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Bill Maher criticized after comparing Zayn Malik to Boston Marathon bombing suspect

One Direction fans and a spokesman for American-Islamic relations criticized Bill Maher on Sunday after the comedian poked fun at a perceived physical resemblance between English singer Zayn Malik and Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In a 30-second clip titled "New Rule: Silly Zayn," posted online March 27, the "Real Time with Bill Maher" host, 59, quipped, "Zayn Malik can just go ahead and quit One Direction for all I care," referring to the singer's recent departure from the globally chart-topping English-Irish boy band. "I mean, whatever," he added comedically, in the patois of a disaffected teenager. "But I think after everything we've been through, I at least deserve the common respect of being told face to face. Just tell me two things, Zayn: Which one in the band were you? And," he joked, as a photo of Tsarnaev slid in next to one of Malik, "where were you during the Boston Marathon?"

Fans reacted on social media to what many perceived as a dig at Malik's heritage. The singer, 22, was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, to an English mother, Trisha, and an English Pakistani father, Yasser Malik. Trisha Malik converted to Islam and raised Zayn and his three sisters in the religion. "I made sure the children went to the mosque," she told the BBC in December 2013. "Zayn has read the Koran three times."

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also criticized the comedian, telling People magazine, "It shows that he's really not missing an opportunity to engage in his Islamophobic themes," adding, "He serves to legitimize Islamophobia in the left, which is one of the unfortunate byproducts of his intolerance of Islam and Muslims."

Maher, a longtime critic of all religions, wrote and starred in the 2008 documentary "Religulous," in which he interviews religious believers of several faiths all over world. Tsarnaev, 21, is accused in the April 15, 2013, bombing that killed three people and injured 260 others. Prosecutors believe Tsarnaev and his older brother and suspected co-conspirator, Tamerlan, were seeking retaliation against the United States for wars in Muslim countries. The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens.

Meanwhile, One Direction on Friday gave its first interview since Malik announced his departure on March 25. Bandmate Liam Payne, 21, told the British tabloid The Sun, "It's been a tough few weeks, probably the toughest since the band was formed five years ago. . . . We're gutted that Zayn chose to leave, but now after a few performances as a four-piece, we're feeling confident and are determined to carry on stronger than ever."

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