The UK has banned Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik from entering the country, preventing him from giving a series of lectures in Sheffield and northern England on ‘Freedom of Expression: An Islamic Perspective’.
Dr Naik recently presented a series of lectures in the Maldives at the invitation of the Ministry for Islamic Affairs. One session in particular made headlines when Naik was confronted by a self-declared apostate, who later reconverted to Islam after two days of counselling in police custody.
News agency Reuters reported that Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May had barred Dr Naik from entering the country because “numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behavior.”
“Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter,” she said.
The UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Ministry sources as saying the decision to refuse entry to Dr Naik was based on footage in 2006 in which he appeared to endorse terrorism against the United States: “If he [Osama Bin Laden] is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist … I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist,” Naik says in the clip.
Naik has argued that these comments were taken out of context, and has since issued a statement saying he “unequivocally condemns acts of violence including 9/11, 7/7 and 7/11 [the serial train bombing in Mumbai], which are completely and absolutely unjustifiable on any basis.”
The Telegraph also claimed Dr Naik had said Western women made themselves “more susceptible to rape” by wearing revealing clothing.
“Western society has actually degraded (women) to the status of concubines, mistresses and social butterflies, who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketeers,” the paper quoted him as saying.
One of the topics of Dr Naik’s planned speeches in the UK was ‘freedom of expression’, and the decision to deny him entry to the country has sparked vigorous debate in the UK among civil rights campaigners.
The Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed “grave concern” over the decision, with Secretary General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari stating that “this exclusion order demonstrates the double standards practised by the government concerning freedom of speech. While preachers of hate such as Geert Wilders are free to promote their bigotry in this country, respected Muslim scholars such as Dr Naik are refused entry to the UK under false pretences. It is deeply regrettable this is likely to cause serious damage to community cohesion in our country.”
A spokesman for Dr Naik told the BBC that the Home Ministry’s decision was “deeply regrettable” and that the UK had “bowed to pressure” from “certain groups” to exclude him.
He said Mr Naik had been holding talks in the UK for 15 years and the decision to bar his entry was “disappointing.”