Much has been said and written about the Muslim scholar, Dr Zakir Naik.
Many are genuinely concerned about his style of preaching, which they allege impinges abrasively on other religions.
Many others link his fiery speeches to potential IS threat and to national security.
The media unashamedly sensationalised and tarnished the discourse by reporting that the militants in the terror attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were inspired by Zakir Naik.
The Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) has stood on the sidelines since Zakir Naik’s early presence in Malaysia because we do not subscribe to his dialectical and combative approach, overbearing Islam over others, conscious or unconsciously proselytising, and oftentimes oblivious of the local context and demography.
This differentiates the muballigh (preacher) Zakir Naik from our conception of a dai (Islamic worker). Islam's concept of al-Hanifiyah (Semitic tradition) is the divine prescription towards all other non-Islamic religions. It allows "all the other religions" to be fully "others" without any reduction, deconstruction or relativisation.
It acknowledges the plurality of religions and allows the adherents of all religions the plurality of laws to govern their lives within the aegis of their religious beliefs and principles. This is the gift of al-Hanifiyah to humanity.
This is in accordance with the calling of surah al-Hajj verse 40 which reads:
“[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right - only because they say, 'Our Lord is Allah.' And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.”
We accept believers of other faiths
We therefore recognise and accept the presence of believers of other faiths, who have the inalienable right to their truth claims and our relationship and engagement is based and thrives on peaceful co-existence, harmonious cohesion and being mutually respectful of the other.
This is divinely enunciated as lita’rafu (know one another) in surah al-Hujurat verse 13:
“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nation and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”
In a similar vein, the maqasid syari’ah (higher objectives of Islamic law) epitomises hifz ad-deen as the protection and preservation of all belief and moral systems, and enhances mutual respect and understanding among followers of all religions.
However, we do not overtly criticise Zakir Naik and his following, of his style and his methodology, because it is his ijtihad (juristic opinion) and prerogative vis a vis the deliverance of Islam’s message of peace and mercy.
But we do take serious issues with those who unabashedly allege and accuse him of utterances and actions that are evidently false and treacherous, short of branding him an IS terrorist.
As we earlier stood strongly against the declarations of believers of other faiths as kafir harbi and kafir dhimmi, we will similarly condemn those who label Zakir Naik with acrimonious and hostile Islamophobic expressions.
We unequivocally condemned both the mainstream and alternative media, which thrive on these Islamophobic nuances.
Steer towards a civilisational dialogue
We instead invite the genuine and sincere among us to steer the discourse towards a civilisational dialogue, enhancing the higher purposes of aspiring for lita’rafu and not one driven by litanafasu, despise and envy of the others.
Together, we can redirect our religious diversity to work positively towards nation-building and a civilisational construct, instead of being driven by a competitive zero sum game, where the winner takes all and the loser is vanquished.
It does not help that our socio-political governance has not been just and equitable to all religious quarters. If anything, the current ambience of heightened religious tension is a reflection of the failures of the ruling establishment.
The politicisation of religion and the irresponsible religious and racial rhetoric has, unfortunately, been the harbinger of most of our religious and racial disharmony. Allah (SWT) warns in surah al-Maidah verse 8:
“O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what you do.”
The final and universal message of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, re-asserted the principle of equality and dignity of all mankind when he said:
“O humankind! Your Lord is one Lord, and you have one father. All of you are from Adam, and Adam is from dust. The noblest of you is the most God-fearing. No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, no non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab, no black person has any superiority over a white person, and no white person has any superiority over a black person – superiority is only through piety.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhî)
There will always exist differences among human beings (see al-Quran: 11:118–19). Hence, it is neither possible, nor commanded, to make everyone believe in one faith (see al-Quran: 10:99).
The call of Islam is not towards the homogenisation of society into one culture, identity or faith but the observation and practice of good conduct and civility so as to ensure that diversity will nurture justice, peace, the promotion of the common good and benefit (jalb al-masalih) and the avoidance and protection from harm (dar’ al mafasid).
Religious hegemony and intolerance in a pluralistic society will invariably result in conflict and will only frustrate the claim that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace, freedom and rahmatan lil alamin (mercy to all mankind).
MUSA MOHD NORDIN and MASZLEE MALIK are from the Muslim Professionals Forum.