Of late, while watching TV I have come across a channel called “Peace TV”. The star performer is one Dr Zakir Naik, probably from Maharashtra. However, the address depicted on the channel is the Islamic Research Foundation based in Birmingham, U.K. This channel portends to propagate peace by promoting Islamic values. It seeks to portray the supremacy of Islam, and the scientific / rational nature of the Holy Quran Sharif. It also studies comparative religion, with references to Christian and Hindu scriptures and scholars. Apparently quite innocuous. Not really.
I have carefully observed Dr. Naik’s programmes and have grave reservations about the style, content and purpose. Peace is a misnomer for his show; because he is constantly deriding and belittling Christian beliefs, doctrines and its scriptures. Since my knowledge of Hindu scriptures is rather limited I consider myself incompetent to comment on his approach to Hinduism. I would, however, hazard a guess that Naik will tread carefully when talking about Hinduism, because he cannot afford to antagonise the majority community in India. He would not be able to face the flak from the Bajrang Dal, VHP or even Raj Thackeray. So the soft target in India is the Christian community. He seeks to exalt Islam by deriding Christianity.
Let us first examine the content of Naik’s teaching. We have no quarrel in his expounding the virtues of Islam and Islamic scriptures. The problem arises when he begins quoting from the Bible, with chapter and verse. He picks and chooses texts that suit his trend of thought. He then goes on to “prove” that Jesus never claimed divinity, or that there is no reference to the Holy Trinity in the Bible. He quotes various anomalies in the Old Testament to prove its inaccuracies, thereby deducing that the Bible is unreliable and therefore cannot be the Word of God. He quotes from Genesis and God “resting on the seventh day”, and wondering what kind of a “God” is this, that gets tired and needs a rest!
An average biblical scholar would easily answer these allegations/ half truths, if he got the chance. But no such chance is afforded to Christian scholars of repute, by Peace TV. Naik also made a startling claim that Christian organisations/ evangelists have tons of money for evangelisation, and they are well trained in the art of communication, body language, etc! I wonder if Naik ever heard a sonorous Sunday sermon in our churches?
Another dangerous trend is Naik’s attitude to civil law. He advises Muslims in India not to have a court marriage, as by so doing this would be subjugating Muslim Personal Law to civil law. This is a dangerous mindset. Perhaps Naik is unaware that Goa, which inherited Portuguese laws, as against British in the rest of India, has a uniform civil code. Accordingly, all marriages – be they Christian, Hindu or Muslim, have to first be registered in the civil courts, before any religious ceremony can take place.
Naik selectively chooses texts to suit his line of thought. “To choose” in Greek is hairein, which is the root for the English word “heresy”. One who chooses conveniently is propounding heresy, which is what Naik is doing vis-à-vis Christianity.
What of Naik’s style? Peace TV shows him addressing vast audiences sitting in rapt attention. The settings seem Indian, but Naik always talks in English! Why? How many Indian Muslim masses in his audiences would understand English? So why does Naik talk in English? Who then is the real target of his Peace TV broadcast? Something to think about. Another amazing thing is that Naik quotes chapter and verse, not just from the Holy Quran Sharif, but even from the Bible and Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita, etc. Somebody from his audience asks a random question and Naik has the answer at the tip of his fingers; chapter and verse! Either the questions are stage managed, or the broadcast is slickly edited to portray Naik as a superhuman brain that can quote ad verbatim from various scriptures. As he speaks the text with chapter and verse appears as a sub-title on the TV screen. Gullible audiences just lap this up.
So what is Naik really aiming at? The supremacy of Islam, at the cost of other religions. His constant appeals for “zakat” and donations to his accounts in the U,K, also indicate that lots of money is involved. Running an international TV channel on prime time, devoid of advertising revenue, obviously costs a packet. Even the behemoth Catholic Church does not have such a set up. None of the preachers on GOD, Miracle, Astha or Sanskar channels can match Naik and Peace TV for techno-savvy wizardry and audio-visual effects. Naik is master of his medium.
But somewhere the bubble must burst. Naik was to address a gathering in Allahabad recently. But Shia and Barelvi Muslims protested, and Naik’s meeting was cancelled. It was to be rescheduled in Kanpur (my hometown) but again the aforesaid sections of Muslims protested, and the Government refused permission for Naik’s programme, citing a law and order problem.
For those not familiar with Islamic groups, the Shias are a breakaway group of Muslims, who are relatively progressive in outlook. The Barelvis are Sunni Muslims with their religious headquarters in Bareilly in UP. They are also a moderate group that have adopted Indian/ Hindu customs like burning incense and praying for the dead. Naik seems to belong to the Wahabee group that rules Saudi Arabia. (Remember that Churches cannot be built there, nor can one take a Bible, rosary or Christmas card there. They are so intolerant of “others”). In India the Deobandis are akin to the Arabian Wahabees. Deoband is a small town in Saharanpur district, also in U.P. It is from Deoband that strange fatwas emanate; like a woman raped by her own father-in-law being told that her husband has now become her son!
In view of the above, Christians in India should not allow Naik’s pyrotechnics to go unchallenged. I have already written a strong letter of protest to him at his email ID email@example.com. I have requested the AICU leadership to take up the matter with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. I hope that the CBCI will also act accordingly. In fact I am amazed at how ignorant and lackadaisical our current crop of leaders is. May I request whoever reads this article to please watch “Peace TV” to ascertain the truth of what I am saying. Thereafter readers should express their views to Naik at the aforesaid email ID. A copy may please be marked to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Peace TV” is a grave matter. Let us address it before we find ourselves in the grave, with or without peace.
* The author (chhotebhai) is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union (AICU)