Why a Saudi award for televangelist Zakir Naik is bad news for India’s Muslims

Scroll.In: Of the thousands of videos featuring superstar Muslim televangelist, Zakir Naik, a particularly interesting one is where he talks about another superstar, Shah Rukh Khan. On a set which looks like a cross between that off a late-night talk show and a 1980s discotheque, Naik speaks rather admiringly of his fellow Mumbaikar. But, a questioner asks him, isn’t Khan a non-believer? Naik, benignly says he doesn’t know: you see, he doesn’t go by hearsay; however, Khan’s views, he maintains, are more in consonance with the “true” teachings of Islam than many so-called believers.

To hold up Shah Rukh Khan – who openly claims he does not read thenamaaz five times a day, has married a non-Muslim and entertains people on screen for a living – as a model Muslim, seems a rather liberal thing to do. Another video shows Naik warn against using public disorder and killing of innocents to protest blasphemy. “Is there death in Islam for apostasy?” asks another person from the Maldives (Naik’s reach is truly global). “No,” answers Naik, even if you can see him getting a bit flustered. Naik’s views on triple talaaq are more liberal than the Indian state’s: he discourages it. Naik encourages inter-faith dialogue: he frequently quotes from non-Islamic scripture and debates with evangelists from other faiths.

Cracks begin to show

It is easy to get mesmerised by Naik and his elephantine memory – he quotes from religious texts almost at will. He’s preaching not in a kurta-pajaama but a suit and uses machine gun English, not Urdu. It’s all very impressive, frankly and he puts on quite a show. But then showmanship is part of the core skill-set of a televangelist. Peer closer and you’ll begin to see the cracks.

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