He insists he has never uttered a blasphemous word. But a large number of Muslims across the country, both Shia and Sunni, say he has, and want Dr Zakir Naik expelled from the community.
Dr Naik, 43, a Mumbai-based practising doctor and president of the Islamic Research Foundation, has been a controversial figure for Muslim theologians for long. But he shot into prominence only recently when, at the urging of local ulema, the Uttar Pradesh government on October 30, barred him from addressing meetings in Allahabad, Kanpur and Lucknow. Since then arguments, both against him and in his favour, have been raging in the Urdu press.
“I do not consider him a Muslim,” said Maulana Hashim Kachauchwi, a respected Sunni scholar in Lucknow, on Saturday.
“The campaign against Dr Naik is politically motivated,” declared Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahli, the Naib Imam of Lucknow’s Idgah.
What exactly has Dr Naik said that has riled some Muslims so much? For one, he is accused of openly praising Osama bin Laden in his speeches.
“The Quran says it is important to crosscheck all information,” Dr Naik countered. “I would say the person who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York was a terrorist. But did Osama? I don’t know. I don’t know if he is good or bad.”
“He has repeatedly said that Muslims should not in their prayers seek favours from the Prophet, but only from Allah himself,” said a Lucknow scholar who did not want to be named. “He has claimed that the Prophet died centuries ago, and no dead man can bestow favours. This is blasphemous for both Shias and Sunnis who maintain that the very utterance of the La Ilaha expression in the present tense (‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet’) implies that the Prophet can never die.”
“I don’t know why I’m being singled out,” Dr Naik told HT. “Hundreds of scholars across the world have said the same things I have.”
For Muslims the most controversial of Dr Naik’s statements, however, relate to Yazid, the quintessential villain in Muslim theology, whose army was responsible for the killing of Husain, the Prophet’s grandson, in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. At a conference in December 2007 in Mumbai he used the expression Radiallah tala anho (May Allah be pleased with him) while referring to Yazid, which outraged his audience.
“The Prophet has said, ‘If you praise someone who does not deserve praise, no matter; but if you curse someone who should not be cursed, the curse comes back to you’,” responded Dr Naik. “Thus I preferred not to curse anyone, not even Yazid.”
Muslims scholars though note that his approach comes close to that of the Wahabi sect.