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Abu Marwan Abdal Malik Ibn Zuhr: ‘Avenzoar’

Abu Marwan Abdal Malik Ibn Zuhr, known in the west as Avenzoar, was

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Ulema, Dr Zakir Naik and Common Muslims

Thursday January 13, 2011 11:02:41 AM, Kaleem Kawaja

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Much debate has ensued recently among the supporters and critics of Dr Zakir Naik from a variety of angels. Without doubt Dr Naik is a well intentioned Muslim who wishes to refute the attacks on Islam and dispell misconceptions about Islam that the enemies of Islam are trying to create. There is no problem with his intention or motivation. But as they say the devil lies in the details. In developing his campaign, Dr Naik apparently looked at the very theatrical campaigns and discourses that have become common among the Christian evangelist preachers in western countries. Apparently he may have felt that today's youth needed a different medium than the sober style of detailing the tenets of Islam.

In emulating that semi-entertainment oriented manner of discourse, Dr Naik has developed a style that comprises of, "tit-for-tat", "in-your-face-sucker", "if you call me terrorist I will call you terrorist", "define for me what is terrorist", "what was Karbala like" etal pantomine-look-alike discourses that are loaded with hyperbole and double meanings. Such entertaining style of religious discourse is what TV evangelists practice on Sundays in front of large audiences in North America and Europe. As expected his style made him popular among many Muslims and youth who have been feeling frustrated due to the long anti-Muslim baiting that is going on in media at least since 9/11/01. They feel good that one of them is lobbing the missiles back at the adversaries of Muslims.

In addition Dr Naik, who is a scholar of Islamic history but has no formal education in Islamic fiqh, choose to read up sharia books and then start commenting on matters of fiqh when his audience asked him those questions. But his scholarship is very surfacial. Thus in several instances he went overboard and said things that offended many Muslims, some moderate Muslims, some conservative Muslims, some non-Sunni Muslims and some learned Ulema. It also offended many secular non-Muslims. He also gave religious opinions on matters of fiqh where he has little formal education.

Many of Dr Naik's ardent supporters are going so far as to say that anyone can read quran and hadith and expand on it without the need for formal education in fiqh. Now this is strange, because like theologies of all religions, in order to comment on Islamic theology topics, one should have pursued a regular scholarship in that. This is not a subject in which hobbyists should indulge.

The core of Islamic theology and Islamic value system is based on the inavaluable research, commentary, tafseer and elaboration that countless learned Ulema and Islamic seminaries over the millenia developed and imparted to the Muslims at large. This fountainhood of autrhentic Islamic knowledge is the proud heritage of Muslim ummah. In India seminaries like Darul Uloom Deoband, Nadvatul Uloom Lucknow, Imarat e Sharia Patna, and many other illustrious seminaries nurtured scholarship in fiqh and augmented the sound core of Islam. Granted that from time to time some misfit Aalims and maulvis have indulged in strange fatwas and some of them have been rigid to the extent of being impractical. But they are the exception like it happens in all occupations and communities. For the fault of a few unfit Aalims we simply can not make the institution of Ulema and their seminaries a subject of derision. And we can not pit them against some Muslim leader who lacks that scholarship and choses to make causual interpretations using hyperboles.

Scholars in Islamic history and sociology and commentators like Dr Zakir Naik have an important role to play in dispelling the attacks on Islam, but without infringing on the institution of Ulema or getting into competition with them.. The last thing we need is a competition between the two because that may make the Muslim ummah the laughing stock of others. Also such defenders of Islam should resist adopting the American TV Christian evangelists' approach and style. Those folks resort to that style because irreligiosity has seeped in so deep in western society that the only way to make people pay attention to them is to make religious preaching an entertainment. But Islam's strength lies in it being a sober and well defined order that does not resort to gimmickry to seek adherents.

I have read several articles in recent weeks in which non-Muslim writers have made fun of the revered institutionsd of Ulema, Islamic theology, Muslim leaders, Dr Zakir Nak etal as trying to snatch the audience from each other and to maintain their hegemony over the Muslim community. That is putting the Muslim qaum's dignified institutions to ridicule

Ofcourse most of the Muslims are neither ulema nor scholars of Islamic history nor spell- binding speakers. Some people are of the opinion that such lay Muslims should not even read or discuss matters relating to either ulema or the Islamic commentarors (like Dr Naik) and that they should simply wait for the Ulema and other commentators to settle their issues in private and issue a dictum that all should follow. But that flies in the face of the fact that Islam is an open faith that encourages Muslims to believe after reasoning out relegious tenets and learn, and learn still more. No dogmas here. Thus Ijtihad (interpretation) and Ijma (consensus) are the core values of the living and growing Islam.

At this time it behoves us common Muslims to be careful and refrain from adulation or condemnation. We should remain respectful of the institution of Ulema and encourage commentators like Dr Zakir Naik to seek guidance from the ulema and to correct their course.







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