Zakir Naik, a somewhat comic figure with scanty beard sans mustache, skull cap and a suit with its trousers ending above his ankles as per Sharia prescription, finds mention in many of my blogs.
He is almost the sole performer on Peace TV, purportedly funded by Saudi Arabia. The performances, of which Naik is evidently very upbeat, are loaded on to YouTube for permanent viewing. His appeal to the hoi-polloi of Muslim gentry is obvious. Videos put up on YouTube proclaim him to be the greatest authority on comparative religion. As he reels out what is supposed to be indexes of context-relevant verses from various religious scriptures – including the Bible, the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Quran – the applause he receives from his captive audience is thunderous. However, to most Muslim scholars, his interpretation of Islamic laws is erroneous, and does not conform to the views of the Ulema.- the Council of Islamic Scholars. His claims such as Hindu Puranas are monotheistic and mention Allah as the sole God and that the coming of Muhammad is prophesied in Bhavishyapurana fail to enthuse Muslim clerics who believe that monotheism is their monopoly and that the ability to prophesy rested and ended with their Prophet Muhammad.
Naik’s logic is illogical or deliberately syllogistic, and his arguments riddled with holes. I would not be surprised if one day his benefactors In Saudi Arabia see through him and decide to dump him. That day when the pleasure of his financial backers fades, they might even give him the appropriate treatment meant for a heretic. Central Mosque of Birmingham has issued what amounts to a fatwa that a Muslim must not lend credence to Naik in matters of ‘Fiqh’ (deep understanding of Islam).
In India, religious discourses, however ridiculous – as all of them tend to be – are not illegal. Many television channels thrive or subsist on sponsored theological harangues. There is a Hindi channel that unabashedly advertises the sale of small gold-plated idols of Hindu gods, buying which would solve all your personal problems. Ageing movie discards like Govinda promote their sales. There is a Nirmal Baba who sells his blessings (and prescriptions like “eat a dozen samosas”) for Rs. 2500; there once was the then famous, now progressively turning notorious Satya Sai Baba who earned so much wealth with his inane discourses and low-grade magic trick of producing instant ash that he managed to put away a part of it for charity and a hospital; the rest of it in his bedroom. His pet theme was the need for shunning desire; immediately upon his death his ardent disciples carted away much of the haul stored in his bedroom. There is another – Sri Sri Ravishankar – who franchises simple (but patented) breathing exercises across the world and earns an incredible amount of money. Naik neither claims to be a godman nor is he known to be relieving his audience of money in return for his dua (invocation of God).
Christian Televangelists have a field day on television trying to convert the converted. They wax eloquent on how Jesus alone can save them, that whatever crime one might commit, one could trust Jesus to condone it and take them to heaven. They perform hoax miracles by prayer, healing the terminally ill. The gullible audience forget that this was a miracle that the apostles confessed to Jesus that they could not do and were scolded for want of faith. A pastor in America praised Hitler for doing away with Jews; another pronounced salvation for a young criminal who murdered his mother and then went to a school and killed 28 innocents, most of them children, if only he took the name of Jesus Christ.
In sum total, all that these preachers, evangelists and the likes of Naik do is to split the society along communal fault lines. Either we ban all such performances, and their visual and audio reproductions on the internet, television and radio – or ignore them, treating them as unavoidable evils like smoking and alcoholism. If the government fails to, intellectuals can educate the masses that their ‘holy’ discourses are full of holes filled with with lies, misinterpretations and utter gibberish.
Among those hundreds of preachers who preach to the preached, and futilely try to win over the unpreached, is this bearded joker, Zakir Naik. On rare occasions did Naik perform the drama of a Hindu converting to Islam when impressed by his ridiculous logic. The bearded ‘Hindu’, shown alongside, who greeted Naik with a perfect Assalamu Aleikum in the first place, was supposedly convinced by Naik’s answer to his doubts and he readily recited the Shahada (testimony of faith) after Naik, and found instant bliss as a Muslim. The drama is no different from the “Ghar Wapsi” (Home coming)
shows performed by Hindu zealots. In the much touted photo of ghar wapsi, you’d notice that the supposed returnees to Hinduism are still wearing their skull caps so that you are fully convinced.
Like Nityananda the rapist, Asaram Bapu the paedophile and Chandraswamy the fraudster or Jayrndra Saraswati the murderer who lauds and glorifies Hinduism and what is called Hndu values, this man, Zakir Naik, glorifies his brand of Islam. Unlike Nityananda, Asaram or Rampal, Naik is not burdened with reports of rape, molestation, money- laundering or murder. Unlike Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi or Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti or somewhat reformed Uma Bharti – most of them elected representatives – Naik does not explicitly preach hatred, though he has no hesitation to proclaim that Islam is the only true relgion. His attempt at proselytization in a Country that gives him freedom of speech is open and shameless. At the same time, he justifies banning of other religions in Islamic countries. On the otheer hand, If making false or fundamental interpretation of religious scriptures is an offence, Naik does not stand alone.
Naik probably burns midnight oil poring through the Bible, the Vedas the Upanishads and Gita to find holes in them. Scriptures are there for everyone to read; he reads a little more (or a little less) into them than the Hindu, Sikh, Christian or other Muslim preachers. That’s not an offence listed in our penal code. He prepares well, collects a captive audience and chooses a subject that could embarrass his opponent in a debate.
His opponents come unprepared, not having studied the Quran to find the umpteen errors that can be spotted without much effort, or the Hadiths and Sunnahs with their primitive, cruel and misogenic laws directly borrowed from the Old Testament or from an imaginary conversation that a ‘companion’ claimed to have had with the Prophet. Naik is a professional debater and knows much about the views and public pronouncements of his opponents, but the latter are often unaware of Naik’s strategies and targets of attack. In the minds of ardent admirers that Naik packs the audience with, he wins hands down. The losers go out and conspire to use the law against him. They count on the inclination to bend the laws in their favour by a heavily partisan government. I recall the day when Naik embarrassed Sri Sri Ravi Sahnkar on his claim that the stone in the Kaaba was a Shivling, and as Naik harped on and on that issue, Ravishankar profusely apologized for the ‘error’ to the delight of the largely Muslim audience. Later, back among his own Hindu admirers, Ravishankar was at his abusive best against Naik. Even as he demolishes his unprepared opponents in a debate, Naik continues to smile.
You have not arrested swamis and Sadhvis who have openly made anti-Muslim statements. I watch most of Naik’s pronouncements on Peace TV with critical eyes. He quotes the Puranas or the Bible to find fault with them, but does it with an air of condescension before ripping them or interpreting them in favour of Islam. I do not see how on that ground you could make a charge against Zakir Naik while the ‘Go-to-Pakistan’ fame Swamy -Sadhvi brigade whose hate speeches have resulted in riots and bloodshed are getting away scot-free.
I cannot understand how a man like Subramaniam Swamy who openly calls for the
expulsion of minorities (who do not vouch their Indian ancestry) can be allowed to move freely around the Country. This salesman of pure vitriol is nominated for the Upper House of India’s Parliament constituted under a secular Constitution. His speeches spewing venom against Muslims and Christians violate the spirit and letter of the Constitution. If the rest of the world were to enforce his proposed condition (that all who stay in the country should have local ancestry), the Indian diaspora including all those who are positioned in high places in the US government and the UK and those working in the middle East would be sent home. India’s foreign exchange reserves would dry up. Civilized nations are a salad bowl of different cultures and religious faiths. While the once arrogantly parochial and colour-prejudiced European nations are embracing this principle, India, which has always been such a dynamic mixture of cultures, languages and religions must not aspire to become a Hindu theocracy along the line of condemned Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan.
“Hurting religious sentiments” clause in the statute book is a blunt weapon with which you could smash anyone’s head. Assertions like “Krishna is the Supreme Godhead” would hurt non-Hindus; “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest) is a call that should hurt all non- Muslims, and “Jesus is the only God and Saviour” ridicules all other concepts of divinity. All religious discourses are bound to hurt other religious sentiments if you are looking for a chance to get hurt. Zakir Naik hurts religious sentiments no worse than the preachers of other faiths do. In fact, while the Muslim hoi polloi clap hands at Naik’s assertions and capacity to reel out indexes of religious verses (many of them wrongly) and such antics as presenting a fake “Shankaracharya” in saffron clothes and signature wand in praise of Islam, he appears to generate only mirth among the intellectuals of other faiths, but does seem to hurt the religious sentiments of Islamic scholars. Apart from the fatwa from the Central Mosque of Birmingham that I cited above, there are other fatwas against the usurper by the powerful Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband; the Qazi of Lucknow proclaimed him a Kafir or a heretic.
“Peace” is Naik’s signature. His attempt is to convert by his kind of logic and reasoning, not by violence. That a couple of extremists are known to have attended Naik’s verbal purge is no reason to conclude that he preaches violence. If a gang of burglars flock to hear Mr. Modi’s oratory, one cannot assert that Mr. Modi encourages burglary. There is no call-to-arms in Naik’s speeches which are filled with errors, exaggerations and howlers (e.g., “Galileo was sentenced to death”). If you argue that glorification of Islam probably strengthens the extremist’s resolve, you should admit that telecasting of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan serials strengthened Hindu zealots’ inspiration to bring down the Babri Masjid and that the modern versions of Mahabharat, Mahadev, Sita, Ganesh Leela etc. are prodding the Hindu fundamentalists.
Zakir Naik’s faulty logic is the anti-dote to itself. Don’t make him stand apart and be seen as one who went to jail for the cause of Islam. . Charges against him might fail to stick in a court of justice. Let one rabble-rouser preach, or let no rabble-rouser preach. If you ban Zakir Naik, ban all public religious meetings and their airing on television and radio. For heaven’s sake. stop those blasphemous soap operas that humiliate the works of great writers of the past like Vyasa and Valmiki by twirling and disfiguring their great narratives to suit pedestrian taste.
Perhaps the government could use against Zakir Naik the only tool that it uses to selectively pummel NGOs with – receiving money from abroad.
Bangladesh, shaken by so many religious murders, has banned Naik’s Peace TV. That’s unlikely to have any effect on his popularity since his speeches can be watched on YouTube. The effect is that of burning the house to kill a mouse. If India arrests Zakir Naik, the world would see that you do it because he is a Muslim preacher, not a Hindu missionary or a gyrating Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
It would be a terrible mistake to make this verbose , wily self-styled Islamic non-scholar a martyr in the eyes of the gullible among the 160-odd million Muslims of India.
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