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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Dr Zakir Naik
Bridging chasm between different communities
Islamic organisations in India must learn from the success of Dr Naik. Instead of relying on the outdated methods the latest developments and alternative mode of presentation and propagation must be used, writes M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: Where even an organisation fails, an individual succeeds. Dr Zakir Naik (38), a lanky, bearded man who is trained in medicine but practices oratory, bridging chasm between different communities succeeded in pulling a crowd with ease.

Dr Zakir Naik

As Mumbai plunged into a festive mood on January 1, Naik talked to a crowd of over 10,000 at Azad Maidan on the subject similarities between Islam and Hinduism. After a long time an individual succeeded in gathering a huge crowd on a non-emotional subject.

The presentation was a departure from the usual aggressive and debate oriented style of Dr Zakir Naik. The approach was accommodative and reconciliatory. Does this indicate a change in perception of the Islamic organisations in India?

Most of the Islamic organisations in India are inward looking and are more concerned about superficial issues or at the most reserve themselves to propagating about the basic pillar of Islam especially Namaz amongst Muslim.

The process of dawah and participating in the issues of the non-Muslim is put on a backburner. After a long time an individual took up an issue of Dawah from a public platform.

Presiding over the IRFs multi-hued activities, Dr Zakir Naik invited Muslims and Hindus to discuss similarities shunning the communal approach. Addressing the crowd he said to say all religions are equal is rubbish. Instead of harping on inaccurate cliches, we must seek a confluence of different faiths.I am not saying anything new. I am just opening minds that have been sealed and shut by bigotry. In India, the mullahs and pandits have hidden the truth. Its time someone helped the masses see light, he protests. 

Coming from a family of doctors (his father Adul Karim is a noted psychiatrist and elder brother Mohammed practices medicine), Naik was initially studying to be a doctor at Nair Hospital. 

Then, in 1987, Naik heard Ahmed Deedat, a noted scholar on comparative religion from South Africa, speak. In his lecture, Deedat quoted Verse 33, Chapter 41 of the Quran: Who is better in speech than one who calls men to Allah, works righteousness and says, I submit my will to God. I was fascinated by this verse. It changed my life. From a doctor, I turned into an orator, says Naik.

Though the January 1 presentation was not scholarly but the approach was laudable. The high profile publicity of the presentation sent positive signals to the non-Muslims and quite a few were present at Azad Maidan.No doubt Dr Naik's approach is a welcome and much needed step from the community but its too little for producing a change in hearts and emotional attachment between Muslim and non-Muslim.

Other Islamic organisation in India must learn from the success of Dr Naik.Instead of relying on the outdated methods, latest developments and alternative mode of presentation and propagation must be used. Out of two most successful movements in India Tabligi Jamaat and Jamaat-I-Islami Hind, the former has a loose structure and the latter has a centralized system. What is required is a balanced system, which is vibrant and accepts changes to accommodate the young generation.

But one system of Dawah, which is universal and can never be outdated, is the personal touch. In the organizational structure its the propagation of the organisation ideals and objective, which becomes the focus and Islam, society and individual issues take the back seat. Thus most of the Islamic organisations in India are stagnating. 
Even Dr Naik inspite of a glorious initial success is showing the signs of stagnation. Perhaps because the IRF focus is on the Dr Naik personality rather than the objective. 

Learning from history its obvious that Sufis were the most successful not only in dawah but also in bridging the gap between Muslim and other communities. The reasons: Sufis were always concerned about the local people without any discrimination based on religion; Sufis gave importance to the basic need of the people and made arrangement to provide it whenever it was possible; and Sufis were accommodative in accepting the local culture, which were not against the teaching of Islam. No wonder people accepted Islam and considered them as their benefactor.

Islam teaches us that irrespective of whether people accept Islam or not their problems should be taken up and all possible help be provided. Christian are just 2% of the Indian populations and their contribution in the social sector is unparalleled.

If Islamic organisations and movements like Tabligi Jamaat, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, IRF, Students Islamic Organisation etc take up issues of the Indian society irrespective of caste and religion the misunderstanding towards Islam will vanish and people's hearts towards Islam and Muslim will soften. 

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