Is the Logic of Zakir Naik Reliable?
Darul Ifta of the Darul Uloom Deoband, India’s foremost Islamic centre of theological learning, issed a formal fatwa against Zakir Abdul Karim Naik saying that he is:
“Ghair Muqallid and his knowledge is not deep. Therefore, he is not reliable and Muslims should avoid listening to him.”1
Another fatwa says:
“we know that he is an agent of Ghair Muqallideen, away from knowledge and wisdom, spreading mischievous things and misguiding simple Muslims to wrong path.”2
Many other prominent ulama, scientists and Muslim leaders have issued similar statements against Zakir Naik.4 Why are scholarly Muslims so opposed to this television preacher who claims to preach “peace” and “Islam”? This essay will examine some of the reasons why Zakir Naik is so popular to the uneducated masses yet so despised by educated scholars.
To his devoted fans, this television entertainer and preacher has achieved an almost rock-star aura, with his fluent English, confident smiles, and ability to ridicule and misconstrue other faiths. To the rest of us, he is a remarkable memory drive but has sloppy logic, a penchant for half-truths, and dangerously extremist views. Television provides a wonderful medium for his misquotations wrenched out of context, false statistics and deliberate misrepresentations. In this booklet we would like to symbolically “hit the remote’s pause button” and critically examine the logic of Zakir Naik and his material.
But before criticizing some of Zakir Naik’s logic, it is only fair to commend him on a number of counts. He encourages his audience to read the Qur’an for themselves in their mother-tongue, which is sorely needed. He encourages youth to turn from idolizing celebrities, consumerism and to seek God instead. He argues against alcoholism, immodesty, and stinginess. For these things he ought to be commended.
DOES ZAKIR NAIK ACCURATELY REPRESENT ISLAM?
Naik & Islamic Theology & Scholarship
On Evolution: 25 Mistakes in 25 Sentences
World Religions, Ant “leaders”
Scriptural illiteracy (Eve & Sin)
Rapid-Fire Half-Truths (Campbell debate)
Appeal to Audience Prejudice (Pigs)
A Computer-like Memory (rapid-fire verse numbers)
– Massive Conversion to Islam?
– Charitable Giving in America?
– Corruption & Bribery in the West
– The Hijab and Sexual Molestation
Selective Scholarly Quotations
Out-of-Context Scripture Verses
The Myth of the Unchallenged Debater
Does Zakir Naik accurately represent Islam?
Zakir Naik reinforces the negative stereotype many non-Muslims have of Muslims as bigoted, arrogant and dishonest. So it is important for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to understand that Zakir Naik doesn’t represent mainstream Islam. Naik’s ideas represent a faction of Islam called Wahhabism which is a recent export from Saudi Arabia. Over the past few decades billions of petrodollars have poured out of Saudi Arabia propagating this form of Islam, funding people like Zakir Naik.
To many educated Muslims, Wahhabism is seen as the biggest cancer, the biggest virus within Muslim society. Maulana Mehmood Daryabadi, general-secretary of the All India Ulema Council say of Naik:
“He is neither an `aalim’ (scholar) nor a `mufti’ (one who gives fatwa). He is free to practice Islam as he wishes. But he should not issue fatwas from public platforms”5
Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed says:
“The Saudis think they have a divine right to convert Muslims across the world into a puritanical Salafist Islam. Naik is their public face .. The exclusivist Wahabism is inimical to an inclusive, tolerant Islam practised in India. I have heard him a couple of times on TV and am deeply disappointed.”6
Naik would of course deny being a Wahhabi, or Salafi (as most Wahhabis would), yet his views are characteristically Wahhabi. Wahhabism is a rigidly literalist and fundamentalist Saudi export which is hostile to the religious ideas of most Indian Muslims, and is virulently opposed to other religions. Here are some distinctively Wahhabi ideas of Zakir Naik which conflict with most Indian Muslims:
– On Supplication to Muhammad Naik strongly condemns supplications to Muhammad, alienating Sufi Muslims. – On Sharia Law and Secularism: Naik claims, “Muslims in India would prefer the Islamic criminal law ( Shari’a ) to be implemented on all Indians since it is the most practical.” – On Respecting Sufi Saints – Naik condemns Muslims who revere Sufi saints and visit their tombs as “grave worshippers.”
– On Other Faiths: In a 2003 speech in Toronto, Naik asserts that it is haram , forbidden, for Muslims to wish their Christian friends a merry Christmas.
Saudi Arabia has been aggressively exporting their literalist brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world with oil money or petrodollars. Some educated mainstream Muslim scholars have lamented that there are few petrodollars available to broadcast their more liberated, scholarly perspectives that counter those of these televangelists.
On November 8, 2008, members of India’s premier Sunni Muslim organisation, Raza Academy, came together to demand a ban on Zakir Naik’s programmes. Maulana Ashraf Raza of the Darul-Uloom Hanfia Rizvia, Colaba, also issued a fatwa against Naik.7 Ebrahim Tahil, member of the academy, said, “He earlier targeted Christians and is now against Sunni Muslims. We have met with RR Patil and KL Prasad urging them to ban the programme.” He added, “We want to know from where Naik gets his funds?” Prominent Indian Muslims such as Salman Khurshid and Javed Akhtar reproved what they felt were Naik’s mischievous attempts to radicalize the Indian Muslim community and promote communal strife. Naik has been condemned by Indian Muslims for denouncing Sufi followers as “grave worshippers.” Likewise, Zakir Naik has been criticized by UK Muslims for his ignorance of Islamic history, Islamic theology and his bigoted Wahhabi views.
Unlike many Muslims, Zakir Naik views everything within the boundaries of Islamic history as unquestionably positive and everything outside of Islam as necessarily bad and evil. Everything outside his version of Islam is absolute Jahiliyya (the age of ignorance), while everything within the Islamic ummah is utopia. This knee-jerk reaction came to light when he blessed Yazid with the phrase “Radiallah ta’la anho”, meaning ‘May Allah be pleased with him.’ Yazid was an infamous early leader in Islam, said by Sunni scholars to have been “a Fasiq who copulated with his mother, sister and daughters, who drank alcohol and did not offer Salaat.”8 He is said to have led the rape of 1,000 women and enslaved 10,000 people in an attack on Madinah,9 and was probably a sodomite. Yet to Zakir Naik, this man was a heaven-bound believer who must be defended since he is part of Islamic history.
Naik’s views represent this Wahhabi fundamentalist, conservative and narrow-minded side of Muslim thought which excludes any trace of self-criticism or openness to other civilizations and cultures. If we look at Islamic history, there is much to be proud of, including a great legacy of literary and scientific achievement. Yet these achievements in the first few centuries of Islamic history coincided with the point of greatest open-mindedness to other civilizations like Greek and Indian civilization. It was a time when Muslim scholars studied and incorporated the great works of other civilizations, interacting with their scholars and incorporating their philosophies. The greatest scholars of Muslim history like Ibn Sin and Ibn Rushd had a great openness to the traditions of other civilizations, and were condemned as heretics. The turning-point of this renaissance, the beginning of the decline of Islamic glory, came when Zakir Naik’s narrow-minded philosophical counterparts censored all outside learning as “Jahiliyya” ignorance and temptation and demanded that the scholars only study “pure” Islamic subjects.10 The great irony with Zakir Naik is that though he boasts most loudly about the Golden Age of Islam, it is precisely his mindset that destroyed the Golden Age of openness and led to its decline.
Does Zakir Naik represent the best of Islamic theology and scholarship?
The fact is that Zakir Naik is a trained surgeon and a walking human memory drive of selective scripture quotes, but he is not a thinker or scholar. He has little formal education in Islamic theology and history. Both Islam’s top theologians and scientists despise much of Zakir Naik’s methodology and teaching.
For example, Zakir Naik is very fond of what is known as “Bucailleism”, touting the “scientific miracles of the Qur’an” on his television shows. However, renowned Indian Islamic theologian Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi (author of Behesti Jewar) opposes this methodology in his book Islam awr “Aqliyyat 11 . Likewise, many leading Islamic scientists in Western and Arab universities disagree with Bucailleism. Ziauddin Sharkar, in his book Explorations in Islamic Science, calls the scientific miracles polemic “apologia of the worst type.” Muslim historian Nomanul Haq of Penn State University is a leading critic of Bucailleism who attributes the rise of Bucailleism to a “deep, deep inferiority complex” among Muslims humiliated by colonialism and bidding to recapture faded glories of Islamic science.12 Another critic is Muzaffar Iqbal, president of Center for Islam and Science in Alberta, Canada. The Pakistani Theoretical physicist and M.I.T. graduate Parvez Hoodbhoy writes:
the problem with such claims to ownership is that they lack an explanation for why quantum mechanics, molecular genetics, etc., had to await discovery elsewhere. Nor is any kind of testable prediction ever made. No reason is offered as to why antibiotics, aspirin, steam engines, electricity, aircraft, or computers were not first invented by Muslims. But even to ask such questions is considered offensive.13
Turkish Muslim philosopher and physicist Taner Edis writes:
“Quran-science [Bucailleism] is pathetic, but this is realized by many Muslims as well. It does not characterize Islam any more than the Institute for Creation Research typifies Christianity. Yet, even with that important qualification, the ridiculous extreme I described above can illustrate the ambiguous relation between modern science and orthodox Islam. While most believers are content to ignore the issue and declare full scientific compatibility for the Quran, some intellectuals take a cognitive relativist path, or insist that science be structured by Islam so as to comply with an Islamic view of nature.14
Regarding “Islamic Science,” Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistani Nobel laureate Physicist writes:
“There is only one universal science; its problems and modalities are international and there is no such thing as Islamic science just as there is no Hindu science, nor Jewish science, no Confucian Science, nor Christian Science.”
On Comparative Religion
To his fans, Naik is at the Muslim forefront of Comparative Religion. Yet true scholars like Seyyed Hossain Nasr or Nomanul Haq provide far more sophisticated and intelligent dialogue with scholars of other religions.
Naik’s wholesale dismissal of the present-day Taurat, Zabur and Injil likewise does not represent Muslim scholarship today. The Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies Abdullah Saeed writes:
Since the authorized scriptures of Jews and Christians remain very much today as they existed at the time of the Prophet, it is difficult to argue that the Qur’anic references to Tawrat and Injil were only to the “pure” Tawrat and Injil as existed at the time of Moses and Jesus, respectively. If the texts have remained more or less as they were in the seventh century CE, the reverence the Qur’an has shown them at the time should be retained even today. Many interpreters of the Qur’an, from Tabari to Razi to Ibn Taymiyya and even Qutb, appear to be inclined to share this view. The wholesale dismissive attitude held by many Muslims in the modern period towards the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity do not seem to have the support of either the Qur’an or the major figures of tafsir.15
Zakir Naik & Terrorism
Being a Wahhabi fundamentalist, Zakir Naik is very hesistant to condemn terrorism. When pressed to condemn the excesses of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, he refused and became infamous for his statement, “every Muslim should be a terrorist,” and, “if Osama is fighting America, I’m for him.”
Zakir Naik apparently has never met Osama bin Laden, but as a champion of Bucailleism, Naik is indebted to Osama bin Laden’s direct funding of his favorite Bucailleism sources.16 One Muslim opponent of Naik in Britain has documented how Naik’s biggest fans are suicide bombers and terrorists. Kafeel Ahmed, the man who bungled a suicide bombing in Glasgow Airport, had invited Zakir Naik to give lectures to him and his friends in Bangalore. When Pakistani Taliban were forced out of the Red Mosque in Karachi, the Dawn newspaper reported that they found cassette after cassette of Zakir Naik.
Naik has perfected the art of propaganda. This entails maintaining an edifice of scholarship while frequently using half-truths, out-of-context passages and false statistics. It also involves carefully avoiding debate with any serious debaters that oppose him, like Sam Shamoun or Ali Sina. Below I outline some of the techniques which Naik uses, giving some examples for each.
To put it bluntly, a lot of Naik’s information is simply false. Let’s pick an example page of Naik’s speeches, this one on evolution, which can be freely viewed on Youtube as well:17
Naik On Evolution: 25 Mistakes in Five Minutes
(Dr Naik) “In ‘The Origin of Species’ it says that Charles Darwin went on an island by the name of Keletropist (1) on a ship named as HMS Beagle, and there he found birds pecking at niches (2) . Depending upon the ecological niches they peck, the beaks kept on becoming long and short. This observation was made in the same species, not in different species (3,4) .
Charles Darwin wrote a letter to his friend, Thomas Thromtan, in 1861 saying, “I do not believe in ‘natural selection,’ (5) the word that you use, I don’t believe in “Theory of Evolution” because I haven’t got any proof. I only believe in it because it helps me in classification of embryology, in morphology, in rudimentary organs. Charles Darwin himself said that there were missing links, he did not agree with it, he himself said that there were missing links… (6)
…the reason is because that if you analyze the church, the church was against science previously. (7) And you know the incident that they sentenced Galileo to death; (8) they sentenced Galileo to death. (8) Why? Because he said certain statements in the astronomy, etc., which went against the Bible, so they sentenced him to death (8) , for which the Pope apologized now. So when Charles Darwin came up with a theory which goes against the Bible, they didn’t, they didn’t want any sufficient proof; ‘an enemy of my enemy is my friend’, so all the scientists, most of them, they supported the theory (9) because it went against the Bible, not because it was true.
…All the stages— there were four “homonites,” (10) Science tells us today that there were four “homonites.” (11) First is “Lucy” along with its guy [sic] Dosnopytichest, (12) which died about 3 and ½ million years (the Ice Age). (13) Then next came the Homo sapiens who died out about five hundred thousand years ago. (14) Then came the “Neanderthal Man,” (15) who dies a hundred to forty thousand years ago. (16) Then came the fourth stage, the “CroMagnon; (17) – there is no link at all between these stages. (18) According to P.P. Grasse in 1971, who held the Chair of Evolutionary Studies in Paris, in Sorbonne University, (18x) he said, “It is absurd. We cannot say who were our ancestors based on fossils.. (18xx) … Sir Albert Georgie, (19) who got the Nobel Prize for inventing the vitamin C, (20) he wrote the book, “The Crazy Ape and Man” against Darwin’s theory. (21) Again, Sir Fred Hoyle’s work, he wrote several works against Darwin’s Theory. (21x) If you know about Ruperts Albert– this person wrote a new theory of evolution against Darwin’s theory. (21xx) It’s unthinkable, you cannot think that we are created from the apes. (22) If you know of Sir Frank Salosbury, (22x) (he was a biologist), he said, “It is illogical to believe in Darwin’s theory.” Sir Whitemeat, (23 ) he wrote a book against Darwin’s theory, he was also a biologist … An amoeba at the lower species level… amoeba can change to parameshia. (24) … according to Henses Crake who is an authority in this field, (25) he said, “It is unimaginable.”
Now here are the mistakes:
1. There is no such island as “Keletropist” anywhere. It was the Galapagos Islands that Darwin visited where he found the finches that sparked his theories.2. These finches do not “peck at niches” as Naik says. They lived in separate ecological niches , meaning environments. Dr Naik seems to have some vague awareness of the story.3. No, Darwin’s observations of varying beaks were made on fourteen different species of finches, not just one species as Naik claims. The beak length actually did not vary within the species. Look it up in any textbook.
4. The differences Darwin observed between these finches were far more than simply beak length, they included differences in color, size, mating behavior, songs, and preferred food. In fact they were so different that Darwin did not even realize they were all finches.
5. All of Darwin’s published correspondence is printed and even available electronically online, and it contains no record of anyone named Thomas Thromtan, nor any record of such a letter. Darwin could not have used the words, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution because I haven’t got any proof,” since that’s exactly what his book two years earlier was intended to provide, whether we believe his theory or not. There was someone named Thompson, but Darwin never wrote a letter to Thompson.
6. Darwin admitted that there were missing links, but that does not mean he disagreed with his own theory—he simply predicted where the missing links would be found.
7. The church was never against science— almost all the great European scientists of Galileo’s time, including Galileo , were devout Christians. People like Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, Linnaeus, Pascal were all committed believers in the Bible.
8. Galileo, a devout Catholic, was never sentenced to death. Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 22, 1633 and then that sentence was commuted to house arrest. He died more than eight years later on the evening of January 8, 1642 of old age. Galileo believed that his theories fit with the Bible, and he wrote a book arguing this based on early interpretations of Christians like Augustine. Naik goes on to make the same false statement two more times, but let’s only count it as one factual error.
9. Actually, most scientists did not support Darwin’s theory for many years, and most of these same scientists revered the Bible. Basically, this account by Dr. Naik is a total fabrication.
10. Basically everything Dr. Naik says here is wrong. There is no such word as “homonites.” He must mean hominids .
11. There are not a mere “four” hominids, there are at least fourteen.
12. There is no such hominid as “dosnopytchest.” Lucy was an Australopithecus afarensis.
13. The ice age was not 3 1/3 million years ago. It was between 1.6 million years and 10,000 years ago.
14. Homo sapiens did not die out 500 thousand years ago. You and me and even Zakir Naik are homo sapiens, though he is apparently not aware that he belongs to our species.
15. According to evolutionary theory Neanderthal man was not on the direct line to modern man, but an ice-age offshoot.
16. Neanderthal man went extinct 30 thousand years ago, not “a hundred to forty thousand years ago.”
17. Cro-Magnon man is the same thing as Homo Sapiens, which Naik had mentioned as a different earlier species.
18. Actually, evolutionary biologists have found many examples of what they claim to be links between these stages, for example between australopithecus afarensis and homo sapiens they claim to have found Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, and Homo heidelbergensis. We may disagree with the clarity of this evidence, but it would be false to entirely deny any link between these stages.
18x. There is no University in Paris or anywhere else called the ” Sojerion University.” Grasse taught at the University of Paris which is also called the ” Sorbonne” .
18xx. This out-of-context quote from three decades ago misrepresents the overall opinion of P.P. Grasse, whose research supported evolution completely. He was simply commenting on the scant fossil record at that time, not making a statement against evolution. But we will not count this as an error against Naik.
19. False, nobody named “Sir Albert George” ever won a Nobel Prize. Look it up. He must mean Albert Szent-Györgyi von Nagyrapolt.
20. Györgyi didn’t invent Vitamin C, he discovered it. Vitamin C is a naturally occurring substance that didn’t need to be invented.
21. Albert Szent-Györgyi’s book was not called “The Crazy Ape and Man” but simple The Crazy Ape , and it was not a refutation of evolution but a sociological commentary.18
21x. Fred Hoyle was an astronomer, not a biologist. And his one great contribution to his own field, the steady state theory of the universe, turned out to be false. But this will not be counted as a factual error.
21xx. Who is Ruperts Albert? I can find no trace of anybody with that name. But, to give Naik the benefit of the doubt, this will not be counted as a factual error.
22. Whether or not evolution is true, it is clearly very thinkable that humans evolved from apes, because most educated specialists do indeed think this! As a statement, this one is very easy to demonstrate as false.
22x. Naik quotes one unknown person after another. Who is Sir Frank Salosbury? Again, vigorous searching can find no trace of anybody with that name. But again, to give Naik the benefit of the doubt, this will not be counted as a factual error.
23. Who is Sir Whitemeat? For the fourth time, no trace can be found of anybody with that name. One would assume that Naik was familiar enough with the authorities he is referencing to actually know their names. But of the six men he references as opposing evolution, he really knows the name of only two of them.
24. There is no such thing as a “paremishia.” Perhaps he means paramecium. But the evolutionary change of an amoeba to a paramecium (these belong to entirely separate kingdoms) is far more dramatic biologically than the relatively small biological difference between apes and humans (same family), which is the opposite of what Naik is trying to say.
25. There is no such person as “Henses Crake.” Naik probably means Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA. Francis Crick believes fully in evolution.
So we have seen that in a mere 520 words or 25 sentences, Dr Naik has said twenty-five clear false statements, which comes out to one falsehood per sentence. Dr. Zakir Naik is a very charismatic man, as well as a very dynamic speaker. But if this response is characteristic of the content of his speeches, he is a profoundly incompetent scholar. His contentions are so full of errors as to be simply embarrassing. He rarely gets a name correctly, fails to understand the most basic details of the ideas he is critiquing, and can’t even get simple, well-known facts of history correct, like whether or not Galileo was sentenced to death.
Patently False Statements
Given that most of his audience cannot check his statistics, Naik makes liberal use of false statistics. Here’s some examples:
Male-Female Ratio Statistics
Naik builds his entire argument for polygamy on the ‘fact’ that Western countries have more females than males, when easily-accessed statistics reveal the exact opposite. Zakir Naik says:
“If every woman got married to only one man, there would be over thirty million females in U.S.A, four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia who would not find a husband. Thus the only two options before a woman who cannot find a husband is to marry a married man or to become public property.”19
His fans cheer for his spectacular logic, but fail to check his numbers. Various published sources, such as the World Factbook (available freely online), show precisely the opposite, that each of these countries has far more men than women :
|Sex ratios (Marriageable age 16-65)|
|Germany||104||100||1.03 million||UK||103||100||527,000||World Total||102||100||43 million|
“World female population is more than male population”
No, actually, there are currently an estimated 3,059,307,647 males and 3,019,466,887 females on earth. In other words, there are nearly 40 million more men on earth than women! I would invite the reader to check my statistics on Wikipedia, the World Factbook, or any other globally-accepted source.
Naik frequently claims that
Islam is the only non-Christian religion that accepts Jesus as a prophet of God.20
Naik, the so-called “scholar of comparative religion”, seems to be unaware of the existence of the seventh largest religion in the world, the Bahá’í Faith. This religion, which recognizes both Jesus and Mohammed as prophets, is larger than either Jainism or Zoroastrianism. Britannica  says that it is established in 247 countries and territories; represents over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups; has scriptures translated into over 800 languages; and has seven million adherents worldwide. Yet Zakir Naik can play on the ignorance of his audience and still feign scholarship.
Naik has criticized the Christian scriptures for saying that hard-working ant colonies “have no commander, no overseer or ruler” (Proverbs 6:7). Naik says that this is ‘unscientific’ for ants have a queen ruler and foremen. Any cursory study of ant society will tell you that the ‘queen’ is in absolutely no sense a ruler. One popular encyclopedia expresses it as follows:
The term “queen” is often deceptive, as the queen ant has very little control over the colony as a whole. She has no known authority or decision-making control; instead her sole function is to reproduce. Therefore the queen is best understood as the reproductive element of a colony rather than a leader.21
Naik then tells a blatant falsehood in saying that ants have ‘foremen’ (“leader of a work crew”). While some ants have a caste of soldiers that fights other ant colonies, ant societies have nothing that could be remotely called foremen.
Zakir Naik regularly cites Islam as the fastest-growing religion due to massive conversion to Islam.22 This is simply untrue. While Islam is the fastest-growing major religion by percentage, it is due to disproportionately high birthrates, not to conversion. The same source from Oxford University Press which is used to claim Islam as the fastest-growing religion also indicates that by conversion rates Christianity is the fastest-growing religion of the top six. The reader is encouraged to examine these statistics online.23
Naik is known to perpetuate rumors that have inflated over time to falsehoods:
“..and the first people who drew the world map were the Muslims..”24
Apparently, Naik has not heard of Ptolemy, the Egyptian scholar who drew the first known world map five hundred years before Islam. Naik must be referring to the 1513 map of Piri Reis, which represents one small step in the gradual progression from Ptolemy’s world map to modern cartography. It reminds one of the rumor of how Bayer used Bukhari’s “fly-wing medicine” to invent a cure for AIDS, or how Neil Armstrong became a Muslim when he heard the azan on the moon, widely propagated among Muslims in the subcontinent.25
The vast majority of his viewers have never read through the entire Qur’an in their mother-tongue, and few have read through the Bible. The minority who have actually read the entire scriptures, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, disdain his contorting of scripture with out-of-context quotes. This scriptural illiteracy enables him to say in passing such bizarre things as, “I can prove from the Bible that Jesus wasn’t crucified” and “..in the Bible, if you read Genesis, Ch. 3, only Eve is held responsible for the downfall of humanity.” If you are familiar with the Torah or Gospels, these statements are simply ridiculous.
It takes about five seconds to spurt out a half-truth slandering another’s scripture, but about ten minutes to expose that same half truth using facts and reason. Naik uses this to maximum advantage in his debate with the Christian missionary William Campbell on the Bible, Qur’an and Science, whom Zakir Naik invited to debate. Here is an outline of what happened:
This is the paradox with debate before a largely uninformed audience—the debater more willing to use deliberate half-truths generally wins, while the one who refuses to take verses and statistics out of context appears to lose.
Appeal to Audience Prejudice
When logic fails, Naik often panders to simple audience prejudice:
“In America, most people consume pork. Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives; many say ‘you sleep with my wife and I will sleep with your wife.’ If you eat pigs then you behave like pigs.”26
Since the Chinese eat more pork than Americans, do they exchange wives more often? Does Zakir Naik behave like a chicken because he eats more chicken meat? The logic is ridiculous, but it appeals to cultural prejudice. Now I don’t eat pork, yet after studying in America for a decade, I have never once encountered the bizarre practice of ‘wife-swapping’ Naik mentions, and most Americans I know would be utterly shocked at such a practice. It may well have happened in atheist Hollywood, just as we hear of sexual garbage in Bollywood and Middle East hotels. But is this what you call logic? Naik claims to speak of facts only, no theories.
A Computer-like Memory
When facing a difficult argument, a string of rapid-fire verse numbers never fails to distract and impress his fans. Never mind if they are frequently wrong or irrelevant, no-one will ever look them up. Naik resorted to this tactic after his water cycle argument had been refuted, listing eighteen verse numbers in a row which explain the water cycle in “great detail.” The audience cheered, but if you look these verses up, they state self-evident truths like that rain comes from clouds and that winds blow clouds, but no scientific details about the water cycle.
Naik and the West
Naik has two parallel gross distortions of the West. On the one hand, he inflates the statistics on homosexuality and adultery far beyond accurate accounts, making “exchanging wives for a night” a common American practice. This is unbelievable to anyone who has lived in the West, but most Asian Muslims happily swallow the caricature.
Massive Conversion to Islam
On the other hand he creates the illusion that the West is rapidly converting to Islam. Anyone who has lived in the West knows that Islam’s growth in the West is due to Muslims immigrating en masse away from Muslim countries. Muslims in America represent between 0.6% (World Factbook 2007) and 1.5% (Encyclopædia Britannica 2005) of the population, two-thirds of US Muslims are foreign-born, and the rest are mainly African Americans who converted initially to the openly-racist Nation of Islam and later integrated into orthodox Islam. Western converts to orthodox Islam represent a tiny minority. Again, Indian Muslims enjoy Naik’s distorted statistics but have no conception of Western society.
Charitable Giving in America
Naik portrays US society as very stingy with their wealth, claiming that if Americans would give the 2.5% zakat of income, poverty and crime would simply disappear. What a wonderful solution to stingy America! Yet actually, Americans give far more to private charity per capita than any other nation, with the percentage hovering around 2% for the past forty years. On average, US evangelical Christians give 4% of their income to charity,27 almost double the zakat 2.5%. If Naik was a journalist writing such nonsense for any reputed newspaper, he would have been fired for misrepresenting the facts.
Homosexuality in America
“The U.S.A. as a whole has more than twenty-five million gays. This means that these people do not wish to marry women.”28
Accurate statistics reveal that 2.3 percent of US males consider themselves homosexual.29 If Zakir Naik’s statistics were correct, every single never-married adult male in America would be a homosexual!30 If Zakir Naik would base his argument on such sloppy statistics in a university class essay, his professor would doubtless fail him.
Corruption & Bribery in the West
In his video, “Why the West is Coming to Islam”, Naik explains at length how the West needs the Qur’an’s solution to corruption and bribery. It sounds good, until you look at Transparency International’s map of corruption, which indicates that, actually, the only parts of the world which have escaped pervasive fcorruption are those who have taken the Bible seriously since the Protestant Reformation. The teachings of Jesus have proved indispensable for eradicating corruption:
The Hijab and Sexual Molestation
Naik asserts that the hijab veil prevents rape and sexual molestation. He mentions the high rate of rape in the USA, claiming that if shariah were implemented in the USA, rape would drop.31 The statistics appear convincing. However, anyone familiar with the cultures of Asia and the West will readily acknowledge that the high Asian emphasis on maintaining the family reputation causes the majority of rapes in Asian countries to go unreported, and thus undocumented in surveys. In Egypt, where hijab is widely used, there is a tremendous problem with sexual molestation. A recent survey carried out by the Egyptian Centre For Women’s Rights has lifted the lid on an alarming trend. Of just over 2,000 questioned 83% of Egyptian women said they had suffered some form of harassment. The author of the report, Nihad Aboul-Qumsan, says too often it is the woman who is blamed for dressing provocatively:
” when we questioned women on what they were wearing when they were abused more than 70% said they were wearing a headscarf. Even more startling, nearly two thirds of the men they surveyed freely admitted they had abused a woman at one time or another.32
So we find that statistics reveal the opposite trend— most of women getting sexually abused in Egypt are wearing hijab. Basic modesty is important, but it is simply unacceptable to blame the victim.
Selective Scholarly Quotations
Naik loves to quote snippets from Western scholars who have made positive statements about Islam. Ironically, the vast majority of these same scholars would disagree strongly with Naik’s views on science, the Qur’an, Islamic theology, the Bible and Science. The vast majority of global scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are staunchly opposed to Naik’s brand of Wahhabi Islam.
Out-of-Context Scripture Verses
Naik regularly quotes “Isaiah 12:29” (actually, it’s 29:12) as a prophecy of Muhammad in the Bible: “give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, ‘I cannot read'” It appears to be an impressive prophecy of an illiterate prophet. Now if we look at the wider context, this verse is speaking of Israel’s response to Isaiah ‘s revelation, and the verse in context is as follows:
(v11) And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to the one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” (v12) And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” (Isaiah 29:11-12)
So, if this was a prophecy (which the wider context rules out), it could be fulfilled by every literate person (v11) and illiterate person (v12) on the planet throughout history. Some prophecy! It reflects rather poorly on Naik’s integrity that he would deliberately deceive his audience in this way.
Since the vast majority of his audience are not scholars of ancient languages like Greek, Hebrew or Arabic, Zakir Naik freely creates new meanings of words which would never be accepted by scholars.
Arabic #1: “Reflected Light”
One of Naik’s arguments for miracles of science is that the Qur’an reveals that the moon has reflected light whereas the sun is a source of light:
“Allah .. made the moon a light ( nūr) in their midst and the sun as a lamp (sirāj). ” (Sura 71:15-16)
He argues this by claiming that nūr means ‘reflected light’ while sirāj means ‘source of light.’ Yet by his same logic, Allah, bearing the title an-Nūr, must be merely “reflected light,” while Muhammad, called “a lamp (sirāj) spreading light” in Sura 33:46 is the original source of light. It all sounds rather blasphemous..
Arabic #2: “Ostrich Egg”
For the past 1400 years Sura 79:30 has been translated in the general sense of “spread flat” without exception:
“And after that He spread the earth.” (79:30)
However, Naik argues that the final word dahaha (دَحَهَا) means not “spread out” but “ostrich egg”, so he translates this verse as, “And the earth, moreover, hath He made egg shaped.”
There is no recognized Arabic dictionary where دَحَهَا means “ostrich egg.” Previous to the last two decades of Bucailleism, no Arab scholar ever translated the verse this way; including scholars like Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, Shakir, Asad, and Dawood who have dedicated their lives to translating correctly these verses. Who do we listen to—linguists and serious scholar of Qur’anic Arabic, or a Saudi-sponsored television evangelist like Zakir Naik? As Abdul Rahman Lomax pointed out, this egg re-interpretation is “nonsense”, for the earth is the exact opposite of an egg-shape; compressed at the ends (oblate spheroid) rather than elongated (prolate spheroid).
New Hebrew Meanings
Naik searches for any Hebrew word that resembles Muhammad and then claims it to be a prophesy of Muhammad’s coming. He finds one such word in the Bible’s Song of Solomon 5:16:
“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.This is my lover (מחמד), this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
Carefully omitting the context given above, he argues that since the Hebrew for “lovely” is מחמד (MHMD, محمد), this is a prophecy of Muhammad (pbuh). Yet the above verse is part of a chapter describing a new bride’s detailed description of her husband. Furthermore, Naik’s translation would replace an adjective with a noun where it doesn’t fit:
“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether Muhammad;This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
The context of the world clearly shows that it is neither a prophecy nor a reference to Muhammad, and to claim so is to attempt to deceive. We can likewise invent similar prophecies about other people. Before and after Muhammad, two other non-Islamic prophets named Mani and Mirza Husayn Ali (‘Bahaullah) each claimed to be a prophet with a scripture claiming to be the next in the line of all the other prophets. Using Naik’s dubious methodology, we find Bahaullah (חסין) prophesied by name in Psalm 89:8 and Mani (מנּי) named specifically in eighteen places! Are we to believe that those references are actually prophecies of these two false prophets?
Naik inaccurately copied a Greek argument from Ahmed Deedat, discussing ” tontheos” and hotheos in a rather perplexing way:
HOTHEOS — THE GOD; TONTHEOS — A GODThe New testament is written in Greek. The first time God occurs in the quotation is “Hotheos” which literally means “the God” i.e. “And the Word was with God”. But the second time when the word “God” appears in the quotation, the Greek word used is “Tontheos”, which means “a god” i.e. “and the word was with god.” In Hebrew there is nothing like Capital ‘G’ and small ‘g’ like in the English language. Thus Hotheos is ‘the God’ with capital ‘G’ and Tontheos is ‘a god’ with small ‘g’.33
Wrong; the phrase hotheos (ὁθεός) never appears in the text of John, and ” tontheos” (τὸνθεός) is grammatically wrong Greek. It is correctly τὸν Θεόν (ton theon) —an expression frequently used for God in the Gospel of John. Mid-argument, Naik seems to forget which language he is dealing with above, when he suddenly switches to talking about Hebrew then back to Greek. To anyone who knows Greek (unlike Naik) it is difficult to figure out what he is trying to say, let alone agree with his point.
Particularly with the Bible, Zakir Naik finds it easier to create imaginary “Christian” teachings and debunk them than to address actual Christian teaching. For example, Naik says:
“In the Bible, if you read Genesis, Ch. 3, only Eve is held responsible (May peace be upon her) for the downfall of humanity.”
It seems that Zakir Naik has not read Genesis 3, for there one clearly finds that God only blames Eve with one verse of curse, while God blames Adam with three times the length of curse and punishment. In the rest of the Bible, the blame for original sin is often placed on Adam’s shoulders only (1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:14, 5:12, Hosea 6:7, etcetera). This objection of Naik is meaningless and deceptive.
Naik praises Western Christians for allowing their members freely to convert to Islam with no persecution34, but he coolly insists that murdering any Muslim who dares to choose another faith is perfectly reasonable and legitimate.
The Medium of Television
Whereas books and essays encourage critical thought and rational reflection, television is notorious for obscuring weak logic and building illusory auras of grandeur. No-one hits the pause button and checks a statistic or verse. Television is entertainment, and Zakir Naik follows Hollywood methods in building a rock-star personality cult around himself, complete with dramatic promotional shots striding down Western city streets.
The Myth of the Unchallenged Debater
Naik’s booklets try to perpetuate the illusion that he stands unchallenged by the Christian community. His booklets frequently write about an unanswered debate challenge he issued to Pope Benedict some time back. It is little wonder the Pope didn’t respond, for it is not the role of global religious leaders such as the Pope or Grand Mufti to debate television preachers! World religious leaders dialogue with other religious leaders like Deobandi Ulema or Muftis, not with television preachers who have been condemned as a Ghair Muqallidin and unreliable by their own religious authorities. Zakir Naik’s speciality is inter-faith debate, but he has never yet dared share the stage with any of the top Christian inter-faith debaters like Jay Smith, Dr. James White, David Wood, Sam Shamoun, The Arabic Christian Perspective , The Sakshi Indian Apologetics Network , —all of whom have issued long-standing challenges to debate Naik but have so far only been offered excuses or silence. Instead, Naik selectively shares the stage only with Christians like Campbell who are elderly and lack debating skills, or else those who have no knowledge of Islam. It would be interesting also to see a debate between Zakir Naik and more mainstream articulate modern Muslims like Ed Husain who oppose his Wahhabi fundamentalist ideas.
In compiling this list of errors my goal is not to embarrass Zakir Naik so much as to help his audience think critically about what they hear on television. Why would someone have to use such frequent false statistics, misinformation, caricatures, and double standards if they were simply presenting the truth?
- Darul Ifta, Darul Uloom Deoband-India, Question: 171
- Darul Ifta, Darul Uloom Deoband-India, Question: 110
- The Times of India writes: “A day after a Lucknow-based mufti issued a fatwa against Naik, a group of Sunni ulema from Mumbai, on Saturday, accused him of working at the behest of Saudi Arabia-backed Wahabis and Deobandis. The group also called for Naik’s immediate arrest and a ban on his conference scheduled to be held at the Somaiya ground in Sion from November 14 to 23. The group has also threatened to disrupt Naik’s Islamic conference if the state government did not cancel it.” ( Mohammed Wajihuddin, Times of India, 8 November, 2008)
- ( Mohammed Wajihuddin, Times of India, 18 November, 2008)
- ( Mohammed Wajihuddin, Times of India, 18 November, 2008)
- Shahnawaz Warsi, November 13, 2008, www.sunninews.wordpress.com
- Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat Al-Kubra vol.5 pg.66, quoted from Abdullah bin Hanzala the Sahaba.
- Shaykh al-hadith Muhammad Zakaria, Au Khanar al Masalik vol.3 pg.450.
- For more on this see Iqbal Latif, “Why the clergy has made our heroes our heretics?” http://www.globalpolitician.com/22333-islam
- Islam awr “Aqliyyat, ed., Muhammad Mustafa Bijnauri, Lahore: Idarah Islamyat, 1994, 403-421
- Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002. pg. A.1.
- When Science Teaching Becomes A Subversive Activity By Pervez Hoodbhoy
- “Quran-science”: Scientific miracles from the 7th century? By Taner Edis, retrieved from http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/writings/articles/quran-science.html
- Abdullah Saeed, ‘The Charge of Distortion of Jewish and Christian Scriptures’, in The Muslim World, Vol 92, Fall 2002, p. 434.
- The primary research done on Bucailleism is that of Mr Zindani, who was a friend and mentor of Osama bin Laden and received generous funding from Laden for his Bucailleist research (Daniel Golden, Western Scholars Play Key Role In Touting ‘Science’ of the Quran, in The Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002).
- See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-_BDLNfcOc&feature=related
- Szent-Györgyi, Albert. 1970. The Crazy Ape. New York: Philosophical Library.
- http://www.irf.net/irf/dtp/dawah_tech/mcqnm1.htm, see also Zakir Naik, Answer to Non-Muslims’ Common Questions about Islam , Islamic Bookstore: Kolkata.
- Dr Zakir Naik, Similarities between Islam and Christianity, and Concept of God in Major Religions.
- “queen ant”, Wikipedia.org, September 29, 2009 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_ant)
- Dr Zakir Naik, Why is the West Coming to Islam?
- Dr Zakir Naik, Universal Brotherhood, p.12.
- Malaysia’s biggest English Newspaper interviewed Neil Armstrong about this hoax and published his answer. (see online version at http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2005/9/7/nation/11971532&sec=nation)
- Dr. Zakir Naik, Answers to Non-Muslims’ Common Questions about Islam (Islamic Bookstore, Kolkata), p.44.
- Zakir Naik, Most Common Questions Asked by Non-Muslims. http://www.irf.net/irf/dtp/dawah_tech/mcqnm1.htm
- The statistics come from a 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and are based on 12,571 interviews with men and women ages 15-44 years of age> (The findings were reported in WorldNetDaily , September 16, 2005).
- See for example, Naik, Answers to Non-Muslims’ Common Questions About Islam, (Islamic Bookstore, Kolkata)
- Egyptian Women learn to fight back, BBC News, Wednesday, 18 March 2009 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7936071.stm)
- Zakir Naik, ‘Why The West is Coming to Islam’
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