt apologies for this misunderstanding," Dr Zakir said.
Dr Zakir has been banned from speaking in public since Aug 15, due to concerns over national security and racial harmony, police spokesman Asmawati Ahmad told Reuters.
Seven of Malaysia's 13 states have already barred him from holding religious talks, namely Melaka, Johor, Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Sarawak.
The controversial speaker said yesterday that it has always been his mission to spread peace around the world, but lamented that he faces detractors who try to prevent him from carrying out his mission.
"Racism is an evil I am staunchly against... and it is the exact opposite of everything I stand for as an Islamic preacher," he said.
He appealed to Malaysians, particularly non-Muslims, to listen to his speeches in their entirety.
"My lectures are on YouTube, Peace TV and the Peace TV mobile app," he said.
Dr Zakir has permanent residency in Malaysia, and several ministers have called for his expulsion after his controversial remarks.
He is wanted in India for corruption and inciting extremism but Malaysia has yet to deport him. The influential preacher has a considerable following in the country, and certain quarters have defended him against what they say are trumped-up charges.
Tun Dr Mahathir had said on Sunday that Dr Zakir was free to preach about Islam but should not speak about Malaysia's racial politics, state media reported.
Dr Zakir was in 2010 barred from entering Britain.
In a July 2008 broadcast, he suggested that Al-Qaeda was not responsible for the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"Even a fool will know that this was an inside job," he had said in the video, claiming that then US President George W. Bush was behind the plot.
REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE