Zakir Naik apologises to Malaysians for racial remarks

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KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 20): Controversial Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik apologised on Tuesday for making racially sensitive remarks in Malaysia, after police banned him from speaking in public and questioned him for hours over the comments.

Zakir, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, has come under fire for comments that pitted Malaysia's ethnic and religious minorities against the predominantly Muslim Malay majority.

Malaysian police grilled Zakir for 10 hours on Monday about a speech this month in which he said Hindus in Malaysia had "100 times more rights" than the Muslim minority in India, and that Malaysian Chinese were guests of the country.

Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60% of its 32 million people. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians, most of whom are Hindus.

Zakir, who has lived in Malaysia for about three years, apologised for his remarks but insisted that he was not a racist. He said his detractors had taken his comments out of context and added "strange fabrications to them".

"It was never my intention to upset any individual or community," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It is against the basic tenets of Islam, and I would like to convey my heartfelt apologies for this misunderstanding," Zakir said.

Zakir has permanent residency in Malaysia, and several ministers called for his expulsion after his controversial remarks.

Police have also banned Zakir from speaking in public since Aug 15, due to concerns over national security and racial harmony, spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad told Reuters.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said on Sunday that Zakir was free to preach about Islam but should not speak about Malaysia's racial politics, state media said.