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Does this Saudi-funded media report suggest Riyadh is turning its back on Zakir Naik? Open in fullscreen

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Does this Saudi-funded media report suggest Riyadh is turning its back on Zakir Naik?

Zakir Naik has become embroiled in Malaysia's turbulent racial politics [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 August, 2019

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A recent report by the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news website suggests Riyadh may be turning it's back on Zakir Naik.
Saudi Arabia could be turning its back on controversial Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik after a recent report by the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news website referred to the Indian preacher as an "extremist".

"Extremist preacher apologises to Malaysians for controversial remarks," read the Arabic-language headline for an article published on Tuesday. The report made reference to the televangelist's apology for his remarks which were deemed as offensive to the Southeast Asian country's Indian and Chinese minorities.

Naik has stirred controversy in Malaysia, where he has been living for the last three years, with recent remarks calling for the country's Chinese population to "go back".

He also upset Malaysia's Indian Hindu minority by allegedly suggesting that they support India's Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi more than Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The remarks have resulted in a police investigation, a ban on the preacher from delivering public talks and calls by lawmakers and cabinet members for him to leave the country.

The preacher has put Malaysia's government in a catch-22 situation, as he was granted permanent residence in the country after fleeing India on charges of money laundering and promoting terrorism.

Malaysia's government has expressed its unwillingness to deport Naik to India over concerns about whether he will receive a fair trial. By allowing him to stay, however, he has become embroiled in Malaysia's turbulent racial politics. 

One suggestion has been that Naik should be sent to Saudi Arabia, as he is believed to been granted citizenship by the kingdom after fleeing India.

"It has been reported that Zakir was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia in 2017 although the status of his said citizenship today is unclear," lawmaker 
Ramkarpal Singh said in a statement last week.

"If Zakir is a Saudi citizen, Malaysia must forthwith take the necessary steps to send him there, assuming his life would be in danger if he were to be sent back to India which remains a bare assertion".

With Riyadh-backed media now labelling the preacher, who promotes a Saudi-influenced Salafist understanding of Islam, as an "extremist," it is unclear whether the kingdom would provide him with refuge.

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