NEW DELHI: Amid rising calls for a ban against him, a controversial Islamic television preacher in India denied Friday any links to terror attacks and accused the media of putting him on trial.
Zakir Naik, the 51-year old doctor-turned-firebrand TV preacher, has been at the center of a storm in India since it was reported that one of the perpetrators of the deadly attack on a restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka had posted one of his sermons on Facebook.
The attack two weeks ago left 22 dead, including 17 foreigners.
In the sermon, Naik appears to be urging all Muslims to be "terrorists" in defense of Islam, saying "if he is terrorizing a terrorist, he is following Islam."
On Sunday, Dhaka blocked the Mumbai-based preacher's 10-year-old television channel Peace TV and launched an investigation into its financial transactions.
"Last few days I am seeing that there has been a media trial against me," Naik told reporters in Mumbai via Skype from Saudi Arabia. "They have been playing some clips of mine that were doctored, taking out half statements of mine without contexts," he said.
Naik also questioned the Bangladeshi government's moves against his channel.
"I would like to ask Bangladesh government why have they banned Peace TV? Show me one program which is detrimental to the development of Bangladesh. Not a clip, but full program with context," Naik said.
He maintained that a full viewing of his sermons would prove his opposition to terrorism and status as a messenger of piece.
Naik stands out from many other conservative preachers by speaking in English, wearing Western garb and even in the use of humor in his sermons.
He is also active on Facebook and Twitter and was once called the "rock star of tele-evangelism," a proponent of moderate Islam and an "agony aunt of Islam," by Indian media here.
But since the Dhaka attack, Naik's controversial remarks are under close scrutiny and have been debated almost daily on television channels. He is now being called a preacher of hate and a "terror evangelist."
Indian officials said that they are closely examining Naik's sermons and the foreign donations that his group receives.
Supporters of Naik, who has already been banned from public speaking in Britain and Canada, say his preaching cannot be equated with abetting terror and should be given fair hearing.
"If Zakir Naik feels his tapes have been doctored, he should come back to India and file a complaint," said Imtiaz Jaleel, a legislator from the All India Majlise Ittehadul Muslimeen party in western India, who has also accused the media of "hounding" Naik. "If he does not come back, then there will be an air of suspicion. Millions of his followers will begin to ask why he is running away."
In the past, Naik has refused to call Osama bin Laden a terrorist, also justifying his actions as being in the defense of Islam.
"If he is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him. I don't know him personally. If he is terrorizing America, the biggest terrorist, I am with him," he said.
Recently, the father of two missing Muslim youths suspected to have joined the Islamic State said his sons had met Naik.
Naik defended himself saying he has many fans.
"Because I am famous, they want to take photographs with me. I smile," Naik said. "But knowingly I have not met a single terrorist in the world."
In his sermons, Naik has said that it is a sin to worship gods other than Allah and likened interfaith marriages to a vehicle that has the wheel of a farm tractor and another of a bicycle.
Critics say that Naik's puritanical brand of Islam is alien to India's multireligious society.
"I see him as an extension of a brand of Islam that has been rooting out indigenous traditions followed by Muslims the world over, rooting out ways of negotiations with other faiths in countries like India," said columnist Saba Naqvi. "He has been preaching an Islam that is aggressive and unkind to women, homosexuals and other faiths."
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