The televangelist and his Salafi brand of Islam can only survive in the arid landscape of Saudi Arabia
It is almost as if Zakir Naik has no control over his inner urge to denigrate religions other than Islam. After getting refuge in Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, he is again at his acerbic best trying to insinuate that Malaysian Hindus are not loyal to that country. Earlier, he also called Malay Chinese as ‘old guests’ of the country implying that they should now return to China. This time, he told a congregation that Hindus living in Malaysia were more loyal to Prime Minister Modi than to the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad. His comments have not been taken lightly. He has been thoroughly criticised for his bigoted views by many Muslim religious organizations and now even the prime minister has sought a report on his ‘political’ anti-pluralistic utterances. Already, Zakir Naik has been banned from speaking in some of the states in Malaysia and it looks very likely that he will be banned from preaching throughout Malaysia.
Ridiculing minorities and constantly testing them in the name of nationalism has been the hallmark of right wing politics the world over. Zakir Naik was forced to leave India due to his terror inspiring lectures but then argued that he was hounded out because of his Muslim identity. Today, Zakir Naik seems to be vomiting the same hatred that he accused the Hindu right wing in India of. But more importantly perhaps, the Malaysian authorities have realised that people like Zakir Naik and his version of Islam are unfit for the plural mosaic of their country. Zakir Naik and his Salafi brand of Islam can only survive in the arid landscape of Saudi Arabia where the very ideological superstructure is anti-plural. Societies in South and South East Asia have been religiously plural for centuries and hence Zakir Naik variety of Islam is wholly unsuited for these regions.
There are many in India who think that Zakir Naik was a victim due to his identity. There is some truth in this assertion. There are many god-men in other religious traditions who have been accused of money laundering and other more grievous charges. And yet the prosecution against them have moved at snail’s pace or in some cases not started at all. But the alacrity at which Zakir Naik’s case was taken up the by government did point to the fact that there were other considerations at play. However, for those Indian Muslims supporting Zakir Naik, this should not become an excuse to absolve him of the very content and implications of preaching. The fact that he might be the victim because of his identity does not mean that we should support the content of his preaching.
He had regressive views about people of alternative sexualities, other religious traditions and certainly women. Naik’s Islam was about supremacy over all other religions and certainly he did not mince his words. He argued that this is the correct position because the Quran had ordained it to be so. He exhorted that Islam is the final and perfect religion and that Muslims will one day rule over the planet. It is due to this Islamic supremacy that he wanted apostates to be killed but certainly put a gloss over its interpretation. He argued that Islam does not say that apostates should be killed. But when the person (the apostate) starts preaching his own religion or ideology (which is different from Islam), then he is liable to be killed. He might have thought that he is putting a clever gloss but then it is no brainer to understand that he is exhorting Muslims to kill any dissenter within Muslim society who has a different point of view on Islam. He similarly argued that homosexuals should not be killed right away but if they start ‘exhibiting’ this lifestyle in public, then they should be killed. Thus in his version of Islam, people (including Muslims) were not free to profess their ideas and actions in public. This kind of robotic Islam can only produce Muslims who will be happy to revel in their un-freedom.
His so called inter-religious debates was again hardly mature. Always eager to prove that other religion were ‘false’, he targeted his opponents with half-baked knowledge of other religious scriptures, mostly cherry picking lines within their holy texts without understanding the whole context. Thus, according to him, Hinduism was essentially monotheistic because a line within the Gita said so. He claimed that he defeated his opponents (mostly Hindus and Christians) and his supporters cheered for him. In reality Zakir Naik defeated centuries old practice of Islam which debated its opponent with warmth and mutual respect. Zakir Naik was singularly responsible for painting a negative image of Islam at a time when news television had not yet started making fun of this religion. Through his poor and boorish arguments, he showed the world how regressive Islam had become. The secular media which toasted him from time to time, failed to ask tough questions like the implication of his lectures on the social fabric of India.
Those who cheered for him cannot be faulted as much. Through decades of impoverishment, Indian Muslims wanted a leader and in Zakir Naik they saw someone who could speak English and trounce his opponent’s arguments. In their collective schizophrenia, it was not Zakir Naik but the victory of an embattled community over another. But Naik cannot escape the blame. Being an educated Muslim, his responsibility was to steer the community towards the path of rationalism and science rather than induce some kind of a collective hallucination within the community. That he chose to do so (and make billions out of it) tells us of a man devoid of any commitment towards the betterment of Muslim society. That he was hounded out of India has certainly done good to the Muslim society as they are away from his poisonous lectures. His only hope now is to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. I am certain he will be amongst his own kind in the holy land.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com