Islam - Dr. No And The Art Of Brainwash (from TEHELKA) | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
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Islam Dr. No And The Art Of Brainwash (from TEHELKA)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

Zakir Naik’s visa has just been revoked by the UK and Canada, but he thrives on a huge fan following at home, writesRISHI MAJUMDER

AFTER SPENDING three hours with Dr Zakir Naik in a closed room, you are ready to jump out of the window. Except that there is no window. Naik, today India’s most notorious preacher, agrees to interviews in his cabin — a tiny cubbyhole in a decrepit Dongri building. Comprising narrow corridors, which you walk through sideways, and more cubbyholes, this building houses the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), founded by Naik in 1991. The IRF consists of 50-odd salaried workers — Naik loyalists who manage Peace TV, an evangelist television channel with a viewership of over a hundred million, worldwide religion conferences with lakhs in the audience, the Islamic International School, and a research foundation that provides fodder for all these.

Today, these workers bustle about the foundation’s labyrinthine corridors, halting only when they bump into one another. Naik’s visa has been revoked by both the UK and Canada, and so his talks at both London and Toronto have been cancelled. This has trebled their workload. Interviews have to be organised. Statements issued. Petitions filed. Protest meets called. IRF is going to war.

Hufeza Bharmal is Naik’s investment manager. “We know Dr Naik more as an administrative genius than an orator,” he says. Naik works for 18 hours a day, seven days a week in this office. Accounts, legalities, medical clinics, a high end school, direction, cinematography and editing — all of this is IRF business, which means it is Naik’s business.

Naik laughs, and remembers an argument with his wife Farhat: “She quoted a verse from the Quran which said nights were made for resting. So I quoted another verse, which said: ‘Blessed is he who can give up his bed for the sake of the Almighty.’” Verbal jousts such as the one Naik has with his wife and 15-year-old son are not a new pastime. As a child, his favourite sport was debates with friends in school, and relatives at home: “I would try to prove black is white and white is black.” Only, he didn’t quote holy texts then.

And that’s what makes you look desperately for that window. The Naik of today, 45 and bearded, sits impeccably dressed — in suit, tie, and skullcap. He places two cameras on both sides of the little room to record this interview in case he’s misquoted. Misquoted on what? For every question that Naik is asked — be it about his upbringing, his work or his marriage — he replies with a quotation from the scriptures — Hindu, Christian or Muslim. To hammer home the message, such quotes from scriptures adorn his office walls. And diverse religious literature, including that which he’s citing, lines up a massive cabinet behind him.

Naik’s first claim to fame was his ability to quote from different religious texts. “That’s his biggest appeal still — that he knows major religions other than Islam,” says Mushabber Bawla, a Mumbai businessman and Naik’s fan. A stammerer since he learned to speak, Naik had never dreamt of becoming a religious preacher. His father, a psychiatrist, and mother, a homemaker, were “average practicing Muslims” as he describes them. His elder brother had studied medicine too, and so Naik was set to join the family profession: “My mother wanted me to be like Christian Barnard” — the South African surgeon who performed the world’s first heart transplant. But the turning point came when he met another South African — Muslim apologist Sheikh Ahmad Deedat — in the second year of his MBBS. Inspired by the hundred-odd video cassettes of his speeches that Deedat left behind, Naik went for a higher calling.

Then came the second turning point. A year after having established IRF, Naik was organising a question answer session on the Quran for a gathering of 25, when a colleague who was to field the questions backed out. And Naik stepped in. “As a student, I was given grace marks so I could pass elocution,” he smiles. “And here I was answering every question without stammering even once.” This was Naik’s big miracle. The audiences grew — to 500, then 4,000, and finally to over a hundred million around the world. His knowledge added to his newfound oratorial skills. “But what really attracts audiences is his ability to give the exact verse and chapter for every quotation,” says Maqbool Barwelkar, the IRF public relations manager. Barwelkar is an unlikely PR manager — he constantly forgets which publication a journalist is from. And like many IRF workers, he strides about in a simple kurta and pyjama. Milling around Naik in his suit, they create a contrast that emphasises his modernity. In a fastpaced liberal South Mumbai that threatens to engulf Dongri, Zakir Naik is the Ambedkar of the orthodox Muslim.

The quotations continue to flow, and irk. They seem like a wall that Naik sets up to ward off refutations. This wall makes the small cabin crowded with two cameras even more claustrophobic. Ask Naik why he wants capital punishment for homosexuals, and he quotes from the Hadith, the Quran and the Bible. Ask him why he said it is okay for a man to beat his wife, and he quotes the Quran again: “The Quran says to beat your wife as a last resort, and to do it lightly, as if tapping her with a hanky. And you cannot leave a mark.” What about capital punishment for ex-Muslims who’ve converted? He plays with words: “There is provision for capital punishment in the Hadith — but it depends on the circumstances.”
NOT IN a single reply has Naik revealed his own beliefs: it’s all about the scriptures. What’s his viewpoint? “That Islamic law must be implemented all over the world.” Why? “It is a practical law.” What’s practical about killing homosexuals, cutting off the hands of thieves, and forcing women to wear burkhas? Naik finally cites a real-life observation: “I have been to Saudi Arabia often and I’ve barely seen anyone’s hands cut off. They respect the law. It’s a deterrent.” What if the wrong person got caught? “Allow for appeal.” Naik is convinced this will work. And capital punishment for homosexuals? “I don’t say that. The Islamic law does. The Bible does too.” The scriptures are back.

The cameras and the quotations make Naik seem mechanical, almost robotic. The only time he steps out of his rehe{censored}d expressions — seen on Peace TV so often — is when a fly enters the room. The perfectionist takes over. “We have to do something about that.” Barwelkar comes in with a Hit spray, then wonders how to avoid spraying either Naik or the interviewer. “No. Swat it.” This is Naik the micro-manager. Obsessed. Working 18 hours a day to swat every pesky fly. “The fact that I work for the Almighty gives me energy,” he says. The fly eludes Barwelkar, and shoots into the book cabinet behind Naik, emerging every once in a while to buzz threateningly above — then taking refuge among the holy texts. There is a kingdom in that cabinet, and an intruder in the kingdom.

“His talks go against the principles of Khilafat, or Islamic democracy — such as that prevalent in Iran,” says Maulana Sayed Athar Ali, president of the All India Ulema Association about Naik. “He instead seems to be a supporter of Hukumat or the Kingdom, such as that which was prevalent in Saudi Arabia.” Other Muslim leaders have spoken out against Naik too. A group of 12 Sunni ulemas under the auspices of the Raza Academy submitted a letter to the British High Commission on June 28 appreciating the denial of his entry to that country. “We do not accept him as an Islamic preacher or scholar,” they said. Some of them also question his source of funds. Fatwas were issued against Naik by the Darul Uloom Deoband and Abul Irfan Mian Firangi Mahali, one of Lucknow’s leading clerics, in 2008. This was soon after attempted terrorist attacks in Bengaluru and Glasgow. Both stressed he is not an Islamic scholar, and his teachings are unreliable.

“But I am not a scholar or cleric,” he protests. “I am a mere student of Islam, who wishes to spread its message as I learn.” Black into white. White into black. Naik’s favourite game — learnt from childhood. The UK and Canada are democracies — which is why he was able to preach there at all. Yet when they revoke his visa, they become “Christian” governments suffering from “Islamophobia”.

The Quran, or the Vedas, or the Bible, could be interpreted in many ways. But Naik projects them as homophobic, stark and stringent testaments. When asked why, he says he is quoting from a text. When told by clerics that he has no authority to do this, he quotes from the Quran to say that anyone who knows anything about Islam can spread its message. White into black. Black into white. And when he feels he’s being cornered, Naik steps into grey. As you get up and leave Zakir Naik’s den, defeated and exhausted, the only comforting thought is that someone is worse off. That fly lodged in the cabinet. It’s still trying to find a window.

Tehelka - India's Independent Weekly News Magazine


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