Dr. Zakir Naik, right, a televangelist from India, receiving an award from King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Credit King Faisal Foundation, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BEIRUT, Lebanon — He has publicly declared that “the Jews” control America, that apostates can be killed, that the United States is the world’s “biggest terrorist” and that the Sept. 11 attacks were an “inside job” by President George W. Bush.
But last weekend, Dr. Zakir Naik, a prominent Muslim televangelist from India, appeared at an elaborate ceremony at a luxury hotel in Saudi Arabia, where the new monarch, King Salman, gave him one of the country’s highest honors.
The award for “service to Islam” highlighted the conflicted position of Saudi Arabia as an American ally that continues to back Islamists who espouse hatred of the West.
Scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s role in shaping thought in the Muslim world has grown with the rise of the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria, which shares some aspects of the fundamentalist Islam propagated by the Saudi state.
Saudi officials reject any comparison with the Islamic State, noting that they are on its hit list and that they have joined the American-led coalition that is bombing the group.
But despite longstanding ties between the United States and the Saudi royal family, the gap between what the two countries consider appropriate religious rhetoric was clear in the public celebration of Dr. Naik.
Reached by phone in Saudi Arabia on Monday, Dr. Naik said he was proud to join the “icons of the Muslim world” who had received the award. He remained harshly critical of the United States.
“I am absolutely against Muslims who kill, but what is the U.S. doing?” Dr. Naik asked, saying that the United States had killed Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian Muslims. “Is the U.S. really bothered about human rights? No!”
Saudi Arabia is not alone in seeing Dr. Naik as a vital spokesman for Islam. In 2013, he was named the Islamic Personality of the Year by a religious association in Dubai, an honor bestowed upon him by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, which has also joined the coalition against the Islamic State…