#NewsBytesExplainer: Who's Zakir Naik—man who triggered FIFA World Cup row?
FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar has become a bone of contention for many. The host country recently invited controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik—who is banned in India—to deliver lectures during the sporting event. The development puts the spotlight back on him and the circumstances surrounding his departure from India in 2016. Here's more about Naik's life and the allegations and cases against him.
Naik's presence at FIFA World Cup announced on Twitter
Faisal Alhajri, a host for Qatar's state-run sports network Alkass, tweeted about Naik's FIFA World Cup visit on Saturday. "Preacher Sheikh Zakir Naik is in Qatar during the World Cup and will give many religious lectures throughout the World Cup," he posted. The news was also corroborated by Pakistani TV presenter-filmmaker Zain Khan, who described Naik as "one of the most popular Islamic scholars."
Naik to deliver religious lectures throughout World Cup tournament
Who is Zakir Naik?
Naik—Mumbai-born doctor and Islamic televangelist—is the founder of the controversial Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) and Peace TV Network. A follower of the late South Africa-based Islamic preacher Ahmed Deedat, the 57-year-old Indian fugitive and his TV network are banned in India, the UK, Bangladesh, and Canada over alleged hate speeches. Despite these bans, Peace TV is popular globally—enjoying a viewership of over 200 million.
Why did India ban him?
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the statements and speeches made by Naik are objectionable and subversive. It accused him of triggering enmity and hatred among different religions and inciting youngsters of a particular religion in India and other countries to execute terrorist acts. Naik's actions also prompted authorities to ban IRF and the Peace TV Network several years ago in India.
Controversies surrounding Naik
Numerous terrorists, terror groups, and individuals responsible for various terrorist acts have reportedly cited Naik as their source of inspiration. A major incident that brought Naik's name to light was the 2016 Dhaka cafe terror attack—which killed 22 civilians—after which he fled India. Moreover, the leader of the terror group behind the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter Bombings had praised Naik after the attack, too.
ED case against the religious preacher
Besides hate speech charges, Naik and IRF face criminal charges under Indian anti-money laundering laws. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has been looking into IRF's alleged illegal transactions, while Naik faces money-laundering charges over $28M-worth criminal assets. In 2017, the NIA filed a chargesheet against him for hate speeches and anti-India activities. The Mumbai Police also conducted several raids on Naik's properties and sealed them.
India's efforts for his extradition
After fleeing India after the 2016 Dhaka terror attack, Naik has been living in exile in Malaysia and holds a permanent residency in the country. However, for the sake of "national security," he has been barred from delivering public speeches in Malaysia, too. In May 2020, India sought Naik's extradition from Malaysia, but the officials there refused to release him to Indian authorities.
Qatar connection in Naik's case
Reportedly, Naik received funds from Islamic nations like Qatar after moving to Malaysia. Now, he has reached Qatar for the FIFA World Cup—his presence is likely to upset many. Notably, following Nupur Sharma's controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad, Qatar raised objections—prompting the BJP to suspend her as a spokesperson in June. It now remains to be seen how India reacts to Naik's Qatar visit.