I think Zakir Naik needs to defend Islam in India, more than tell us Malaysians what Islam should look like in a multicultural country. He needs to answer the charges presented to him.
Just when Malaysians are about to realise the need to have more transcultural, inter-faith dialogue, and to understand each religion and each ethnic group as unique worldviews we can learn from, in order to forge a nation of progressive and tolerant and collaborative peoples - as how Tunku Abdul Rahman envisioned - we have these types of preachers to mess things up.
The discourse of the ongoing devastating Muslim-Hindu conflict in India - of a conflict that has taken so many lives, since even before the India-Pakistan separation, is now going to be brought to Malaysia through TV evangelicalism.
Already statements antagonising the non-Muslims are being made by this fugitive preacher, by this man brought over for the Umno-PAS alliance, as perhaps a main attraction for the speeches for the coming elections.
Just when we are about to realise how much the non-Malays and non-Muslims are to be brought back as equal and equitable partners in this multicultural entity and polity called ‘Malaysia’, we have this type of speaker brought in, harboured, protected, well-fed, promised an island, and given Islamic-Malay type of awards - to speak on “troot... troot... troot” (truth, as pronounced in Mumbai English) till Islam is now seen as a defensive and for-no-reason-jihading religion in a political climate of “attack... attack... attack” as if we are all a society of reptiles with sub-standard reptilian brains holding to the art of war of ‘fight or flight’.
That's what the climate is now. Implosive. Explosive. Impulsive. Divisive. Chaotic. Corruptive, Corrosive Cataclysmic. You add to this list.
Nauseating it has been to go through the videos on how Islam is presented by this Indian preacher.
He debunks Darwin in a single saliva-spitting breath, he called Westerners pigs and said that they love to swap wives after wild parties, he argues about theories and facts and confuses the two in his attempt to promote his ideas, he talks about Islam as if it is a simple mathematical calculation of 2+2=4 and therefore the only truth, and a range of other deranged misrepresentation of the religion as a buffoonish, simplistic, one-argument- fits all cultural philosophy, and he uses half-baked perspectives of alternative views to spice his spittances and spurtations of what Islam is.
I am sure many of us have sat down and listened to his speeches on YouTube and perhaps many Muslims outside of India and Pakistan and his ‘PeaceTV’ radar have cringed and crawled in search of intellectual/philosophical solace after consuming the views.
Real or staged?
And those ‘conversions’, live on TV - are those real, or staged? I can never know. Perhaps for many watching those TV shows, especially Muslims, this might be heartwarming and even emotionally spiritual, or even ecstatically and catatonically pleasurable to watch someone ‘taking the shahadah on TV’ and suddenly finding enlightenment after being asked a few questions on the truth or falsehood of this or that religion by this TV preacher wanted in another country.
What does it mean to be a celebrity convert then?
Fruitless it ought to be, should one debate with those whose weapons of argumentation consists of faulty premises and half-baked, touch-and-go anthropological perspectives on religion and cultural philosophies.
Is Islam a religion of quick-draw-McGraw kind of conversion via televangelical interrogation watched by millions? Or it is a cultural philosophy that requires the mind and heart to engage in a very long and life-long process of inner-debate and dialogue - almost in the Cartesian, Darwinian, and Averrosian modes, in a dialectical fashion of the interplay of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis of doubt-certitude-doubt, and experience and intuition, etc - in order to ‘convert’?
Isn’t Islam about philosophical quest and not TV-conversion spectacle? Isn't it about taming the Ego and humility and about the nurturing of inner sensibility and learning from other spiritual worldviews - rather than to be dumbed down and numbed by some preacher whose microphone ought to be taken away?
Isn't Islam a religion that has more dignity than that - promoting the idea of deep thinking about other philosophies, rather than one used to provoke people of other faiths and ethnic groups when a major election is around the corner?
Malaysians are very peaceful people. Before the ‘Islamisation Process’ of the Anwar Ibrahim-Mahathir Mohamad Era started, we need not have to bring in any Mumbai or Bollywood preacher to tell us how to provoke each other using religion. We had the vision of Tunku Abdul Rahman to live by.
Today is different. Things are getting worse in terms of race relations and religion. Even worse when we have people from outside telling us how to divide, dehumanise, and demoralise each other. As if Malaysia, our beloved country, is now a setting for a Bollywood movie of Kabbali vs The Talibans. Worse, a fertile ground for this thing called the ‘Islamic State’ to be grown.
Malaysians, peace-loving people - what then must we do? Or should we all stay home and read Huston Smith, for example, on how to approach the teaching of world religions? Or has Zakir Naik read Huston Smith the late Harvard scholar on comparative religion, at least to get a feel of how not to talk down about religions and present each as faith of equal standing?
After all, isn’t Islam just another culture in search of a philosophy, more than an organised religion, too? In this sense. One has to understand the meaning of all three - culture, philosophy and religion. Before going out to preach and converting people, in public.
Wage peace. Not war. We are Malaysians. We take pride in our diversity.
DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Baru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He will be pursuing his fifth Masters in Fine Arts, specialising in Fiction and Poetry Writing. He has taught more than 50 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 25 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored six books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), Dark Spring: Essays on the Ideological Roots of Malaysia's General Elections-13 (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), and Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia’s ‘New Politics’ (2014). He currently resides in the United States where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies. His forthcoming book, One Malaysia, under God, Bipolar, a joint project between Gerakbudaya and World Wise Books of New Jersey, USA, is his seventh compilation of essays on Malaysian Cultural, Creative, and Critical Studies. He is currently working on his eighth book, on Gifted and Talented Education in Malaysia, honouring a prominent educator. Twitter, blog- Mkini