Zakir Naik, an Indian televangelist, founder of Peace TV and the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) and a man of phenomenal status in South Asia, is making a name for himself. But, unfortunately, it's because of his possible ties to inspiring terrorism.
A handful of previous terror detainees have also allegedly claimed to be motivated by him.
"More than the youth who get attracted to Daesh (terror group ISIS), it is the clerics who are responsible for spreading terrorism in the world... Naik is part of a network of such people,” says prominent Indian cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi.
Rizwan Khan and Arshid Qureshi, two of Zakir Naik’s aides, were arrested from Mumbai by the anti-terrorism squad for the conversion of around 800 people across the country.
The organization is said to have targeted mainly college students and jail inmates after providing them legal and financial help.
Qureshi is alleged to have brainwashed youngsters in Kerala and influenced them to join the ISIS. A case was registered against him after parents of one of the 15 youngsters, who went missing and were suspected to have joined the ISIS, alleged that he played a key part in their recruitment.
The Indian Express lists the following terrorists reportedly inspired by Dr. Naik as well:
- Afghan-American Najibulla Zazi: New York subway bombing plot, 2009
- Dr. Kafeel Ahmed: Glasgow 2007
- Rahil Sheikh: Mumbai serial train blasts, 2006
- Feroz Deshmukh: Aurangabad arms haul case, 2006
The first alleged connection of his teachings influencing terrorism was made in 2006 when Ahmed Sheikh, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, one of the people arrested in connection with the Aurangabad arms haul case (where 40 kg of RDX, 17 AK-47 assault rifles and 50 hand grenades were seized), turned out to be an employee of the Islamic Research Foundation, a trust Naik established in 1991 in Mumbai.
Feroz Deshmukh, another person held in the case, was also allegedly a librarian at the institute.
However, there was there wasn’t much to "link" Zakir Naik to the case.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that many of the arrested ISIS sympathizers from India claim to have been inspired by him.
According to an Indian police source, “These young men who are taken in by this idea of fighting for the caliphate get indoctrinated online and Naik’s videos are a key resource material. We suspect his videos are deliberately shared by handlers so that the potential recruits connect to him as one of their own — an Indian Muslim.”
By 2012-13 the Hindu right-wing organizations had started seeking a ban on him.
In his defense, he holds that he has been quoted “out of context”, that it is utter “misinformation” to suggest that he supported terror attacks of any kind and he was being “branded” without evidence.
So Does He Encourage Terrorism?
Naik does not specifically encourage terrorism in his lectures but his disapproval of it is never devoid of caution.
He says suicide attacks are condemnable “where innocents are targeted.” As a war tactic, well, that’s a different story, he declares.
Once, when asked whether it was OK to resort to terrorist acts on finding all doors closed to one, including those of the courts, after incidents such as Gujarat and the Mumbai riots, Naik gave a lengthy answer expressing empathy for the questioner's feelings. Anyone would feel that way, he said, "unless he had worn bangles.'' He did point out at the end though, "But you have the Quran, and the Quran prohibits the killing of innocents.''
He has also been known for his support for Osama bin Laden as one who "terrorizes the biggest terrorist, i.e. America.” In Naik's opinion, bin Laden was a policeman who terrorizes a criminal.
Also, he saw the Taliban's destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas as "educating Buddhists about their own religion.” The Buddha neither claimed to be god nor did he want his idols made.
He believes Islam is the ultimate religion and his disparaging remarks on other religions are well known. He often chides Indian Muslim businessmen for caring more for their business than for Allah (God for Muslims), because they do not try to convert their Hindu clients, for fear of losing them. Hence, they do not fulfill their Islamic duty of inviting others to Islam.
Alleged Wahabi Funding:
Most of his funding is said to come from Saudi Arabia — staunch supporters and propagators of Wahabi Islam, a radicalized version of the religion that has no room for modernity and moderation.
Former Mumbai police chief Satyapal Singh claims during his time in the Mumbai Police, he sought a ban on the IRF for contravening the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Singh alleges his report against the IRF’s funding was ignored by the then government.
"Naik gets foreign funds. How is he allowed to get so much funds under the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act). It needs to be checked from where his organization is getting funds," demands Indian cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi.
“The massive funding by Naik’s supporter, the Saudi government and other unknown sources from various nooks and crannies of the world, aim at tarnishing and defilement of the Sufi or moderate and accommodative version of Islam, basically followed in India and most of the world,” writes Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a columnist and educationist.
Demands have been made to limit and monitor foreign funding of TV shows telecasting programs such as Naik’s that could polarize and communalize society.
“Government has to initiate financial investigation of all funds coming from abroad, particularly those used for preaching like in the case of Naik. Besides, Indian Muslims need to get rid of cultural domination of the Arab Muslims, who the India Muslims consider to be superior. Indian Muslims need to say that they would follow only Indian culture and none else. Madrasa is another area that needs to be monitored, as the clerics who themselves are ill-informed, teach students to be radical and fundamental,” says defense analyst and former director of Centre for Land Warfare & Studies (Ret.) Maj. Gen. Dhruv Katoch.
According to Naik, his statement “urging all Muslims to become terrorists” has been taken out of context and that he is totally against terrorism and the killing of innocent humans.
“Many of the news channels in India are showing a clipping where I am saying that every Muslim should be a terrorist. Whenever anyone wants to malign me, they show the clipping," he holds.
“This clipping, yes it is me saying it but it is out of context. I said a terrorist is a person who terrorizes someone. I also gave an example that a policeman terrorizes a robber. So, for a robber a policeman is a terrorist. In this context, every Muslim should be a terrorist to the anti-social element,” he adds.
Despite several efforts ranging from monitoring the cyberworld to physically cracking down on terror groups, people — especially youth — are impacted by online propaganda.
People like Naik and his TV show may not propagate terrorism but it does give birth to lack of tolerance and supremacy of a certain religion or faith.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters, Shailesh Andrade