Zakir Naik banned from entering UK to lecture on freedom of expression

The UK has banned Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik from entering the country, preventing him from giving a series of lectures in Sheffield and northern England on ‘Freedom of Expression: An Islamic Perspective’.

Dr Naik recently presented a series of lectures in the Maldives at the invitation of the Ministry for Islamic Affairs. One session in particular made headlines when Naik was confronted by a self-declared apostate, who later reconverted to Islam after two days of counselling in police custody.

News agency Reuters reported that Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May had barred Dr Naik from entering the country because “numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behavior.”

“Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter,” she said.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Ministry sources as saying the decision to refuse entry to Dr Naik was based on footage in 2006  in which he appeared to endorse terrorism against the United States: “If he [Osama Bin Laden] is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist … I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist,” Naik says in the clip.

Naik has argued that these comments were taken out of context, and has since issued a statement saying he “unequivocally condemns acts of violence including 9/11, 7/7 and 7/11 [the serial train bombing in Mumbai], which are completely and absolutely unjustifiable on any basis.”

The Telegraph also claimed Dr Naik had said Western women made themselves “more susceptible to rape” by wearing revealing clothing.

“Western society has actually degraded (women) to the status of concubines, mistresses and social butterflies, who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketeers,” the paper quoted him as saying.

One of the topics of Dr Naik’s planned speeches in the UK was ‘freedom of expression’, and the decision to deny him entry to the country has sparked vigorous debate in the UK among civil rights campaigners.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed “grave concern” over the decision, with Secretary General  Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari stating that “this exclusion order demonstrates the double standards practised by the government concerning freedom of speech. While preachers of hate such as Geert Wilders are free to promote their bigotry in this country, respected Muslim scholars such as Dr Naik are refused entry to the UK under false pretences. It is deeply regrettable this is likely to cause serious damage to community cohesion in our country.”

A spokesman for Dr Naik told the BBC that the Home Ministry’s decision was “deeply regrettable” and that the UK had “bowed to pressure” from “certain groups” to exclude him.

He said Mr Naik had been holding talks in the UK for 15 years and the decision to bar his entry was “disappointing.”


Comment: An Evening with Mrs Naik

Ever since my tenth grade in lower secondary in 1982, I do not remember being in a room full of only women until Wednesday night. And now I have completed my forty-fourth year of living.

Wednesday night was womens’ night at the Islamic Centre. The occasion was a lecture by a Mrs Zakir Naik hosted by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Her husband Dr Zakir Naik was invited by the ministry to the country to deliver Islamic lectures. And the couple, their son and three daughters were also involved.

The local media has over the past three weeks made headlines of Dr Naik’s visit to the country. Many locals seems to believe that Dr Naik, who is the founder of the Mumbai based channel, Peace TV is a renowned Islamic Scholar.

While I am under the impression that he is a medical doctor, one of the senior government officials referred to him as a tele-evangelist.

I believe since the nation converted from Buddhism to Islam in 1153, Islam has been fundamental to Maldivians. But lately, I have been aware that the word “Islam” has a special ring to it that it attracts, assembles, arouses and angers my country folk.

I have been long convinced that the power of Islam as the topnotch political power tool to mobilize the Maldivian masses cannot be overlooked. And while the Maldives struggles to move forward nursing its infant democracy and wounded economy, my eyes are fixed on the hands of the evil but the smart who hold Islam as a weapon as we close on 2013.

I find Islam enlightening, progressive and intriguing. Social justice is a passionate concept to me as much as I believe it is central to Islam. So I was at the lecture venue fifteen minutes before it started to learn from Mrs Naik about Islam.

When I arrived at the venue I was not surprised to be told that the main hall was full. The place was swarming with mostly black figures. Rows of chairs lined up on all possible space outside the hall and women were seated on all of them. Some were climbing up the stairs to the mosque above the hall.

I spotted some nervous officials belonging to the host. Obviously, they expected a large turnout and had made careful arrangements with two screens to display Mrs Naik for the people outside. But this response, I was sure, was unexpected.

I looked around. In addition to some officials from the ministry, the only men were some two dozen seated on the low walls in the compound.

I was lucky to get a seat in the main hall filled with nearly three hundred women. The majority was dressed in black. I counted ten wearing no scarf or buruga. The rest showed only their face and hands. Some showed nothing. I noticed three movie cameras operated by young ladies who I assume were journalists from the TV Maldives. The Islamic Ministry estimated 6000 women attended the function.

The evening began. One of the daughters of Mrs Naik recited Quruan. The next daughter, looking close to ten years recited a poem. It praised the hijab while outrightly insulted those who did not wear it.

Next we heard the introduction of our lecturer Mrs Farhat Naik.
We heard Mrs Naik is from Mumbai and has a masters degree in commerce. We were told she is a well known figure in the Islamic community and has traveled all over the world. We were told she lectured on Islam in countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, etc. We heard she is a principal of one of the Islamic schools and Mr and Mrs Naik has even opened Islamic Schools.

What I do not remember hearing was her qualification in Islam and who gave it to her.

Mrs Naik took the microphone, standing in front of me. She was tall and a pleasant lady. She wore a black gown and a dark buruga and her face and hands were the only visible skin.

Hoping for some stimulating valuable information in Islam, I listened intently.

She started saying her topic for the night is “My purpose of life” and not “roles and responsibilities of women in Islam” as displayed behind her on a board.

The lecture went on for over an hour. My expectations turned to disappointment. And then, to concern.

The “academic lecture” that I expected turned out to be a memorized inconsistent contradicting jumble. It contained information downloaded from internet mixed with outdated and inappropriate examples that was pinched with selected verses from different chapters of Quruan and decorated with rhetoric. The “world famous Islamic Scholar” turned out to be a “performer” very suitable to school kids from primary to secondary. I later checked her quotes from Quruan and found they were used indeed out of context.

Mrs Naik first quote from Quruan was 51:56. She said “We have created man and jinn only for the purpose of Ibadhaa (worship).” She interpreted it saying “worship is what pleases Allah and our salvation and success depends on Allah being pleased.”

I checked a translation of the verse. It has “worship” replaced with “service” and the verse had a very strong yet broad meaning that encompass the diverse activities of all human life. To my dismay, Mrs Naik’s entire interpretation was in a total vaccum where human life, activities and times were concerned.

In her speech Mrs Naik preached us to be Allah-centred and said the purpose of a Muslim’s life should be to pleasure Allah. She preached not to have meaningless purposes in life and elaborated it with an example of a dog chasing a car on the highway. She came up with a word for each letter in Islam. She said “I” is for Quruan and Sunnah, “S” is for specific goals, “L” is for lucrative – in this world and afterlife, “M” is to measure how much is achieved and “I” is for intentions – which is to pleasure Allah” and “C” is for consistency. She did not tell us how a Muslim could measure the achievements made toward the goal of pleasing Allah.

She preached the values of having strong desires, having focus, putting consistent efforts, disregarding worldly ambitions and not to let society decide what a Muslim should become. She elaborated it with the story of the 1960 Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph. But she never mentioned the relationship between Wilma’s success and her worship to Allah.

I wonder whether Mrs Naik, as an Islamic scholar did some research on our 100 percent Muslim country prior to her visit. Obviously, she was not aware that murder and stabbing are nearly a weekly affair which the Maldivians are increasingly getting de-sensitized to. She preached repentance and elaborated it with a story of a man who committed 100 murders and fell dead on the way to repent but went to heaven because his intent to repent preceded his death.

Mrs Naik went on to say “do not judge people on what people think of you”. She said the message given by girls who wear hijab is “We are prohibited” while the message girls who wear skirts give is “You are invited”. Is Mrs Naik reinforcing her audience to harass girls who do not wear hijab? Doesn’t she know that in Maldives there are many women who do not wear hijab? Is Mrs Naik saying that harassment, abuse and rape do not occur in communities where women wear hijab? What data does she have to support her argument? Mrs Naik asked her audience to imagine a world where all women wear hijab saying that there would be no such crimes as harassment, rape, abuse, etc. Does she know that rape and sex abuse often happen within family? As a scholar how did she come up with such an assumption?

Mrs Naik expressed her distaste for western values and said “if we copy the west we have products of the west”. I wonder what she was thinking when she sat watching her two daughters emulate a rap song at her microphone after her talk.

Mrs Naik called the TV an “idiot box”. She urged her audience to throw it and switch on the Islamic TV mentioning Mr Naik’s Peace TV. She said cartoons are made to brainwash the children and spoil generations. She disregarded the positive values put across to children through cartoons and the valuable information received through those such as the National Geographic Channel. Her rhetoric seemed to totally disregard modern technological advances and any child’s basic right to walk the path to wisdom.

She said all TV channels except Islamic ones ‘are designed to stop the (imminent) revolution that Muslim Ummah is going to bring to the world’. I saw this message in the context of her entire lecture that can be summarised as, “Allah created humankind to worship Him and while everyone should have a purpose in life it should be the jihad of converting all human kind into Islam.”

I wonder why Islamic scholars always continue to portray Allah in the image of a human being – a human being who gets pleasure from the praise and deeds of his slaves and rewards in return. I wonder how the audience will perceive the divine when Mrs Naik told a story involving a clash between the Angel of Paradise and the Angel of Curse on who would take out the soul of a dead person. She said to determine who gets the soul, Allah asked them to find out which distance is longer – between where the man was when he decided to repent and the spot where his dead body lay or from that spot to where he was going to repent?

I wonder whether a true Islamic scholar trying to win the hearts and minds of twenty-first century Maldivians should talk in such terms.

The superscript of the Naik’s whole visit was revealed when Mrs Naik answered a question from the audience who asked her where she can provide Islamic education to her children. She answered by telling that if she wanted an Islamic school why doesn’t she get together people who want it and call her husband for it at his lecture following evening.

When I left the hall close to eleven thirty, I saw a state car and two security officers in full gear waiting outside in the drive way.

And my mind struggled to reconcile the cost – benefit ratio of this enchanting evening with Mrs. Naik.

But I know, tonight is an accomplishment for those. They’ve seen the blue print for the transformation they require. And this transformation is the final step to the Rule by the Ulaama.

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Profits from resorts that serve alcohol are haram, explains Dr Zakir Naik

Visiting Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik clarified during a question and answer session this morning that profits generated from the sale of alcohol are haram (prohibited), and urged the Maldives to encourage investment in halal (permitted) tourism.

“In Islamic finance, you cannot involve in any business as the owner of that business if it is even one percent a haram activity,” Dr Naik said.

“As a main partner you cannot be involved. If you are investing as a pool and you are a small partner, then a little bit is permitted, but as a 100% owner I cannot say ‘fine, I will have a hotel that will allow alcohol, and that money I will give to charity.’ You cannot say that. Because you are involved in haram activity.”

It was permitted, Dr Naik explained, to invest in part in a mutual fund where a haram activity might be a small percentage of the investment, as “then I can give the small amount to charity, because I have no major say in the business. But if I am a bigger shareholder, I cannot allow even 0.1% of haram activity to take place.”

Under Islam the use, handling and sale of alcohol are considered haram to Muslims, a tenet that led to vigorous opposition against the government’s attempt in February to legalise the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims on inhabited islands. Critics of the regulations claimed they were unconstitutional, as Article 10(b) of the Maldives’ Constitution states that ‘no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives..

However the country depends heavily on tourism for its economy, particularly resorts which profit from the sale of alcohol, many of which are owned by local businessmen.

Dr Naik, who is speaking tonight and tomorrow at Maafaanu Stadium, after being invited by the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, questioned why the Maldives had no resorts that were “100 percent halal.”

“Your country is so beautiful. I have visited many countries in the world and I have to profess, the islands in Maldives are par excellence. I’ve been to many parts of the world, been to many top resorts in the world, but the one where I am staying in the Maldives is par excellence. Allah has blessed you with such beauty, scenery and natural resources,” he said.

“I put forward the proposal that why don’t we have an Islamic resort? I’m aware the Maldives prohibits alcohol for citizens, but those people who come from outside the Maldives can have access to these things which are haram for Muslims.”

Such resorts, he suggested, should be “exclusively halal, free of pork and alcohol, and with proper segregation and dress code – it will be a benefit.”

Similar segregated, alcohol and pork free hotels in other parts of the world had proven very successful, he explained, “with revenue far more than other hotels. The same thing can be done here.”

“The income for people investing in such Islamic resorts will be much higher,” he suggested. “I have spoken to government officials about it, and they say Inshallah, they look forward to it. Believe me it will attract more tourists very soon, in the next couple of years, with better revenue and a better profit.”

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has similarly argued for promotion of Islamic “cultural tourism” within the Maldives, noting that “a lot of hotels, such as the Intercontinental in Medina, are without alcohol. What about developing alcohol-free resorts; Islamic tourism, just like Islamic banking?”

Dr Zakir Naik is speaking at an event at Maafannu stadium tonight and tomorrow, at 8:45pm.