In a surprise move and an ominous snub to India, the Indian Islamic preacher, Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted by authorities in Delhi for alleged terrorist offences, has been granted citizenship by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Arab sources reported that King Salman had intervened to grant Naik Saudi citizenship to protect him from arrest by the International Police Organisation, Interpol.
Last month, Indian courts issued a second arrest warrant for Dr Naik in connection with his alleged role in a terror-related case and over money laundering allegations. Naik, who was on tour at the time, decided not to return to India and remained in Malaysia where permanent residency status was granted to him five years ago by the Malaysian government.
The 51-year-old preacher left India last year, allegedly to evade arrest after some perpetrators of the Dhaka terror attack claimed they were inspired by him.
Not new to controversies and opposition both at home and abroad for his outspoken nature, Zakir Naik has been denied entry by at least two other countries, the United Kingdom and Canada.
In June 2010, Naik was denied entry by UK Home Secretary Theresa May, citing his “unacceptable behaviour” and affiliations.
In the same month, Naik was banned by Canada after the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, the Pakistani-born Tarek Fatah, sent a bulk email to Canadian MPs warning against Naik’s inflammatory views.
At the home front, many from the muslim community itself oppose Zakir Naik for his views. Even the Darul Uloom, Deoband advised Muslims to Avoid listening to Zakir Naik. At the same time Delhi HC Tribunal few months back upheld the ban on Zakir Naik led Islamic research foundation
Despite such opposition the Mumbai-born preacher undoubtedly remains one of the most popular Muslim ever watched on Television and Youtube worldwide.
The unofficial Facebook page of the Islamic Research Foundation president has over 7 million likes; his Twitter account has nearly 90,000 followers; while his YouTube videos regular rake up six-digit views. His Peace TV channel claims at least 50 million subscribers in 125 countries.
Indian press reported that the country’s enforcement officials were moving to revoke his passport and request Interpol issue an arrest warrant for him.
It was believed that Naik, who had by then moved to Saudi Arabia, would be forced to return to India if his passport was revoked. The Mumbai passport office, which appears not to have anticipated Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to Naik, moved to revoke his passport while a special court sent out an arrest warrant for him.
This sudden move of granting Saudi Nationality to the preacher so as to, in a way, nullify India’s efforts to get him back to India is a sure act that certainly won’t go down well with the MEA and India’s right wing ruling party, the BJP.
More so, the move has come at a time when India was trying its level best to improve bilateral cooperation in trade and commerce between the two countries, eyeing huge investments from the Saudis in infrastructure buildup across India.
To this effect, India’s Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi had, as recently as in March, visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the visit, Saudi Arabia hinted at investing $1 trillion in Indian infrastructure development over the next five years and Mr. Modi pitched for escalated participation of Indian companies in the projects.