Zakir Naik and Classical Islamic Scholars

The Classical Scholars and Dr. Zakir Naik

 By Aatif Naqash

This article does not deprecate Dr. Naik’s achievements in creating inter-faith awareness; it explains the importance of understanding the technical difference between orators and fuqaha (jurists).  The faculty of comparative religion is completely separate from all other classical branches of the Islamic sciences such as fiqh (jurisprudence) or tafsir-ul-Qur’an (expounding the Qur’an). This is a very important ‘distinction’ overlooked by most of the Muslims today including Dr. Naik’s devoted followers – probably because they never had an exposure to the concept of classical Islam. Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Sirin, the famous 8th century scholar from Basra, is believed to have once said; “Be careful from where you acquire knowledge of your religion”. Muslims should ponder upon such wise sayings of the classical Islamic scholars.

The Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, who mostly belonged to sufi mentality, have been following Dr. Naik’s debates and lectures for a decade now. Many Muslims feel ‘healed’ when they see that allegations against Islam have been answered through ‘tit for tat’ responses by Dr. Naik. Muslims, who lack religious grooming and ability to distinguish between information (malumat) and knowledge (ilm) seem to get more impressed with crisp and amusing replies based on half baked logic. Dr Naik’s lectures on comparative religion, though entertaining & informative, lack classical scholarly style.

One of the reasons, most of the traditional sunni jurists are unhappy with him, is that he gives personal opinions on the critical matters of fiqh (jurisprudence) despite the fact that he does not possess the required traditional qualifications in the classical Islamic sciences. In one of his lectures titled ‘why the west is coming to Islam’, a girl asked him the reason behind the difference in the number of goats sacrificed (Aqeeqa) for newborn boy & girl, to which his reply started with ‘According to My Logic’. Do you see the danger posed it? One should only speak about what one is a master of. In Islam no one is allowed to answer questions based on one’s own logic but the way of sahabas is to either remain silent or refer the person to one who really knows the answer. The danger is posed when a person, who is not a faqih (jurist), steps in to the sensitive domain of jurisprudence and starts speaking of his own knowledge. On the contrary, his mentor Sheikh Ahmed Deedat (may Allah bless his soul) was respected by the traditional Muslim scholars for keeping his works confined to the study of comparative religion. Sheikh Deedat would never lecture or answer people on the matters of jurisprudence because he knew the boundary of his expertise.

Some of our classical theologians are not free of blame. They are responsible for why a debater of comparative religion liberally started teaching fiqh to a common Muslim. The misery is that a common Muslim was not educated about the ground rules of learning the religious knowledge. This is why the holy men of the past ages such as the likes of Mewlana Rumi (R.A) have always urged people like us to start our learning with ‘how to learn’. A common Muslim’s criteria for choosing the right source of Islamic knowledge was simply what outwardly appealed to the eyes. And, Dr. Naik’s persuasive style was the right choice as per what they thought learning was. The art of quoting world scriptures of your head made the Muslims, who were struggling with inferiority complex, feel mighty to refute the western intellect. The Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, especially the youth, was finding a lack of logic in refuting allegations against Islam and the outdated methodology of the ‘paan chewing’ mullahs towards their aspirations was also frustrating. In the midst of this frustration, Dr. Naik’s style of dispelling media myths propagated against Islam was remarkable, and appealed to Muslims of the Indo-Pak region.

However, this teaching should not have gone beyond the lessons of comparative religion because the wide reach of his personal opinions through satellite channels has created a situation where most of our youngsters are unacquainted with the holy men and seem to be more inclined towards English speaking orators. This following has actually gone to an extent where even educated Muslims see no difference between speakers of comparative religion and Al-Arifeen (the holy men). The conventional jurists have not reached out to the Muslim masses at the same level as the likes of Dr. Naik. The Islamic knowledge was mainly presented by mere orators in the recent times whereas the high caliber traditional jurists have not made it to the forefront media, probably because they over engaged themselves in the legal matters of jurisprudence and academics.

It is very surprising that Dr. Zakir Naik, being so knowledgeable about mainstream Islam, completely excludes tasawwuf from Islamic sciences. In one of his lectures based on sectarianism, he declares tasawwuf a bidah (innovation). We acknowledge his endeavors in promoting inter-religious dialogues; however, critical interpretation of fiqh and the science of issuing religious rulings should be strictly left to the fuqaha (jurists). The Muslims, especially the young, have no idea how it is damaging and weakening the importance of the classical Islamic sciences. And if you try to explain to our youth, you would struggle because they have completely got carried away with the ‘chapter no verse no’ phenomenon of Dr. Naik. There is an unspoken consensus in the Muslim world that funding of his satellite channel is informally conditional upon strict propagation of Saudi version of Islam or popularly known as Wahabism. If you observe closely, you will understand why he strongly endorses Saudi scholars most of the time such as the likes of Sheikh Albani and Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. How can Dr. Naik declare Tasawwuf, an integral branch of the Islamic knowledge, as bidah? Tasawwuf like many other branches of the Islamic knowledge traces it’s roots to the Prophet pbuh. It has been acknowledged and practiced by the greatest holy men of Islam.

It is not fair that Dr. Naik uses fame, which he has acquired through inter-religious debates, to propagate Wahabi driven ideologies. The dilemma is that most of the common Muslims do not profoundly think about all the dimensions of learning religious knowledge but they mostly rely on the face value of it. Among the blind the one eyed is king. When things outwardly appear appealing then convincing about its deep negative realities becomes a very tough job. It takes a while to build up trust for someone delivering religious knowledge so any genuine information, which challenges that trust, finds it quite hard to make people revise their knowledge of learning.

Allah says in the Quran. ‘’None will grasp the message except the men of understanding’’. May Allah keep all of us in the company of holy men.

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