As Zakir Naik at FIFA World Cup Kicks Up Row, Who's the 'Banned' Islamic TV Preacher Wanted in India?

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As Zakir Naik at FIFA World Cup Kicks Up Row, Who's the 'Banned' Islamic TV Preacher Wanted in India?
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As the FIFA World Cup kicks off, controversial Islamic preacher and Indian fugitive Zakir Naik is set to deliver religious talks in Qatar, according to social media. Naik’s arrival in Qatar was announced on Twitter by Faisal Alhajri, a host for Qatar’s state-run sports network Alkass.

“Preacher Sheikh Zakir Naik is present in Qatar during the World Cup and will give many religious lectures throughout the tournament,” Al Arabiya News quoted Faisal Alhajri, a presenter at the Qatari state-owned sports channel Alkass, as saying on Twitter on Saturday.

The FIFA World Cup started on Monday in Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadium, which is around 35 kilometres from Doha. According to Alhajri, Naik, who is a wanted fugitive by the Indian authorities, will deliver numerous religious lectures throughout the competition.

Why is Zakir Naik an Indian Fugitive?

A report by Mint stated that India banned Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) in the latter half of 2016 on the basis that he had incited and supported the group’s members in their efforts to sow enmity, hostility, and other unfavourable feelings among diverse religious communities and groups. Naik migrated to Malaysia after departing from India.

A PTI report in 2018 stated that Malaysia had ruled out deporting Naik unless he broke Malaysian laws. Naik holds permanent residency status in the country, the report added.

Zakir Naik speaks to the media via a video conference in Mumbai in 2016. Reuters/File

Then, in March 2022, the Islamic IRF was ruled an unlawful association and consequently banned for five years by the Union Home Ministry. According to the MHA notification, IRF founder Zakir Naik’s talks were objectionable since he had been praising known terrorists.

When Theresa May was home secretary in the UK, she also banned him after he praised Osama bin Laden and declared that “all Muslims should be terrorists.”

What Did the Recent MHA Notification Say?

The notification went on to say that the IRF founder has also advocated for the forced conversion of youth to Islam, supported suicide bombings, and published offensive comments that are insulting to other religions and against Hindus, Hindu Gods, and other religions.

The notification continued, “Naik has further inspired Muslim youth and terrorists in India and abroad to execute terrorist crimes.”

Zakir Naik reacts during a prayer at a mosque in Melaka, Malaysia, September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Additionally, it said that illegal acts by the IRF, its supporters, and members have been observed in Gujarat, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Odisha.

A report by ANI stated that the Solicitor General had submitted before the anti-terror tribunal that there is abundant evidence on file that Zakir Naik is still reaching out to his followers in India by disseminating his teachings through videos and giving provocative speeches and lectures that are shared via various social media platforms.

The MHA notification also stated that evidence presented to the tribunal by a senior government official under seal demonstrates that trustees of the IRF, particularly Zakir Naik, continue to travel to Gulf nations to raise money and have established trusts, NGOs, and shell companies, all of which are being used solely for radicalising people, especially Muslim youth.

“These activities constitute a form of symbolic yet manifested invasion through the deliberate perpetuation of hate in the community done by IRF and its office bearers. Therefore, the aforesaid material shows that there exists sufficient cause to hold IRF an unlawful association,” the notification had added.

Peace TV Bans

The televangelist also founded the Peace TV Network. Despite bans in multiple countries, the network has reached 200 million viewers, claim reports.

Peace TV is owned by Lord Productions Limited, and Club TV holds the licence of Peace TV Urdu. Both have Universal Broadcasting Corporation Limited as their parent company which is owned by Naik. The ‘nonprofit satellite television network’ broadcasts free-to-air programs in English, Bengali and Urdu languages from Dubai.

Zakir Naik prays during a prayer at a mosque in Melaka, Malaysia, September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

His Peace TV network is banned not just in India but also in Bangladesh, Canada, Sri Lanka, and the UK.

In 2020, UK’s media watchdog Ofcom had fined Naik’s Peace TV network 3,00,000 pounds for broadcasting “hate speech” and “highly offensive” content in the country, according to a report by PTI. The London-based regulator for the communications services in the UK had fined licence holders of Peace TV Urdu 2,00,000 pounds and Peace TV 1,00,000 pounds for breaking its broadcasting rules.

“Our investigations found that programmes broadcast on Peace TV Urdu and Peace TV contained hate speech and highly offensive content, which in one instance was likely to incite crime,” it said.

“We concluded that the content represented serious failures of compliance with our broadcasting rules, which warranted fines. Ofcom has today fined the former licence holders of Peace TV Urdu 2,00,000 pounds and Peace TV 1,00,000 pounds for breaking our broadcasting rules,” Ofcom had said in a statement.

Naik’s Controversies

Over 20 people were killed in the Dhaka terror attack in 2016, including 17 foreigners. In the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka three years later, in 2019, approximately 250 people were killed, including 45 children and 40 foreign nationals. Both times, the terrorist organisations and individuals who took credit for the crimes referred to Naik as a form of inspiration, said Times Now report.

While some claimed that his talks had inspired them, others who later joined IS said that the controversial preacher had drawn them to the Middle East’s deadliest terrorist organisation. Zahran Hashim, the leader of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, which was responsible for the bombings in Sri Lanka, had complimented Naik and enquired what Sri Lankan Muslims might do to help him.

Naik vehemently denied any involvement in these occurrences.

Naik in Qatar

Videos posted on social media depicted Naik entering the location while being escorted by volunteers. Filmmaker Zain Khan and other reputable social media accounts have also publicised the story. Naik travelled to Qatar at the administration’s invitation.

Following a diplomatic row in June over a former member of BJP’s remarks against the prophet Muhammad, Naik’s attendance at the World Cup is expected to ruffle feathers. Doha, along with a number of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, had objected to remarks made by former BJP lawmaker Nupur Sharma.

The party had promptly suspended Sharma from her post.

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