Radical religious preachers who do sermons never begin their discourse saying thus. “Here I’m going to start my indoctrination session to prove that my religion is better than yours. In the next few hours, I’ll do my best to convince you of my idea and ultimately convert you to my religion.”
Instead, they typically play mind games with the enchanted listeners, often selectively quoting (rather twisting) the lines from sacred scriptures, to impose the ultimate idea of religious supremacy in the audience's psyche and ultimately establish why one should embrace that particular religion. This is arguably the trade technique of televangelists such as Zakir Naik.
The context for stating this is in reference to Naik’s India Today interview where the controversial preacher repeated his two major claims. One, that his speeches have always dealt with communal harmony, and two, he has never supported terrorism. Naik played the victim of media trial and challenged journalists to show “one instance where I have supported terrorism”. Well, the short answer to Naik is that most of his speeches and his Q&A sessions offer ample instances, wherein Naik tries hard to enforce the idea of religious supremacy with his ability to recall and connect lines from Islamic, Christian and Hindu scriptures.
But Naik does it with skill and caveat. That’s where Naik’s real danger lies. The problem begins when Naik claims Islam is one true religion and the rest are either imperfect or wrong. This is anything other than ‘dealing with’ communal harmony. The Indian constitution permits anyone to preach and propagate their religious ideas, but not run down others'. Naik’s idea of imposing religious supremacy and his attempts at twisting scriptures to prove his point is also the initiation to religious hostility.
Take an example of Naik’s presentation of Hinduism and Christian vs Islam. Naik quotes from the Vedas, "Na Tasya Pratima Asti (There is no image for Him)" to say that Hindu scriptures contradict the idea of religious worship and a ‘Pratima’ (similitude/idol) isn’t God. But Naik is blissfully ignorant of the fact that the same Vedas also see God in everything, including in the ‘Pratima’. But, Naik does this to show one that Hinduism is imperfect and thus establish Islam as the purest form of monotheism.
The point of bringing this up is not to advocate Hinduism, but to show how the misinterpretation of scriptures is used by Naik to advocate Islam’s religious supremacy. This is not the idea of advocating own religion, but rather one of undermining the other and hardly dealing with religious harmony. As long as Naik keeps this idea of religious supremacy to himself or a closed group, it's fine, but it's not when he addresses thousands through television and other media. It amounts to hurting religious sentiments and not for sure, preaching religious harmony.
Secondly, Naik’s argument that he has never supported terrorism is now questionable. Supporting terrorism is not only through money and weapons. What is even more lethal is doing this by way of injecting venomous ideas that encourage radical activities in young minds, which yearns to be heroes and dreams of heavenly pleasures.
Take a look at the actual reason why Naik landed in trouble — which happened after the Dhaka attacks that killed 20 people earlier this month — when two of the terrorists claimed that they were inspired by Naik’s speeches. The paper later backtracked from its report and Naik has repeatedly denied this allegation saying his speech was taken out of context and that he has never asked Muslims to take up arms against the US or anybody.
But, Naik is wrong here too. In this 2008 video, Naik clearly says that if Osama bin Laden is fighting against America, the biggest terrorist, Naik is with him. Here’s what Naik said.
If he (Osama bin Laden) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I’m for him. I don’t know what he is doing. I’m not in touch with him. I don’t know him personally. I read newspapers. If he is terrorising America, the terrorist, biggest terrorist, I’m with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorising the terrorist, he is following Islam. Whether he is or not, I don’t know. Now don’t go around outside saying Zakir Naik is for Osama bin Laden. If he is terrorising the terrorist, I’m with him. I don’t know what he is. I cannot base my judgment only on news. But, you as Muslims, without checking up laying allegations is also wrong. I’m with those people who are holding the Quran. Even the full world is against them, I’m with them (sic)
Here, Naik is clearly encouraging Muslims to take up arms against the US, the “biggest terrorist”, but with a caveat that he doesn’t know Laden personally. That’s hardly a justification for the message he has passed on and the speech, which allegedly inspired one of the Dhaka terrorists. How did Naik decide that the US is a terrorist and how does he define the ‘enemy of Islam’? That’s about Naik’s speeches. What about Naik’s denial of supporting terrorism?
There is evidence emerging about the alleged links of Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) with activities of religious conversion and operations of the Islamic State. The Hindustan Times, quoting unnamed officials in the special branch of the Mumbai police, has reported that Naik’s IRF has allegedly converted around 800 people to Islam by paying them using foreign funds. Recently, a joint team of Kerala and Maharashtra police had arrested Arshid Qureshi, the guest relations officer of IRF, for radicalising close to 20 Kerala youths for IS. Later, the team also arrested Rizwan Khan, a Kalyan resident, who allegedly played a crucial role in religious conversions and weddings.
According to the report, Rizwan worked for Mazagaon-based Al-Birr Foundation, which facilitated conversions and marriages funded by the IRF. “After an initial indoctrination, (potential converts) would be taken to Arshid’s Navi Mumbai office for further indoctrination. Later, they would be taken to a Dongri office where Rizwan would complete the documentation for their conversion,” the report quoted the officer, adding after the conversions that Rizwan would send vouchers with individual expenses to Arshid, who would pay for them from IRF’s funds. This is a much serious allegation and, if proved, makes a strong case against Naik and IRF. What is even more critical is that IRF gets funds from several countries, including Saudi Arabia. The sources of these funds needs to be probed.
The point here is this. Naik’s claims that his speeches never supported terrorism and instead ‘dealt with communal harmony’ do not hold much water. The likes of Naik are indeed a big threat to India’s secular fabric. In the light of the new evidence (IRF’s alleged IS connection and forced religious conversions), there is a strong case for action against Zakir Naik.