The Looney Tunes of Zakir Naik


The Looney Tunes of Zakir Naik

It started a month ago, when I clicked on a video of Richard Dawkins ripping a bunch of shady “religious scholars” a new one while being cheered on by a crowd of atheists. Somehow, a few hours later (YouTube’s autoplay is an amazing thing), I was watching someone named Dr Zakir Naik, extolling the values of his religion with a big grin plastered on his face. Out of curiosity, I fell deeper into the YouTube hole, and ended up watching nearly all of Naik’s videos – during which he discusses everything from his views on women, to the fallacy of the Bible, to how “Charles Darwin is just a theory”.

As a non-religious person with great interest in people acting like idiots, I’ve watched someone called Nirmal Baba advising a man to go play Ludo with his children so he can get “kripa”, a US-based Christian televangelist yelling “money cometh to me NOW!”, and Dr Naik claiming Muslims are more Christian than Christians themselves. It’s a testament to my belief in the plurality of comedy, really.

Today, the televangelist is facing charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act after allegations emerged in 2016 that his sermons on his Peace TV was one of the reason behind the Dhaka restaurant attack, which left 22 people dead.

When the allegations first emerged, the report had led to several questioning why Naik hadn’t been arrested yet (by Muslim clerics as well). Bangladesh had already banned Peace TV, and Canada and the UK had banned Naik from entering their countries.

Back then, Arnab Goswami, who was an anchor at Times Now was the worst affected by Zakir Naik. He burst a few blood vessels trying to get someone on his channel to take Naik’s side, so he could rub in their faces a hate speech of his own. But for the first time ever, the Nation’s Collective Shouting Conscience found a panel united with his views. Miraculously, the debate still went on for a whole hour.

Zakir Naik is a man who claims a quarter of his followers on Facebook as well as attendees at his lectures comprise non-Muslims, but at the same time openly mocks the Bible and points out scientific inaccuracies in the Bhagwad Gita. He has the manic ability to state a known fact and then ask a vague question like, “Is it true or not? We will never know.”

Take his views on Charles Darwin for instance. Naik has a beautiful argument against Darwin’s theory of evolution. Why won’t he believe it? Because, “dear brothers, Charles Darwin’s evolution is still only a theory”. How does he back up this claim? Because, “dear brothers”, there is no proof that the animals on the “keletropist” island (he means Galapagos) behaved the way brother Darwin said they did.

Zakir Naik is so fond of being wrong about things, there’s an actual video on YouTube of somebody pointing out a whopping 25 mistakes he makes in five minutes of speech. At the end of this video, he claims Galileo was sentenced to death (he wasn’t) and Homo sapiens went extinct years ago (clearly we haven’t). Then, to back these claims up, he names a string of imaginary people with names like Ruperts Albert, Sir Frank Salosbury, and (incredibly) Sir Whitemeat.

Trying to understand Islam through the eyes of Zakir Naik, is like trying to understand the concept of love on Tinder. At lectures, he says, non-Muslims are encouraged to be the first to ask questions, which may as well be true. But in response to these questions, he bombards them with random verses of the Quran, the Gita, and the Bible, all off the top of his head, with no notes or prompts.

He tries his best to convert every person who attends his speeches, but most times fails spectacularly. Still, he goes about unfazed, trying his best.

His views on Islam’s stance on women are pretty confusing. He doesn’t believe women are subjugated. When asked why women aren’t allowed to divorce men, he replies because the woman is on the “receiving side of marriage”. “Under normal circumstances, the man has been given authority to divorce his wife. Why? Because in marriage, the person who is the loser is the man, not the woman.” He then quotes a verse in the Quran that says women should be given a gift (Mahr) when they’re getting married. Using the verse he comes to the wholly logical conclusion that if the woman was given the right to divorce, she could remarry, and hence “keep on getting money”. Whereas the man would have to continue paying Mahr. “So who is the loser? The man.”

Despite the complete lack of cohesion in his answers, though, he always starts his replies with the charming, “Brother always asks good, intellectual questions.” Combine this with his confidence, big smile and ability to ridicule anyone else with ease, and you’ll see how he’s quickly achieved Top Cleric status among his several fans.

One thing I don’t fully understand is how anyone could possibly get “radicalised” by this person, despite his amazing oratory skills and seemingly off-the-cuff arguments. He tries his best to convert every person who attends his speeches, but most times fails spectacularly. Still, he goes about unfazed, trying his best. Yes he has bad things to say about other religions, but considering how informed most of his other opinion is, should we really take it this seriously?

In my mind, Zakir Naik’s speeches are about as dangerous as Elmer Fudd is to Bugs Bunny. He could provoke some fear, but most of the time, he’s just being silly. Occasionally Elmer Fudd would drop his shotgun and injure an animal by accident. But could we really blame him for that?