Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dr. Zakir Naik - a lecture, a question, and my shoes

Finally Dr. Naik took the stage and gave a 90 minute lecture on the media and Islam. Some highlights (I'm not quoting verbatim here and, no, I have not doublechecked to see if some of the facts he mentions are true):

• The Western media focuses on the “black sheep” in Islam and treats them as if they were conventional Muslims, implying that all Muslims must be like them. [I can't argue with that one, I have said so myself in this blog]
• The media are quick to point out when a person or group is Muslim, but if the group are not Muslims then their religion is never a focus -- you have never heard the general media refer to the IRA as a "Christian terrorist group" or “Catholic terrorist group”, or imply that their actions are somehow representative of Catholicism. [I think he has a point there - but there aren’t a lot of religious-based terrorist groups out there right now that are not Muslim. I suppose the Lord's Resistance Army comes to my mind and if I recall correctly the media does not refer to them as a Christian terrorist group either.]
• A Muslim killing a few people is big news in the West, Maoist rebels killing dozens of people is not. [Fair comment I suppose]
• One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The British would've considered George Washington to be a terrorist. [No idea about this one but the terrorist/freedom fighter argument is an old one]
• Islam really is a religion of peace and Muslims should use violence only as a last resort. Some Muslims are misguided and forget this. Regardless, the Western media loves to take quotes from the Qur’an out of context to support this violent interpretation. There are plenty of violent quotations one could get from the Bible, Hindu Scripture or any other Scripture. [Yes, but I will point out that out-of-context quoting by the West it is not just limited to Islam, quoting biologists out of context is a popular pastime for creationists, and the media love to quote politicians out of context. It is a problem though I agree.]
• The word “jihad” has been mistranslated to mean “holy war” but in truth the word means “strike” -- to strike against unfairness, poverty, wrongdoing and oppression. References to the word in the context to war can be found back in the Crusades but it was referring to the Christian attackers, not the Muslims. Unfortunately even many Muslims do not realize the word’s actual meaning. [My Qur’an says Jihad is “holy fighting in Allah’s cause”. I’ll have to take his word for it on this one]
• The West likes to paint Islam as inherently violent and state that it was spread “by the sword”. What army invaded Malaysia, China, or Indonesia? Why did the Mughul emperors not kill every non-Muslim in India? Why is there still a large population of Coptic Christians in Egypt to this day? How did significant Jewish populations live in the Middle East for centuries? How easy was it for non-Christians to live in the Christian world during the Middle Ages? What was the purpose of the Crusades? [But the spread of Islam wasn't entirely peaceful either, especially in the earlier days when it spreads throughout North Africa. That said, I'd say that from about 800 A.D. to 1600 A.D. the Islamic world was probably a lot more tolerant than the Christian West]
• Watching most news media is worse than watching pornography. Pornography is simply haram (forbidden), media actively attacks you by using misinformation to turn you from your beliefs, or manipulate you into certain actions. [He did re-emphasize that pornography is still bad and you shouldn't watch it]
• Islam does not hold a candle to Christianity in terms of its organization and ability to spread its message. India has almost 100,000,000 Muslims yet the circulation of one of the best Islamic magazines in the country is maybe 50,000 copies. Compare that to the Christian magazine Watchtower, which has a circulation of tens of millions in dozens of languages -- and the Christian group that publishes Watchtower is not even considered a mainstream group of Christianity. In the United States churches can raise millions of dollars quickly to form TV stations, publishing houses, missionary work or whatever else they need to spread their message. Dr. Naik has never heard of an Islamic group who is able to do that to the extent that many US church groups can. [I'll take his word for it]
• Muslims have to be careful about the media quoting them out of context, this has happened to Dr. Naik in many instances to try to make his words sound worse than they really were, including on TV. [Out-of-context quoting is not limited to attacking Islam]
• Muslims are not utilizing media to its fullest extent and so are at a disadvantage to the negative views portrayed in the West. [okay]

Not a whole lot I can say is flat out wrong and many of his points I have raised myself in one way or another on this blog.

Despite the heat and humidity in the tent it was still pretty much full by the time the speech ended. Some people left but they were quickly replaced by people from outside.

Then it was time for questions. A microphone was set up in the front and another one set up in the back for the ladies for people to ask questions. About 20 to 30 men immediately headed up to the microphone. However Dr. Naik had other ideas and said that he invited non-Muslims to attend this lecture and as non-Muslims are his guests he will give priority to any non-Muslim who has a question about Islam. They can immediately jump the queue and ask their questions first.

So I stood up, walked down the aisle to the microphone, and the first question of the evening came from yours truly! There were at least two TV cameras there, likely broadcasting the show on the Islamic channel "Peace TV”, which Dr. Naik does a lot of programs for. Who knew one day I'd wind up briefly on Islamic television?

My question:

In your opinion, what are the top two misconceptions the West has about Islam that it should be aware of? What are the things about Islam that the West needs to understand?

He gave a detailed answer and provided three items (I'm paraphrasing here):

1) that ultimately Islam is a religion of peace
2) that extremists should not be viewed as being representative of Islam or Muslims in general
3) that the Qur’an needs to be viewed in context and that the West should not focus on a few specific passages

He then went on to answer questions for another hour and a half, primarily from non-Muslims but then later from the Muslims in the audience.

When he left about 50+ people came forward to get pictures and (I presume since I saw a number of books) get his autograph on books he had authored.

Afterward a Pakistani colleague of mine managed to find me, he had been outside for most of it and told me about the thousands of people outside and the huge crush trying to get in. He sure was surprised to suddenly see me appear on the screens outside to ask Dr. Naik a question. He confirmed that Dr. Naik is quite well known in South Asia and is a popular scholar, appearing on many TV shows there. We chatted for a while waiting for the crowd to disperse.

So we left and sure enough my shoes were not where I had put them. My colleague helped me search for them and after a minute we managed to find one way off to the left of the door, and about five minutes of searching we found another one off to the right and around the corner of the tent (?! I don't even want to know how it wound up there, maybe George Bush walked by ;-) ). Anyway, I found my shoes! They weren't even damaged, just a few scuffs.

I got home at 1 am and figured there was no point in setting my alarm for 3 am just to have my Sohour -- I ate something right then and there and went to bed. Long day.

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