We all swear by the value and power of words; they can mend or inflict the gravest of the wounds. Words can move the crowd to tears or to anger; they can provoke to take lives or grant them; they can mend a dying relationship or kill a happy one. We are never fully acquitted with the power of words. Well, for starters, it was the power of words that raised the debate for intolerance and gave many definitions to nationalism in our country, wasn’t it?
However, in some cases they tend to wrongfully ‘inspire’ people forth a cause that is demeaning and brutal from the start. A probe has been ordered against the Mumbai-based Islamic preacher and scholar, Dr Zakir Naik, after reports emerged in Bangladeshi media that two of the Dhaka café attackers had been inspired by Naik’s speeches to carry out the attack. Following the report, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a legal probe against him and also asked the police to monitor his funding, properties and operations that have led to him telecasting his speeches, not just across India but across the world.
The news channels in India have called for a ban on Naik for allegedly inspiring extremists. Naik’s conservative Salafist ideology and anti-rationalist approach make him an unpopular personality in the liberal sections of a constitutionally secular India.
However, can inspiration be a stakeholder?
He has been banned from entering Britain and Canada in 2010 for few unacceptable comments. He garnered a lot of controversy for supporting Osama Bin Laden for his activities in the States, and further fueling the American hatred and violence, asking every “Muslim to fight against the terrorism that has been spread by the biggest propagator- United States of America.” Also, he has constantly denounced the killings of innocent and the workings of the Islamic State, and has also had many fatwas issued due to his modernity in clothes and in very rare cases, thoughts too.
For what I know, and have read of him, he is a preacher who essentially is an expert on comparing religions, he would demean other religions for establishing the supremacy and righteousness of Islam. He has a lot of followers on various social media handles, which is usually comprised of educated middle-class or urban Muslims. Ask him about Islam teaching violence and he would quote from the Bhagavad Gita and Testament; about polygamy and he would cite example of Lord Rama’s father; about status of women, and he would go on to “prove” that Islam was the “most scientific religion”- hence an expert on comparing religions. In an era of globalization and Islamophobia, Naik managed to glorify Islam that is not just known for its violence and terrorism. He refuted the allegations of the Islamophobia Islam suffered and still suffers under, and thus enjoys a cult following.
He does indulge in unwanted mockery, and few controversial statements now and then, but to be honest, which representative of any religion doesn’t?
Our constitution promises freedom to express one’s thought unabashedly, however, in times as sensitive as these, it is imperative to bring forth narratives that focus on the tenets of Islam that highlight tolerance, brotherhood, compassion, and kindness. To simply curb the voice of few controversial leaders, will further incite the intolerance debate that grips us every fortnight. However, misusing the fundamental right, is something that should be thwarted by every preacher in the world.
Notwithstanding Naik’s right to preach as per his beliefs, there is no excuse for any text — written or verbal — that can be construed as the glorification of violence against people of any faith or nationality. And glorification of ‘jihad’ against innocent people is the red line that must not be crossed for anything. There is nothing in Islam that teaches, encourages, condones and rewards such an act.
There is a thin line between ‘inspiration’ and actual ‘propagation’ of thoughts, and such lines, as long as it remains refined, the better it is.
With preaching of words, comes a bigger responsibility, a responsibility of making sure that the herd following you doesn’t get encouraged for causes that weren’t supposed to be adhered to in the first place. This is exactly what has happened to Zakir Naik. Indulging in word play, is indeed, a twisting game, isn’t it?