Zakir Abdul Karim Naik was born on 18 October 1965 in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, is an Indian public speaker on the subject of Islam and comparative religion. He is the founder and president of the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), a non-profit organisation that owns the Peace TV channel based in Dubai, UAE. He is sometimes referred to as a televangelist. Before becoming a public speaker, he trained as a medical doctor. He has written two booklets on Islam and comparative religion. He is regarded as an exponent of the Salafi ideology.
He attended St. Peter’s High School in Mumbai. Later he enrolled at Kishinchand Chellaram College, before studying medicine at Topiwala National Medical College and Nair Hospital and later the University of Mumbai, where he obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS). His wife, Farhat Naik, works for the women’s section of the IRF.
In 1991 he started working in the field of Dawah, and founded the IRF. Naik says he was inspired by Ahmed Deedat, an Islamic preacher, having met him in 1987. (Naik is sometimes referred to as “Deedat plus”, a label given to him by Deedat himself.) Naik says that his goal is to “concentrate on the educated Muslim youth who have become apologetic about their own religion and have started to feel the religion is outdated”. He considers it a duty of every Muslim to remove perceived misconceptions about Islam and to counter what he views as the Western media’s anti-Islamic bias in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Naik has said that “despite the strident anti-Islam campaign, 34,000 Americans have embraced Islam from September 2001 to July 2002”. He says Islam is a religion of reason and logic, and that the Quran contains 1000 verses relating to science, which he says explains the number of Western converts. Some of his articles are published in magazines such as Islamic Voice.
Naik is the founder of the Islamic International School in Mumbai.
Naik has held many debates and lectures around the world. Anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen has written that Naik’s style of memorising the Quran and Hadith literature in various languages, and his related missionary activity, has made him extremely popular in Muslim circles. Many of his debates are recorded and widely distributed in video and DVD media and online. His talks are usually recorded in English and broadcast on weekends on several cable networks in Mumbai’s Muslim neighbourhoods, and on the Peace TV channel, which he co-produces. Topics he speaks on include: “Islam and Modern Science”, “Islam and Christianity”, and “Islam and secularism”.
One of Naik’s most-cited debates was with William Campbell in Chicago in April 2000, on the topic of “The Qur’an and the Bible: In the Light of Science”. On 21 January 2006 Naik held an inter-religious dialogue with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Bangalore about the concept of God in Islam and Hinduism. In February 2011 Naik addressed the Oxford Union via video link from India. Every year since November 2007 Naik has led a 10-day Peace Conference at Somaiya Ground, Sion, Mumbai. Lectures on Islam have been presented by Naik and twenty other Islamic speakers.
Naik argues that scientific theories were prophesised by the Quran. For example, he says certain verses of the Quran accurately describe embryological development.
Naik has said that the theory of evolution is “only a hypothesis, and an unproven conjecture at best”. According to Naik, most scientists “support the theory, because it went against the Bible – not because it was true.”
Naik has said that not all Muslims who convert from Islam should necessarily receive death sentences, but that those who leave Islam and then “propagate the non-Islamic faith and speak against Islam” should be put to death.
Naik’s views and statements on terrorism have at times been criticised in the media. In a YouTube video, speaking of Osama bin Laden, Naik said that he would not criticise bin Laden because he had not met him and did not know him personally. He added that, “If bin Laden is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him,” and that “If he is terrorizing America – the terrorist, biggest terrorist – I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorizing the terrorist, he is following Islam. Whether he is or not, I don’t know, but you as Muslims know that, without checking up, laying allegations is also wrong.” When Time hinted that this remark could have inspired Najibullah Zazi’s terrorist activities, Naik insisted: “I have always condemned terrorism, because according to the glorious Koran, if you kill one innocent person, then you have killed the whole of humanity”.
In 2010, Naik said that he had been quoted out of context regarding the remarks on terrorism. “As far as terrorist is concerned,” he said, “I tell the Muslims that every Muslim should be a terrorist. … What is the meaning of the word terrorist? Terrorist by definition means a person who terrorises. So in this context every Muslim should be a terrorist to each and every anti-social element. I’m aware that terrorist is more commonly used for a person who terrorises innocent human beings. So in this context no Muslim should ever terrorise a single innocent human being.”
In a lecture delivered on 31 July 2008 on Peace TV, Naik commented on the attacks of 11 September: “it is a blatant, open secret that this attack on the Twin Towers was done by George Bush himself”.
Naik says that propagation of other religions within an Islamic state is forbidden while he appreciates people of other religions allowing Muslims to freely propagate Islam in their country. Naik explains this by saying that, for example, mathematics teachers must teach that 2+2=4 and not 2+2=3 or 5. Likewise, Naik argues, “regarding building of churches or temples, how can we allow this when their religion is wrong and when their worshipping is wrong?”
In 2004 Naik, at the invitation of the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia, made an appearance at Melbourne University, where he argued that only Islam gave women true equality. He said the more “revealing Western dress” makes women more susceptible to rape. Sushi Das of The Age commented that “Naik extolled the moral and spiritual superiority of Islam and lampooned other faiths and the West in general”, further criticising that Naik’s words “fostered a spirit of separateness and reinforced prejudice”.
In August 2006 Naik’s visit and conference in Cardiff caused controversy when Welsh MP David Davies called for his appearance to be cancelled. He said Naik was a “hate-monger”, and that his views did not deserve a public platform; Muslims from Cardiff, however, defended Naik’s right to speak in the city. Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales, disagreed with Davies, stating that “people who know about him know that he is one of the most uncontroversial persons you could find. He talks about the similarities between religions, and how should we work on the common ground between them”, whilst also inviting Davies to discuss further with Naik personally in the conference. The conference went ahead, after the Cardiff council stated it was satisfied that he would not be preaching extremist views.
Naik was denied entry into the United Kingdom and Canada in June 2010. He was banned from entering the UK by Home Secretary Theresa May after arranging to give talks in London and Sheffield. May said of the exclusion order, “Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour”. Naik argued that the Home Secretary was making a political decision and not a legal one, and his lawyer said the decision was “barbaric and inhuman”. He also claimed that his comments were taken out of context. Film producer Mahesh Bhatt supported Naik, saying the ban constituted an attack on freedom of speech. It was reported that Naik would attempt to challenge the ruling in the High Court. His application for judicial review was dismissed on 5 November 2010. Naik was forbidden from entering Canada after Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, warned MPs of Naik’s views.
Naik delivered five lectures in Malaysia during 2012. The lectures took place in Johor Baru, Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, Penang, Kuantan and Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, prominent figures and several thousand people attended the lectures at different places despite protest by the members of a banned group, HINDRAF. The organizers of Naik’s speeches said their purpose was to promote harmony among people of various religions.
Naik was ranked 89 on The Indian Express’s list of the “100 Most Powerful Indians in 2010”. He was ranked 82 in the 2009 edition. According to Praveen Swami, Naik is “perhaps the most influential Salafi ideologue in India”. Sanjiv Buttoo says he is acknowledged as an authority on Islam, but is known for making negative remarks about other religions. Sadanand Dhume writes that Naik has a “carefully crafted image of moderation”, because of his gentle demeanor, his wearing of a suit and tie, and his quoting of scriptures of other religions. He is also listed in the book “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” under honourable mention, in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 editions. In July 2013, Naik was named as the Islamic Personality of the Year, announced by the 17th Dubai International Holy Quran Award (DIHQA).
In The Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume criticised Naik for recommending the death penalty for homosexuals and for apostasy from the faith. He also criticised him for calling for India to be ruled by Shariah law. He added that, according to Naik, Jews “control America” and are the “strongest in enmity to Muslims.” He maintained that Naik supports a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands as well as the Taliban’s bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Dhume argues that people reportedly drawn to Naik’s message include Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American arrested for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway; Rahil Sheikh, accused of involvement in a series of train bombings in Bombay in 2006; and Kafeel Ahmed, the Bangalore man fatally injured in a failed suicide attack on Glasgow airport in 2007. He concluded that unless Indians find the ability to criticise such a radical Islamic preacher as robustly as they would a Hindu equivalent, the idea of Indian secularism would remain deeply flawed.
The Times of India published a profile of Naik entitled “The controversial preacher” after he was banned from the United Kingdom. According to The Times, “the fact is that barring the band of Muslims whose bruised egos Naik suitably massages through his Islam supremacist talks, most rational Muslims and non-Muslims find his brand of Islam a travesty of the faith”. The Times also claimed that “the Wahabi-Salafist brand of Islam, bankrolled by petro-rich Saudi Arabia and propagated by preachers like Naik, does not appreciate the idea of pluralism”. The article quotes Muslim scholar Wahiduddin Khan: “Dawah, which Naik also claims to be engaged in, is to make people aware of the creation plan of God, not to peddle some provocative, dubious ideas as Naik does”. He adds: “The wave of Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11 and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have only added to the Muslims’ sense of injury. In such a situation, when a debater like Zakir Naik, in eloquent English, takes on preachers of other faiths and defeats them during debates, the Muslims’ chests puff with pride. A community nursing a huge sense of betrayal and injustice naturally lionises anyone who gives it a sense of pride. Never mind if it’s false pride”.
Indian journalist Khushwant Singh says he “disagree with almost everything has to say about misconceptions about Islam”. Singh argues that Naik’s pronouncements are “juvenile”, and said “they seldom rise above the level of undergraduate college debates, where contestants vie with each other to score brownie points”. Singh also says Naik’s audiences “listen to him with rapt attention and often explode in enthusiastic applause when he rubbishes other religious texts”.
Torkel Brekke, a professor of religious history in Norway, calls Naik a “very controversial figure” because of his rhetorical attack on other religions and other varieties of Islam. He writes that Naik is “strongly disliked” by many members of the Indian ulema for ignoring their authority and stating that anybody can interpret the Quran. Conservative Deobandi mullahs have accused Naik of “destroying Islam” by driving Muslims away from the correct religious authorities.
Khaled Ahmed criticised Naik for “indirectly support” Al-Qaeda by referring to Osama bin Laden as a “soldier of Islam”. In 2008 an Islamic scholar in Lucknow, shahar qazi Mufti Abul Irfan Mian Firangi Mahali, issued a fatwa against Naik, saying that he supported Osama bin Laden, and that his teachings were un-Islamic.
Praveen Swami considers Naik to be a part of the ideological infrastructure created to feed “Tempered Jihad”, which he defines as Jihad calibrated to advance Islamist political objectives. Swami argued that some of Naik’s teachings are similar to those of organizations advocating violence, although Naik himself emphatically rejects terrorism. According to Swami, Naik’s IRF has proved to be a “magnet” for figures linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, while his message has mesmerised violent Islamists, and his works “help make sense of the motivations of Indian recruits to the jihad.”