Radical Islamic Preacher Courted By Congress Who Inspired Youths To Join ISIS: Here’s All To Know About Zakir Naik
Naik is known to have spearheaded conversions to Islam and is a known preacher of the radical Wahhabi ideology
During an anti-terror conference on Monday (14 October), a top official of National Investigation Agency (NIA), Alok Mittal, said that majority of the 130-odd people arrested by security agencies in India for suspected ISIS links were inspired by the speeches of controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, reports Hindustan Times.
Mittal added that the underlying similarity behind the radicalisation among the suspects arrested from various states in the country was Zakir Naik.
Known for making controversial remarks, Naik reportedly has also run into troubles with Malaysian authorities, where he has been living since 2017. He has also been banned from giving public speeches, despite Malaysia being a Muslim-majority country.
Naik’s terror connection
Naik had came into the radar of security agencies when his name was linked with a gruesome terror attack at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in July 2016.
The investigations revealed that a terrorist involved in the brutal killings followed Zakir Naik's page on Facebook and was influenced by Naik's speeches. He had posted sermons of Zakir Naik on social media where Naik urged "all Muslims to be terrorists”.
Naik had made this comment when someone asked him about Osama bin Laden.
"If he is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him. I don't know him personally. If he is terrorising America, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorising a terrorist, he is following Islam."
Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American linked to Al-Qaeda, responsible for the 2009 New York City Subway and United Kingdom plot was also influenced by Naik's sermons.
Mohammad Ibrahim Yazdani, the head of Islamic State's Hyderabad module in India, upon interrogation by NIA, revealed that the IS operatives in India were influenced by Zakir Naik's sermons and wanted to establish Shariah law in India. Naik had, in his sermons, advocated bringing India under the Shariah law.
In 2016, Intelligence agencies found a link between Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation and Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Pakistan. Reportedly, the two website remained linked months after the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
The connection with LeT does not end here. The masterminds of the 2006 Mumbai train blasts that killed close to 200 people were also inspired by Naik’s sermons. One of the terrorists, Rahil Shaikh, was also working as a volunteer for Naik’s organisation Islamic Research Foundation. Naik admitted to this, however, denied knowing him personally.
“I did not know him personally but he was an IRF volunteer. The moment I got to know that he was involved in the train blasts, I immediately asked my office to remove him from the IRF,” he said.
Surprisingly, despite the clear link between his speeches and the terror-attack, Naik was given a clean chit by the Maharashtra State Intelligence Department (SID) in 2016.
There is no other strong evidence to link Naik to terror-related activities other than reported charges he inspired Dhaka and Hyderabad terrorists. His strong defence of religious codes, such as the ones imposed by the Taliban, references to Osama bin Laden and ISIS, do not result in any direct or indirect charges against him, senior officials were quoted as saying by The Hindu.
Other Islamist terrorists who have recorded statements against Naik are Feroze Deshmukh, a former IRF employee, Qateel Ahmed Siddiqui, an Indian Mujahideen member and alleged IS recruiter Afsha Jabeen.
In 2012, Naik’s ‘Peace TV’ was banned. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) included it in a list of 24 channels which for beaming anti-India programmes. "The content of some of these channels is not conducive to the security environment in the country and poses a potential security hazard," it stated.
However, despite ban, Peace TV is still available in India through a free app in the Google Play Store, which has been downloaded over one lakh times.
After terror-links came to surface, Naik fled India in 2016, and has refused to come back to face the investigations against him.
Naik’s rise to fame
Zakir Abdul Karim Naik was born on 18 October 1965 in Mumbai. He attended University of Mumbai, where he obtained his MBBS degree.
He is the founder of the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) and Peace TV. According to many he is considered as proponent of radical Islamist Wahabbism ideology.
His teachings are banned in multiple countries including India, Bangladesh, Canada along with his channel Peace TV. Currently, there is a five-year ban on the IRF under India's anti-terror laws.
Naik has said 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". Naik blamed the Western media for anti-Islamic bias in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Mohammad Reyaz, who teaches communication at Aliah University in Kolkata explains that part of his appeal to younger and educated Muslims comes from the fact that he is "articulate and speaks in English and wears a Western suit".
Impressing people with his power to memorise, Naik quickly shot to fame not just India, but world over. His sermons were broadcast far and wide, and his events were attended by millions of Muslims.
Naik was ranked 89 on The Indian Express's list of the "100 Most Powerful Indians” in 2010.
Naik has received several awards from Islamic countries, including the highest civilian award of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as Malaysia, and consistently finds a ‘honourable mention’ in the book ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims’.
Author Praveen Swami considers Naik to be the most influential Salafi/Wahhabi ideologue in India.
Naik is known for making denigrating comments about other religions on television. Naik upholds the supremacy of Islam and wants to establish Shariah state in India.
Naik has blamed “western dresses” as a factor behind rape of women and argued for mandatory Hijab for women. He has justified slavery- comparing the salves to ‘prisoners of war’- as well as sex slavery - that Muslim men should be allowed to have sex with their female slaves.
Naik has also said that suicide bombing is justified in Quran.
Naik attained notoriety for the quick ‘one-minute conversions’ he carried out on television, after “defeating” a person in an argument. Such conversions were clearly forced, and Naik’s arguments were cheered by hundreds in the audience. Later, the video clips of such conversions were floated around with demeaning titles to the original religion of the new convert.
Naik has defended his comments and actions by saying that India is a secular nation and the Constitution of India itself gives him freedom to carry out ‘Dawah’ or Islamic proselytisation.
While Naik claims freedom of religion for his ‘Dawah’ and criticism of other religions, he says that a person who converts out of Islam and then preaches his new religion or criticises Islam should be put to death. Naik also says that Islamic states should not be secular, or allow other faiths in their countries as the other faiths are “wrong”.
Naik also argues in favour of death penalty for homosexuals, calling them “sinful mental patients”. Naik argues for inhumane punishments like chopping of hands as given in Shariah law.
Naik justifies wife-beating in an Islamic way and has condemned dancing and singing as un-Islamic. Naik has mocked the Hindu gods and religion, as well as their brutal persecution by the Islamic invaders.
Implying that it was the generosity of the Muslims that Hindus survived in India, Naik said that if Islam had indeed wanted, 80 per cent of Indian population would not have remained Hindus. He said that they could have been converted to Islam “if we wanted, by sword.”
Author Praveen Swami called Naik a part of the ideological infrastructure created to feed "Tempered Jihad", pointing out that many of Naik's teachings are similar to those of organisations advocating violence.
According to Swami, Naik's IRF 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".
Sadanand Dhume said that Congress party’s projection of Naik as a face of moderate and mainstream Islam (while Naik himself emphatically rejected any qualification like ‘moderate’ as dilution of one’s commitments to Islam) a blow to credibility of Indian secularism.
He said, "unless Indians find the ability to criticise such a radical Islamic preacher as robustly as they would a Hindu equivalent, the ideal of Indian secularism would remain deeply flawed."
In what shocked Indians, Naik, who was banned from giving speeches within a short period of stay in a Muslim majority country like Malaysia, was banned in Bangladesh, Canada and UK from giving speeches, was allowed to freely spread hate on national television in India.
Naik, based on his popularity among Muslims and backing by oil-rich Islamic countries had seemingly built strong political connections.
In 2011, a donation of whopping Rs 50 lakh was allegedly made by Naik's Islamic Research Foundation to Sonia Gandhi-led Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. After the 2016 reveal of Naik’s terror links and subsequent investigations, the Congress party chief called of an emergency meeting and decided to return the money.
In what can only be a mockery of countering terror, Naik was invited by the ruling Congress party to speak on counter-terrorism in Hyderabad and address IPS officers.
Despite Naik’s shocking comments against other religions, advocating supremacy of Islam and bringing India under Shariah law, Congress leader Digvijay Singh had called him a messenger of “peace and goodwill”, while sharing a dais and a hug with him.
Singh also said that Naik's messages and sermons actually encourage peace and work against communalism, and therefore his messages should reach every corner of the country. He also appealed to Naik to travel across India and deliver his sermons, in order to bridge the differences between Hindus and Muslims.
Allegedly, Naik was courted by the ruling Congress party to seek Muslim votes. In 2017, a letter written by a Congress leader that sought protection of Zakir Naik went viral on social media.
Congress Minister Rahman Khan had reportedly written a letter to Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Manish Tiwari in February 2013, terming Naik as a 'renowned Islamic scholar.'
“I had not asked him to write the letter to favour me,” Naik said.
In a recent interview, Naik said that he was willing to return to India if BJP lost power and Congress party came back, while calling the party the “lesser of the two evils”. He also praised the party for their ‘soft approach’ towards Muslims.
Given his popularity among Muslims, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that Naik was sought after by different political parties.
In a July 2016, Naik said, “A large number of politicians know me. A few years ago Shatrughna Sinha called me to campaign for his party. I have never met Sinha in my life.” Naik was responding to journalists when they asked him about whether any political leaders would stand up for him.
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