By Nafees Ahmad
While he continues to attract millions of fans to videos of his lectures that are posted online, Islamic preacher Zakir Naik has been the target of a malicious campaign for several years now.
That campaign gained steam after last year’s terror attack in Dhaka, following which the Daily Star of Bangladesh reported that one of the perpetrators was inspired by his speeches. This prompted Bangladesh authorities to proscribe Peace TV, a non-profit satellite television network with which Naik is associated and which claims to have a reach of 100 million people worldwide.
The Bangladesh ban on Peace TV and the allegations of that country’s information minister that its broadcasts were inconsistent with Islam as well as the Bangladesh constitution unleashed a furious media trial, especially in India, against Naik. Indian media accused him of fanning hatred among diverse communities and inspiring terrorists.
One issue that is often raised by the Indian media is Naik’s alleged refusal to condemn Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist. This is in reference to a statement he once made on the matter. All he said was that he needed to do research before giving his opinion.
In many of his videos, he has clarified that he could not speculate on any issue without having access to all the facts relevant to it. To back his position, he would quote Verse 6 of Chapter 49 of the Quran: “O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.”
Naik agrees that suicide is prohibited in Islam. As for suicide bombing, he said scholars differed, with some saying that it is permitted as a war tactic if the intention is to cause maximum damage to the enemy. In fact, this is a minority view, and even this minority imposes strict conditions.
But does all this mean that Naik supports suicide bombing, as alleged by the Indian media?
In fact, Naik has quoted, approvingly, a research done by the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape on the subject of suicide bombing. In a book published in 2005, Pape said he was struck by the fact that half of all suicide attacks were secular. He also said 95% of suicide attacks were in response to a military occupation.
Last November, India decided to ban Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, citing, among other things, his “subversive” speeches and alleged attempts to force people to convert to Islam. The ban was upheld by the Delhi High Court last March.
Many of the allegations leveled against the preacher and his IRF are fallacious. He is often maligned by those who cherry-pick statements from his videos. Never has he extolled Osama Bin Laden and never has he shown support for suicide bombings. Never has he promoted enmity among Indian communities and not a single one of his lectures, attended by thousands, has led to any untoward incident. Neither he, nor anyone else in IRF, has been proven to forcibly convert anyone to Islam.
There has not been any evidence so far that he has radicalised youths or encouraged them to commit violent acts against innocent people. Indeed, he has often quoted Verse 32 of Chapter 5 of the Quran, which condemns the killing of one human being as being tantamount to killing the entire human race.
Naik has accused the Modi administration of targeting him as part of state oppression against Muslims.
The Indian authorities should at least honour his request to be interviewed through Skype.
Nafees Ahmad is an FMT reader.
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