The Real Time with Bill Maher host made the jab in a short online-only bit that was posted last week. Maher, 59, begins by jokingly calling into question the 22-year-old's decision to quit the popular group.
"I think after everything we’ve been through, I at least deserved the common respect of being told face to face," he says, while sharing the screen with an image of the pop crooner.
"Just tell me two things, Zayn. Which one in the band were you?" he continued, "And where were you during the Boston Marathon?" At this point, Zayn's image was shown next to accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Many fans felt the comedian was mocking not only Malik's Muslim faith but also his appearance. The bizarre comparison lead to a worldwide trending topic #RespectForZayn on Twitter.
terrorist jokes aren't funny and being a muslim doesn't make you a terrorist #RespectForZayn— H. (@pinkfloydharold) April 5, 2015
ZAYN MAY NOT BE IN THE BAND AND HE MAY HAVE HURT US, BUT DISRESPECTING HIS RELIGION SHOULDN'T EVEN BE A THING. #RespectForZayn— RICKY FOLLOWED ME (@NiallsBrother) April 5, 2015
Zayn, Men like Bill Maher bring laughter to bigots. You bring joy to good people. The difference is called 'humanity.' #RespectForZayn— Abdul R. Siddiqui (@A_R_Siddiqui) April 5, 2015
This isn't even just about Zayn, its about every muslim out there who struggles on a daily basis bc of people's ignorance #RespectForZayn— I SAW THEM (@oopshisquad) April 5, 2015
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesperson for Council on American-Islamic Relations, tells PEOPLE that Maher's comments were out of line.
"It shows that he's really not missing an opportunity to engage in his Islamaphobic themes," Hooper says. "He serves to legitimize Islamaphobia in the left which is one of the unfortunate byproducts of his intolerance of Islam and Muslims."
This isn's the first time Maher has been criticized for his comments about Muslims. In 2014, students at University of California, Berkeley, objected to the comedian giving a speech at the university's December commencement ceremony after he likened Islam to the Mafia on his show.
Malik, who announced he was leaving One Direction on March 25, is reportedly already working on solo music. In their first interview since his departure, the remaining members of the popular boy band said they remain 100 percent committed to the group.
Reporting by MARIA MERCEDES LARA