The Islamic apologist Dr. Zakir Naik is at the centre of controversy after his books were found in a public library in Greenwich. Naik was banned from the U.K. because of fiery proclamations about Islam. One problem with merely banning Naik, it seems to me, is that it will lead the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have followed his television and radio broadcasts to assume that he was silenced because nobody could give him a substantive response. “Mozlamic”, a Muslim on Twitter, wrote: “I don’t care what the govt or media says about Dr Zakir Naik, he is a genius and can destroy anybody in a debate”. This was retweeted 84 times.
Naik may know the Qur’an very well for all I know. What I would like to prove to his followers, though, is that he is either ignorant or dishonest when he writes or speaks on other subjects. He attempts to justify supposed virtues of his faith with reference to logic, ethics, science and history, and his attempts are so epistemologically inept that if I were a Muslim I would be tempted to believe that he was satirising the faith. It is knowledge of this incompetence, as well as his unpleasantness, that I feel should be promoted, as while there is a certain thrill from being associated with extremists no one wants to climb aboard the wagon of a fool. In a lengthy article about Naik’s book Most Common Questions asked by Non-Muslims, I explored numerous errors of fact and logic. To drive home the point, I have turfed up another book: The Quran and Modern Science: Compatible or Not. It is equally bad.
I am no scientist; indeed, I’m barely an informed amateur. I scraped through my GCSEs and promptly ditched the subject. Even I, however, am able diagnose Naik’s total failure to understand or explain its ideas. Here, for example, he discusses the creation of the universe…
According to the ‘Big Bang’, the whole universe was initially one big mass (Primary Nebula). Then there was a ‘Big Bang’ (Secondary Separation) which resulted in the formation of Galaxies.
This is more confused than Homer Simpson at CERN. The Big Bang theory does not hold that the universe became a mass of particles that exploded into galaxies in some violent event but that small variations in its density produced clouds of gas from which stars were formed. There was no second Big Bang. Otherwise it would have been the Big Bangs theory.
Naik is not just giving his take on science, though, but trying to align the fruits of its research with Islamic principles. According to him, its holy text expresses knowledge its authors could not have grasped without divine inspiration. Thus, he says…
It was believed by earlier civilizations that the moon emanates its own light. Science now tells us that the light of the moon is reflected light. However this fact was mentioned in the Qur’aan 1,400 years ago.
It was also mentioned by Anaxagoras 1,100 years before that. Aryabhata had such a good understanding of the fact that he explained intricate details of lunar eclipses decades before Muhammad wandered into the mountains. By the time the Qur’an was being written the fact that the moon reflects the light of the sun was old news. Claiming the discovery for the Muslims is like me suggesting that I invented the light bulb.
Naik’s book collapses into odd misunderstandings. “Only a couple of centuries ago,” he claims, “Humans came to know that honey comes from the belly of the bee. But this fact was mentioned in the Qur’an 1,400 years ago.” Humans learned that bees produce honey two centuries ago? The Egyptians were beekeeping thousands of years before Christianity, let alone Islam. “We are only now aware that honey has healing properties,” Naik continues, blissfully unaware that this has been thought for so long that the Hindus, those dratted polytheists, were discussing its supposed medicinal qualities thousands of years before the Qur’an was written.
Naik takes a moment to skirt into nutritional science, which, given his performance in Most Common Questions - where he stated that pork should be avoided because it is high in fat and can contain tapeworm, without explaining why this would not put beef off-limits – was decidedly unwise. He insists that honey is “rich in…vitamin K”. Vitamin K is largely found in vegetables. There is none in honey. Eat some kale, Dr. Naik. I fear that you might have a vitamin deficiency.
As I said in my first article on Naik, mocking peoples’ strange dogmas can be unpleasant: no more than a pompous affirmation of one’s own superiority. What makes Naik fair game is the scale of his following. This guy has toured the length and breadth of the globe and commands audiences of millions. What makes him a pleasure to dissect is the hideous arrogance of his ideas. He is a man who argues that people should be banned from being promoting non-Islamic ideas on the same grounds that a maths teacher should be banned from telling their students that two plus two equals three. Both things, to his mind, contradict obvious and undeniable truths of the universe.
One might respond by observing that one is, in fact, allowed to preach that two plus two equals three, but it is also worth saying that for a man who thinks that galaxies were formed out of a second big bang; that the Greeks believed the moon emitted light; that honey is a great source of vitamin K; that plants can feel emotions; that cows must be eaten or they will outbreed us; that consuming pork makes one sexually unfaithful and that homo sapiens “died out about five hundred thousand years ago” to state that he has such a confident understanding of the nature of the universe and the meaning of life that he can ban all other interpretations from being expressed is as comically absurd as it is sinister. As long as Islamic supremacists try to defend and enforce their ideas they will be both.