Gradually, secrets about on-screen dramas of Zakir Naik are coming to the fore. Now, it is being alleged that he staged-managed drama of conversion of a girl to Islam during one of his programmes. It is alleged that this was highlighted on youtube to project him as a great Muslim scholar.
Meanwhile, scholars have said that Zakir Naik, a gentle, rockstar televangelist, is dangerous as young Muslims may be swayed by his fundamentalist interpretations of Islam and justify victimhood and extremism. His Osama kind of equivocation underlines what is wrong and dangerous with him.
Besides the ancient stupidities he repeatedly supports, like the ‘Islamic’ way of punishing your wife, with ‘light beatings as if with a toothbrush’ or ruling that Muslim tombs are un-Islamic, his modern facade, quote-a-verse-every-three-sentences rhetoric represents a deep, conservative, scriptural view of Islam.
And while his method looks non-threatening and amiable, he is dangerous in how he can play with genuinely inquisitive, innocent minds.
An innocent, young Muslim mind could easily extrapolate his fundamentalist interpretations of Islam to justify the more extreme alternatives and methods. No surprise, therefore, if some of the Bangladeshi terrorists were his followers.
His language, easy smiling manner, prolific quotations from the Quran as well as the Bhagwad Gita, Upanishads and the Bible, his inclination to take all questions at his congregations — even from Christians, Hindus and atheists — set him apart from the stereotype of a maulana.
He wore a suit and tie, spoke measured sentences in fast-paced English and although his loose, relatively sparse beard and skullcap marked him out as a devout Muslim, little else in his demeanour did. I reached his people through one of my colleagues and they welcomed the idea with some enthusiasm that he and I record an interview together. Which we did in March 2009.
Naik does not have an official or religious title. He objected, on camera, to being described as a maulvi or a maulana. To be described as a rockstar of tele-evangelism (whatever my views on any religious evangelists) he not only didn’t mind, but accepted most gleefully.