Since the beginning of what is defined as civilisation, those having more money have been given greater respect than the less fortunate. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “the very rich are different from you and me”, a philosophy that was sketched out in detail in his novel, The Great Gatsby. So it should come as no surprise that in India, those fortunate few who owe public sector banks thousands of crores of rupees (with the liability rising with each new loan and every month that passes) move around the world in private jets and are welcomed into the living rooms of political heavyweights cutting across party lines. Or that Zakir Nail, a believer in what is universally termed “Wahhabism”, has thus far escaped legal scrutiny, much less action, despite the reality of his sermons appearing to many to promote a future that has more pieces in it than peace. Analysing his sermons, especially those delivered in those foreign shores where Wahhabism is the dominant creed, it is clear that Zakir Naik does not at all agree that all humanity should be treated equally and with respect. According to him, there is only one permissible path, and that is as narrow as a pencil, prescribing codes of dress, deportment, diet and lifestyle that need to be followed in the minutest detail to win Naik’s approval. There are many apologists for Zakir Naik, who are in denial about the toxic effects of his outpourings. This is unfortunate. Some of the remarks made by the preacher, especially while abroad, reveal a contempt for several of the oldest faiths in the globe, including the faith followed by the overwhelming majority of the population of India. Such a mindset breeds a ghetto mentality; it leads to the creation of distance between citizen and citizen on the grounds of faith and is an explicit endorsement of the “Two Nation Theory”, which led to the vivisection of India in 1947.
It is small wonder that Naik has thus far received a free pass for his fulminations. He is, after all, the recipient of millions of dollars of donations from across the globe, money that appears to have won him immunity. It is extraordinary that despite the plethora of laws that they are armed with, thus far the Ministry of Home Affairs has looked the other way at Naik and the content of Peace TV, despite the fact that this channel is barred in several countries, including the country with the largest population of Muslims in the world, Indonesia. Clearly, the authorities there as well as in countries such as the UK, the US and others that have barred Naik from visiting are apprehensive that impressionable youngsters will be influenced by his stark words of exclusivity of the self and contempt for the other. This may lead them to adopt patterns of behaviour incompatible with the needs and freedoms of the 21st century. In the age of the internet, bans on television channels or other media outlets do not work and are not recommended. However, Zakir Naik needs to be held accountable for his words, besides having his finances investigated. Those who have given him money need to be publicised so that the world can see who among them do not believe in the universal peace and values that are the essence of the teachings of the great religions of the world, including Islam. Hopefully, despite his millionaire status, the MHA will get around to ensuring that Naik follow the law, so that millions are spared the danger of falling prey to a message that is intolerant of the diversity that is a part of 21st century life.