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Banned in Bangladesh and India: What's wrong with Zakir Naik's Peace TV

After the UK and Canada, two more democratic countries with an overwhelming number of moderate Muslims, India and Bangladesh have blocked the biggest source of radical Islamist televangelism in the region, Peace TV.

According to Dhaka Tribune, the mainstream Islamic scholars in Bangladesh had already demanded banning Peace TV last year calling it a misguiding channel (fitnah) for Muslims. But the government of Bangladesh has banned it now in the wake of the recent terror strikes in the country by those inspired by the controversial Islamist-Salafist preacher Zakir Naik.

On the similar grounds of inciting religious intolerance and violent extremism, India has also banned Peace TV. Naik's talks and speeches have been declared 'highly objectionable' by the Government of India. After the Maharashtra government ordered an investigation into this issue, it has become patently clear that Peace TV is not licensed in the country and is uplinked from Dubai.

The Hindustan Times quoted the deputy secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Shankar Lal saying that he has issued a directive to officials to take action against channels airing the Peace TV.

 Banned in Bangladesh and India: Whats wrong with Zakir Naiks Peace TV

File image of Zakir Naik. Reuters

Scores of news reports have shown that the content of the so-called Peace TV was conducive to inciting religious intolerance and that it is a Saudi-funded Salafist-Islamic channel in India.

Regrettably, the radicalization of Islamist televangelism has emerged as a serious threat to the global democratic societies with Muslim populace. It has communicated the exclusivist messages of radical Islamism more effectively than even the sizeable corpus of extremist jihadist literature. The Salafism-inspired Islamic TV channels have done an irreparable damage in the war-torn Middle Eastern societies perpetuating retrogressive religious thoughts furthering nefarious political ends. That it has taken roots in South Asia is a matter of grave concern for the peace-loving and pluralistic peoples of the region.

‘Islamic televangelism’ is defined as: “The use of the television medium to proselytize the audience and viewers and to earn the support for emerging movements and followings for the exhortations of Islamist preachers”. Ibrahim Saleh, a renowned Egyptian media scholar has carried out a seminal research work on Islamic televangelism in his book Islamic Televangelism: The Salafi Window to Their Paradise. He has expounded the radical effects of Salafist Islamic televangelism on the Muslim viewers particularly in the Middle East.

Though the advent of Islamic televangelism in India can be traced back to early 19th century, it gained momentum with the launching of Peace TV. Founded by the medical doctor-turned-preacher Zakir Naik, it is viewed as a Salafist Islamic channel catching the imagination of the new-age Muslims generation, especially those English-speaking.

Surprisingly enough, Peace TV channel has had a viewer base of up to 100 million people across the region. Since its inception in 2006, this Islamic TV channel had been telecast to more than 200 Muslim-populated countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and North America. It achieved huge popularity in the Muslim society within a short span of time launching its sister channels in other languages most notably in Urdu, Bangla, Telugu and Malayalam. Naik has called his TV an "edutainment channel", because of the broadcast of religious sermons and talks for adults and youths, as well as educational programs for children.

Promoted by the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), a Mumbai-based Islamic NGO which was established by Naik in 1991, the channel’s content largely dealt with religious talks or sessions based on comparative religious studies as guided by himself. Regrettably, the channel aired inflammatory talks in respect to Hindus, Jews and Christians, and even the Sufis and Shias, calling them qabr parast (grave worshippers) and thus mushrik and kafir (polytheist and infidel).

It is noteworthy that this kind of exclusivism is common among the Salafist televangelists across the world. Ibrahim Saleh has noted in his research that most of the Salafi televangelists harbour an exclusivist, anti-Semetic and anti-Western views. They are not only antithetical to Jews, Christians and people of other religions, but they also abhor the moderate, pluralistic and multicultural values of Islam.

Saleh writes: “In spite of the wide range of countries, languages, religions, and cultures in the region, Salafi television channels have consistently projected a shared common interest in scrutinizing ‘otherness’ in thought, ideology, and religion. Hence, it is not surprising that the list includes Christians, Jews, ‘Westerners’, and even proponents of moderate Islam. These channels have claimed the authority to speak for Islam. They operate in a region where there is collective frustration over economic disparities and a loss of faith in political systems. This situation has favoured the making of a public space for fundamentalist groups to use these collective anxieties as a pretext for mobilizing members, developing bureaucratic organizations, and formulating policy alternatives.”

Since Naik is on record for his extremist, exclusivist and misogynistic utterances that have potential to inspire violent extremism, several democratic countries including the UK, Canada, India and Bangladesh have banned Peace TV broadcasts since 2012.

In this connection, I would like to reproduce the research findings that the Office of Communications (Ofcom) of the UK had brought out in 2011. Ofcom is the British government’s regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries. It was the first broadcasting regulator to investigate the programmes aired on Peace TV containing extremist messages. The investigation which was initiated in 2011 resulted in a candid exposition of how various programmes on Peace TV have labeled people of other faiths, particularly Jews and Christians, as ‘arch enemies of Islam’.

In the wake of this finding, an Ofcom spokesman said: "We will not tolerate extremism on British television, and transgressors will be dealt with." Hannah Stuart, of the UK-based Centre of Social Cohesion, commented that “to allow Zakir Naik to continue broadcasting here makes a mockery of that decision."

Not to speak of other religious communities, Muslims have faced more baffling problems with this radical televangelism. The laws of apostasy (irtidad) had serious repercussions in the medieval Islamic jurisprudence. But they are still implemented and misused in several Muslim countries, most frequently in Pakistan. The punishment sentenced to an apostate Muslim is nothing short of death. The most deplorable part is that any Muslim can be declared apostate, even on the false charges of kufr (disbelief), shirk (polytheism), ilhad (heresy) etc. Regrettably, Peace TV, despite being run from the country of moderate Islam endorsed this medieval practice prevailing in Pakistan. It broadcasted pernicious theological arguments in its support in a regular programme entitled Dare to Ask on 8 March, 2012.

Answering a related question, Zakir Naik stated the following: “One group of scholars say that if a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim, he should be put to death. There is another group of scholars who say that if a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his new faith against Islam, then he should be put to death. I tend to agree more with the second group of scholars, who say that if a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his new faith against Islam, that is the time this penalty is applied.”

This is precisely why Zakir Naik has been barred from the UK, Canada and other liberal and democratic countries. An array of anti-pluralism and extremist messages that have gone viral through his Peace TV programmes brazenly violate the democratic and liberal ethos.

Common Indian Muslims have been blind adherents of their religious preachers strictly abiding by their exhortations in social and religious affairs. Therefore, Islamic preachers and televangelists create a deep and lasting impact on them. And this can work for both— radicalisation or de-radicalisation of the society.

Muslim televangelists who stress the essential and egalitarian messages of Islam; universal brotherhood, pluralism and moderation in faith, work wonder in societal peace-building. Contrary to them, extremist fringes of the Islamist televangelists misuse this opportunity to peddle religious bigotry. Their politically motivated sermons wrongly influence the young gullible Muslims worsening their worldview. In fact, much of the inter-faith and inter-sect conflicts in the Muslim countries are directly or indirectly resulting from the extremist religious sermons spewing hatred and intolerance. In this situation, we need to take cognizance of this contagious peril looming large in the Muslim world, taking inroads in the Indian Muslim society now.

The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media & Communication Studies. Contact him at grdehlavi@gmail.com.

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Updated Date: Jul 11, 2016 15:42:13 IST