Zakir Naik’s colourful, controversial past
Mumbai-based Islamic preacher and televangelist Zakir Naik is in the news again, and unsurprisingly, for all the wrong reasons. According to reports in the Bangladeshi media, at least one of the perpetrators of last week’s Dhaka terror attack was “inspired by his sermons”. A Bangladesh newspaper reported that one of the attackers, Rohan Imtiaz, also the son of a Dhaka-based Awami League leader, posted material on Facebook last year quoting from Naik’s sermons.
Naik’s sermons and speeches have, since the attack, become a subject of investigation in Bangladesh, as confirmed by its information minister Hasanul Haq Inu. “Already there are complaints from the maulanas of Bangladesh that his teachings are not in line with the Quranic teachings and the Hadith,” Inu was quoted as having said by news agency Press Trust of India. “How much Naik’s teaching influenced the terrorists, that is to be investigated. We are investigating the whole matter. I also request the Indian government and information minister that they also examine the context of Naik’s teachings,” he is reported to have said.
Naik’s influence doesn’t end with the Dhaka attackers. News reports, over the past week, have also said that he is said to have inspired the chief of the Islamic State’s module in Hyderabad—Mohammad Ibrahim Yazdani. Yazdani’s journey, a Times of India report quoted a National Investigation Agency (NIA) official as saying, “to Ahle-Hadees, a puritanical strain of Islam, actually started only after listening to Naik when he was a teenager.”
Naik, according to news reports, will also be a subject of an NIA inquiry, if not investigation, upon his return to India from Mecca. “We have to scan his speeches to see if he has justified terrorism, creation of a ‘Caliphate’ through jihad or endorsed/promoted any banned terrorist outfit, including Islamic State. Any action would follow after we have gathered enough material to make a case against him that will stand in a court of law,” the Times of India quoted a government official as saying.
Minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, told reporters on Wednesday that it was a matter of law and the “agencies” were dealing with it. “Zakir Naik’s speech is a matter of concern for us. Our agencies are working on this. We will give all kinds of support in dealing with terrorism. It’s not wise on the part of a minister to make an announcement on what actions are likely to be taken.”
Naik, a 51-year-old doctor turned preacher also founded the Islamic Research Foundation or IRF, which is located in Dongri, Mumbai. He is also a noted televangelist, with a television channel he founded in 2006 to propagate Islam and its teachings. However, the channel has been banned in India since 2012, on grounds that it reportedly aired “anti-Indian” content.
Naik, on his part, has a rather controversial past, primarily because of his radical, conservative views (Wahabi, if not Salafi, views) on global issues, including terrorism. In a popular YouTube video, Naik is alleged to have taken a lenient view on Osama bin Laden, “If bin Laden is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him. If he is terrorizing America—the terrorist, biggest terrorist—I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorizing the terrorist, he is following Islam. Whether he is or not, I don’t know, but you as Muslims know that, without checking up, laying allegations is also wrong.”
Naik has repeatedly denied these statements, claiming that the said video was doctored. His widely-viewed YouTube stream, the Washington Post reported last year, had “videos titled ‘Who is deceived by the Satan, Christians or Muslims?’ or ‘Does eating non-vegetarian food have any effect on the mind?’”
He is currently banned from preaching in several countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Even Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia have banned Naik from preaching in their country. He has his share of critics within the Muslim community, who have often taken to fatwas to denounce his views. In 2012, the influential Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom in Deoband, issued a fatwa against Naik. However, that didn’t stop Saudi Arabia, from rewarding Naik with the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam in Riyadh last year. During the ceremony, Naik was hailed as “one of the most renowned non-Arabic-speaking promulgators of Islam”.
Similarly, in 2014, Naik was awarded “The Insignia of the Commander of the National Order of the Republic of The Gambia” by Gambian president Yahya Jammeh.