Something good is happening in the Muslim world. A man with a half-Muslim parentage will soon take oath as the American President. The Malegaon blasts are being fairly investigated. Recently, Muslim scholars, activists and clerics got together and issued fatwas delinking Islam with terror. An 18-coach Sheikh-ul-Hind Express from Deoband carrying 2,000 clerics set out on a journey with a message of peace and integration. Some 6,000 clerics from 21 states met in Hyderabad to issue more fatwas against terror activities. From shock and denial modes, the Indian Muslim community has begun to introspect and take positive steps.
Now, a collective body of Muslim clerics has taken another commendable step by denouncing televangelist Zakir Naik’s speeches and demanding a ban on them. Popular Muslim resentment against Naik became evident last December when he used the phrase, “May God be pleased with him”, for Yezid, the debauch ruler and murderer of Imam Hussain; the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson who was martyred at the battle of Kerbala. Throughout Islamic history, these particular words have been used only for the Prophet’s trusted companions. Anger has now peaked with Naik declaring that praying to Prophet Mohammed and seeking his intercession with God is heresy.
I have been particularly disturbed by the growing popularity of Naik, founder of Peace TV and president of the Islamic Research Foundation. Naik is not an Islamic scholar or a cleric and can best be described as a preacher famous for his computer-like memory of almost all religious scriptures like the Bible, the Vedas and the Quran.
A doctor by training and inspired by the late India-born South African evangelist Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, Naik loves to debate with Hindus on the Vedas, with Jains about vegetarianism and atheists on religion and science. In the garb of inter-faith dialogues, he not only runs down all major religions, but also rubbishes as haraam (sinful) all Muslim devotional aspects that differ from his viewpoint.
In the subcontinent, Islam is the legacy of the Sufis who gave us traditions of syncretism and communal harmony. By condemning Sufi followers as “grave worshippers”, Salafi and Wahabi ideology-inspired speakers such as Naik reject an entire historical body of Islamic scholarship, jurisprudence and almost 80 per cent of Islamic literature. Naik is on record saying, “If Osama bin Laden is terrorising America or the enemies of Islam, every Muslim should become a terrorist.” Excerpts of this video are circulating on the internet, damaging the already wounded perception of Islam and its followers.
Social injustices cannot be used as a theme to create havoc and destruction in society. However, some rabid ideologues continue providing fuel to Muslim animosity by overturning the spirituality of Islam into a rationalised discourse leading to pragmatic political activism. If Muslims insist that Hindutva ideologues be quietened, we must do the same with Muslim radicals. Dialogue within the Muslim community on what form the rightful Islamic traditions should be has long been overdue. Thankfully, Muslims are now alert, identifying and rejecting intolerant elements within their own people.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based actor and commentator.