Zakir Naik's 'foot-in-mouth' disease

Last Updated: Sat, Aug 17, 2019 14:23 hrs
Zakir Naik

Controversial Islamic televangelist, Zakir Naik, who is on the run and currently based in Malaysia has suffered another bout of 'foot in mouth' disease. He is accused of inciting communal differences in the Malaysian society, one of the best examples of inter-religious and inter-racial harmony.

Zakir Naik is the foremost Islamic preacher, with millions of followers in almost every part of the world including South Asia, South East Asia and West Asia, besides of course North Africa. His Peace TV claims to have a viewership base in excess to 200 million. Naik is followed by tens of millions of people on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. The 53-year old televangelist, who is a medical doctor by profession and son of a renowned Mumbai based psychiatrist, late Dr Abdul Karim Naik, is known for his Salafi brand of Islam. He is among the most successful televangelists from India given his reach and the enormous influence he commands across the world.

While he has been hounded in India for his no-hold barred attack against one and all, including Deobandis, Shias and Barelwis, and his over-enthusiasm in converting people of other faith, he is now courting controversy in Malaysia too where he has been staying for several years.

What is new?

The preacher has come under increasing condemnation following his comments against two major communities in Malaysia, Indian and Chinese communities. While Naik says none of his comments are derogatory or communal in nature, the Chinese and Indian communities' leaders, who have fair share in the South East Asian nation’s polity and government have pounced upon him, asking for his immediate expulsion.

Naik, a Konkani Muslim from Mumbai didn’t really believe that his comments regarding Chinese and Indians in Malaysia will come to haunt him in such ways and that, he, despite having a huge support base there will be under investigation by Malaysian authorities.

The Islamist preacher said that Hindus in Malaysia had "100 times more rights" than the Muslim minority in India. He further said that despite living in Malaysia, the Hindus support Modi, the "prime minister of India and not the prime minister of Malaysia".

If that was not enough, another comment by Naik snowballed into even bigger controversy. While talking to a gathering in Malaysian state of Kelantan on August 8 in a program titled "Executive Talk bersama Dr Zakir Naik" the preacher while responding to demands of his deportation said, "Later on, more people came and Malaysia became fully Muslim. Then you have the Chinese coming, the Indian coming, the British coming. They are our new guests…People call me a guest. So I said, before me, the Chinese were the guests. They aren't born here. If you want the new guest to go first, (then) ask the old guests to go back…The Chinese weren’t born here, most of them. Maybe the new generation, yes.”

Trying to ward off expulsion

Malaysia is a racially divided country where Malay Muslims make 60 percent of the population while the rest of the population is made up of Chinese, Indians and other immigrants from across the region. It is needless to mention here that Naik's comments have snowballed into a major controversy with both Indian and Chinese leadership in Malaysia taking a united stand against the preacher.

An investigation has already been launched and there are chances that his permanent resident (PR) status may be revoked, though it is far too early to be certain as Naik has a rather big constituency of supporters, mainly among Malay Muslims, that supports him.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said very clearly that there will be an impartial investigation against Naik's statement about Malaysians of Chinese and Hindu backgrounds.

The home minister went on to add that the police "will not hesitate to take legal action against anyone who threatens the harmony and public order of the country". He further said "I wish to draw attention to the tendency of various parties who spread fake news and make racist statements without consideration for the sensitivity of the people in this multiracial country."

Even Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Muhammad, who has opposed his extradition to India on the ground that justice may be denied to Naik, has said that his permanent resident status may be revoked. The Malaysian Prime Minister said that his government is waiting for the result of the investigation to known the truth behind the alleged "inflammatory remarks" against minorities residing in his country.

Mahathir further said, "He (Zakir) has PR status. We can take away the PR status if he does something that is detrimental to the well-being of the nation…At this moment the police are investigating if he is doing that or not. If he is doing it, then it is necessary for us to take away his PR status."

Long history of controversies

Zakir Naik is not new to controversies. His controversial statements have created anger not just among the people of other faiths but also among the different sects within the Muslim community.

The fiercest opposition against him comes from within the Muslim community. He has faced consistent opposition from Deobandi, Barelwi and Shia scholars. The Deobandi ulama have been particularly furious over the fact that he has started giving fatwas (religious edicts) despite having no proper degree in Islamic schiences from any madrasa (he is an MBBS doctor). Barelwis are furious at him for his sharp attack against the Barelwi school of thought. The Barelwis and Deobandis, who have a history of bitter rivalry spanning over around hundred years, seem to be united against Zakir and his Peace TV.

In fact Deoband has issued many fatwas condemning him on many occasions. 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.

Zakir Naik has also been condemned for his views on homosexuality and LGBT community. He has said that homosexuals are "patients suffering from a sinful mental problem” and has demanded death penalty for them. He has also said that people of other faiths have no right to propagate their religions in Muslim societies, obviously forgetting that he preached his brand of Salafi Islam for decades in India where Muslims are not in majority.

Naik has emerged as a rather very divisive figure and has large number of both, admirers and haters within the community. His forceful defense of the faith has won him accolades among the young generation who are highly impressed by him. But amazingly, the Muslim clergy is deeply anguished by him and has opposed him for a long time for trying to meddle in religious affairs that they believe he shouldn’t have done.

Besides, his openly biased and anti-Barelwi and anti-Shia stance has also got him millions of haters within the community itself. This may be the reason when the Modi government banished his Peace TV and then issued an arrest warrant against him, no one protested against it or came out in his support.