How Zakir Naik – the Salafi-vangelist – Radicalized My Mother… And Once Radicalized Me

When I was a child in the mid-1980s, we used to eagerly await the arrival of new VHS videotapes featuring Ahmed Deedat. I vividly recall the excitement of popping a newly-arrived tape into the VCR and waiting with baited breath for his latest shows to flicker onto the TV screen. We loved watching the shaykh debate Christian evangelists, including the American icon Jimmy Swaggart.

Even though Deedat had no formal training as a Muslim scholar, he debated like a champion. Every time he landed a blow against his Christian opponent we laughed and cheered. It made you feel so good about yourself: “those Christians were idiots for their ridiculous beliefs, and we were superior with our true faith!” — that was the vibe back then.

I am reminded of the old Deedat shows as I watch my mother get sucked in by his virulent successor, Zakir Naik. Gone are the VHS tapes. Now Dr. Naik gets beamed into my mother’s home every day via Satellite TV.

On a recent late afternoon, before the break of the fast, Mother – who is getting old and is no longer so mobile – sits in the living room glued to the TV. She is enraptured with Naik on his “Peace TV” channel. As I walk into the room, I see her smiling as he ridicules some poor Hindu woman. He condescendingly lectures the lady that she does not really understand her own faith and that fundamentally she is a Muslim but only needs to say Shahada to fix her problem in the after-life.

Mother is completely transfixed. She thinks Naik is the best thing since sliced bread. His English is fluent, and he has a spectacular ability to quote from the Qur’an and Hadith with both humor and apparent authority. He comforts Mother with his oratory demonstrating that Islam is the true religion. She loves it when Naik proceeds to his signature move: converting people on air after a debate which he always wins, demonstrating the superiority of Islam.

Naik’s favorite target is Hindus. He takes great liberties reinterpreting Hinduism quoting the Bhagavad Gita, but no one among his viewers seems to bother to check whether his quotes are real, let alone accurate. His audience loves it when Naik empties Hinduism of its substance with snarky lines like: “I am a Muslim and a Hindu. I don’t like Idolatry; read Nihru the word ‘Hindu itself was given by Arabs to the people who lived near the Hindus river.”

The debates typically culminate in “on air” conversions from Hindus or Christians: the real moneymaker for Naik’s operation. “Peace TV” is backed by Naik’s “Islamic Research Foundation International” which according to UK filings raised $1.7 Million. These conversions are his fundraising technique: tapping into the proselytizing drive of Salafi and Deobandi wealthy donors in the Gulf states, Pakistan and diasporas, Naik is able to raise millions to keep his operation going.

I used to watch Naik’s shows with the same enchantment as my mother. Naik made me feel so good and so righteous. I loved feeling superior. Now I am disgusted by his smug supremacist attitude – which has inspired all kinds of violence against Shi’a, Hindus, and secular Muslims.

“We don’t know for fact whether these people are for real or just paid actors,” I tell Mother. “Don’t you know that Naik is officially banned from entering India, Canada, and the UK? That Bangladesh also banned him because of a rash of killings targeting secular writers whose murderers were inspired by Naik?”

Mother flashes a rare look of anger at me and dismisses my argument. She is smitten with Nail’s fusion of medieval disputations, 21st century technology, and New Age mass manipulation. He brilliantly caters to middle-class, educated viewers like Mother who crave validation for their own place in a world where religion, and Islam, are increasingly questioned. He provides a feeling of respect-due many Muslims feel is owed to our religion by the world.

Mother doesn’t even realize that Naik is a Salafi. She thinks that he is just an average Muslim scholar doing the work of God, doing Dawa and saving souls of people who otherwise would have ended in hellfire. His “salvation” has gone global with his “Peace TV”, as it has over 100 Million viewers in 200 nations.

Mother gets “Peace TV” beamed into her living room via Satellite TV. But Naik will soon be arriving in the US directly on cable. He just signed an agreement with Time Warner Cable’s Starter TV to broadcast his shows in New York, likely for around $200,000 a month. No doubt Naik is looking for a chunk of American Muslim purchase power, especially given that his prime audience (from the Indian subcontinent) comprises a plurality of US Muslims

It’s amazing to me that even though Naik is himself banned from entering the UK, his Peace TV has its corporate headquarters there. It’s even more amazing that Time Warner is broadcasting his incendiary supremacist rhetoric into millions of New York area homes. We will all reap the destructive results of Naik’s poison seeping into our families’ living rooms. So long as “(Un)Peace TV” (as I call it) gets to beam its hateful preaching into our homes we have a major problem on our hands.

Mother murmurs “Subhana Allah” whenever Naik makes a point or wins an argument. He makes her laugh and sometimes even cry with his fiery sermons, especially when talking about the afterlife. She looks forward to his show the same way we once eagerly awaited the next package of Deedat videotapes.

My mom didn’t use to think like this – before Naik, She had no need to prove herself at anyone’s expense. she didn’t judge people based on their religious affiliation. she would have been horrified by someone getting hacked to death on the street with a machete by a fanatic riled up by hate preachers. She had friends from all backgrounds.

I see her changing; although my mom wouldn’t strap a bomb on herself and go kill people, but her mind  is being poisoned. The worst thing about it is that she doesn’t even realize it: she has become a soft bigot — that’s what is killing me.

Naik “Salafi-evangelist” can do no wrong in Mother’s eyes….But what she doesn’t realize is that in Arabic “Naik” means… “fucker.”

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