The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.
Zakir Naik, now living in self-exile in Malaysia, is an Indian televangelist and Islamic preacher who has been blamed for radicalizing young Muslims in different parts of the world through his popular lectures in which he focuses on the differences between religions.
Zakir Naik lives in Malaysia (Image: Theweek.in).
Through numerous events that are recorded and uploaded to YouTube and broadcast via cable television in different countries, Naik, who is a trained doctor, is seen to be inculcating the supremacy of Islam over other religions. In recent years, security agencies in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have said that they had arrested terror suspects who name Zakir Naik as the source of their radicalization.
The Indian government too has pressed charges against Naik for crimes such as money laundering, especially regarding his Peace TV and Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), a charity. In a recent interview with English-language Indian magazine The Week, Zakir Naik defended himself but refused to consider Osama bin Laden a terrorist. While accusing the Islamic State (ISIS) of serving the interests of Western countries, Naik did not condemn Al-Qaeda.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
"Unfortunately, In Today's Media, Jihad Is Translated As Holy War; The Translation Of The Word Holy War In Arabic Is Harbun Muqadsa, Which Is Not Mentioned... In Koran"
Question: "You talk about comparative religion. Are not religious beliefs personal?"
Zakir Naik: "[...] The reason why I compare religions is that I believe that God Almighty has sent only one way of life, only one religion. If you compare you will come to know the differences. The reason why I compare is, as Allah says in Koran, 'O People of the scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you, that we will not worship [anyone] except Allah and not associate anything with him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah'..."
Question: "Do you believe that Islam is superior to Hinduism?"
Zakir Naik: "I believe there is only one religion. If you go back to the scriptures, you will come to know that the teachings of all major religions are identical. So rather than saying which one is better, I would like people to know that which are the true teachings. That is why in my lectures I always give reference from the scriptures and then I say all the major religions say that you should worship one God, you should be truthful, you should not rob, you should not cheat. That is my basic purpose of comparative religion..."
"Jihad comes from Arabic word jadda [sic, jahada], which means to strive, to struggle. In Islamic context it means to strive and struggle against one's own evil incarnation. Jihad also means to strive and struggle to make the society better. Jihad also means to strive and struggle in the battlefield in self-defence. Jihad also means to strive and struggle against oppression. So jihad basically means to strive and struggle.
"Unfortunately, in today's media, jihad is translated as holy war. The translation of the word holy war in Arabic is harbun muqadsa, which is not mentioned anywhere in Koran or in sahi hadith [sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad]. The translation of this word jihad as holy war is a misconception. The word holy war was used by the Crusaders several centuries ago when they spread Christianity with force and killed tens of thousands of people. Today, it being used for the word jihad is totally wrong and out of context."
"Just Because The Person Who Did The Terrorist Attack Had My Videos In His House, Is It Correct To Say That I Am Inspiring Him To Become A Terrorist?"
Question: "[Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi said Zakir Naik inspired people involved in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which is why your Peace TV was banned."
Zakir Naik: "Just because the person who did the terrorist attack had my videos in his house, is it correct to say that I am inspiring him to become a terrorist? Modi should know that many prime ministers, presidents, politicians, and doctors of various countries have my DVDs. Why doesn't he say that Zakir is inspiring people to become presidents, prime ministers, and doctors?
"There are 17.3 million followers on my Facebook page and there are 17.4 million likes. There are good, bad, and ugly people among them. I cannot convince 100 percent of the people who are listening to me.
"All Muslims are fans of Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. Just because the fan got misguided and started killing innocent people, can you blame Prophet Muhammad for inspiring him to kill innocent people? Similarly, if you say Dr. Zakir Naik has inspired in his speeches, can anyone show any clip unedited or in context to prove that I have been promoting terrorism? That is the reason why Justice Manmohan Singh, in March 2019, and earlier in January 2018, told the National Investigation Agency [of India] that there was no proof that Zakir Naik was a terrorist or was promoting terrorism. Fortunately, he had seen my videos."
"There Is No Country In This World, Except India And Bangladesh, Where Peace TV Is Banned; The Government Of Sri Lanka Has Not Banned It"
Question: "Dialog and SLT, two major cable operators in Sri Lanka, have removed your channel."
Zakir Naik: "There is no country in this world, except India and Bangladesh, where Peace TV is banned. The government of Sri Lanka has not banned it as per my knowledge. What I came to know is that the cable operators in Sri Lanka have removed Peace TV. We were on Dialog platform. After they requested, we gave them permission. It was free for many years, and it has been there for more than ten years. Now they have removed us. They may be fearing that putting an Islamic channel after the attacks may bring a backlash, because most of them living in that country are non-Muslims. So, as a safety measure, they removed it. Nowhere did I read any statement that the broadcasting ministry of Sri Lanka has banned Peace TV. These are just politicians' remarks for their vote bank."
Question: "Is it a setback for Peace TV?"
Zakir Naik: "When a man is promoting peace and if you stop that peace from spreading, indirectly you are promoting terrorism. It is because of my popularity that people are following me, and that does not mean 100 percent will follow me correctly. There are bound to be 3-5 persons who may not agree with me, maybe a certain percentage does not even follow what I say. But, by banning me or Peace TV, just the same as western countries are doing when they find that a person is able to prove that Islam is a good religion, they put a label of terrorism so that Islam cannot spread. And, this is exactly what Modi is doing."
Question: "Do you feel that you have been targeted?"
Zakir Naik: "Yes. It is 100 percent (true) that I have been selectively targeted. The reason may be my popularity. Among all the preachers, not just Muslim but Hindu or Christian, (I am) the most popular and widely watched around the world. Peace TV has 100 million viewers in English, Urdu, Bangla, and Chinese. All put together 200 million. On Facebook, among all the preachers, the largest following is for me. The second reason is that many people come to the truth of Islam when I explain it to them. Most people, hearing my speech, agree that Islam is a peaceful religion. That is the reason the enemies of Islam would not like me to continue my preaching. So the best way is to put up the allegation that this person is a hate preacher, this person is spreading communal disharmony, this person is spreading terrorism.
"It is illogical. I have been called by police of various governments of different countries to give talks against terrorism, including India. I have been called several times to the National Police Academy [in southern Indian city of Hyderabad]. Why would IPS [Indian Police Service] officers call me if I am promoting terrorism? In fact, the head of counterterrorism in the UK in 2009 wanted my help to convince those Muslims who have been misguided, and today they are saying I am promoting terrorism. It's an irony."
Question: "How many times have you visited the National Academy of Police in Hyderabad?"
Zakir Naik: "I have been called to the academy twice between 2009 and 2013."
"We Gave Even Bigger Donations To Organizations Controlled By The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party Of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi]; They Never Mentioned This On The Media"
Question: "Is it because of your closeness to the Congress that the ... [Modi] government took action against you?"
Zakir Naik: "The Islamic Research Foundation [IRF] is a charitable organization. It carried out several social programs in education and health by donating money to several NGOs, hospitals and educational institutions. Under a similar program, IRF donated Rs 50 lakh [i.e., five million] to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust a few years ago, which the trust returned in July 2016 for reasons better known to them.
"People fail to realize that we gave even bigger donations to organizations controlled by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi]. They never mentioned this on the media. We gave millions of rupees to Somaiya Trust where we did conference in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. Somaiya Trust, maybe, was controlled by the BJP. But it was a charitable trust. Similarly, I gave donation to another charity organization which, maybe, was controlled by the Congress. I gave donations to charitable organizations, not to any party. I have not given a single penny to any political party."
Question: "Was the Rs 50 lakh a one-time donation?"
"Yes, it was a one-time donation. But I donated five times to BJP-controlled organizations. When they did the investigation it was the BJP government. So they gave selective information to the media that I supported the Congress."
"No Religion Whether It Is Islam, Hinduism Or Christianity, Advocates Killing Innocent Human Beings; So Technically There Is No Hindu Terrorism, No Muslim Terrorism, No Christian Terrorism"
Question: "What do you think of Sadhvi Pragya Singh, an accused in the Malegaon blast case [involving terror attack on Muslims], contesting as a BJP candidate [for the Indian Parliament]?"
Zakir Naik: "I am a student of comparative religion. According to my study, no religion whether it is Islam, Hinduism or Christianity, advocates killing innocent human beings. So technically there is no Hindu terrorism, no Muslim terrorism, no Christian terrorism. Maybe there are some misguided people within this community who may do acts which are against the religion.
"I feel most of these terrorist attacks have been engineered by politicians for their political gain. Most of them, if you hear my talk, are saying terrorism is Muslim monopoly. I said major terrorist attacks, if not all a majority of them, have been engineered by the political people for political gain...
"I don't think that the BJP government [of PM Modi] is a practising Hindu government. I know Hindus. If you ask any practising Hindu – a priest, not a political priest – he is not bothered. But they [BJP] know if they attack Islam, they will come to power and they do it. If tomorrow someone tells them if you attack Hinduism, you will come to power they will attack Hinduism. If they were practising Hindus, they would not have killed any innocent human being. Neither a practising Muslim would do that, nor a practising Christian would. They use religion as a tool for their vote bank."
"Enemies Of Islam Are Trying To Brainwash Certain Innocent Muslims Into These [ISIS-Led Terror] Acts So That Islam Can Get Maligned; And That Is What Is Happening In Sri Lanka Also"
Question: "How do you define a terrorist?"
Zakir Naik: "A terrorist is a person who terrorises an innocent human being. Today, I am being terrorised."
Question: "How do you see the U.S. actions against the Islamic State in Syria?"
Zakir Naik "Frankly, I do not believe everything the media says. How can I believe that America is going there unless I do a proper research. But I strongly believe that enemies of Islam are trying to brainwash certain innocent Muslims into these [ISIS-led terror] acts so that Islam can get maligned. And that is what is happening in Sri Lanka also. How were the bombings in Sri Lanka carried out with so much accuracy?
"Even before I heard that Muslims were involved [in the Easter attacks], I had put up a post on Facebook that I condemn it. I said whoever did it, killing innocent people is wrong. More than 200 innocent people were killed. The enemies of Islam are trying to use their money power, influence, and machinery to try and misguide certain Muslims so that Islam can be maligned."
Over 17 million people like Zakir Naik's Facebook page.
"There Is A Difference Between Banned And Excluded; Excluded Means I Am Not Allowed To Enter [The UK] And It Was For Three Years, Which Is Already Over"
Question: "Dhaka terror attackers, Sri Lanka bombers and now a Kerala youth who was recently arrested by the NIA for planning suicide attacks, all have taken the name of Zakir Naik [for radicalizing them for jihad]."
Zakir Naik: "Have they (the arrested persons) said that I told them to do the bombing? The answer is no. I challenge anyone to say that he was inspired (by me) to kill innocent people. If he is saying that then he is lying. For the NIA or Modi to say that I inspired terrorists, where is the text? He is saying Naik is banned in many countries. It is nonsense. They say I am banned in the UK. Explain the ban. There is a difference between banned and excluded. Excluded means I am not allowed to enter and it was for three years, which is already over. Even the exclusion in the UK was politically motivated.
"Banned means my literature cannot be sold or distributed, my video recording cannot go on the satellite. But there is an official channel in the UK called Peace TV. If Peace TV is creating terrorism, then how come rest of the countries are allowing it? It was there in the U.S. till now. Lately we put it off due to financial problems. So do you mean to say the U.S. is promoting terrorism? It is so illogical."
Question: "But don't you feel you own a moral responsibility [for the radicalization of Muslim youths]?"
Zakir Naik: "I don't think a single person may have done any crime because of my talks. There may be people who are on the wrong path and they have seen my lecture. After that, they might have heard other speakers also. There may be other speakers who may have influenced them to do this crime. But I don't think a single human being after hearing my lecture would have done a crime. Yes, after seeing me they may have come close to Islam, and then may be hijacked by other people. I was inspired by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat. After seeing him I saw many other speakers. In the same way, many people come close to Islam and I am aware that there are some speakers who may take a person away from the right path."
"ISIS; I Don't Consider Them To Be Islamic State; I Call Them Anti-Islamic State"
Question: "Can you name anyone who inspires terrorism?"
Zakir Naik: "ISIS. I don't consider them to be Islamic state. I call them anti-Islamic state. I feel they have been supported by some forces for their own benefit."
Question: "Have you said Osama bin Laden was not a terrorist?"
Zakir Naik: "There is one lecture of mine before 9/11 which I gave in 1998 in Singapore. This is circulating on the internet, but the date has been changed, knowing very well it was before 9/11. I had said that you cannot accuse someone of doing something without checking. Later on, when the media was laying blame on Osama bin Laden, I said I had not done research on the person. It is a rule in Islam that whenever you get information you check it up before you pass it on to a third person. This I say from day one that I do not call him a terrorist and neither do I call him a saint. I do not know."
Question: "The investigations in Sri Lanka may throw up more charges against you."
Zakir Naik: "Personally, I feel it is very common for a news channel which has to sell to say that Zakir Naik with 17.4 million followers on social media did something rather than someone who is not known. What will sell more? Sometimes, pressure also comes. India's pressure on Bangladesh worked [in getting Peace TV banned]. It may work on Sri Lanka, but it will not work on Malaysia. Here they see to it. That is the reason when the Indian government asked for me from other countries, they got zero response. They have sent this request to many countries. But because Bangladesh is dependent on India they have to agree."
"First The Target Was IRF; Now It Is Harmony Media; It Is A Company Which Produces Software For Peace TV; It Is A Business; We Are Getting Foreign Currency"
Question: "There are allegations that you have businesses in Dubai and other places."
Zakir Naik: "Is there a rule that a speaker or a preacher cannot do business? Is there a rule by the government? Our prophet was a businessman."
Question: "But isn't renunciation a way to get closer to God?"
Zakir Naik: "Renunciation of the world is not allowed in Islam. It is prohibited. Islam says I have to marry, I have to have children. If I pray full day and do nothing, I will not enter Jannat [heaven]. I have to be a good husband, good father, I have to take care of my family. But don't run after worldly things. So my lifestyle, compared to my money, is not matching. From what I earn I could own a Rolls-Royce..."
"First the target was IRF. Now it is Harmony Media. It is a company which produces software for Peace TV. It is a business. We are getting foreign currency. Now all the businesses we did from 2006 to 2016, I did not know that it was Rs. 79 crore [i.e., 790 million]. They did the calculation and termed it money laundering. But how is it money laundering? We gave them all the details..."
"I Was Inspired By Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, Who Was A Preacher; He Is A Muslim Scholar Of The Christian Bible"
Question: "There is allegation that you are mocking at Hinduism and Hindu texts."
Zakir Naik: "I am talking about facts and educating people. Mocking means I am trying to give false information. If someone says 2+2 is three, I will not agree as it is wrong. So I am correcting them."
Question: "Are you saying the only authentic scripture is the Koran?"
Zakir Naik: "William Muir was one of the staunchest critics of Islam. He was a Christian. He wrote that there was no scripture in the world which was as authentic as the Koran. Leave aside what Muslims say. Hindus say their scriptures have changed, Christians say the same. Which Muslim says the Koran has been changed? So I am quoting their scholars.
"If you go to Mahabharata, it has 8,000 shlokas [verses], then its numbers changed. An average Hindu does not know. I am educating them. But am I laughing? Some people take my clip and put laughter in the background like a comedy show, and if someone does that can you blame me? What I am saying is what hundreds of Hindu scholars have said before me. But those scholars are not famous. They are not heard by the masses. All what I speak on Hinduism or Christianity is based on their scholars not Islamic scholars. If I quote a Muslim scholar talking about the Bible, it is wrong.
"Am I telling anyone the difference between Hinduism and Islam? For citing differences, you don't even need to read the scriptures. But I talk of similarities. If I can give a lecture on similarities for two hours, I can give a lecture on difference for five hours. But I am not doing that. The first time I gave this lecture and spoke of similarities, there was a backlash from the Muslim community, that how can you say there are any similarities? I told them to listen to my speech and if you find anywhere that I have broken any law of the Koran you catch my collar. Hearing the title invoked so much anger in the Muslims rather than the Hindus, because the mass of Muslims thinks there is no similarity. After I gave the lecture, they were shocked. If a man is trying to bring two communities together, what is wrong? You asked me which religion is the best; I will say there is only one religion and that is the religion of God. The religion of submitting your will to God. How you want to call it in English, Arabic, Hindi, that is your choice of words."
Question: "Are you inspired by any preachers?"
Zakir Naik: "I was inspired by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, who was a preacher. He is a Muslim scholar of the Christian Bible. I met him for the first time in December 1987, when I was in the second year of my medical college. Before I had seen a couple of his video cassettes. But when he came to India we organized a lecture, and after meeting him I got inspired."
"I Can Only Speak About On Organization On Which I Have Done Some Research, And That Is The Islamic State; That Does Not Mean That Others Are Good"
Question: "Have you ever said India should be governed by shariah?"
Zakir Naik: "I said the world should be governed by shari'a law. If they follow it, crime will be the lowest. In which country is there maximum theft or rapes? It is America. Every few seconds there is a rape, which means the law is not good. Where is the least amount of theft? Saudi Arabia. Not that the Saudi intelligence is better than America; the law is better."
Question: "What does the Koran say about killing anyone?"
Zakir Naik: "If you kill any innocent human being, it is as though you have killed humanity. And this verse is not there in any of the scriptures, the Vedas or the Bible. So to talk about antiterrorism, the verses in the Koran will be number one. Someone asked me which religion is against terrorism, I said the Koran."
Saudi Arabia and other countries have given Naik awards.
Question: "You say certain people are using misguided elements to carry out terror acts. Who is to be blamed – the people who are misguiding or the misguided?"
Zakir Naik: "Those who are misguiding should be caught and put to death and the person who is misguided also should be put to death."
Question: "Do you blame Al-Qaeda also for terror acts?"
Zakir Naik: "I can only speak about an organization on which I have done some research, and that is the Islamic State. That does not mean that others are good. Don't get me wrong, but I have not done research."
Question: "What made you do research on the Islamic State?"
Zakir Naik: "I did some research 2-3 years ago. It was in January 2015. I have not done any thesis, but whatever little I know is that they are wrong. At that time there were many people who were saying they were right, that is why I did some research. I said I will not say anything till I know. Carrying out terrorist acts and killing people, how can they be right?"
Regarding Suicide Attacks, The "Koran Says That If Anyone Kills Any Innocent Human Being It Is As Though He Has Killed The Entire Humanity; It Is Not Only Prohibited, But Also The Second Major Sin In Islam"
Question: "What is your view on suicide attacks?"
Zakir Naik: "The Koran says 'make not your own hand the cause of your own destruction.' So suicide is totally prohibited in Islam. As far as suicide bombing is concerned, the Koran says that if anyone kills any innocent human being it is as though he has killed the entire humanity. It is not only prohibited, but also the second major sin in Islam. First [sin] is shirq, associating partners with God, where you betray him and worship somebody else. It does not make a difference to him, but it becomes the biggest sin. The second [sin] is suicide. So, besides the fact that the Koran prohibits it, I am appealing to all the Muslim youth that even if someone does something to you, you have no right to kill him. You can only catch him and give him to the law. I have said it a thousand times and I make this appeal again."
Question: "Why are Muslims taking to terror? Most acts are of Islamic terrorism?"
Zakir Naik: "It is the perception that maximum terror attacks are by Muslims and on Muslims also. I feel that the countries which are against Islam, not just western countries, are trying to malign Islam. Today, the fastest growing religion in the world is Islam. It is more than 25 percent, close to two billion people. So the first fear is of the religion growing and the second is personal benefit. We know the U.S. wanted the control over oil. There is a pact between the Gulf countries and the U.S. that the oil should be sold in dollars. If the oil is not sold in dollars, America would be on its knees. This is what Muammar Gaddafi said. I am not saying he was a very good man, but what happened to him? Saddam Hussein also said it. Not that he was a saint, but he was a better human being than George Bush.
"Just because America felt they would not be the super power, they created [the bogey of] weapons of mass destruction. Even former British prime minister Tony Blair regretted joining the U.S. in military action in Iraq in 2003. So isn't this terrorism? And Muslims are becoming scapegoats. If you look at China, the kind of torture they are inflicting on Muslims in Turkistan [Xinjiang province] is unimaginable.
"There are more than a million Muslims in concentration camps where they are forcing Chinese to marry Muslims. All inhuman acts are taking place there and I am doing a research on it. Then there is the Palestine and Rohingya issues also. If all the Muslims are able to unite, such atrocities would not take place. The problem is, each Muslim country is thinking about itself. United we will be strong. A man of truth is not afraid of losses. So I do not mind if they (the government of India) take away my properties. I am not doing it for money. God has given me so much fame and wealth which I felt I could never deserve."
"I Am A Doctor By Profession; Some People Have A Misconception That Wearing A Tie Is Not Allowed In Islam, Which Is Wrong"
Question: "Why do you wear a suit and talk in English? This does not gel with the image of a religious preacher."
Zakir Naik: "I am a man of the media. I realized that looks help in perception. Many times looks put you off. If I wear a kurta pyjama, people will feel I am a typical maulana [cleric] who has studied religion in a typical style. So I want to break that perception. I am a doctor by profession. Some people have a misconception that wearing a tie is not allowed in Islam, which is wrong. The religion says grow a beard, wear a cap, so I am giving a blend. Cap is not compulsory. I am bringing a bridge between the two. People who are very religious cannot criticize me; those who want a person to be modern, I am modern also. And that is the reason people accept me..."
Question: "Do you have a valid Indian passport?"
Zakir Naik: "Yes. Now every three months the Indian government says it is revoked. The fact is that many countries have offered me citizenship overnight, but I have refused because if I take it up, I'll have to give up my Indian citizenship, which I don't want to do. Many said we will give citizenship in one day. The Saudi offer was fake news. I have not got Saudi citizenship..."
Source: TheWeek.In, May 11, 2019. The original English of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.