Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik overstepped boundaries when he touched on racial politics and stirred racial tension in the country, reports local media. Mahathir also said he was not sure who had given him the permanent residence status but regardless, those holding the status cannot participate in politics.
The Malaysian PM’s remarks came four days after the country’s cabinet discussed the permanent residency of Naik on Aug 14 with three ministers demanding his expulsion.
Naik, who has lived in Malaysia for about three years and faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, has come under fire for his recent comments that Hindus in the Southeast Asian country had "100 times more rights" than the Muslim minority in India, according to a Reuters report.
Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60 percent of its 32 million people. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians, most of whom are Hindus.
"Religious teachers can preach but he was not doing that. He was talking about sending Chinese back to China and Indians back to India. That's politics," The Star Online quoted Mahathir as saying on Sunday.
Mahathir was speaking at a media briefing after launching the 62nd International Statistical Institute World Statistics Congress 2019 in Kuala Lumpur.
Mahathir said that his government was careful about how it said things that were sensitive to the different communities in Malaysia.
"I have never said this kind of things. But he tells the Chinese to go back.
"If you want to talk about religion, go ahead, then it is permissible. We don't want to stop him from that. But it is quite clear he wants to participate in racial politics in Malaysia. Now, he is stirring up racial feelings. That is bad," The Star quoted the 94-year-old politician.
Because of that, Mahathir said that the police will have to investigate, whether he is causing tension or not, which in his opinion, he obviously was.
He also said the rule of law will be imposed on Naik as he is alleged to have preached on racial politics and riled up racial tension.
"Whatever action we take will be in accordance with the law,” said Mahathir.
Earlier on Aug 13, Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted Mahathir as saying that Naik cannot be sent back to India due to fears for his safety.
"If any (other) country wants to have him, they are welcome," Mahathir said.
During a religious talk in the country on Aug 8, Naik responded to calls for his deportation by saying that the Malaysian Chinese should "go back" first as they were the "old guests" of the country.
Recently, it was reported that several states of Malaysia including Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Sarawak have banned Naik from speaking publicly in their states.
India banned Naik's Islamic Research Foundation in late 2016, accusing him of encouraging and aiding its followers to "promote or attempt to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious communities and groups"