Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik has come under a lot of scrutiny after it emerged that the terrorists who carried out the terrorist attack in Dhaka on July 1st may have been radicalisedby his preaching. Zakir Naik’s Peace TV Bangla has been banned by the Bangladeshi government as a result. Peace TV has an ubiquitous presence all over South Asia, including Pakistan.
Zakir Naik is seen as having taken over the mantle of Ahmad Deedat, a preacher who was wildly popular in the VCR age. Zakir Naik is said to be “Deedat Plus,” a title given to him by the Deedat himself. He is a ghair muqalad Salafi who has more appeal to the urban middle class Muslims than other scholars. This is because he is a medical doctor by profession who addresses his audience in heavily accented but fluent English. His biggest appeal, therefore, is amongst the Anglophone Muslims right around the world. And he is an Islamic banker pitching takaful and murabaha products to good Muslims. This relation to Islamic finance is extremely significant. I will come to it a little later.
I met Zakir Naik on his lecture tour in the US in 2000 or 2001 when he spoke at my university. His main focus then was on proving that all scientific discoveries can be found in the Holy Quran. Not knowing Zakir Naik’s background, I had gone to the lecture expecting a Muslim modernist speaking on the compatibility of science with Islam but I was sorely disappointed. It was merely a repetition and regurgitation of the same mantra one has heard from evangelical preachers i.e. science needs to catch up with religion and not vice versa.