Is the recently announced ban on Dr Zakir Naik’s NGO, Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), an ill-advised move? The Islamic preacher who is known for holding massive programs across the country for more than two decades is loved by a large number of people for his unapologetic style and aggressive tone.
While, there is a section of population that has welcomed the union government’s move, Muslim organizations, even the ones that have ideological differences with him, have declined to support the move.
There is no denying that Zakir Naik has been a controversial figure for more than a decade. While his run ins with agencies and differences with the government may be recent phenomenon, the real opposition to his organization, his television channel, Peace TV, and his views have been opposed by Muslims of different hues in the past. His views have been a source of discomfort for different Muslim sects in the country.
Hostility from clerics
Deobandi ulama belonging to Darul Uloom, Deoband, not just attacked him on many occasions, they also issued numerous fatwas against him and his preaching. The same is true about the stiff opposition that he and his organizations have faced from Barelawi Muslim ulama. He also faced opposition from Shia Muslims too on numerous occasions.
Darul Uloom, Deoband has issued many fatwas against Dr Naik and many of these religious edicts question his knowledge of the religion. Naik has been issuing fatwa much to the consternation of muftis and clerics. He has issued fatwas on different issues despite having never studied Islamic theology in a regular madrasa either in India or elsewhere. He is a medical doctor by qualification. One of the fatwas issues by Darul Uloom questions Zakir Naik's knowledge of the Arabic language, Qur’an and Hadith. He has been accused of freely interpreting Qur'an.
A fatwa by Darul Uloom, says, “the work of explaining Qur'an is very complicated as the person doing it actually says what God means from that particular text...Therefore there are several preconditions in this regard. An interpreter needs to have clear understanding of the entire Qur'anic text, must have broad knowledge of Hadith, exceptional command over Arabic language and its grammar... To what extent Zakir Naik is concerned, he doesn't possess even one of the above mentioned preconditions fully. He doesn't have necessary knowledge of Arabic language, nor of its grammar. He also doesn’t have good knowledge of Hadith”.
Barelwis and Shias have far stronger reasons to oppose him and have held processions and issued fatwas against him, his organization and Peace TV. Nonetheless the latest ban on his organization is being opposed by Muslims, even those who have openly criticized him in the past. This is because of the fact that the government has accused the televangelist and Islamic preacher of creating extremist tendencies against Muslims. This is an accusation that Muslim organizations believe can be used against any other Muslim organization functioning across the country.
Muslim organizations oppose ban
The Union Government has banned Zakir Naik’s Dongri, Mumbai based NGO IRF for a period of five years. The ban has been enforced under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and approved at a meeting of the Union Cabinet.
The government has also asked the law enforcing agencies to keep a tight vigil on all activities of the IRF and its sister concerns. The decision was taken by the cabinet committee on security after Naik was found to deliver provocative speeches. The Centre has asserted that Zakir Naik's IRF is maligning the name of the nation in the world forums and has sought ban on his activities. He also came under spotlight when the Bangladeshi newspaper 'Daily Star' revealed that one of the perpetrators of the July 1 terror attack in Dhaka, Rohan Imtiaz, was inspired by Naik. The newspaper later retracted its claim.
Nonetheless Muslim organizations believe that the basis for the ban is unclear and unjustified and that the ban will fall apart in the court of law. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has criticized Union Government’s decision to ban Naik’s IRF under. Jamaat leader Muhammad Saleem Engineer said, “Jamaat considers the ban to be a political witch-hunt aimed at silencing the voice of all who wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to profess and propagate religion…It is a signal and a warning to all minorities and especially Muslims not to espouse and propagate their religion in this country. This draconian move will not only weaken the secular nature of our polity but also deal a body blow to religious rights enshrined in our Constitution”.
Other Muslim organizations have also criticized the government move of banning Naik’s NGO. There are also concerns that the ban on Zakir Naik’s organization may draw Muslim youths to other extremist organizations in future. Zakir Naik was more of an Islamic preacher following a particular school of thoughts than an extremist hate monger.
Opposition to ban muted
Despite some Muslim organizations criticizing the government's move of banning Islamic research Foundation, the criticism seems to be rather muted. There have been no protests either in Mumbai or in New Delhi against the Central government despite the same places hosting massive programs of Zakir Naik in the past.
All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella group of Muslim organizations has remained silent on the ban. Navaid Hamid, the President of the Mushawarat, refused to pass any comment on the same. “We cannot say much due to legal complications involved, so until our statement I will not say much,” said Hamid.
Inspired by Ahmed Deedat
Naik has been inspired by Ahmed Deedat, a South African Islamic preacher and polemicist. Deedat, who mastered the comparative analysis of Islam and Christianity, is held in high esteem by many Muslims across the world. He held numerous inter-religious public debates with evangelical Christians, as well as video lectures on Islam, Christianity, and the Bible. Zakir Naik tried to copy his aggressive style of debate in India and achieved instant fame and success with the help of his organizational skill, television channel that has substantial audience in different parts of the world and dedicated fan following.
While many people are genuinely impressed by him, there are many people, a large number of them Muslims who believe he is a master manipulator.
Khazeema, a female blogger while responding to a Quora question on Zakir Naik has this to say, “He is a master manipulator who easily fools his audience because he knows following facts…Most people are stupid enough to confuse ‘’defeat’’ with ‘’being wrong’’ and ‘’winning’’ a debate with ‘’being right’’. So if Hitler defeats Gandhi in a debate, Hitler is right and Gandhi is wrong - which of course is nonsense...I am a Muslim myself. And this is why I highly object to Zakir Naik’s dishonest and manipulative ways of converting people into Islam. Fooling people into becoming Muslims is disrespectful towards my religion, and turning religious debates into a matter of ‘’winning’’ and ‘’losing’’ is disrespectful towards all religions.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.