Zakir Abdul Karim Naik (popularly known as Zakir Naik), has been recently discovered by Indian media houses. He is a trained physician turned Indian Islamic preacher. Naik is the founder and president of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). He also founded Peace TV, a television channel which is quite popular among the South Asian Muslim population. The channel has a credible viewership in the Middle-East as well.
However, he has been in the news for his controversial teachings. The primary reason of him garnering headlines recently is the Enforcement Directorate investigation that has revealed that Naik through his provocative speeches has received a host of donations from anonymous donors and diverted that money by creating dummy companies in India and abroad to camouflage the diversion of funds received by him.
There are other hosts of accusations that his radical speeches have a detrimental impact on the minds of youth and encourages them to join radical organisations. It was said that the perpetrators of the terror attack in Dhaka that took place in July 2016 were inspired by Naik’s teachings. However, later on, Naik denounced and declared the attack as ‘un-Islamic’ in nature.
But the question this article deals with is why there exists such a fascination towards the televangelist who has over 17 million followers on Facebook? It is a consensus gentium that Naik, who claims specialisation in comparative religion is one of the most persuasive Salafi ideologue in India and perhaps overseas.
Salafism in Islam is a reform movement within Sunni adjunct of Islam that developed in the Middle East in the initial half of the 18th century. The followers are strong proponents of Sharia law. In Salafism, the holy book is interpreted in its literal sense.
But, what makes the case of Zakir Naik, a ‘curious one’?
Naik, unlike the conventional religious preachers, delivers his speech in immaculate English. He wears a well-tailored formal western suit and is also tech savvy. That is just the tip of an ice berg which forms an objective reality that we see. What we don’t explicitly see is his style of delivering speeches.
We live in a world where ‘rationality’ and ‘objectivity’ have gained considerable prominence. Anything that is randomly said is usually not taken into serious consideration unless it is reinforced empirically, rationally or factually. Scientific knowledge in such a scenario has persistently challenged traditional knowledge like religion (as a system of belief) for a significant period of time. In order to legitimize this traditional knowledge, rationalisation of the same has gained momentum over time. Scientific knowledge that conventionally stood in contradiction to traditional knowledge is made to subsume into the latter. When this happens, it leads to an absolute ‘truth’ verified by science.
Zakir Naik epitomizes a unique blend of the trilogy of religion, science, and extremism. He propounds that Islam is the only true religion and other sets of beliefs are untruthful as monotheist system of belief tends to believe that their God is in the possession of the whole universe and thus often resort to violence to strengthen itself. In the video below, Naik can be found attempting to draw parallels between religion and science but has made 25 mistakes in the five-minute video. He vehemently denounces the theory of evolution as according to his beliefs that there are not enough ‘facts’ to validate the theory.
In a scenario wherein people often resort to violence, extremism breeds by citing religion and religion tries hard to seek its legitimacy through science. In an era where some religions are moving forward with changing times (like the Pope saying that Christians should apologise to gay people), certain fundamentalists are still hell bent to interpret the same texts as they were thousands of years ago.
Science has been used by these religious advocates to seek validity in a more ‘objective and scientific’ way. So whether Ganesh in Hinduism got a ‘plastic surgery’ or whether there is an inexplicable ‘science’ behind wearing a hijab, linking all this with science is a significant offense to science itself. Science proceeds through logic, analysis of data, repeatability, falsification, proof, and prediction. On the contrary, religion is a system of human norms and beliefs.
The whole idea of religion as a system of belief is one’s own but being a self-appointee of almighty and burdening oneself with the notion that entire humanity is in dire need of divine interventions and interpretations from a fellow human is problematic.