In the world of Islamic evangelism, Dr. Zakir Naik is hot stuff. The founder and President of the Islamic Research Foundation, he also heads up Peace TV, from which he broadcasts nations as far-flung as the United Arab Emirates and the United States. He is invited to address audiences from Italy to the Maldives. He was banned from Britain, but his global influence is such that Oxford University still organised to have him contribute to a debate by way of a satellite link.
He is also a fool, a fraud or both.
I regret the need for bluntness. Most of the Islamic ideologues that I write of are clever men. Evangelists like Hamza Tzortzis trade in pseudo-scholarship but they do it with a subtlety that speaks well of their brains. In the latest case of extremism on campus, though, students from the Islamic Society of Keele University distributed a pamphlet by Dr. Naik entitled Most Common Questions asked by Non-Muslims. (To their credit, several members have since disavowed the incident or apologised for it.) I was curious enough to track down a copy that has been posted online, and it is, among other things, an embarrassment to the faith: a parade of fallacies, mistruths and grotesque value judgements.
Laughing at people who are either cursed with a natural foolishness or have crippled their intellects with dogma can be unpleasant – more an affirmation of one’s smug superiority than anything of value. Yet Naik is so influential that it is worthwhile. Not only have students thought this work so astute as to be worth disseminating as a means of winning over nonbelievers but it was reproduced in its entirety in a book titled The Comprehensive Guide For Da’wah In Mosques. That such a respected man is so unworthy of respect deserves to be appreciated both by people who promote him and by people who are the targets of this promotion.
In Most Common Questions…, Naik tries to address objections to Islam. He begins by defending its tolerance of polygamy, claiming that there are far more ladies in the world than blokes, and asserting they have to share men or they will be compelled to live alone. There are more women in the world than men but only as they have been blessed with longer lives. I doubt that Dr. Naik or, indeed, all but a minute proportion of men want to get hitched to widowed octogenarians, and I suspect the feeling is mutual.
Ignoring this, Naik writes this extraordinary passage…
Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays)…Suppose my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in USA, or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women in USA. The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes public property. There is no other option. All those who are modest will opt for the first.
The obvious moral problem with this claim is the idea that women cannot simply live alone but must seek marriage or become “public property”. Who does Naik think he is to make such demands of people? Another equally obvious intellectual problem is its apparent ignorance of lesbianism. Can someone drape an arm around Naik’s shoulders and tell him that some women do not want to have husbands?
Naik proceeds with a brisk justification of the fact that women are ordered to wear the veil, and, indeed, under his conception of Islam, to loose, unglamorous clothing. He asks us to imagine twin sisters walking down the street…
One of them is attired in the Islamic hijaab…The other sister is wearing western clothes…Just around the corner there is a hooligan or ruffian who is waiting for a catch, to tease a girl. Whom will he tease? The girl wearing the Islamic Hijaab or the girl wearing the skirt or the mini? Naturally he will tease the girl wearing the skirt or the mini. Such dresses are an indirect invitation to the opposite sex for teasing and molestation.
Imagine twin brothers walking down the road, one of whom has a mobile phone and some loose change and the other of whom has neither cash or accessories. If a thief is present, who will he assault? The former. If I tried to confiscate all of Naik’s money while insisting that I was protecting him, though, he would doubtless suggest that I should not make his life unpleasant but go after the thieves, who are, after all, responsible for the crime. The hypocrisy is blatant.
Naik speak of rape statistics in the U.S., and proposes that if American women wore the hijab their lives would become safe. In Egypt, more than eighty percent of women claim to have experienced sexual harrassment. The majority of the victims wore headscarves.
One of the more amusing passages of Naik’s tract is his defence of the Islamic endorsement of meat consumption. He answers hypothetical vegetarians by insisting that “even plants can feel pain”, and that “latest researches show that the plants can even feel happy and sad”. I would love to see this research but, alas, Naik offers no references. He is too busy asserting that if everyone became a vegetarian it would lead to “overpopulation of cattle in the world, since their reproduction and multiplication is very swift”. Not without silage to eat and fields to live in, Dr. Naik.
Naik defends meat-eating, then, but he is bitterly opposed to the consumption of pork. Eating pork can lead one to diseases, he writes, and “one of the most dangerous is Taenia Solium, which is in lay man’s terminology called tapeworm”. No, in layman’s terminology it is called the pork tapeworm. There is also taenia saginata, which is the beef tapeworm, and diphyllobothrium, which is the fish tapeworm. If a viewer of Peace TV gets lazy cooking burgers and then finds that an unwanted lodges has moved into their intestines I guess they will know who to blame.
Pork, Naik argues, “has very little muscle building material and contains excess of fat”. This “can cause hypertension and heart attack”. Pork loin contains more protein and less saturated fat than ground beef. I have no objection to your abstaining from pork, Dr. Naik, but you have no rational grounds on which to spare them and slaughter cows.
Perhaps realising this, Naik makes the irrational argument that if you eat pig you are bound to act like a pig. Pigs, he says, “invite [their] friends to have sex with [their] mate[s]”, and in America, where pork is eaten, “they have swapping of wives”. Male ducks are known for the gang rape of female members of their species. They are also known for being consumed in posh restaurants. I do not think this has led foodies to sexual assault.
There are more bizarre assertions but readers may tire of them. It is worth observing, though, that they are not restricted to this eccentric work. My attention was drawn to a speech in which he turns his tongue to evolution. In five minutes, among other howlers, he asserts that Galileo was executed – he was not – that Darwin did not believe in natural selection – he did – and that – and this is my favourite – homo sapiens “died out about five hundred thousand years ago”. We are homo sapiens.
This would be more entertaining if it was not for how brutal Dr. Naik’s dogmas are. The naïveté towards the existence of lesbians would almost be touching had he not said “the punishment for homosexuality is death”. The sexual puritanism might seem quaint had he not insisted that fornicators should be given “100 lashes”, and that adulterers should face “stoning to death”. His futile attempts to prove that Islam was not spread through violence could seem well-meaning if he had not claimed that vocal apostates should be executed.
Say what you like about religion, and this religion in particular, but men like Avicenna and Averroes were scholars with a desire to reveal the facts of the universe. People who lead the defence of their faith in a modern age include men with this pitiful disregard for truth, and it is they who have the audacity to inform us that they are so enlightened as to be justified in forcing us to act according to their judgements. Muslims or, indeed, non-Muslims who find totalistic visions of Islam attractive should ask themselves whether they want to trust and, indeed, be associated with a man who claims that there is no good reason for women to be unmarried; that animals must be eaten lest cows overbreed; that plants can feel sadness; that eating bacon makes one porcine and that human beings died out thousands of years ago. He offends the heart and he insults the brain.