Why Naik should be stopped: An Islamic theological perspective

This article seeks to highlight Dr Zakir Naik’s violations of Sunni orthodoxy, and to request that Islamic religious authorities and the Malaysian government take the steps necessary to deal with preachers who foment confusion and schisms.

It will show that Naik is a relapsed heretic whose words should not be relied on, and a deviant schismatic who is not to be believed in any statements he may make.

This is a response to the accumulating harm caused by Naik’s speeches and/or actions over several years, which have given rise to one of the worst socio-religio-political crises in the history of Malaysia Baru.

For the doctrinal delict of heresy to be committed, two things must occur: the person in question must violate or repudiate, by public words and/or actions, some divinely revealed truth of the Sunni dogma that must be believed with the assent of divine and sound faith; and this violation or repudiation must be pertinacious, that is, it must be made with the knowledge that the truth being infringed or repudiated has been taught by the Sunni orthodoxy as a divinely revealed truth which must be believed with the assent of faith, and the infringement or denial must be persistent.

The two relied upon and authoritative sources for fatwa in the Sunni-Shafi’ite teachings are Imams Muhammad Al-Ramli’s Nihayah Al-Muhtaj and Ibn Hajar’s Tuhfah Al-Muhtaj.

In both, Sunni Islam is defined as those who uphold the creed of Prophet Muhammad, his companions and their immediate disciples, being represented by the Imams Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari and Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi.

Ibn Hajar said: “A man of heresy is the one whose beliefs differ from the Magisterial Creed of Ahlus-Sunnah. The Magisterial Creed of Ahlus-Sunnah is the Creed of Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari, Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi and those (theologians) who followed them. One who brings forth something which is not approved by Islam becomes a man of heresy” (see his Al-Fatawa Al-Hadithiyyah).

When it comes to jurisprudential theology, orthodoxy is defined as the teachings of the four Imams: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’ie and Hanbali. One is forbidden by scholarly consensus to follow legal rulings from rites other than these, meaning in one’s personal works, let alone in giving court verdicts or fatwa to people from them, because of the untrustworthiness of the ascription of such rulings to the theologians who reportedly gave them, there being no channels of transmission that obviate the possibility of textual corruption and spurious substitution.

It is quite otherwise with the four rites whose Imams have spent themselves in scrutinising the positions of their rites, explaining what can be rigorously authenticated as the position of the scholar it was attributed to, and what cannot be.

Their theologians have thus achieved safety from textual corruption and have been able to discern the genuine from the poorly authenticated.

Ash’arite creed, the plank of Sunni orthodoxy

In the fundamentals of dogmatic theology, like all orthodox Muslim theologians, the Ash’arites interpret the mysteries of the hereafter – heaven, hell, and so forth – as literal realities, while interpreting certain doctrinal expressions referring to the attributes of Allah – His “eyes”, “hands” and the like as figurative, meaning as allusions to His omniscience, absolute power, etc.

The Quran contains many examples of figures of speech, such as: “Whoever was blind in this life shall be blind in the Hereafter, and even further astray” (Al-Isra’ 17:72), which does not refer to physical visual impairment but rather to those who choose to remain blind to all indications of guidance, who will be also blind to the way of goodness in the life to come.

In another passage, it is said: “Today, We (Allah) forget you, as you have forgotten this day of yours” (Al-Jathiyah 45:34). Here, Allah’s “forgetting” cannot be literally interpreted as a divine attribute, for Allah forgets nothing, but rather must be understood in its intended figurative sense as meaning that Allah will abandon those who reject Him to their torment.

The figurative interpretations of the Ash’arites are in general supported by compellingly similar linguistic examples, parallels, and lexical precedents drawn from the language’s long history.

Anthropomorphistic interpretations of the scriptures pertaining to Allah’s attributes as suggested by Naik in his speeches do not in effect worship the transcendent deity of Islam but rather a form like themselves, something unquestionably rejected by the Quran: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Al-Shura 42:11).

Act 505 of the Administration of Islamic Law Act 1993 [P.U. (A) 250/2002], Part III, Section 39 (1) – (Federal Territories) stipulates that Islamic legal opinions shall be made pursuant to the canonical view of the Shafiite Rite. All other states with the exception of Perlis posit the same legal framework. Therefore, any religious opinions made contrary to these provisions are unlawful and invalid and constitute an offence.

Naik, through his speeches and publications made in his name, continues to violate these precepts of law by spreading pernicious errors with regards to faith and morals. These include but are not limited to his blasphemous claim that a Muslim may invoke Allah as Shiva and Brahma, his public denunciations of a canonical Sunni Rite, his odious literal interpretations of divine attributes that necessitate anthropomorphic descriptions of the creator – making Him confined to a place, direction and/or time – his rejection of Maulid Al-Rasul and Maal-Hijrah (the birthday of Prophet Muhammad and Islamic lunar new year) as a heresy, his disparaging remarks towards Imam Shafi’i and many others.

In his speeches available on YouTube, when asked by the audience where is Allah located, Naik answered, “He is on top (of the heavens)”, etc.

By saying that “Istiwa” means “Allah is on top (of the heavens)”, or that “He is on the ‘Arsh’ (throne)”, Naik has effectually reduced Allah to a corporeal body and taught his audience that Allah is in the sky in a literal sense.

To substantiate this blasphemous belief, Naik quoted verse 2:29 of the Quran and a hadith wherein the Prophet was reported to ask a woman “Where is Allah?”, and where she replied by pointing up to the sky.

These rubrics, according to Naik, are clear indications that Allah’s location is in the sky, on top of the heavens. Naik also said the fact that Muslims lift their hands toward the sky when they make supplications supports his supposition that Allah is “on the throne”.

The Quran is clear that the creator is not bound by space and time. This is because time is finite but Allah is beyond time; He did not come into existence at some point within time. Instead, He claims that, rather than having a beginning, “He is the Beginning and the End” (Quran, 57:3).

Allah didn’t come from anywhere or anyone as He is the source of everything, and He created time. Time is not absolute; Allah is absolute.

As for “space or location”, the Islamic concept of God is that He is the creator of the physical universe in which time and space exist. This means that He is not dependent upon either one for His own existence. He transcends them. He is independent of them (Quran, 29:6).

There are many passages that bear witness to this doctrine. Surah Al-Ikhlas of the Quran is one of them. Others include verses 6:133 and 10:68.

Naik’s literal interpretation of Allah as being “on top of the heavens” contradicts two fundamentals of Islamic creed established by the Quran.

The first of these is Allah’s attribute of “not resembling created things in any way” – as He says in Al-Shura: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (42:11) – whereas if He were literally “on top of the heavens”, there would be innumerable things like unto Him in such respects as having altitude, position, direction, and so forth.

The second fundamental that it contradicts, as mentioned before, is Allah’s attribute of Ghina or “being absolutely free of need for anything created” that He affirms in numerous passages in the Quran.

It does not befit Allah’s majesty to have a corporeal entity because bodies need space and time, while Allah has absolutely no need for anything. Moreover, the literalist interpretation of “on top of the heavens” entails that the sky encompasses Allah on all sides, such that He would be smaller than it, and it would thus be greater than Allah, which is blasphemous.

Muslims lift their hands towards the heavens when they make supplications to Allah because the sky is the focal direction for supplication, not because Allah occupies that particular direction, just as the Kaabah is the focal direction of prayer without Muslims believing that Allah is in that direction.

According to Imam Al-Tabari, the word “Istiwa” in verse 2:29 denotes “height of sovereignty and power, not the height of displacement and movement to and fro” (Jami’ Al-Bayan 1/457).

The Ash’arite grammarian, Raghib Al-Isfahani said that “Istiwa” carries the meaning of “establishing dominion”, “subduing”, or “conquering” (Al-Zabidi, Taj Al-‘Arus 10/189).

As to the hadith which Naik quoted, it happened that the Prophet Muhammad asked a slave-girl the question, “Where is Allah?”, whereupon she pointed up to the sky. The problem with this hadith, despite it being recorded by Imam Muslim in his Sahih, is that it has problems of inconsistency with other narrations, according to the hadith expert Imam Al-Bayhaqi.

The fact that the hadith in question has numerous conflicting wordings can only mean that it has been transmitted according to the personal understanding of the narrators, for which reason it is inadequate to establish a point of dogma that God resides in the sky!

These are some of the reasons that Naik must not be allowed to preach about Islam. The list of heresies presented in this article is not exhaustive and will be followed by other expositions.

Nurul Haqq Shahrir holds a Masters in Islamic Jurisprudence (Jordan), Dogmatic Theology (USA), JCL Canon Law (Urbaniana), STB Sacred Theology (Urbaniana).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.