NEW DELHI— One of the terrorists in the deadly Dhaka restaurant attack last week had posted a Facebook message quoting the sayings of the controversial Mumbai-based Islamic preacher Zakir Naik urging “all Muslims to be terrorists.”
Now, many Indians are calling for a ban on Naik’s group, the Islamic Research Foundation for spreading ideas that inspire terrorism.
Rohan Imtiaz, 22, had quoted Naik before disappearing in January this year.
Naik has been banned from public speaking in the United Kingdom, Canada and Malaysia, but he is immensely popular in India. A medical doctor-turned-TV preacher, Naik has more than 100 million viewers, and has been called the “rock star of tele-evangelism” and a proponent of modern Islam.
Unlike the traditional religious clerics, the bespectacled, bearded and frail Naik wears a Western suit, and gives his religious discourses in English. After giving up his medical practice, Naik set up his foundation in 1991 in Mumbai.
But many say that the controversial cleric twists Islamic teachings to incite hate.
One of his most controversial remarks on TV was about Osama Bin Laden. He said: “If he is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him. I don’t know him personally. If he terrorizing America, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorizing a terrorist, he is following Islam.”
But in another interview, he said according to Islam, “if you kill a single human being it is as though you have killed the whole of humanity,” and then adds a qualifier, “unless he has killed someone else…or created corruption in the land.”
With the news that his preaching may have inspired a Dhaka terrorist, many on Indian social media began calling for a ban. The Mumbai-based political party Shiv Sena also called for a ban. One 19-year old Indian student was killed in the Dhaka attack.
"I don't understand what he preaches? He teaches hatred, he teaches revenge ... I wonder how educated youth fall for him ... Government should ban him right away... These type of people are disaster," Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena lawmaker, said.
But the Indian government on Tuesday treaded cautiously.
"We don't ban individuals. We ban organizations. So far, there is no formal communication from Bangladesh. If they request us, we will examine what can be done," Kiren Rijiju, the junior minister for home, told reporters here.
Among Naik's admirers was the Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested in 2009 for planning an attack on the New York subway.
In a telephone interview from Mecca to The Indian Express newspaper, Naik called ISIS “anti-Islamic.”
“By using the name Islamic State, we are condemning Islam … They are the anti-Islamic state of Iraq and Syria that has killed innocent foreigners. The name is given by enemies of Islam,” Naik said.
Naik told the newspaper that he has 14 million followers on Facebook, 200 million viewers of Peace TV in multiple languages, including Urdu, Bengali and Chinese.
“The largest percentage of my Facebook followers are from Bangladesh. Ninety per cent of Bangladeshis would know me, including senior politicians, philanthropists, common men, students and more. Fifty percent would be my fans. Am I shocked that the attackers knew me? No.”