KUALA LUMPUR: The man who introduced Malaysia to a young Dr Zakir Naik more than two decades ago says the organisers of recent events featuring the Indian Muslim preacher could have been more prepared in view of the controversies surrounding him.
Iskandar Tan, a Malaysian consultant who is currently based in Kuwait and involved in several Islamic charity organisations, said this includes briefing Naik about dos and don’ts in his speeches.
“Transcripts of his speech should have been released so that if he was quoted out of context, they could immediately address the issues.
“The organisers should also have had a comm system like news anchors to immediately alert him should the need arise, or through other visual means on the podium,” Iskandar, who has decades of experience hosting dozens of prominent Muslims for lecture tours in Malaysia, told FMT.
Naik, who is facing money laundering charges in India, got into trouble with Malaysian authorities after he cast doubts on the loyalty of Malaysian Hindus. He also appeared to question the position of the Chinese community in Malaysia in a recent series of lectures hosted by the Kelantan government.
He was summoned for a series of questioning under Section 504 of the Penal Code for intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of peace after more than 100 police reports were lodged against him.
Naik, who is a Malaysian permanent resident, said he was only responding to his detractors who called for him to be deported. He has since apologised, but suggested that his remarks are often misquoted.
Iskandar said Naik’s biggest mistake was to have touched on issues of race and politics.
Naik was 32 years old when he first visited Malaysia in 1997 for a series of speaking engagements organised by Iskandar’s Islamic-oriented events management company.
Iskandar said during those days, he could not remember any angry reactions to Naik’s lectures.
In fact, he said, he could barely cover the costs of organising his programmes, a stark contrast to the crowds who turn out to hear the preacher today.
But Iskandar said profit was not his motivation to bring in foreign speakers – it was purely to expose Muslims to a variety of Islamic ideas.
“In the many events we organised over the years, we would be very pleased if any could break even. Other commercial establishments profited from these events but not us,” said Iskandar, adding that other larger Islamic outfits in Malaysia have since hosted Naik, including government agencies at the time.
Recalling his first encounter with Naik, Iskandar said he was drawn to the young medical doctor’s oratory skills and sharp arguments on living an Islamic way of life in the modern world.
Naik had then only recently set up his propagation outfit Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, which was forced to close down following an investigation into money laundering.
“I came to know about him through Islamic propagation video tapes,” said Iskandar.
He said Naik was brought in to speak in October 1997.
“I was organising lecture tours for other speakers, and Naik was the third speaker that year.”
The list of world-renowned Muslims Iskandar has hosted includes former British rock star Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Trinidad-born Imran Hossein.
Despite the current controversies surrounding the preacher, Iskandar said he has no regrets about introducing Naik in Malaysia, adding that his intentions were clear.
“But his accent was a bit difficult to get used to,” the 61-year-old quipped.