Christian and Hindu leaders baffled with Mujahid after his recent meeting with Zakir Naik, as it could be seen as approving the latter’s controversial preaching.
Moderate Muslim group G25 has urged Putrajaya to stop being “more Umno than Umno” by using race and religion to garner Malay support, following a meeting between Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa and fugitive Indian preacher Zakir Naik.
Meanwhile, non-Muslim leaders who once considered the religious affairs minister a moderate and open-minded Muslim intellectual are now asking if Mujahid will show zero tolerance towards religious bigotry in the country.
Hundreds of social media users also went on Mujahid’s official Facebook page to criticise the him over the meeting with Zakir, who is banned from preaching in certain states because of his comments on other religions.
However, many also appear to support the meeting as more than 6,000 “liked” the Facebook post less than 48 hours after it went up.
Critics said Mujahid himself once described Zakir’s methods as “inappropriate” for Malaysia, thus suggesting that the minister is doing a “U-turn” on his previous stand.
Last September, Mujahid, who was then already a minister, described Zakir’s methods as demeaning to other faiths and that such an approach was ill-suited for Malaysia.
G25 spokesman Noor Farida Ariffin also called on the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to act against those who employ hate speech or use race and religion to divide the nation.
She said it was shocking to see Mujahid, who has been preaching moderate Islam, meeting Naik who has been known to criticise other religions.
“For someone who is promoting moderate Islam, Mujahid should not have anything to do with extremist Muslims like Zakir Naik,” she said.
“It was shocking to see Mujahid with Naik. We should send him packing back to India.”
Noor Farida said Naik had been making insulting remarks about other religions with no action taken against him. He had also distorted Islam for his own purposes, she said, referring to his call for Muslims to vote for Muslim candidates just before the May 9 polls last year.
“Obviously, he thought, like everyone else, that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government would win the election and remain in power,” she said, questioning his principles.
On his Facebook page, Mujahid said Naik’s efforts to preach Islam had taken him to every corner of the world and that this served as an “inspiration” to others to keep on preaching.
But Noor Farida said PH should not “pander to Malay sentiments”.
“Putrajaya should take stern action by getting the police and the attorney-general to charge those who criticise race and religion,” she added.
Council of Churches Malaysia general-secretary Dr Herman Shastri said it is baffling that Mujahid has taken this latest stand on Zakir as it could be seen as approving of the latter’s controversial preaching.
“Religious extremism has no place in any society, and we will wait to see if the good minister will offer zero tolerance to religious bigotry in the country, especially if it is coming from Islamic clerics,” Shastri was quoted as saying.
Malaysian Hindu Sangam president RS Mohan Shan said the community is upset with Zakir’s remarks on Hindus and have, in the past, petitioned the government to deport him back to India, where is he wanted on charges of money-laundering and supporting terrorism.
“This is an inappropriate meeting at a time when people are talking about how the government is going after those who insult Islam,” said Mohan, referring to several individuals charged with insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad.
Mujahid’s description of Naik as a source of inspiration has irked the Indian community, according to Hindraf leader Karthig Shan.
“The Indian community did not vote en-bloc for the leaders of Harapan in the last election to protect and encourage Zakir, who continues to pose, by his very presence, a threat to public order and national security,” he added in a statement today.
Karthig said the current administration should not place Zakir on a pedestal, be it religious or otherwise, as it would send the wrong signals.
He also claimed that the Indian-born preacher’s continued presence in Malaysia would divide the nation, as well as stoke racial and religious tensions.
Human rights and political activists such as Siti Kasim and Latheefa Koya also appear disgusted by Mujahid’s praise for Zakir.
“Bagus @mujahidrawa! Kipidap! WITHOUT CHINESE AND INDIAN VOTES AND MALAYS LIKE ME, PAN 11MP, AND BERSATU 13MP, WOULD HAVE BEEN WIPED OUT AT GE14!” Siti Kasim tweeted.
She was referring to Mujahid’s party Amanah, which is derogatorily called PAN, and its 11 MPs. Bersatu, which is Amanah’s partner in the Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition, has 13 MPs.
“CLEARLY (Barisan Nasional and PAS) ARE WINNING THE WAR WITH THEIR CYBERTROOPERS. PH LEFT LOOKING LIKE CHICKEN S***,” she said, referring to the current game of Islamic brinkmanship that PH and opposition parties PAS and BN are caught up in.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya questioned how Mujahid could have described Dr Zakir as “inspirational”.
“Keep it up Mr Minister @mujahidrawa – at this rate you can join back PAS soon! how can this divisive & offensive character be an inspiration to u?” said Latheefa.
Mujahid, like almost all Amanah ministers, got their start in PAS before breaking away from it in 2015.
Comparing Naik to another Indian preacher in South Africa named Ahmad Deedat, she said Deedat was well-versed in the Bible and had impressed Christians with his knowledge.
“Zakir Naik is a student of Ahmad Deedat. His style is the same as Deedat’s but he has taken it to a different level by challenging Christianity and other religions.”
Naik, 53, is facing charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, where authorities last year said he had been “promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures”.
He was given permanent residency status by the previous BN government.