The Troublesome Dr Zakir Naik
There is no dearth of hate-mongers in this world. They are all bent on dividing the masses to achieve their own individual goals and they come in many kinds – political, cultural, ethnic, linguistic etc. But probably the most dangerous hate-mongers are the religious ones. Unlike the political ones who are accountable to the electorate and the media, the religious fundamentalists who preach hate and division hold themselves accountable to their personal god/s and their own interpretations of their holy texts. These religious hate-mongers have existed since the dawn of civilisation and have wrecked havoc on every demographic and State. Even today, in spite of secularism and atheism being the call of the day, we have one too many religious fanatics working against the tide of human progress. Zakir Naik is one such religious divisive force. Born in Mumbai in 1965, Naik is an Islamic preacher described as one of the leading figures of the Salafi movement – an ultra-conservative reform movement within Sunni Islam. He is widely popular in orthodox circles – and widely controversial world over.
The good doctor’s views run the gamut from nutty to vile, so it’s hard to pinpoint which of them has landed him in trouble. For instance, though Dr Naik has condemned terrorism, at times he also appears to condone it. “If he [Osama bin Laden] is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him,” he said in a widely watched 2007 YouTube diatribe. “If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.” It was this message that has inspired the terrorist Rohan Imtiyaz, the dreaded butcher of the Dhaka restaurant incident.
Dr Naik recommends the death penalty for homosexuals and for apostasy from the faith, which he likens to wartime treason. He calls for India to be ruled by the medieval tenets of Shariah law. He supports a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands and the Taliban’s bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas. He says revealing clothes make Western women “more susceptible to rape.” Not surprisingly, Dr Naik believes Jews “control America” and are the “strongest in enmity to Muslims.”
Of course, every faith has its share of cranks; and, arguably, India has more than its share. But it’s impossible to relegate Dr Naik to the country’s Islam’s fringe. In the year 2010, the Indian Express listed him as the country’s 89th most powerful person, ahead of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen, eminent lawyer and former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, and former Indian Premier League cricket commissioner Lalit Modi. His satellite TV channel, Peace TV, claims a global viewership of up to 50 million people in 125 countries. On YouTube, a search for him turns up more than 36,000 hits.
Nobody accuses Dr Naik of direct involvement in terrorism, but those reportedly drawn to his message other than Dhaka attackers include Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American arrested last year for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway; Rahil Sheikh, accused of involvement in a series of train bombings in Mumbai in 2006; and Kafeel Ahmed, the Bangalore man fatally injured in a failed suicide attack on Glasgow airport in 2007. He also seemed to have been followed by four youths from Kalyan in Mumbai who had run away to join the Islamic State. The four lads who returned last year and was arrested for links with IS, is believed to have told interrogators of the National Investigation Agency that he was inspired to delve deeper into Islam after hearing the lectures of Naik.
Copies of Naik’s lectures were also found in a Darbhanga library frequented by Indian Mujahideen members. The Centre and the state are studying preacher Zakir Naik’s lectures and videos after Bangladesh said his sermons, which draw wide audiences on TV and online across the world, inspired two of the seven young terrorists who slaughtered 20 hostages on July 01, 2016 night in a posh Dhaka cafe.
Sleuths from Darbhanga in Bihar where a module of the Indian Mujahideen was busted in 2010-11 claimed that many hard copies of Naik’s lectures were found in a library that was frequented by the members of the terror module, including founder-member Yasin Bhatkal.
Nonetheless, when the doctor appears on a mainstream news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. One remembers that in 2009, senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest as a “rock star of televangelism” who teaches “modern Islam” and “his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.” A handful of journalists among them Praveen Swami of The Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh have questioned Dr Naik’s views, but most took his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.
It is very easy to understand why people take him on face value as unlike any Kurta-clad mullah he goes for a suit and tie. His background as a doctor and his often gentle demeanour set him apart, as does his preaching in English. He can be seen quoting freely from other non-Muslim holy books including the Vedas and the Bible, which apparently is used for degrading other faiths or used for interpreting his version of Wahabi Islam.
But this doesn’t give any reason for not criticising the loathed doctor. The irony is we; Indians have trouble in distinguishing between freedom of speech and hate speech. While demanding killing of homosexuals can attract a law suit in Western countries, in our country this will go unnoticed, if the demand has been made in the name of religion. The most particular aspect of Indian society is to give extra deference to the holy figures of all hues and colours, which in turn gives them protection from the scrutiny through which they would have gone, had they been in Western democracies.
Deniability is not an option now
The news item, that Islamist preacher Zakir Naik was one of the inspirations behind the Dhaka terrorists who killed 20 recently, provides a very strong base for Muslims in India and world over to dump denial. They should start taking a clear stand against terror motivated by their religion. Denying a link between the two is no longer remains an option.
People are calling for a ban on Naik, but banning is never a solution. In fact, it would make him a hero to other Muslims, something that is worse than just letting him talk. What Muslims need to do is to go against him, not on behalf of their religion, but on behalf of the very secularism that the country provides to Muslims. It should be a matter of concern for our Muslim brethren is that a rogue preacher can motivate so much mayhem without actually exhorting people to do so.
Naik’s supporters argue that he never advocated terrorism, and that his infamous quote – that all Muslims should be terrorists if they are being terrorised – shows how Muslims can be easily misled. He said if Osama bin Laden is fighting the “enemies of Islam, I am for it”. If he is “terrorising the terrorists, and America is the biggest terrorist, I am with him.” It is in this context that he said that all Muslims should be terrorists. This is a classic argument for justifying violence by saying that it is being used to fight injustice, or an enemy, or someone who is anti-Islam. Nobody will argue that if you are attacked you must not retaliate. So if jihad is justified as a response rather than as the provocation, everything can be justified. No Muslim asks him how he decided America was a terrorist, or that it was against Islam.
By this logic, non-Muslims should attack all Islamic regimes, since they suppress other religions. Outside India, and possibly Indonesia and Turkey, there is no Islamist regime that offers freedom of faith. And even Turkey and Indonesia are turning marginally Islamist. Muslims should call out Naik for his flawed arguments.
There is no denying the fact that two of the alleged attackers were ardent followers of Naik. They followed him on social media and quoted him in their conversations. What makes matter worse is the fact that 14,205,310 individuals follow Naik on Facebook and 106k on Twitter. So, there are considerably a large number of people whom he is influencing in one way or the other.
After Naik’s name surfaced in connection with the recent Dhaka terror attacks, he released a video, saying that, “he never condoned terrorism or killing of innocent people in his speeches”. But, media reports have highlighted that one of the assailants, Rohan Imtiaz, who was the son
of a Bangladeshi politician, ran a propaganda campaign on Facebook in 2015, urging all Muslims to be
terrorists, quoting Naik’s speech
on Peace TV.
Naik follows Wahhabism and this ideology or brand of Islam is also followed by terror outfits like Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Taliban. If Naik’s speeches are closely examined, it is clearly noticeable that he does promote Islamic supremacy. The preacher goes to the extent of quoting texts from other religions like Hinduism and Christianity to claim that Islam is superior to other religions.
As Prakash Nanda, a senior journalist and Uday India’s Editor-in- Chief says, ‘unlike terrorists of other religions, Islamic terrorists, invariably, justify their actions in the name of their religion. And unlike terrorists of other religions, whose goals are political and country-specific, Islamic terrorists have an international dimension. They all believe in Wahabism that talks of the absolute supremacy of Islam over all other religions. They do not believe in pluralities of paths to reach the God. They have no faith in the concept of peaceful coexistence. They fight to strengthen their ultimate goal of establishing the Islamic domination all over the world. If they die in the process, they are “confident” of going to “paradise” of their God. Unfortunately, Dr. Zakir Naik is one such Islamist.” Indian Muslims should consider the fact that this Wahabi ideology hits right at the root of the ideology of Sufism, which is the foundation of the Muslim faith in the sub-continent.
Finally, unlike Hindu bigots, such as the World Hindu Council’s Praveen Togadia, whose fiercest critics tend to be fellow Hindus, radical Muslims go largely unchallenged. The vast majority of Indian Muslims remain moderate, but their leaders are often fundamentalists and the community has done a poor job of policing its own ranks. Moreover, most of country’s purportedly secular intelligentsia remains loath to criticise Islam, even in its most radical form, lest this be interpreted as sympathy for Hindu nationalism. Unless this changes, unless people find the ability to
criticise a radical Islamic preacher such as Dr Naik as robustly as they would his Hindu equivalent, the
idea of Indian secularism will remain deeply flawed.
by Nilabh krishna