By G Pramod Kumar
July 18, 2016
Zakir Naik, who had been a non-entity for the majority of Indians till a few days ago, is trending for the nth day on Monday.
From the margins of TV evangelism, which might have been mainstream TV for his followers, he has been enjoying a whale of a time in the last few days -- Dhaka terror, dubious conversions and suspected ISIS enrolment in Kerala, and finally the controversy over his interview to Times Now.
In the first two, he was the villain and many Indians heard his name for the first time with circumspection or suspicion; but in the third, he became the victim of organised media persecution. After two rounds of victimhood, he seems to have played the victim-card somewhat successfully because the alleged conversations he released are circulating rather well on social media.
Some even say that they have gone viral and have been shared a lot, not just by his followers, but also by people who believe in religious freedom, free speech, and equality.
Probably, Zakir Naik knew that his victim-card would work because India is secular and it wouldn't tolerate victimising him without reason. And it did work, which is both reassuring and troubling at the same time.
What's reassuring is the continued reception and tolerance to multiple faiths in a Hindu-majority country; but what's troubling is the misuse of our idea of secularism. Secularism is not a license for hate-speech, subterfuge and propaganda of an archaic jurisprudence that's against the universal principles of rights and equality that India has officially committed to.
And secularism is not counter-weighing Islamic terror with Hindu terror. If Naik's brand of proselytizing is a problem, it cannot be nullified by highlighting the communal politics of Sangh Parivar or the inflammatory speeches of Praveen Togadia.
Seemingly, Naik talks only religion or Islamic interpretation of issues, but people who have assiduously watched him concede that he is not as harmless as he claims to be. He cunningly derides other faiths without appearing to do so and reinforces repugnantly radical ideas that Wahhabis spread. He is also an Islamic exclusivist who opportunistically feeds on the tolerance and freedom that democratic societies offer.
However, what's most abominable is that he seeks to relocate the forms of Islamic beliefs that are native to India and the rest of south Asia -- the world of pirs, Sufis, dargahs and mystic lives that still attract a lot of non-Muslims -- to 6th century Arabia. Trying to extract the active ingredient of a faith that transcended cultural barriers and got symbiotically located in our midst and re-inject it into people is serious mischief. When it's funded by external forces, it's conspiracy as well. It's conversion redux.
He may not exhort his followers to indulge in militancy because he doesn't need to -- the world is littered with examples that once you radicalise, the path of hatred and destruction will follow.
Similarly he doesn't need to call on his followers to abhor human rights, gender equality, and all the progressive ideas that the world has been painstakingly trying to embody over the last several centuries, but only needs to indoctrinate them to a life based on Sharia. This is what secularists should isolate and target. Blind radical faith consistent with nomadic lives of 6th century Arabia will be hard to live with. ISIS is the perfect example.
Had Naik been harmless, his TV evangelism wouldn't have been banned in many countries including India (during the UPA) and now Bangladesh, and countries such as UK and Canada wouldn't have denied him entry. As this report shows, Indian clerics from various streams of Islamic faiths also detest him. One of them even said that he is spreading terrorism.
Naik is a part of the Saudi Arabia-funded Wahhabi terror network, which creates scholars and clerics who in turn brainwash young Muslims.
Had he been harmless, his Bangladeshi followers wouldn't have embraced terror or some of the missing youth in Kerala wouldn't have been attracted to radicalism under his influence as their family has alleged. His project of political Islam is working. It's not harmless.
Strangely, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala defended him on Sunday and called the critical media reports against him witch-hunting. The party spokesman said that Naik was only exercising his right to free speech and propagation of religious belief. The only other place he received similar support was from Jammu and Kashmir. Looks like the defences against radical religious beliefs are strained.
It's time Indian secularists located certain distinctions. Moral conservatism is slow poison and it's always the beginning.
G Pramod Kumar Contributing Editor, HuffPost India