Zakir Naik is extremely fond of his wife, Farhat. Strong, articulate and educated, Farhat is a few days older than her husband. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, she spoke about her relationship with Naik, her worries about returning to India and her unflinching faith in God.
How have the charges against your husband affected your life?
We had left home on a 15-day tour for umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca), and while we were there, we came to know that we could not go back home. It did come as a shock, but thanks to God almighty, things are all right now. The belief in Allah makes us stronger each day. This is nothing compared with the kind of suffering people around us face. The only pain I feel today is for the people back home and the kind of harassment they are going through.
Who are those people?
Mainly the family members, like his brother, sister and all his family members. Even my family members, like my brothers were called and interrogated all the way from Pune to Mumbai and Delhi. It is really painful to see them going through this. Otherwise all of us have taken it in our stride and we feel this is part of the test from Allah. Their phones are being tapped so we don't even talk to them, that saddens us. The good work that was going on has also stopped.
What has happened to the Islamic Research Foundation?
It is locked and no one is working there today. The educational institution is given to someone else and there are some 300 students there. Whatever good things are taught there, are not going to die off and will show the true colour of peace wherever each student goes.
How have your children reacted to the whole episode?
They have been very strong, because right from childhood they have been taught that way. Sometimes I think about things back home, but they are very strong and even give us the courage saying it was okay, a part of the test. Zakir always ask had we lost everything in an earthquake what we would have done? In our case, we are being rewarded in every way by Allah. We have left everything back home and its like a migration (Hijrah). Yes, we do feel sad. Home is home after all. We could never imagine India not being our own land. Whoever is ruling, the love for India will always be there in our hearts. We owe so much to India and there is a lot more that Zakir and all of us could have done for India. We are proud of India.
Do you cry sometimes?
Yes, a lot. But, the tears are always of contentment, not of complaint. We feel sad about how things happened and we feel so much for those who are suffering there. We feel nostalgic at times about how we spent our time there.
Naik is facing serious charges like terrorism and money-laundering.
These are the very things that he is against, it is so ironic. The one who has been preaching peace all the while is being called a terrorist.
Do you think Naik should return to India and clear his name?
Only if India can be just, which is quite rare now. The kind of threats he has been getting—somebody said if you chopped his head off and hung it on top of the tallest tree, he would give Rs 50 lakh. That went so viral on social media. He was told that they will kill him and make it look like an accident.
Don’t you think God will take care of you?
God says tie your camel and trust in me. A man once came to the Prophet and left his camel outside, thinking Allah will take care of it. The Prophet said, ''Go, tie your camel first, and then trust in Allah.''
You have to take precautions. You cannot go and stand before your enemy and hope that Allah will save you. We fear whether we will get justice. Zakir has told the investigators that he is ready to talk to them over video and share everything. But they don't agree.
Where are your children studying?
My children are studying in Riyadh. My daughters are studying in Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University. It is the biggest women's university in the world. They are doing Islamic studies there. My son is doing his graduation in Imam University in Riyadh.
Are your children also into preaching?
Yes, all three of them are doing it. My daughter likes to write so she is more into writing Islamic articles. They do give lectures and when we all travel for da’wah (preaching), all five of us give talks. My daughters and me give talks to the ladies and Zakir and my son do it for everyone.
What is the message you give to women?
There is nothing in this world a woman cannot do, except for a few things the Quran does not allow. The media portrayal of women in Islam not being able to do certain things and being backward is wrong. Islam gives her the right to do everything. There are certain things which Quran does not allow even for men, such as acting, dancing, singing and working in pubs. When you are among women, swaying or singing is fine, but if you are doing it in front of other men, it is exhibiting your physical qualities in front of them and it is not right.
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Women have a lot of important roles to play. A teacher, engineer, or doctor undergoes many years of training, but unfortunately, a woman is simply pushed into motherhood. How many years of training does she have? She is creating the most important product, which is the human life. And often, she does not know anything about it and she is playing around with lives. If she knows how to live her life, knows her boundaries, knows what is good and bad for her and the coming generations, then she can create a better generation. We are such a professional society today that we have best of doctors and gynaecologists but the same people cannot be a good mother or father? Relationships are going to the dogs today. A woman must have that vision. Much before marriage, she should know what she is getting into. Marriage is not a bed of roses, it is a big responsibility. I strongly feel that a basic requirement for a mother is to study the Quran very well. The Quran teaches dealing with relationships, rights of spouses and teaches us how to live our lives. The human body is the most intricate and sophisticated machine ever made, so does it not require a manual?
And who would know this better than the maker? Since he made us, he would know best how to live this life. What to eat, what to wear, what would lead to success and salvation. Otherwise, I will be abusing this machine. If I walk into a relationship empty handed, I will expect so much from everyone, husband, in-laws. But if I go enriched with the love of God, I will be the one who will be giving instead of begging. I am talking more in terms of emotional relations. So it is very important she walks into a relationship empowered and enriched and not being at the mercy of anyone. If she is empowered, then her children are also empowered. If you have the love of Allah, you can move mountains. That is what faith can do. And faith has made us stand this test also.
How close are you to Naik's family?
I lost my father when I was eight. When I got married to Zakir, Abba (Zakir's father) was a father figure to me. He never made me miss my father. We lost him and we could not even go back to perform the last rites because of all that was happening.
There is a lot of debate in India about talaq, homosexuality, burqa ban and so on.
I don't know why they want to bring Muslim women into focus now. There are so many other burning issues but they are not talking about those. In a marriage, just like talaq, a woman can also take khula. There is another injunction in the Quran which says that if a woman is not happy, after taking all other steps, the last resort is to ask the husband for a divorce or she can go to the qazi and request him to give khula. If the husband does not agree, the qazi can declare the divorce. So I don't find anything wrong with talaq. Just because something can be misused, you cannot change the laws. If we misuse, we will pay the price. What is necessary is that women should themselves read the Quran, learn the language, understand it or find a detailed commentary. If you believe in something you should understand it completely. Out of ignorance they are taken for a ride sometimes. I believe homosexuality is wrong and I think burqa is very much in sync with the modern times. There is nothing you cannot do in a burqa. Maybe there are some women who think it is an obstacle, but it is a decision taken by the creator who knows what is best for us. We are so limited in our own ways, even if we see something we don't understand it completely. Quran is not time bound and it is very relevant today. Zakir is trying to preach the teachings of Islam. During the time of the Arab barbarians, 1,400 years ago, people used to say, “Oh, see my new donkey”. Today it is “Oh , my new Lamborghini, my new Mercedes”. It is this pride, arrogance, envy and hatred which Quran addresses.
Naik says western attire can make women susceptible to crimes like rape.
The Quran tells us which way to dress. I cannot depend on society to tell me what to wear or what not to wear. Today it is okay to be gay or lesbian, but tomorrow they could make it obligatory. So, where do you draw the line? Showing yourself off and wearing something which is tight or inappropriate are attracting [men] in the wrong way. I totally agree with him as far as hijab is concerned.
Do you think husbands are superior?
Both husband and wife are equal in Islam. The husband has a higher degree of responsibility, but not one of authority or superiority. He has to take care of the family and the wife. He is the breadwinner. Each one has a different role to play.
Can a man beat his wife?
Those who are educated in Islam will not do that, not even with a toothbrush.
What are your views on polygamy?
It is mentioned that you can marry more than one woman. What do you do with the excess women in the world? But it is not a rule, only an exception. In fact, the Quran says it is very difficult to do justice to [more than one wife]. So, ultimately, the Quran says marry only once. Who in the world can claim that they can do justice to two women? You can't love two persons the same way. Maybe you can provide the material things, but when it comes to the emotional part, it is so difficult. So a sensible man would not marry twice unless required.
But, of course, it is allowed. In India, we are so possessive about the husband, but in the Middle East, like in Saudi Arabia, the first wife herself gets her husband other wives. Man, by nature, is polygamous. So I would rather have my husband righteously get married to another woman than have him flirting around with others.
How has your journey been as Mrs Zakir Naik?
By God's grace, it has been enriching. It has been nice. It has been pressurising, of course. At the end of the day, it has given me a lot of exposure, a lot of opportunities to do the work that I always wanted to do. I was more religious, which, in fact, brought us together. We are very different by nature. I am a very emotional person, he is very realistic and practical. But when it comes to being in the forefront of Islam and serving Allah, we are on the same page.
Is Naik a liberal husband?
I would call him very liberal. I can do whatever I want to. Whatever Islam prohibits me, why would I do it? He is not a nagging, suspicious kind of a husband.
How is he as a father?
He is good. We have a lot of discussions with our children. They can talk to us about anything. The best thing he did was that he started a school, Islamic International for children. He used to take the children for rides and the best moments we have had were during our trips, when we combined da’wah trips with family trips. They got to learn a lot from us. We visited 14 countries in 45 days in one of our trips, as we visited America, the UK, Europe and so on. Otherwise, in Mumbai, he used to be very busy, but he was always very particular about taking the children out and exposing them to whatever is happening out there. We have made it a point to say the minimum 'nos' to our children so they enjoy whatever is there on the face of the earth.
Does he get angry?
He does not get angry very often. I have seen his anger with his staff because of imperfection and dissatisfaction with the work. He has high levels of expectations from his staff, but they are also human beings. They are bound to make mistakes. He is a perfectionist.