Confrontation and evasion marked controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s press conference via Skype. After a series of cancellations, allegedly under police pressure, Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) arranged a venue for him to interact with the media, albeit long-distance, on Friday. An unambiguous message from the five-hour event, conducted over two sessions, was that Naik, who faces a probe by state and Central agencies regarding his speeches and sources of funding, is not returning to India anytime soon. “As per my travel plan, I will come to India next year. I am an NRI and I need to be abroad for substantial (periods of) time,” he said.
A week back, Naik had indicated that he was planning to return soon.
Speaking from Medina in Saudi Arabia to a battery of reporters crammed into the basement of a banquet hall in Mazgaon, the televangelist sounded combative as he took on questions. “I am a messenger of peace,” he said repeatedly. In the spotlight for allegedly inspiring those behind the Dhaka terror attack, he presented himself at once as a victim and a hero while hitting out at media for “maligning” him. “The media has helped to unite the Muslims of India by targeting me.”
Naik who is under attack for soft-pedalling on the issue of terror, focused on the issue in his opening remarks. “Just before I came here, I heard there was a terror attack in Nice, France. I condemn it. I condemn all terror activities and killing of innocents anywhere in the world, be they in Paris, Dhaka or Mumbai.”
His followers handed journalists hard copies and pen drives with his clarifications on a compilation of 30 controversial statements he has been accused of making. “I challenge the media to prove that I ever endorsed terrorism. What you see on news channels about me is based on doctored videos they are playing.” In the same breath he said no Indian agency has approached him so far. “It is media which wants to speak to me, not the authorities.”
An ideologue funded by Saudi petrodollars to propagate a puritanical brand of Islam, Naik sought to underplay the sectarian divide in the faith. “I have been branded Wahhabi-Salafist, but I am a Muslim first and Muslim last. I am neither Sunni nor Shia,” said Naik.
He said Muslims cannot say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. “But they can say Bharat Ki Jai as Muslims are not allowed to worship deities and Bharat Mata is a deity. Muslims worship one God.”