April 16, 2016
Malaysia: Using Zakir Naik for Politics
by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan
People who change their religion should face the death penalty.”– Zakir Naik
What do Prime Minster Najib Abdul Razak and the so-called Muslim intellectual Zakir Naik have in common? The answer is simple, contemporary and demonstrative of the reality of Islam as opposed to the assertion that it is a religion of peace. Both have received recognition by the Saudi government for “service to Islam”.
In Najib’s case, the recognition came in the form of a “donation” which was subsequently returned or was it through intermediaries or shell companies or complex financial legerdemain… I have lost track on exactly how our Prime Minister received the monies for “defending Islam” from the House of Saud.
Zakir, on the other hand, “was one of five recipients of the King Faisal International Prize from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman”. Apparently the prize is awarded to those who work in the “service of Islam”. Zakir, the well-known Indian Muslim (sic), is controversial only to those who think that his rhetoric, which is often times mendacious, hypocritical and prone to confabulations, is at odds with any kind of rationality.
If you are familiar with mainstream Islam, and I do not mean the “moderate Islam” that is propagated by Western Muslims or Muslims who reside in the West and used by middle path indigenous Muslims as political rhetoric in multi-religious societies, then what Zakir says is harmonious with what Muslims believe in most parts of the world.
However even the dissonance of how Islam is practiced here in Malaysia, would take someone like Zakir by surprise. Extremists are often surprised by the virulence of their own beliefs. Take for instance the recent approved Home Ministry ruling that “barred the publication and reading of the Muslim holy book in non-Arabic languages, saying it was against the law unless accompanied by Arabic text.”
Listen to what Harussani Zakaria, chairperson of the Home Ministry’s Al-Quran Printing, Control and Licensing Board, said – “the Quran was first written in Arabic and must be kept in that form” – asserting too that anyone who read the original scriptures would reap spiritual rewards even without understanding them.
Think about this for a minute. People like Harrussani and Zakir often remind people that they should not comment on Islam without first doing research on the religion or consulting with “religious” scholars, and here we have someone like Harussani claiming that blindly reciting religious text in a language that one is not familiar with or even comprehending, will reap, spiritual rewards.
So what kind of intellectuals, “internal” or otherwise, are they exposing young Muslims to? Is there any need for Muslim scholars or intellectuals, when according to Harussani spiritual rewards are possible without understanding or hard work but with blind recitation in a foreign tongue?
Hidayah Centre Foundation Programme Director Abu Shariz Sharajoon Hoda who organised the conference, which has received flak from the numerous Hindu/Indian (sic) groups opposed to the idea that a bigot like Zakir should be given a platform here in Malaysia, claimed “non-Muslims have opportunities to come and ask questions, and openly clear their doubts first hand… don’t have to go through speculations on social media which are untrue.”
This is quaint considering the fact that anyone with access to an internet connection can interact with Zakir through his numerous social media platforms. Furthermore, why should non-Muslims have to wait for an opportunity to clear their doubts or ask questions about Islam with this bigot? Why can’t we ask questions and engage in debate through the various media available in our so-called democratic country?
The answer is simple of course. We non-Muslims are constantly reminded that we should “not interfere” with Islam, even though Islam interferes in our lives. Malays are constantly reminded that Islam needs defending.
Not a fan of pluralism
Which is why Isma (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity) carries a comment piece, titled ‘Aren’t liberals the most hypocrite?’ (the title is amusing on various levels but I digress…), where an extremist position is used as example to propagate free speech and point to “liberal hypocrisy”.
“An interfaith dialogue by Dr Zakir Naik doesn’t set a middle ground so that a win-win situation can be achieved by all religions. As a matter of fact, he’d established Islam as the true and only religion so brilliantly that others might seem to be swayed (read: threatened) by it.
“And that’s why liberals are not so fond of him, as he doesn’t promote pluralism as most of interfaith dialogues organised by them are doing. When it doesn’t work the way that they wanted, they’ll go all out to ban it altogether and in this case, use all means to have it prevented from happening.”
Conveniently leaving out the point that if any other religious adherents, say Christians, Hindus or Buddhists, who made the same claim, would be charged with sedition, treason, insulting the monarchy and the numerous other state-sanctioned mechanism created to “defend Islam”.
Muslims who find succour in the words of Zakir, and according to the likes of Isma, Amanah and PAS, are legion, have always had a problem with free speech. Which is why Harakah can pontificate in an op-ed piece ‘Hidupkan budaya berdialog. Bukan hentam-manghentam’ and at the same time fail to acknowledge all the times that they have waged war on free speech and expression in defence of their religion.
Moreover, waging war is what the likes of Zakir and his ilk do. Zakir may run a well-received propaganda media channel mendaciously named ‘Peace TV’ but the reality is that he and his adherents understand that it is really about domination and control.
The language is there for all to see.So-called Islamic intellectuals like Isma get their knickers in a twist when the Zakir conference is banned or cancelled, retracting their claim Najib is a war general – “At a time when Muslims, who form the majority in Malaysia, are faced with numerous attacks, Najib who is supposedly the ‘war general’ remains quiet” – propagating the state-sponsored meme that Islam is under threat from the non-Muslims.
In other words, Najib is perceived as a war general against a specific racial and religious demographic that he supposedly claims to represent. All this because of a scholar, who has proven to be a demagogue, charlatan and peddler of hate.
Should Zakir be banned? We should not even have to ask this question.Anyway, anyone reading my work for Malaysiakini, would know what my answer to that question, would be.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.