By A. Ananthalakshmi
KANGAR, Malaysia (Reuters) – Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, wanted in his home country of India, said he has not broken any Indian law and was being targeted by the “enemies of Islam,” in a rare public speech in Malaysia where he has sought refuge.
Naik, 53, is facing charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, where authorities last year said he has been “promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures”.
The preacher has been living in Malaysia, where he has permanent residency, since India started investigating him, but he has kept a low profile over the past year amid criticism that he is a threat to peace in multi-ethnic Malaysia.
Naik said in a late Saturday speech in Kangar, capital of the north Malaysian state of Perlis, that he had never broken any Indian law.
“But because I was spreading peace, I was giving solution for humanity, all the people who don’t like peace to prevail, they don’t like me,” he said, adding he was being targeted because of his work to spread Islam.
“This doesn’t go down (well with) the enemies of Islam. Be it western countries or the country I was born in, India.”
Naik has been controversial because of his puritan brand of Islam – recommending the death penalty for homosexuals and those who abandon Islam as their faith, according to media reports.
In a clip on Youtube, Naik says that if Osama bin Laden “is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him”.
Bangladesh suspended a television channel that featured his preachings after media reported that militants who attacked a Dhaka cafe killing 22 people last year were admirers of him.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
Britain banned Naik from entering in 2010.
About 1,000 people turned up for Naik’s speech, along with the state’s chief minister, crown prince and religious officials.
The preacher was known to be close to officials in the previous Malaysian administration, which was unexpectedly defeated in a May general election.
New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in July said as long as Naik was not creating any problems in Malaysia, he would not be deported. Indian media has reported that India has sought his extradition.
In Kangar, Naik described himself as a fundamentalist for following the fundamental teachings of Islam.
“I am proud to be a fundamentalist Muslim,” he said
A doctor by training, Naik will be delivering more lectures at universities and a mosque on the speaking tour. His wife, Farhat Naik, will address women in separate speeches.
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Robert Birsel)