I’m no bigot, a conversation with Perlis preacher Zamri Vinoth

Perlis preacher Zamri Vinoth speaks during a recent interview with FMT.

SEREMBAN: Barely 10 minutes after speaking on the need for Muslims to build relations with non-Muslims, preacher Muhammad Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu had an opportunity to illustrate what he meant.

Zamri, who is in the spotlight for allegedly insulting Hindus in a talk he gave last December, found himself defending FMT reporters, who included non-Muslims, who were asked to leave the mosque where the interview was being held.

This was the sort of thing he had criticised Muslims for in his December speech.

An upset mosque committee member told us to leave in the midst of our interview. This did not sit well with Zamri, who told the elder to take a better approach.

“Some of these people are non-Muslims, and this approach does not reflect Islamic values,” he told the man.

He then turned to us to apologise.

“There are people like this everywhere, brother. You cannot stop it.”

Such misunderstanding of what Islam represents, he says, is something he tries to dispel when he visits churches, temples, and gurdwaras under his One Centre Malaysia outfit.

“If we get close to the non-Muslims, they’ll have room to understand our thinking and views. So this is an effort that needs to be made.”

But misunderstandings seem to follow Zamri.

He said his recent arrest and four-day detention was the result of some people’s misinterpretation of the December talk. He maintained he was merely speaking about his personal journey of conversion and lamented that some quarters chose to see it as an insult.

This wasn’t his first encounter with the police, having been investigated for rape and criminal breach of trust, allegations he says are baseless and for which he has never been charged.

In his recent run-in with the law, he was accused of insulting the Hindu faith. Some say the insult was in his reference to a Hindu belief in 330 million gods.

“I don’t know where the insult was,” he said, adding that he was only repeating what was said by a book on Hinduism by a Malaysian Hindu writer.

He also said insulting other beliefs is not his style of preaching.

He said the speech he gave to worshippers in a mosque last December was based on his own experience.

When asked how he would feel if the tables were turned and he had to listen to an apostate giving reasons for leaving Islam, Zamri said he would regard that person’s testimony as a personal view.

“If there are inaccurate facts, I will correct him. That should be a better and more positive approach.” He cited a book he had published to address common questions and misconceptions about Islam.

“If we want to be civilised, our methods must be good,” he said. “If we just react, then no one learns anything. In Malaysia, we need to learn to be more mature. Emotional attitudes won’t take us anywhere.”

Zamri is a protege of Indian-born preacher Zakir Naik. He said he admired those who take an academic, factual and intellectual approach and mentioned Dr Mahathir Mohamad as one of them.

“There are some things I disagree with him on, but I respect his thinking,” he added.

On Naik, Zamri said the preacher had been unfairly targeted by the Narendra Modi administration and would likely be charged under a law as draconian as Malaysia’s defunct Internal Security Act if he were extradited to India.

He said this was why he believed India should charge Naik in an international court.

On whether he plans to debunk claims that he is a racist, Zamri said there was no need to do anything as his track record, which could be seen through his Facebook page or the One Centre Malaysia website, would prove that he isn’t.