India: Ban on Islamic Scholar’s NGO Criticized

Prabhat Sharan
Mumbai
2016-11-16
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161116-IN-naik-620.jpg Indian protesters in New Delhi hold signs denouncing Islamic scholar and televangelist Zakir Naik, July 18, 2016.
AFP

The Indian government’s move this week to ban a nongovernmental organization run by a controversial Muslim preacher is an attempt to create a phobia of Islam in the Hindu majority country, critics claim.

The decision to impose a five-year ban on popular televangelist Zakir Naik’s NGO, the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, Home Affairs Ministry spokesman H.S. Dhatwalia told BenarNews.

Dhatwalia said the action was taken under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which aims to regulate and prohibit the acceptance and use of foreign contributions or foreign hospitality for any activities deemed detrimental to the national interest.

“The home ministry has been looking into the financial transactions of thousands of NGOs and the proposal to ban IRF was taken up after it was found that there were certain anomalies in aspects of foreign funding,” Dhatwalia said without divulging details.

The organization seeks to spread “the proper presentation, understanding and appreciation of Islam,” according to IRF’s website.

Since coming to power in May 2014, the government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has banned more than 15,000 NGOs, including Greenpeace and Ford Foundation, under this act.

“The move is a sheer attempt to fuel an atmosphere of Islamophobia … to somehow paint the entire [Muslim] community with one brush and simultaneously alienate them from other communities in the country,” Rubina Akhtar, a research scholar at the Ambedkar University of Delhi, told BenarNews.

“His [Naik’s] speeches are no doubt simplistic, misogynistic and extremely conservative in tenor. But barring a few exceptions wherein he praised Osama Bin Laden, he has never espoused or made any inflammatory speeches,” said Akhtar, who is writing a dissertation titled “Televangelism and Muslim Women’s Question: A case study of Dr. Zakir Naik.”

Naik, 51, who is believed to be in Saudi Arabia, has been under scrutiny by Indian authorities since July, when Bangladeshi media reported that one of the perpetrators of the July 1 terrorist attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery café was influenced by Naik’s sermons.

Naik’s Peace TV channel, through which he delivers his sermons, was blocked in Bangladesh in the wake of the attack and remains blacked out there. Although Peace TV does not have a license to air in India, it still broadcasts in several parts of the country through private cable TV operators.

Speaking to Indian journalists via Skype from Saudia Arabia in July, Naik said he had never propagated terrorism and that he was being targeted by the Indian government unfairly.

“I did not inspire terrorists. Suicide bombings targeting innocent people are condemnable. My statements have been taken out of context. I am a messenger of peace,” Naik had said, while adding he was not going to return to India until next year because of prior commitments abroad.

Lawyer to challenge ban

Mobin Solkar, Naik’s lawyer, said he would challenge the move to ban his client’s NGO in court.

“We have not received any notification from the government regarding the ban as yet. Once we do, we will move in court. As per procedure, a special tribunal will be instituted to look into the case and it is in this forum that we will present our plea,” Solkar told BenarNews.

A security analyst said Naik was a victim of witch-hunting at the hands of the Hindu nationalist government.

“Naik’s speeches are harmless. I fail to understand why he hasn’t already taken the government or those slandering him to court for defamation. He is a target of witch-hunting, wherein the Indian government is taking aim at anyone who does not agree with its agenda,” A.A. Khan,  Mumbai’s former Anti-Terrorism Squad chief, told BenarNews.

Neshat Quaiser, head of the sociology department at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, also slammed the government’s move to proscribe Naik’s NGO.

“It is absurd to take action against his [Naik’s] NGO just because one of the Dhaka attackers was apparently influenced by his speeches. The move smacks of communal color,” Quaiser told BenarNews.

He said the BJP was being swayed in its decision making by its right-wing ideological mentor, the Rasthriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“The RSS is influencing the policies of this government to curb the freedom on minorities in India. The animosity of RSS toward minorities clearly reflects in the way the government is clamping down on organizations seen as anathema to its parent organization,” Quaiser said.

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