Zakir Naik: More Hype than Hope for Muslims
by Muhammad Shafeeque
There is no dearth of fundamentalists who divide the masses while seeking satisfaction of personal agendas. They dedicate their efforts to undermining the secular attitudes of believers by imposing erroneous interpretations on the holy doctrines of their religion. Even today, despite the domination of secularism, we see many religious fanatics active around the globe. Zakir Naik, the controversial Islamic preacher who was alleged by the Bangladesh government to have inspired two of the five attackers in the Dhaka terrorist attack of 1 July 2016, is an obvious example of growing fundamentalism.
Zakir Naik was born in 1965 in Mumbai, and it is interesting that a man coming from within the secular Indian ethos adopted a supremacist and exclusivist ideology. He expounds his thoughts through his Dubai-based channel, 'Peace TV', and he is a supporter of Saudi Arabia based on his camouflaged preaching of the Wahhabi ideology, the state interpretation of Islam in the desert kingdom.
His brand of Quranic literalism, anti-pluralism, and puristic Wahhabism has made him one of the most notorious radical preachers today. He refused to condemn Osama bin Laden because he 'never met him', but he calls the Islamic scholars opposed to Wahhabism terrorists although he lacks personal knowledge of them.
He has a reputedly wide knowledge of Qur'an and other religious texts, often quoting holy verses from memory, to which he adds questionable commentaries. Zakir Naik is deemed innocent by many gullible Muslims who sympathize with him while ignorant of his views. Some Muslims have become inspired greatly by his da'wa [Islamic outreach].
In reality the effect of Zakir Naik's efforts is to create enemies of Islam. Credulous Muslims should study the sacred texts to enhance their understanding of the faith. Naik has caused thousands of Muslims to deviate from the path of Islam as it was followed by the greatest scholars through the centuries. He has induced numerous individuals to embrace Islam, which he mentions frequently in his publicity, but he describes millions of Muslims, including great scholars, as apostates.
In the past, eminent scholars served Islam well but also drew many believers away from the straight path. In response, other scholars warned against the fundamentalists. They declared that Ibn Taymiyya [13th-14th c. CE], who is still the focus of study by doctrinaire figures like Zakir Naik, had departed from the moderate way of Islam.
Zakir Naik has often cautioned in his discourses not to follow him, but to follow Qur'an and the authentic oral traditions [hadith] of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Naik describes himself as a student of comparative religion and as a mere human being who may be mistaken. On the basis of his alleged humility, he rejects the four established schools of Islamic law [madhahib], for which he has no respect.
He argues that we should accept anything that appears to support the holy Qur'an and the hadith. He ignores the many qualifications an individual must fulfill before he may be designated a mujtahid or interpreter of the religious texts. He does not grasp that nobody today has the depth of knowledge that the Islamic theologians of the past attained. Respected ulema (scholars) remind us that it is impossible today to find such thinkers because of the lack of texts and disappearance of knowledge.
Traditional Islam supports multiple opinions on any issue. Extremists like Naik appear with different names but mainly belong to the same sect of la-madhhabiyya [deniers of Islamic legal precedents]. In addition, celebrating the birth of our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, is a grave transgression for these ideologues and their definition of religion. Some Muslims today believe erroneously that visiting the graves of pious people (including Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) and treating them as a way to Allah, or seeking blessing through their relics, is either shirk (polytheism) or a bid'a [an unworthy innovation in religion]. They even claim that such actions were not practiced by the Companions of the Prophet or in the previous Islamic centuries.
Moreover, building structures over graves as prescribed by Islamic law, including the green dome erected above the grave of Prophet Muhammad, is a supposed bid'a as condemned by the chief innovator of the Wahhabi sect in the 20th century CE, Nasir ud-din Albani. According to the followers of Naik, the late Sufi singer Amjad Sabri was a mushrik (idolator or polytheist).
Destroying the heritage of Islam is the key goal of these genuine Islamophobes, who function within the Islamic ummah, and of which fundamentalists like Zakir Naik are woeful examples.
Zakir Naik has prepared the most dangerous trap for Muslims. Before defending him, let us study the doctrines of Islam to learn whether or not they support his and other radical tendencies.