The radical televangelist Zakir Naik has cancelled his media interaction on Thursday for the third time. It came as a surprise to many who have viewed him fiercely debating with the leaders of other faiths, loudly proclaiming numerous supremacist and incendiary statements.
But when it came to the clarification of his objectionable and widely debated utterances calling for religious bigotry, communal disharmony, puritanical fundamentalism, ideological extremism and his misogynist and chauvinistic sermons, he seems to back out.
The controversial Salafist preacher, who is currently on a lecture tour in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Africa addressing large Muslim gatherings, was supposed to appear in front of the media in Mumbai via video-conference, after the IRF managed to get a venue on Wednesday. But the supporters and the official spokespersons of the IRF maintain that they are not getting any venue to address the media in Mumbai. “At least four venues, including three five-star hotels and the World Trade Centre (WTC), had declined permission for conducting his press conference via Skype,” they told the media.
Of late, an official spokesperson of Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), as reported in The Indian Express, has told: “It is very difficult to do a press conference. We will announce another conference soon. Naik himself is willing to come and share information with people."
However, if the case is believed to be so, the question arises: why is Naik himself not coming back home for easier access to the questioners and critics, from both the media and the Indian Muslim intelligentsia? No date of Naik returning to India has been fixed. The IRF spokesperson just keeps repeating, “We can expect him back in India very soon. Though for now we don’t have any fixed date.”
Moreover, one wonders why Naik hasn't come for a direct interaction with the media and several scholars who have critiqued his flawed understanding of Islam. He insists on speaking only in his own press conference organised by the IRF, as his expertise lies only in his pre-planned and well-worked-out public speaking. Is it his 'unwillingness' or 'inability' to face the Indian media, journalists and the well-established classical Islamic scholars asking him direct straightforward questions?
Remarkably, the mainstream Indian Islamic scholars have posed pertinent and unavoidable questions to Naik. Most of them are related to his retrogressive, chauvinistic and inflammatory statements on Osama-bin-Laden, Muslims and terrorism, ban on propagation of all other religions except Islam, sex slavery, laws of apostasy in Islam, child marriage, destruction of cultural and religious structures such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, desecration of the Prophet’s tomb and declaring all ‘others’ mushrik (polytheist) and kafir (non-believers). All these questions need to be answered point by point, clause by clause.
The basic question that must not be overlooked is that why Naik has been trying to lure the Indian Muslims, anchored in an age-old traditional Sufi Islam, into professing and practicing the pernicious theology of Salafism, a theology that has inspired the self-imposed caliphate of Daesh or the so-called Islamic state creating mayhem and calamity to all those against the terror outfit. "The ideology of Daesh (IS) comes from our own books, our own principles; we follow the same thought—Salafism,” said Shaikh Aadel Al-Kalbani, former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and a Salafist preacher himself. He has confessed the link between the Salafist theology and the jihadist atrocities being perpetrated by the Islamic States militants in many of his writings and talks. In an interview with MBC, a Dubai-based TV channel, he openly states that the Salafist ideas are what he believes as the roots of the ISIS’ extremism. In his video, which is now uploaded on YouTube channel, Shaikh al-Kalbani admitted: "We follow the same thought as the Daesh, but apply it in a refined way”…… “They [ISIS] draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, from our own principles."
Shaikh Al-Kalbani has also written two articles in the Saudi daily Arabic newspaper Al-Riyadh criticising the Salafi ulema’s approach towards the subject of Islam and violence in a style which justifies the killing of the opponents. He also candidly exposed the Saudi Salafist clergy who don’t have courage of conviction to speak out the truth. In another televised interview, Shaikh Al-Kalbani has admitted in clear, unambiguous and unequivocal words that: “ISIS is a true product of Salafism, and we must deal with it with full transparency."
Perhaps, Shaikh al-Kalbani is the first Salafist imam who has debunked the common perception surrounding in several sections of the Muslim community that 'ISIS is a creature of the western intelligence agencies'. But he challenged it saying: "the ideology behind Daesh is the Salafist thought that many Muslims follow, but the only disagreement is with the way in which that ideology is acted out from a public relations perspective”.
In fact, the theology of Salafist jihadism (al-slafiyah al-jihadiah) is entirely based on its founder-ideologue Imam Ibn-e-Taymiyyah’s religious and jurisprudential justifications of violent extremism. No wonder then, the online English mouthpiece of the Daesh, called Dabiq, quotes the writings and fatwas of Ibn Taymiyyah while justifying its terror atrocities. A dangerous religious decree of Ibn Taymiyyah called “fatwa maar deen” has been extensively quoted by the jihadist ideologues of all the previous times. It has also been quoted in Dabiq (Issue 7, page no. 21). I suffice to only one sentence of this extremist fatwa: “The basis of religion is a guiding book and a supporting sword” (Majm’u al-Fatawa).
Now it should be no surprise why the global Salafist jihadists—from Al Qaeda to IS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Harka-tul- Jihad wal-Hijrah, Jabhat-ul-Nasrah, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan etc.—are avowedly spreading their ‘religion’ and the ‘guiding book’ with a supporting sword, playing havoc across much of the world.
At a time when the Salafism-inspired preachers and televangelists like Naik, massively funded by the Saudi largesse, are influencing a large section of the gullible Muslim youth in India, I wonder why we Indian Muslims should not concern ourselves with this imminent threat. Let us not forget the influence of the same ferocious Salafi-Wahhabi thought playing out in the attack on the famous Sufi Qawwal Amjad Sabri recently killed in our neighboring country, Pakistan. Clearly, his brutal killing was not an ordinary terror incident. It was a part of the ideological war on the Sufi culture of Qawwali, which is viewed as haram (religiously forbidden) in the doctrine of Salafis-Wahhabis. Similarly, they declare seeking the spiritual blessings from the Prophet (pbuh) tantamount to shirk (associating someone with God), the gravest offense in the Islamic sharia leading to the capital punishment in an Islamic state. The late Amjad Sabri was targeted by the self-styled jihadist murderours because he would openly indulge in something which was ‘shirk’ in their faith. He used to seek blessings from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his famous Sufi Qawwali which goes like this: “bhar do gholi meri ya Muhammad….laut ke main na jaunga khali… (O’ Prophet, (pbuh) grant me your blessings, I will not go empty-handed).
Being a Salafist preacher, Zakir Naik and his staunch ideological supporters also consider the Sufi singers beyond the pale of Islam, because ‘they indulge in ‘haram’ and ‘shirk’ by singing Qawwali and seeking blessings from prophets and saints, other than God’. In a public speech aired on his Peace TV, Naik went on record overtly attacking such Sufis, saying that, "aaj ke dau men Muhammad (pbuh) se bhi mangna shirk hai, in fakiron aur babaon ki baat to choro" (It's an act of shirk to seek blessings even from Muhammad pbuh in this age, let alone the Sufi saints and holy men).
Clearly, this is the ideological nexus between the pernicious and exclusivist theology of takfirism and the attack on the Sufi and Shia individuals.
Regrettably, Naik has often denigrated the Sufi practitioners tagging them "qabr parast" (shrine-worshippers) likening their 'shirk' to the ‘Hindu idolatry’ (but parasti). The direct result of this sectarian indoctrination is that Naik’s blind followers tacitly support the killing of the Sufi practitioners like Amjad Sabri in Pakistan, calling it “a fitting punishment to the idolaters”. While the mainstream Sufi-Sunni Muslims in India commemorated Sabri’s demise as that of a martyr and strongly condemned the terror attack on him, not a single Salafi preacher came out to speak in unison.
It is about time not only the media and journalists but also the progressive Indian Islamic scholars, particularly ulema, will have to confront Zakir Naik, questioning him on his blatant attempts to twist the Islamic doctrines misinterpreting the Qur’anic verses and hadith (prophetic tradtions) to further the nefarious Salafist ends in India.
The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org