On 17 January, 2015, Arif Mohammad Khan wrote a letter to Siraj Quraishi, president of India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) raising serious objections against Zakir Naik being invited by the centre to deliver a lecture.
Khan, who is a former Member of Parliament and Union minister, is also a distinguished Islamic scholar and has written a critically acclaimed book titled Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges.
The letter was written more than a year ago, before two terror suspects — one in Bangladesh and the other in India — marked the Islamic preacher and televangelist Zakir Naik as a motivating force behind their radicalisation, propelling them to take up arms and join the Islamic State.
In his letter Khan wrote, “I need not mention that this centre was conceived as the hub of cultural activities of Indian Muslims and undoubtedly the credit for building and running it smoothly goes to you personally and your team.”
However, expressing his displeasure on Naik being invited for the lecture he wrote, “In the present times, when the community is under siege on account of the misdeed of a handful of terror outfits and the whole religion is being projected as religion of terror, it is important to keep in mind the image and impact of persons who are invited by the centre to interact with its members.”
Explaining the reasons for his objection for inviting Naik for lecture, Khan further emphasised that “a casual glimpse of the writings and speeches of Zakir Naik in the past gives enough idea of his stand on terrorism that is plaguing the whole world particularly India since last few decades.”
As case in point, Khan transcribed and mentioned some of the Naik’s speech. One among them reads, “If he (Osama bin Laden) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him. If he is terrorising the terrorist, if he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”
“In light of the above statement, it is no surprise that he has eulogised the greatest terrorist of Muslim history, namely Yazid bin Muawiya, who organised the butchering of the male members of the household of the Holy Prophet in the plains of Karbala barely 48 years after his death,” reads the letter.
Khan cited several examples from Naik speech to highlight the radical side of the controversial Islamic preacher and televangelist. Khan cited Naik views on other religions, women rights and free speech and expression, which undoubtedly is regressive and smacks of undiluted radicalism.
According to Khan, Zakir Naik has supported a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands and has stressed that “revealing clothes make western women more susceptible to rape.”
While Khan registered his strong objection in the letter written in January, he received no reply by IICC. It was only in May 2015, when he was invited for a annual function which he declined to attend, citing Naik’s attendance as reason, that IICC wrote back to him.
In its brief letter to Khan, IICC defended Naik and stressed that Zakir Naik a “well-known Islamic Scholar, educationist, and internationally known speaker on ‘Quaran and Modern Science’ and visited IICC as “ there was a great and desirable demand from the common people to hear Naik.”
Commenting on Khan’s allegation, IICC in its reply said that “like every great personality Zakir Naik has also many critics.”
Not ready to accept the explanation put forward by IICC defending Naik, Khan wrote another letter to IICC in which he said, “You have described Zakir Naik as an Islamic scholar, educationist and internationally known speaker on Quran and Science. I respect your right to your opinion. But if go through the writings of Zakir Naik (mostly pamphlets) and his speeches on YouTube, then you cannot find any trace of scholarship and not even remotely connected to any science or scientific aptitude.”
Further questioning Naik’s “scholarship” Khan wrote, “Yes, he is a master in the science of spewing hatred and venom and ridiculing other religions. But I agree that there are people who like to hear this stuff and Zakir Naik can take advantage of the freedom of expression in India, to quench the wholesome thirst of some people who greatly enjoy hate speech and have an exclusive mindset.”
Talking to Firstpost, Arif Mohammad Khan said, “I was surprised to read the IICC reply in which they heaped praises on Naik. I told them that I will reconsider my level of association with IICC.”
He added, “I was certain that I would not attend the function organised by IICC to which I was invited every year. But on being requested many times I agreed to attend the function but told Qamar Ahmad (Member- Board of Trustees, (IICC) and currently chairman of Delhi Minority Commission, that he has to make it clear to everyone attending the function that I did not wanted to attend it and just made an exception for them,” said Khan.
Khan also told Firstpost that three years ago in Mumbai, he had raised this issue at a function and has been raising objections against Naik's speech for a long time.
"I raised this issue three years ago and have spoken about it at various forums. But back then nobody paid any attention to it as it did not have much of news value. Everyone has woken up all of a sudden as its manifestations are visible now,” he said.
Here is a copy of the letters exchanged between Arif Mohammad Khan and India Islamic Cultural Centre.