Peace TV founder and televangelist Dr Zakir Naik is being painted as the ‘fountainhead’ of terrorism by media organisations across the country.
I am neither a fan of Naik nor a supporter of his style of debating. But the way the Doctor from Dongri (Mumbai) is being projected as someone who inspires terrorism not just in India but around the world has left me wondering where it is going to end.
Why has media woken to this ‘threat’ all in a sudden? Is it more to do with the forthcoming election in UP where some ideologies need a scapegoat to resort to ‘reverse’ polarization?
I seem to disagree with the man on almost everything. The foremost that I dislike about the televangelist, who is the son of a renowned psychiatrist from Mumbai, is his interpretation about treatment of women in Islam.
Like traditional ulama, Zakir Naik has tried to suggest that Qur’an allows wife beating. Though he goes on to add that Islam merely allows the husband to punish the wife using a toothbrush (miswak) and not a cane. He fails to add what was the behavior of the Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad in an authentic Hadith while mentioning wife beating says, ‘The worst among us will resort to it’. There is not a single instance of him ever resorting to wife beating.
In another famous Hadith the Prophet says “The best among you are those who are good to their family members and I am the best among you for my family members”.
I also disagree with Zakir Naik on how he supports the ban on construction of churches and temples in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations. While many Gulf nations including United Arab Emirates have now reversed the ban on construction of places of worship for people of other faiths, Zakir Naik believes it shouldn’t be allowed.
Islam allows complete freedom of religion to people living in Muslim nations and freedom to follow religion without having places of worship is an absurd notion.
Zakir Naik has antagonised the Shia community in India. A Shia editor of a leading Urdu newspaper who attacked the televangelist in his series of editorial this past week is facing the brunt of Sunni Muslims on social media. Zakir Naik annoyed Shias around a decade ago while addressing a conference in Mumbai. He used the expression Radiallah tala anho (May Allah be pleased with him) while referring to Yazid, which enraged the Shia community in the country.
While responding to angry responses from Shias Naik later said, “The Prophet has said, ‘If you praise someone who does not deserve praise, no matter; but if you curse someone who should not be cursed, the curse comes back to you’ Thus I preferred not to curse anyone, not even Yazid.”
This is a subject that has been discussed in detail in Islamic history and ulama of all backgrounds have held Yazid, the second ruler of Umayyad Caliphate in Arabian Peninsula solely responsible for the death of Husayin bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It was simply astonishing to see Zakir Naik showering eulogies on Yazid. Usually this form of eulogy is reserved for the companions of the Prophet and thus many ulama too felt it an unnecessarily provocative on the part of Naik.
Naik has also enraged Barelwi Muslims across the country who adhere to Sufi Islam. They have been consistently opposing the televangelist for more than a decade and have held demonstrations demanding ban on his television channel and his organization Islamic Research Foundation (IRF).
He has been openly speaking against Sufi practices, particularly the Barelwi practices that have also been attacked by other Deobandi groups in the country. Salafis’ opposition to several innovations or Bidda of Barelwis are well known and so the antipathy.
Dr Zakir Naik adheres to Salafi branch of Islam. Salafis adhere to puritanical or ultra conservative form of the religion. Saudi Arabia too follows the Salafi interpretations of Islam as Naik and thus Naik and his Peace TV get round the clock coverage in much of the Saudi Arabia and other kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula.
Bernard Haykel while writing in Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement says “…Salafis claim to be engaged in a process of purifying Muslim society in accordance with their teachings, and that the designation Salafi is prestigious among Muslims because it denotes the earliest authentic version of Islam –the Islam of “pious ancestors”, generally understood to refer to the first three generations of Muslims…Salafi teachings and ideas have become pervasive in recent decades so that many modern Muslims –even ones who do not identify formally as being Salafi –are attracted to certain aspects of Salafism, namely its exclusive emphasis on textual form of authority, its theology that attacks Ash’ari voluntarism, its pared down version of legal interpretation and its call for reform of Muslim belief and practice by, among other things, returning to the model of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions”.
Nonetheless, despite all my opposition to Naik, I have found unfathomable the propaganda unleashed against him for promoting terrorism in the world. While he has been preaching across the country for close to the quarter of a century, there has been no instance of any riot or a terrorist attack that was perpetrated by any of his followers.
A well-known journalist of a top English television channel tried to paint him as the biggest supporter of terrorism in the country and the world. But this cannot be farther from truth. Till now most of the opposition against Zakir Naik has come from different Muslim sects in the country including Shias, Barelwis and even Deobandis, but no one accused him of being the supporter of terrorism or being anti-India.
A few years ago Deoband issued a fatwa against Zakir Naik suggesting that Deobandis should refrain from attending his meetings. Nonetheless it was more due to the fact that he is a Salafi preacher who has been trying to conquer their domain and attracting Deobandis to him and ultimately to Salafism.
Zakir Naik as a self-styled interfaith debater has held debates with many top of the line religious leaders from across the spectrum including the likes of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri and Zakir Naik held a long interfaith debate on the concept of God in Islam and Hinduism almost a decade ago in Bangalore. It was an interesting debate that attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators, both Muslims and Hindus.
Later Sri Sri released a statement stating that no religion supports violence. Naik has also addressed Oxford Union in the year 2011 through video link and held question answer session with the students in one of the best debating societies in the world.
India being the largest democracy in the world cannot behave like a Middle East monarchy or China where dissent is abhorred and freedom of speech have no meaning. The Constitution of India provides the right of freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution.
The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the Freedom of speech and expression, as one of its six freedoms.
Many people have stood in support of Naik not because they love him or support his divisive preaching laced with anti-Shia and anti-Sufi rants, but because they believe that this freedom of expression cannot be the prerogative of merely a few attached to a certain ideology.
Confining this freedom of speech and expression to just a few will destroy the whole essence of our democratic set up and will ultimately lead to a form of governance where every dissenting voice will be silenced and everyone will be a sitting duck for harsh punitive actions for phony accusations.
Renowned Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde famously said, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is NOT being talked about”.
I fear that the latest bout of anti-Naik propaganda will further boost his popularity among Muslims across the country.
The way Muslim organizations have been lining up to support Naik, not because they support his ideology, but because they believe that they may be the next target, has ensured that he gets several million more supporters in the shortest possible time.
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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.