Zakir Naik isn't the leader Muslims desperately need. And thank God for that
For the past week, my inbox has been inundated with messages. No, it's not friends and family wishing me Eid Mubarak as I would have imagined. Or liked. The incessant beeps are pleas to support Dr Zakir Naik, the self-appointed preacher of Islam.
Yes, the same man I wrote about some time last year, calling him a bag of contradictions. Wondering why he is taking moderate Muslims back in time. And how his rhetoric is widening the gulf between Muslims and "non-Muslims" - as he likes to call them.
I called him a bag of contradictions because he is medical doctor who preaches Islam effortlessly, quoting from the Quran, the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. He pushes forth his viewpoint with panache in fluent English, in a Western suit worn with a white skull cap just so the symbolism isn't lost. He seeks to clear misconceptions about Islam with reason and scientific facts. But the end result is often garbled messages. Messages that contradict and confuse. Messages that sound progressive but come with conservative caveats.
Unfortunately, in the 16 years that Naik has been Islam's wonder boy - winning awards, travelling the world, delivering lectures - for most educated Muslims in India and across the world he has become the moderate face of Islam. The last word on Islam, if you like. An Islam they strive to embrace.
And this is worrisome.
The sound of support
It is this class which is out in full force to support him. Three days ago, I received this message from a classmate.
2 teenage boys have created menace, playing cricket all day in one of the posh residential society in Mumbai. Have broken glasses of many windows n disturbed the peace. Wise chairman of society has filed the case in police against Virat Kohli for this nuisance. In the report he said "Those kids appeared to be following VK on social media and are inspired by the renowned cricketers batting skills. It is him who is inspiring them to play cricket which is disturbing the neighbours". Millions of peace lovers have come forward on social media in support of this residential Society.
This fairly long message from a fairly progressive friend:
> He sacrificed his medical career to spread the word of Allah
*to reach a larger audience*
> He requested cable operators to broadcast Islamic lectures to spread the word of Allah
*to reach a larger audience*
> They refused and he had to pay cable operators to spread the word of Allah
*to reach a larger audience*
> They threatened the cable operators and stopped the broadcast. He had to start a TV Channel (Peace TV) to spread the word of Allah
*to reach an even larger audience*
> They banned Peace TV and stopped the broadcast. He had to launch a set-top box and live streaming website to spread the word of Allah
*he reached a much more larger audience*
> Now they could do nothing to stop him as he rules the Internet. So they resorted to vilification, defamation, slander and levelled false allegations of "inspiring terrorism" against him. In doing so they forgot, that they made him the headline of every national television
*he will reach the largest audience yet*
> An unprecedented number of people who never knew about him, will now be searching truth about him only to find his innocence and along with that they will also find Islam just like millions of people have in the past
And then there are endless requests to sign this Change.org petition - Indian Media: Stop the vilification campaign against Dr. Zakir Naik.
His Master's Voice
I don't care about interpretations of Dr Naik's "every Muslim should be a terrorist" remark. Or how it was blown out of context. I am also not denying the sacrifices he has made to spread Islam.
My problem is with why he is confusing Muslims with such remarks. It's one thing to tell the Ummah not to be embarrassed if they are called terrorists and quite another to point out that those who fought the British were terrorists to them, but to Indians they were patriots or freedom fighters.
Couldn't he have employed another analogy to put forth his point instead of indulging in this kind of wordplay? Couldn't he have put his mighty influence to good use by explicitly telling Muslims to stay away from terror?
More takeaways from his lecture on Islam, Terrorism and Jihad:
1) After 9/11, thousands of books are being published to defame Islam.
2) Muslims are being labelled as fundamentalists. The word was originally coined to describe Protestant Christians. The Oxford Dictionary revised the meaning to describe people who stick to the fundamentals of a religion, especially Islam.
3) I am a fundamentalist Muslim and proud to be one. Because I know, I follow and I strive to practice the fundamentals of Islam.
4) Muslims are being called extremists. Why should Muslims go on the defensive? I am an extremist. Extremely honest, just, kind.
5) Muslims are being called terrorists. For a robber, a policeman is a terrorist. Those who fought the British were terrorists, but to Indians they were patriots or freedom fighters.
6) Bhagat Singh was a terrorist for the British. For us, a patriot. We did not agree with the British then. Why are we agreeing with them now (when they call Muslims terrorists)?
7) When British ruled America they called George Washington Terrorist No 1. He went on to become the first President of the US.
8) Nelson Mandela was also Terrorist No 1. He eventually won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
9) The most misunderstood word in the world is jihad. The word has been derived from "jahada" which means to strive, struggle. A struggle to make society better.
10) The best jihad is to struggle and strive to spread the message of the Quran to non-believers.
An Islam of guilt
One of the most important Surahs of the Quran, one most Muslims know by heart, translates to: "To you be your religion, and to me my religion".
It's a Surah Dr Naik conveniently forgets to quote. Instead, he instils a sense of guilt among Muslims for not doing enough for Islam by quoting the following stats:
1) Conveying the message of Islam is a fardh (compulsory) on all Muslims.
2) Surah Asr is enough guidance for humankind and states that if a Muslim does not convey the message of Islam to non-Muslims they will not go to jannah (heaven).
3) Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US.
4) After 9/11, 34,000 Americans and 20,000 Europeans accepted Islam. Most converts are women.
Prophet Mohammed's first wife was a businesswoman and the Prophet was her employee. Over 1,400 years later, Dr Naik expects the impossible; he calls the intermingling of opposite sexes a sin. He declares that women cannot talk to men. They have to observe the purdah of eyes, tongue and clothes.
In a lecture posted on YouTube, he mimics a conversation between a girl and a boy. The girl seeks the boy out. The girl asks the boy to sleep with her. The girl becomes the devil. "You have to prevent people from feasting on you. If someone steps out in 'deep neck and mini short' (sic) then who is to blame?" he asks.
Modesty is not a virtue that Dr Naik seems to have absorbed from Islam, even though the religion itself treats it as a much-valued asset.
He brags about a conversation he had on landing at Los Angeles airport with a customs official and how he shut the officers up with his "smart" answers. He routinely brags about his "popularity" and how well he does "dawah" (spreading Islam).
Traditionally, Islam says the right hand should not learn about the goodness done by the left hand. But that is not the Islam that Naik seems to practice. Or wants his followers to.
Dr Naik may well be the leader that Muslims badly need. But he has a lot of learning and unlearning to do before that.