Controversial Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik is the latest suspect introduced by Indian authorities in their investigation into the February Delhi riots, Indian news outlet The Quint reported on Wednesday.
In an application filed by the Delhi police on June 15, the police alleged that one of the accused in the riots, Khalid Saifi, met the preacher abroad and sought his support for “spreading his agenda.” Zaik, a fugitive now in Malaysia, denied knowing or having met Saifi, according to The Quint.
The incident has renewed political and religious debates surrounding the controversial preacher. On May 14, India requested the extradition of Naik. The fundamentalist preacher has lived in exile Malaysia for more than three years and has permanent residency in the Southeast Asian country.
Naik faces charges of hate speech in India, as well as money laundering. He is accused of acquiring $28m (€25 million) worth of criminal assets to buy property in India and finance events where he made “provocative speeches,” a claim he denies. He has repeatedly denied accusations that he provokes religious violence and says the media has “resorted to doctored video clips and a host of dishonest schemes” to accuse him of terrorism.
Experts have commented that the complex political nature surrounding Naik’s case – coupled with growing religious tensions in the region – can make the extradition even more difficult.
Who is Zakir Naik?
A proponent of the hardline Salafi school of thought in Sunni Islam, Naik promotes a radical form of Islam on the channel, Peace TV. The satellite television network has been banned in India but has an estimated 200 million viewers worldwide. Based in Dubai, Peace TV is owned by the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), a group headed by Naik.
The preacher also holds a degree in medicine and – defying the traditional dress of a Muslim cleric – he is usually seen wearing a suit with a Taqiyah (skullcap).
It was not until July 2016 when he really came to international attention, after a deadly attack on the Holey Artisan cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Naik was accused of inspiring one of the gunmen through his speeches, an allegation he vehemently denies and accused Bangladeshi media of sensationalism.