PETALING JAYA: G25, the group of eminent Malays, is increasingly concerned that negative remarks by controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik on other religions "are emboldening our Malaysian clerics to follow his intolerant style."
"The responses that we see on chat groups indicate that the non-Muslims are dismayed at the new trend where high-ranking religious officials seem to have immunity in expressing their opinions so freely without regard for the feelings of other races," the group said in a statement on Monday.
G25 said it believed in free speech but when it was allowed in favour of a certain person and denied to others who have different views, "that is not a healthy kind of freedom for our multi-cultural society."
"While we respect Zakir Naik’s democratic rights to express his views on Islam and compare it with other religions by quoting from various scriptures to illustrate such views, he has often created anger among Muslims and non-Muslims alike by his frequent mocking of other religious doctrines and practices.
"He is also inextricably linked to extremist views and intolerance towards freedom of religion and as a result been banned from preaching in the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, India and Pakistan.
"Zakir Naik loves to debate but only with those that he and his private foundation approve.
"There are also allegations that he will not debate with scholars from other religions.
"He evades serious debates with internationally known religious scholars by laying down his own conditions.
"By insisting to debate in a setting of his own choice, Zakir Naik shows his true colours of a preacher who wants a big crowd to cheer him loudly so as to drown out his opponents," G25 said.
It stressed that Zakir’s attitude on religion "has no place in today’s world and can cause serious social harm in a multi-racial and secular country like Malaysia."
"It is disturbing to know that he was able to obtain a PR from the Home Ministry without the public knowing whether he has met the strict criteria and qualifications for eligibility applicable to others.
"The hundreds of thousands of stateless children in Malaysia certainly deserve to know.
"Alternatively, if an exemption was granted to Zakir Naik, then the justification should be made known," it said.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had confirmed in April that Zakir had been given a Malaysian PR.
G25 said ultimately, the Malaysian authorities should not be seen as championing an individual with such a reputation.
"Should we be called upon to cooperate in the fight against dangerous religious extremists, we strongly encourage our government to do so," it added.