Controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik has apologised for making racially sensitive remarks in Malaysia, a day after he was questioned by police for hours over the comments.
Naik, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, has come under fire for comments that pitted Malaysia’s ethnic and religious minorities against the predominantly Muslim Malay majority.
“It was never my intention to upset any individual or community,” the Muslim preacher said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It is against the basic tenets of Islam, and I would like to convey my heartfelt apologies for this misunderstanding,” Naik said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian police said Naik is barred from delivering public talks in the country, according to The Star newspaper.
Malaysian police questioned Naik for 10 hours on Monday about a speech earlier this month in which he said Hindus in Malaysia had “100 times more rights” than the Muslim minority in India, and that Malaysian Chinese were guests of the country.
Several cabinet ministers publicly called for Naik, who has permanent residency in Malaysia and has lived there for about three years, to be expelled from the country.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Naik had crossed a line.
Mahathir on Sunday said Naik “can preach but he wasn’t doing that… he was talking about sending the Chinese back to China, Indians back to India, that’s for me a political move,” according to Bernama, the state news agency.
Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60 percent of its 32 million people. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians, most of whom are Hindus.
The Malaysian government has in the past appeared reluctant to move against Naik for fear it could upset some Muslims as well as provide ammunition to political opponents.
In 2010, Naik, who has a huge global following and is the founder of Peace TV channel, was barred from entering Britain.
In a July 2008 broadcast, Naik suggested that al-Qaeda was not responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“Even a fool will know that this was an inside job,” he said in the video, claiming then-President George W Bush was behind the plot.