Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik

Last Friday the papers advertised an English-language lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik, an Islamic scholar from India whose talk was titled "Islam and Media: War or Peace?" It sounded like a Ramadan thing to do so I got in the car and drove out to the tent where the event was being held.

The talk was scheduled for 9pm so I got to the location at 8:20 and to my surprise it was busy. Dozens of people were walking to the location. I parked the car and made my way towards the tent.

Outside some large screens and rows of chairs have been set out in case the tent got full so people could still watch the proceedings from outside. There was also a large carpeted area in front of the entrance, where dozens of men were praying. I took my shoes off before walking on the carpet and deposited them about 10 feet away from the entrance to the tent before going inside. The entrance was already pretty crowded and there was a bit of pushing and shoving getting in.

Now when I say tent I don't mean some small enclosure, this place was like a massive hall, probably 100+ feet wide and 500+ feet long. By my rough estimate it could seat about 2000 people. Volunteers were guiding people to seats so I wound up in a seat about a third of the way back, last seat in the row. There was separate seating for women at the back of the tent.

It was hot -- dang hot. The tent had about six or seven air-conditioners running but it was nowhere near enough and the temperature in the tent was probably about 30° and humid. Granted, it was still a little cooler than outside which was in the mid-30s. Didn't matter though, everyone was sweating. Thankfully volunteers would go up and down the aisles handing out small bottles of water.

People kept pouring in and it became apparent that the place was going to fill up. Over 2000 people were showing up for this lecture?! Talks at the Museum of Islamic Art are lucky to get more than 100.

When it was getting close to capacity there was still hordes of people at the door so the volunteers started trying to get people to sit outside in the chairs but it was such a mob scene but people kept pushing their way in. Eventually volunteers managed to shut the door and about four or five of them had to press against the door due to all the people trying to get in. Occasionally the volunteers would lose and the door would burst open again and about 30 to 40 people would come in before they could shut it. People outside were yelling at pushing to get in, the volunteers were yelling that them that the hall was full, it started getting quite chaotic. Peeking out the doorway I could see a massive crush of people trying to get into the place. (I later learned that there was probably another 2000+ people outside).

I started talking to the guy next to me, who turned out to be a Muslim from Sri Lanka, who told me Dr. Zakir was very famous in South Asia. A quick glance around I realized that almost everyone in the audience was from India, Pakistan and surrounding countries. Looks like I was attending a lecture by a Muslim religious celebrity.

There was still more scuffling outside and the volunteers were still having to brace the door to keep it shut. An organizer took the microphone to tell people outside that the hall was full and to sit in the chairs outside. Eventually the police showed up to calm things down. By this point in time it was about 9:30, Dr. Zakir was not going to go on stage until everything had settled.

That's when it dawned on me . . .

My shoes were outside and only 10 feet away from the door!!

Aw man, my shoes must have been totaled! Who would have expected my shoes would have wound up in the middle of a mob of Islamic scholar devotees?!

I resigned myself to walking back to my car in my socks and sat in the sweltering tent awaiting the start of the lecture.

To be continued...

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