Thursday, July 07, 2016

Zakir Naik: A Suave, Soft Spoken And Articulate Face Of Salafi Islam


Islamic tele-evangelist Zakir Naik is once again in the news. And it comes as no surprise that this time too it is for all the wrong reasons.

Investigations post the Dhaka attack revealed that two of the attackers were followers of the Mumbai-based preacher.

Naik founded Peace TV, a Dubai-based religious channel in 2006. It is through this channel that his sermons reach over 200 countries across the world. It also has two sister channels, Peace TV Urduand Peace TV Bangla. It is reported that the Bangla counterpart is quite popular in Bangladesh.

Despite not having the licence to broadcast in India, Peace TV is widely available on cable networks across the country. However, with the latest revealations coming to light, the I&B Ministry has urged state governments to rein in cable operators and Multi Service Operators from broadcasting the channel. "Punitive action will be taken against those who are found to be in violation and are broadcasting unlicenced channels,'' The Times of India quoted a source as saying.

Concerned about the alleged influence of the tele-evangelist, the Bangladesh government on Wednesday requested the Indian government to examine the content as well as the context of the controversial preacher's sermons.
Naik follows the Salafi brand of Islam, also called Wahhabism, after its founder Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It is a puritanical form of Islam opposed to any liberal reforms in Islam and certain spiritual sects like Sufism. The ideology has gained notoriety since Jihadi outfits like Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Islamic State too follow the same brand of Islam.

Naik has often courted controversies in the past for his views against homosexuals - calling for their execution - and his comments on Osama bin Laden.

Naik is the founder of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation. He claims to be an expert on comparative religion and uses his knowledge of non-Islamic religions to ultimately prove the supremacy of Islam. He is quite popular on social media, having around 1.4 crore followers on Facebook.

His public meetings are a grand affair, with thousands of people gathering to listen to his suave and well-articulated sermons in English. Notably, even many non-Muslims attend his meetings - or are encouraged to attend.

At first impression, he seems to be a tolerant and a gentle preacher who allows non-Muslims to clarify their doubts about Islam. But when he starts speaking, there are signs of an Islamic supremacist. He also claims that all the scientific discoveries, inventions as well as many other wonders of the universe have already been mentioned in Islamic scriptures. He also uses his knowledge of non-Muslim scriptures to ultimately refute them and establish the "greatness of Islam".

In 2015, during a meeting in Dubai, 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 Muhammad as his only messenger. With his soft tenor, he gets the job done. There was no force or threat intended.

Recently, a video surfaced which showed Congress leader Digvijaya Singh sharing the dias with Naik in a 2012 event. He is also heard calling the controversial preacher as "messenger of peace who can help bring communities together in India." Though Digvijaya Singh later clarified that he spoke against terrorism and religious fundamentalism in the meeting, this may well be the start of a political slugfest between the Congress and the BJP. With the government saying that he is under the radar of intelligence agencies, tough days are ahead for Naik.

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