Zakir Naik, heresy and decency in religious discourse

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Dr Naik, an Indian Muslim with an amazing feat of memorising the scriptures of the various religions, was invited by the president as part of the celebrations of the July 22nd 20th anniversary. 

 

Social media has been very busy with the man’s visit. Some explicitly declared him one of the greatest living scholars, by citing his ability to stand in any debate and produce proofs for his position verbatim. Many others, among them people of other faiths especially Christians reduced him to a mere rambler who is just repeating what others before him had said. Whatever the perception, Dr Naik has left behind a host of controversy regarding certain statements he made.

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Yesterday The Standard ran a rebuttal of Naik’s position on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat by the aforesaid group itself. While it’s no new thing within the Muslim community to declare other sects disbelievers by other groups and sects, it’s new to the Gambian populace that in declaring others to be disbelievers, we have nothing to do with them and that they should be ostracised. That’s what exactly Naik did with his call on other Muslims to reject all Ahmadi schools and take their children from them. While there is still a raging controversy within Sunni scholars with regard to the status of Ahmadis being Muslims, it’s really farfetched that we should shut down all contacts with our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity.

 

The great scholars of Islam ranging from Imam al-Ghazali have been always very cautious to remove people outside the pale of Islam. When the heretical doctrines of the rationalist Mutazilite sect were floating in the Muslim world only a minority really condemned them to disbelief. This sect among others were found very wanting when it comes to the core creedal validations of Sunni Islam but the scholars were scrupulous to condemn them outright. The Islamic heresiological tradition has never been replete with accounts of such hasty declarations of disbelief and heresy. Leniency and softness has been and is still the norm in traditional Sunni circles of scholarship when it comes to these very critical and heavy matters.

 

So inasmuch as Dr Naik is fundamentally recognised as a scholar in some circles, efforts should be made to realise that Islam embodies a vast tradition of differences in approach and methodology. The differences, according to a prophetic narration, are a mercy on the Muslim community. When there is a difference of opinion in any matter, the faithful are called upon to exercise restraint and deal with each other in tolerance and respect.

 

Being receptive to dissent and differing ways of seeing things is a sign of enlightenment and maturity. The outcome of this is of course development of the people through the influx of different ideas that would enrich their outlook and lead to a fulfilled intellectual and academic environment. The fullness of religion and theology also lies in the rejection of dogmatism and inclining to tolerating the other voice.

 

It’s disheartening to see Muslims in the light of all these beautiful teachings condemning each other in the most brutal and insulting of ways. The Ahmadi community must be applauded for handling this very sensitive issue with such maturity and intellectual authenticity. Whether you agree or not with the views they put across, the simple fact that they didn’t resort to verbal abuse is very commendable and should be emulated if we are to have a decent discourse on religion in this country. 

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