It was utterly surprising to go through a news report published on the front page of the leading Indian Urdu daily Inquilab dated 11 August, 2016. It is captioned as: Zakir Naik has link with Jam’atud Dawah, IM and Hizbul Mujahidin. The amazement stems from the fact that the mainstream Urdu press in India has largely been in a perpetual denial of the charges against the Salafist Islamist tele-preacher and founder-ideologue of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), Zakir Naik.
In this report, the Inquilab quoted Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as saying, "Numerous shocking facts have been unravelled in relation to Zakir Naik. Investigations reveal that Naik is linked with extremist organisations like Jam’atud Dawah, IM and Hizbul Mujahidin. This is dangerous for the national security of the country. A decision on the legal action against Zakir Naik will be taken after a legal consultation."
The Urdu daily has also quoted a renowned advocate Majeed Memon who seeks the government to take action against Naik on the solid evidences and abstain from doing any politics, as it might turn into a sensitive case.
Better late than never, the Indian government has initiated a probe into the sermons and activities of Zakir Naik, considering them a serious threat to the internal security of the nation. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra has confirmed submission of a report on the controversial Islamist televangelist by Mumbai Police Commissioner. He himself has pointed out a number of unlawful activities perpetrated by the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) of which Zakir Naik is the founder-ideologue. In fact, this Islamic organisation has been booked under two stern acts, UAPA and FCRA.
Notably, the Ministry of Home Affairs has also issued an inspection notice to Zakir Naik’s IRF for alleged FCRA violations. And this inspection notice is the first step towards suspending or revoking registration of any NGO or organisation under FCRA.
More to the point, a case has previously been registered by the police against an employee of the IRF. Three others, including two were arrested earlier by the Kerala Police in connection with alleged IS recruitment. According to the official reports widely published in the media, a case was registered against the employees of Zakir Naik's IRF, Arshid Qureshi, Rizwan Khan and two others at Nagpada police station based on a complaint lodged by the father of Ashfaque, one of the 21 youths from Kerala reported missing and suspected to have joined IS.
But the IRF has reiterated that all these allegations against Naik are false and baseless and that he has been promoting peace and harmony for decades. In its recent statement to several media outlets, the IRF claimed to be ‘a research body that promotes greater awareness of Islam and its tenets’ and that the organisation only spreads the message of Islam and clears misconceptions’, and that ‘Dr Zakir Naik is an expert in comparative religion and has been conducting well-researched talks on Islam and other religions across the world’. This statement continued: “Naik’s teachings of Islam are not unconstitutional since propagating one’s religion is allowed by article 25 of the Indian Constitution.”
Unless the honourable Indian judiciary issues its final verdict on the case of Naik, any alleged association of this Islamist televangelist with terrorism does not stand up to scrutiny. However, this man must be taken head on for his extremist, intolerant, xenophobic, misogynist and male-chauvinistic utterances. Undeniably, his medieval theological interpretation of Islamic references in modern times has done more harm than good. I am producing below a few examples of how brazenly Zakir Naik has misinterpreted the rulings and injunctions of Islam, along with the right meanings, correct context and explanations:
Zakir Naik preached sex slavery
"There are many verses in the Quran which say you can have sex with your wife and with whatever your right hand possesses," Naik said in 2010 in his public speech, as this video shows:
At a time when the world’s progressive Islamic scholars are outraged at the pre-Islamic practice of keeping sex slaves that the IS has now revived, Naik has justified the vile custom. By stating that “Quran allows Muslims to have sex with female slaves”, he has actually misinterpreted a related verse in the Quran.
The verse goes like this: “Who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or whom their right hands possess, for (in their case) they are free from blame." (Quran, 23:5–6).
While Zakir Naik and many other medieval-minded Islamic preachers have interpreted the phrase “whom their right hands possess” (Ma Malakat Aymanukum, in Arabic), Muhammed Asad, one of the most influential Islamic scholars of the 20th century and Quran exegete has questioned it. Asad renders an insightful commentary on this Quranic verse:
“This conventional interpretation is, in my opinion, inadmissible in as much as it is based on the assumption that sexual intercourse with one's female slave is permitted without marriage.”
Therefore, Asad has translated this phrase as: “Those whom they rightfully possess through wedlock”. This is an established interpretation of this verse that rebuts the medieval perception of keeping sex slaves and making it permissible in Islam. In fact, such notions were prevalent among the Arabs of the pre-Islamic era, also known as the age of ignorance (Jahiliyah). It continued even most of Prophet’s lifetime. But the fact is that Islam did not introduce the vile practice of sex slavery. Almost in every era of the primitive religions until the emergence of advanced faith traditions, there were scores of female war captives or women in contract or temporary marriages, who were not equal to legal wives. But Prophet Muhammad prohibited the temporary marriage, sex slavery and all forms of unlawful sex outside marriage as grave sin in Islam. The Quran stated: “And come not near to unlawful sex. Verily, it is a Fahishah (a great sin, and an evil way that leads one to hell unless Allah Forgives him)” (Quran 17:32).
Naik preached religio-fascism, Islam-supremacism and the exclusion of all other religions from the Muslim countries and societies:
He is reported to have said, "We (Muslims) know for sure that only Islam is the True religion in the eyes of God. … Therefore … we do not allow propagation of any other religion."
He also boldly stated: "How can we allow this (building of churches or temples in an Islamic state) when their religion is wrong and when their worshipping is wrong?"
Although Zakir Naik seemed to welcome people of all faith traditions in his programmes who were apparently free to ask any questions to him, he preached religio-facism and denigrated other religions in his particular tenor. He showed his supremacist side in even quoting from other religious scriptures like the Vedas, Bhagwat Gita, the Bible, the Gurugranth Sahib etc. To our utter surprise, he went to the extent of saying that “Bible has pornography, teaches how to rape and how to even gang-rape.”
But the Quran does not tolerate any insult to other religions or scriptures. On the contrary, it proclaims: “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah” (6:108)
Going by the true Quranic injunction, it is the ‘desire and design of God’ that people peacefully co-exist notwithstanding various faith traditions, myriad interpretations and completely different creeds. This is evidently clear from this verse in the Quran: "If your Lord had so willed, all who are on the earth would surely have believed, all of them. Would you, then, force people to become believers?"
Thus, religious pluralism or diversity is the expression of the will of God in Islam. Therefore, He prepared the earth in a fine balance and perfect harmony to make our peaceful coexistence possible. If one were to recall this universal Quranic commandment, one would not deny others their free will to profess and practice their faiths. If God had wanted, he could have created all humankind within one religious mould. But he didn’t. For, it was the ‘desire and design of God’ to have different peoples and myriad paths to reach him. So, we should respect the will of God; the desire and design of God. And as far as the role of preachers in Islam is concerned vis-à-vis their religion, the Quranic injunction is just to communicate, not to convert’. Quran clearly says:
"And our duty is only to proclaim the clear Message." Quran (36:17)
It proves that Qur’an only allows to preach the message, and not to force people into believing in it. All the different translations of this verse corroborate this semantic position:
"And our duty is only to proclaim the clear Message." (Abdullah Yusuf Ali),
"And our duty is but plain conveyance (of the message).” (Pickthal)
"And our duty is only to convey plainly (the Message)." (Mohsin Khan)
"And nothing devolves on us but a clear deliverance (of the message)." (Shakir)
But Zakir Naik did not restrict himself to only the deliverance of the message. He often lured people to convert to Islam. Though there was no force or threat intended, he got the job done with his particular tenor of preaching. An article in Firstpost noted that “during a meeting in Dubai in 2015, a non-Muslim man asked six questions about Islam to Naik, with a rider that if he gets his answers he will convert to Islam. After answering all his questions, Naik converted him to Islam after getting him to repeat the Kalima Shahada — the acceptance of Allah as the one god and Mohammed as his only messenger."
Naik preached destruction of cultural, historical and religious sites:
Zakir Naik justified the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha at the hands of Taliban, by making this statement:
“It is the right thing to do the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha, because Lord Buddha, who was against idolatry, would have approved that."
In one of his speeches, Zakir Naik openly exhorted to destroy the mazaars (Sufi shrines). And today IS zealots are doing the same thing in Iraq and Syria. This is a clear ideological nexus between Zakir Naik and the extremist Islamist terror outfits.
Naik preached child marriage
Naik justified the abhorrent practice of child marriage which the government of India has made unlawful with the prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) in 2006, and is still battling it along with the civil society. According to the Indian law, if the woman is below age 18 or the man is below age 21 while getting into the wedlock, it is regarded ‘child marriage’.
But Zakir Naik says: “The only requirement for marriage in Islamic Sharia is that girl and boy both must attain the age of puberty that can occur at age 12, 11 or even 10.”
Thus, Naik has not only misguided the Indian Muslim youth and misinterpreted the Islamic rulings but also brazenly violated the Indian law.
Actually, the misogynist preachers like Zakir Naik justify the child marriage in Islam on the basis of a Hadith, a report attributed to the Prophet (pbuh). It claims that the Prophet married Hazrat Aisha when she was just six and consummated the marriage when she was nine. But the authenticity of this report is untenable on many grounds.
First, it is impossible that the Prophet himself would have gone against the Quran which disallows to marry a physically and intellectually immature child. Second, Hazrat Aisha’s age can be calculated from the age of her sister Asma who was ten years older than Aisha. The compiler of Mishkat, a famous Hadith collection, writes in his biography of narrators (Asma ur Rijal) that Asma died in the Islamic year 73 (Hijri) at the age of 100. It is common knowledge that the Islamic calendar starts from the year of the Hijrah, Prophet's migration from Mecca to Medina. If we deduct 73, the year of Asma's death, from 100, her age at that time, we find that she was 27 during the Hijra. This puts the age of the Prophet’s wife Hazrat Aisha at 17 during the same period. And all biographers of the Sirah (the Prophet’s life) tell that he consummated his marriage with Hazrat Aisha in 2 Hijri. Clearly, she was 19 at that time and not nine.
Naik preached suicide bombing
As Firstpost reported, Zakir Naik once controversially said that suicide bombing may not be "haraam" if the situation demands. He mentioned Palestine as an example and said that it may be the last resort. This was among his most provocative statements that have serious repercussions, given the ongoing suicide bombings in the Islamic countries.
More shockingly, when he was asked in his recent press conference to come clean on his notorious statement justifying suicide bombings, he blatantly reiterated: “Suicide bombings are permitted if a country is at war, and are directed by a commander." He did consider the ongoing suicide attacks as ‘haraam’ (forbidden in Islam). But he added a qualifier: "However, many scholars permit it as a war tactic." So, Naik did not categorically condemn all kinds of suicide bombing, except for only the “suicide bombing of the kind that is happening”. Thus, he left it to the discretion of the extremist jihadists of today to justify that they are indulged in ‘other kinds of suicide bombings’ which are lawful in Islam!!!!!
However, the authoritative Islamic scholars have declared suicide bombings as categorically and completely haraam under all circumstances, as elaborated in detail in an article on First Post.
Today the world’s enlightened, progressive and spiritually inclined Islamic scholars call for rejection of supremacism, violent extremism, respect for the other faith traditions and peaceful co-existence. A global Muslim reform movement is emerging with the recent petition entitled “Muslims and Neighbors: We support the Muslim Reform”. They have prepared a path-breaking progressive declaration which states in its preamble:
“We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948”….. “We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam…we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance”.
The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Views are personal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org