Controversial Islamic scholar and popular public speaker Dr Zakir Naik will speak in the Maldives on May 25-31 at the the invitation of the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, an event the ministry claims will be “the biggest event ever held in the Maldives.”
Permanent Secretary for the Islamic Ministry Mohamed Didi said the ministry expects over 10,000 people to attend Dr Naik’s talk in Male’. Additional talks will be given by Dr Naik’s son, Fariq Zakir Naik, and a third by Dr Naik’s wife, Farhath Zakir Naik, targeted at a female audience.
While Dr Naik is visiting at the invitation and expense of the Islamic Ministry, Didi explained that “the expenditure should be less than we expect – ministry is calculating the costs. We are getting a lot of help from outside sources.”
“We are hoping to get sponsorship from a businessman or a resort,” he said, “and we expect we will only have to pay the airfares. It will have a limited impact on our budget.”
The ministry has authorised TVM and Voice of Maldives to broadcast Dr Naik’s appearance, which will include an hour-long question-and-answer session.
Dr Naik’s talk would not be translated into Dhivehi, Didi noted, apart from “perhaps the Q&A.”
“With an Arabic-speaking scholar we have to translate into Dhivehi, but because Dr Naik will be speaking in English he can speak directly,” Didi said, noting that “in the Maldives 99 percent of people can understand English, even if they cannot always communicate in it.”
The ministry intended to invite many more English-speaking scholars to speak in the country, he said.
Based in India, Dr Naik conducts lectures all over the world, claiming on his website to “clarify Islamic viewpoints and clear misconceptions about Islam using the Qur’an, authentic Hadith and other religious scriptures.”
Dr Naik is also the founder and president of Islamic satellite television network Peace TV, which broadcasts from Mumbai to 150 countries around the world in English and Urdu. The Indian Express newspaper places him 82nd in its 2009 list of the top 100 ‘Most Powerful Indians’, and third in the ‘Top 10 Spiritual Gurus of India’ behind Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
He is well known for vigorous question-and-answer segments during his live appearances, often with members of other faiths, and frequently references passages from the bible and other texts to substantiate his views on Islam, some of which have proven controversial.
In one particular appearance Dr Naik announced “every Muslim should be a terrorist”, claiming that if Osama bin Laden was “terrorising America, the biggest terrorist, then I’m with him.”
He has also been criticised for his comment that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre was “an inside job”, and his observations that being an air hostess is not a respectable profession for women.
The Islamic Ministry has previously said that one way of addressing the issue of religious fundamentalism in the Maldives is by inviting moderate scholars to preach in the country.
Whether Dr Naik’s views could be described as moderate “depends”, Didi explained.
“He compares religious documents such as the bible and the Holy Qur’an, that is why I describe him as moderate. He uses a lot of logic and references. For us he is good, and can give the logic on Islam.”
The Ministry for Islamic Affairs noted that while many of Dr Naik’s talks involve discussions on comparative religion, as the Maldives is a 100% Islamic country “we are giving the topics to him. We’re still waiting for confirmation – one of the topics will most likely be misconceptions of Islam,” Didi explained.
“I think we will tell him about the situation in our country and guide him as to our traditions,” Didi said.
Inviting foreign scholars with potentially differing views to speak in the country did not risk breaching the country’s religious unity act through advocating a different version of Islam than that prescribed by the Islamic Ministry, Didi said. “If he speaks on Islam, there is no difference of opinion. We’ll see.”