Zakir Naik exclusive interview: 'Won't come back to India if BJP is in power'

The controversial Islamic preacher spoke exclusively to THE WEEK

New home: Zakir Naik at his house in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat New home: Zakir Naik at his house in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat

You talk about comparative religion. Are not religious beliefs personal?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, religion means a belief in personal God or a God who deserves worship and obedience. In short, religion means a belief in God. Religion is actually a way of life and it guides you how a life should be led. We believe that all true religions are from God. The reason why I compare religions is that I believe that God Almighty has sent only one way of life, only one religion. If you compare you will come to know the differences. The reason why I compare is, as Allah says in Quran, “O People of the scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you, that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah”.

So, when you compare religions, you will come to know that the basic teachings of all the religions are the same. The No. 1 is that you believe in one God and you worship him alone. By the passage of time these scriptures have been changed and the people want to take advantage of religious teachings and change the teachings. But, if you go back to the original source, if you go back to the original scripture of all the major religions, they basically say the same thing. So my reason for comparing religions is that all the human beings are united and they believe in the same common teachings.

Do you believe that Islam is superior to Hinduism?

I believe there is only one religion. If you go back to the scriptures, you will come to know that the teachings of all major religions are identical. So rather than saying which one is better, I would like people to know that which are the true teachings. That is why in my lectures I always give reference from the scriptures and then I say all the major religions say that you should worship one God, you should be truthful, you should not rob, you should not cheat. That is my basic purpose of comparative religion.

So, we cannot worship any God we choose?

No, not any god. They should worship the God , the true god. If they worship false god it will not take them to the true path. The God of all the human beings, whether they are living in England, the USA, Saudi Arabia or India, is the same and whether you call yourself Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Parsi, God is the same and we are all created by the same God. Worshipping the false god is a sin in any religion. The greatest sin in Islam is worshipping the wrong god. The greatest sin in Christianity is worshipping wrong god. The greatest sin in Hinduism is worshipping the wrong god.

How do you decide what is the true God?

In the Hindu beliefs, the most sacred scriptures are the Vedas. Muslims believe the most sacred scripture is the Quran, and Christians believe the most sacred scripture is the Bible. What I say is, let us agree to at least one scripture of all. Muslims say the Quran is the word of God; Hindus say the Vedas are the word of God; and Christians say the Bible is the word of God. So what I say is let us follow what is common. What is different we will discuss tomorrow. But what is common between all these scriptures, why don’t we agree to follow it 100 per cent?

What is jihad? Why is it misinterpreted?

Unwavering faith: Naik praying at a mosque in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat Unwavering faith: Naik praying at a mosque in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat

Jihad comes from Arabic word jadda, which means to strive, to struggle. In Islamic context it means to strive and struggle against one’s own evil incarnation. Jihad also means to strive and struggle to make the society better. Jihad also means to strive and struggle in the battlefield in self-defence. Jihad also means to strive and struggle against oppression. So jihad basically means to strive and struggle.

Unfortunately, in today's media, jihad is translated as holy war. The translation of the word holy war in Arabic is harbun muqadsa, which is not mentioned anywhere in Quran or in sahi hadith. The translation of this word jihad as holy war is a misconception. The word holy war was used by the crusaders several centuries ago when they spread Christianity with force and killed tens of thousands of people. Today, it being used for the word jihad is totally wrong and out of context.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Congress had called Zakir Naik an “apostle of peace” whereas you inspired the Sri Lankan bomb attacks.

Whatever has been happening in the past two and a half years (since the government’s crackdown on him) are political games. I am not very close to

politicians. Neither was I close to the Congress party. Yes, because of my popularity, I do meet ministers and some [important] people in India and abroad. That I was allowed to speak on counterterrorism in Hyderabad and address IPS officers should not be directed against Congress. He should blame the police in various parts of the world. I’ve spoken in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UK and many other countries. Modi should say all these countries are favouring terrorism. [If he says] that the Congress has said that I am a messenger of peace, in the same way he should blame King Salman of Saudi Arabia also. King Salman gave me the highest award in the Islamic world, the King Faisal International Prize. He should also blame the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who gave me the award of Personality of the Year. They gave me an award of one million dirham, which is equal to about Rs 2 crore. So if Modi is really honest he should say all these people are involved in promoting terrorism.

Then the Sharjah ruler, the Gambian president and even the Malaysian king gave me the highest award of the country. So why is he singling out [Congress leader] Digvijaya Singh? I am not a fan of Digvijaya Singh. I am not involved in politics. I have always been away from politics. Digvijaya Singh was invited as one of the chief guests in one of our conferences just like the other people we call. But Modi is picking on him only because he wants the vote bank.

Modi said Zakir Naik inspired people involved in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which is why your Peace TV was banned.

Just because the person who did the terrorist attack had my videos in his house, is it correct to say that I am inspiring him to become a terrorist? Modi should know that many prime ministers, presidents, politicians and doctors of various countries have my DVDs. Why doesn’t he say that Zakir is inspiring people to become presidents, prime ministers and doctors? There are 17.3 million followers on my Facebook page and there are 17.4 million likes. There are good, bad and ugly people among them. I cannot convince 100 per cent of the people who are listening to me.

All Muslims are fans of Prophet Muhammed, may peace be upon him. Just because the fan got misguided and started killing innocent people, can you blame Prophet Muhammed for inspiring him to kill innocent people? Similarly, if you say Dr Zakir Naik has inspired in his speeches, can anyone show any clip unedited or in context to prove that I have been promoting terrorism? That is the reason why Justice Manmohan Singh, in March 2019, and earlier in January 2018, told the National Investigation Agency that there was no proof that Zakir Naik was a terrorist or was promoting terrorism. Fortunately, he had seen my videos.

Dialog and SLT, two major cable operators in Sri Lanka, have removed your channel.

Power play: Naik in front of Perdana Putra, Malaysian Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat Power play: Naik in front of Perdana Putra, Malaysian Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya | Sanjay Ahlawat

There is no country in this world, except India and Bangladesh, where Peace TV is banned. The government of Sri Lanka has not banned it as per my knowledge. What I came to know is that the cable operators in Sri Lanka have removed Peace TV. We were on Dialog platform. After they requested, we gave them permission. It was free for many years, and it has been there for more than ten years. Now they have removed us. They may be fearing that putting an Islamic channel after the attacks may bring a backlash, because most of them living in that country are non-Muslims.

So, as a safety measure, they removed it. Nowhere did I read any statement that the broadcasting ministry of Sri Lanka has banned Peace TV. These are just politicians' remarks for their vote bank.

Is it a setback for Peace TV?

When a man is promoting peace and if you stop that peace from spreading, indirectly you are promoting terrorism. It is because of my popularity that people are following me, and that does not mean 100 per cent will follow me correctly. There are bound to be 3-5 persons who may not agree with me, maybe a certain percentage does not even follow what I say. But, by banning me or Peace TV, just the same as western countries are doing when they find that a person is able to prove that Islam is a good religion, they put a label of terrorism so that Islam cannot spread. And, this is exactly what Modi is doing.

Do you feel that you have been targeted?

Yes. It is 100 per cent [true] that I have been selectively targeted. The reason may be my popularity. Among all the preachers, not just Muslim but Hindu or Christian, [I am] the most popular and widely watched around the world. Peace TV has 100 million viewers in English, Urdu, Bangla and Chinese. All put together 200 million. On Facebook, among all the preachers, the largest following is for me.

The second reason is that many people come to the truth of Islam when I explain it to them. Most people, hearing my speech, agree that Islam is a peaceful religion. That is the reason the enemies of Islam would not like me to continue my preaching. So the best way is to put up the allegation that this person is a hate preacher, this person is spreading communal disharmony, this person is spreading terrorism.

It is illogical. I have been called by police of various governments of different countries to give talks against terrorism, including India. I have been called several times to the National Police Academy. Why would IPS officers call me if I am promoting terrorism? In fact, the head of counterterrorism in the UK in 2009 wanted my help to convince those Muslims who have been misguided, and today they are saying I am promoting terrorism. It’s an irony.

How many times have you visited the National Academy of Police in Hyderabad?

I have been called to the academy twice between 2009 and 2013.

Is it because of your closeness to the Congress that the BJP government took action against you?

I was not close to any political party, the BJP or the Congress. Neither would I like to be a friend or enemy of any party. It is just the media which is propagating that I was close to the Congress because it benefited the BJP. I have given lectures in many states which were controlled by the Congress and I have also given lectures in many states controlled by the BJP. The Islamic Research Foundation is a charitable organisation. It carried out several social programmes in education and health by donating money to several NGOs, hospitals and educational institutions. Under a similar programme, IRF donated Rs 50 lakh to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust a few years ago, which the trust returned in July 2016 for reasons better known to them.

People fail to realise that we gave even bigger donations to organisations controlled by the BJP. They never mentioned this on the media. We gave millions of rupees to Somaiya Trust where we did conference in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. Somaiya Trust, maybe, was controlled by the BJP. But it was a charitable trust. Similarly, I gave donation to another charity organisation which, maybe, was controlled by the Congress. I gave donations to charitable organisations, not to any party. I have not given a single penny to any political party.

Was the Rs 50 lakh a one-time donation?

Yes, it was a one-time donation. But I donated five times to BJP-controlled organisations. When they did the investigation it was the BJP government. So they gave selective information to the media that I supported the Congress.

What do you think of Sadhvi Pragya Singh, an accused in the Malegaon blast case, contesting as a BJP candidate?

I am a student of comparative religion. According to my study, no religion whether it is Islam, Hinduism or Christianity, advocates killing innocent human beings. So technically there is no Hindu terrorism, no Muslim terrorism, no Christian terrorism. Maybe there are some misguided people within this community who may do acts which are against the religion. I feel most of these terrorist attacks have been engineered by politicians for their political gain. Most of them, if you hear my talk, are saying terrorism is Muslim monopoly. I said major terrorist attacks, if not all a majority of them, have been engineered by the political people for political gain. I don’t think that the BJP government is a practising Hindu government. I know Hindus. If you ask any practising Hindu—a priest, not a political priest—he is not bothered. But they know if they attack Islam they will come to power and they do it.

If tomorrow someone tells them if you attack Hinduism you will come to power they will attack Hinduism. If they were practising Hindus they would not have killed any innocent human being. Neither a practising Muslim would do that, nor a practising Christian would. They use religion as a tool for their vote bank.

How do you define a terrorist?

A terrorist is a person who terrorises an innocent human being. Today, I am being terrorised.

How do you see the US actions against the Islamic State in Syria?

Frankly, I do not believe everything the media says. How can I believe that America is going there unless I do a proper research. But I strongly believe that enemies of Islam are trying to brainwash certain innocent Muslims into these acts so that Islam can get maligned. And that is what is happening in Sri Lanka also. How were the bombings in Sri Lanka carried out with so much accuracy? Even before I heard that Muslims were involved, I had put up a post on Facebook that I condemn it. I said whoever did it, killing innocent people is wrong. More than 200 innocent people were killed. The enemies of Islam are trying to use their money power, influence and machinery to try and misguide certain Muslims so that Islam can be maligned.

Dhaka terror attackers, Sri Lanka bombers and now a Kerala youth who was recently arrested by the NIA for planning suicide attacks, all have taken the name of Zakir Naik.

Have they [the arrested persons] said that I told them to do the bombing? The answer is no. I challenge anyone to say that he was inspired [by me] to kill innocent people. If he is saying that then he is lying.For the NIA or Modi to say that I inspired terrorists, where is the text? He is saying Naik is banned in many countries. It is nonsense. They say I am banned in the UK. Explain the ban. There is a difference between banned and excluded. Excluded means I am not allowed to enter and it was for three years, which is already over. Even the exclusion in the UK was politically motivated. Banned means my literature cannot be sold or distributed, my video recording cannot go on the satellite. But there is an official channel in the UK called Peace TV. If Peace TV is creating terrorism, then how come rest of the countries are allowing it? It was there in the US till now. Lately we put it off due to financial problems. So do you mean to say the US is promoting terrorism? It is so illogical.

So you can go to the UK or Canada anytime?

I am saying I am not banned. But they may not give me visa for certain reasons. I agree that more than half of the countries in the world won't give me visa thanks to Modi. When they level allegations, it comes up everywhere, so they want to be safe than sorry.

If you go by the sequence of events, the BJP came to power only in 2014. Till 2016 the Modi government had no problem with Dr Zakir Naik. It is only after Dhaka attacks when your name cropped up that the BJP government shifted the focus to you. When a person is popular, they require an issue. They were waiting for two years to hold onto something to make an issue. The truth was that three days later they retracted the statement. But the Indian media did not report that. Today my name is not there in the charge-sheet of the Dhaka attacks. So what was initiated was wrong and 100 per cent there was no involvement of mine that was found. It is only upon the pressure of the Indian government that the Bangladesh government banned Peace TV.

Anyone would also know that Bangladesh is dependant on India. So surely they will do these favours. The favour to India is much bigger than the small problems she will face.

But don't you feel you own a moral responsibility?

I don't think a single person may have done any crime because of my talks. There may be people who are on the wrong path and they have seen my lecture. After that, they might have heard other speakers also. There may be other speakers who may have influenced them to do this crime. But I don't think a single human being after hearing my lecture would have done a crime. Yes, after seeing me they may have come close to Islam, and then may be hijacked by other people. I was inspired by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat. After seeing him I saw many other speakers. In the same way, many people come close to Islam and I am aware that there are some speakers who may take a person away from the right path.

Can you name anyone who inspires terrorism?

ISIS. I don’t consider them to be Islamic state. I call them anti-Islamic state. I feel they have been supported by some forces for their own benefit.

Have you said Osama bin Laden was not a terrorist?

There is one lecture of mine before 9/11 which I gave in 1998 in Singapore. This is circulating on the internet, but the date has been changed, knowing very well it was before 9/11. I had said that you cannot accuse someone of doing something without checking. Later on, when the media was laying blame on Osama bin Laden, I said I had not done research on the person. It is a rule in Islam that whenever you get information you check it up before you pass it on to a third person. This I say from day one that I do not call him a terrorist and neither do I call him a saint. I do not know.

The investigations in Sri Lanka may throw up more charges against you.

Personally, I feel it is very common for a news channel which has to sell to say that Zakir Naik with 17.4 million followers on social media did something rather than someone who is not known. What will sell more?

Sometimes, pressure also comes. India’s pressure on Bangladesh worked. It may work on Sri Lanka, but it will not work on Malaysia. Here they see to it. That is the reason when the Indian government asked for me from other countries, they got zero response. They have sent this request to many countries. But because Bangladesh is dependent on India they have to agree.

Do you feel hurt?

I do not feel bad anymore. Hurt has become a thing of the past. I used to react to any negative news saying, how can they say this. Now maybe almighty God has made me tough and I will benefit more. We believe that, if someone falsely, without investigation, without knowing the truth, curses me, then in the life thereafter, the good deeds of that person will come to me and my deeds will go to him. I don't want people to speak against me, but if they are doing it I have no problem.

The Enforcement Directorate has filed a second prosecution complaint against you.

Yes, the new allegation came a few days ago—of Rs 193 crore money laundering charges against me by the ED. It is because of the vote bank. There is nothing new. When they froze the accounts of IRF on September 3, 2016, I told my chartered accountant to give them all the information they wanted. They had everything with them in three weeks. But now the agencies release a part of the same information. There is nothing new. The first allegation that came of money laundering was on the donations collected by IRF in 20-25 years to the tune of Rs 20-25 crore. Whatever donation we collected was called money laundering! If that is true then there has to be a source. But, every donation of more than Rs 1,00,000 coming from abroad, we have to submit to FCRA [Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act] with addresses and they have the receipt. It is a rule. We were registered in 1991 and we got FCRA certificate in a few years. This is also the reason our licence was renewed automatically even during the Modi government. But before allegations started coming, they could not find even one rupee in excess. I am very particular that way. I use my money for travelling and I paid even for the tea I had in IRF.

There are allegations that you have businesses in Dubai and other places.

Is there a rule that a speaker or a preacher cannot do business? Is there a rule by the government? Our prophet was a businessman.

But isn’t renunciation a way to get closer to God?

Renunciation of the world is not allowed in Islam. It is prohibited. Islam says I have to marry, I have to have children. If I pray full day and do nothing, I will not enter Jannat. I have to be a good husband, good father, I have to take care of my family. But don’t run after worldly things. So my lifestyle, compared to my money, is not matching. From what I earn I could own a Rolls-Royce.

How much do you earn?

Maybe crores of rupees. In a year, several crores. And there were times when I earned more than a crore in a month. This is all from my personal business. I do not charge for my lectures; I don’t take any personal donation. People are willing to give me because of my popularity. But I tell them to give to the charity whatever you want to give. What is given to the charity, remains with the charity. There are many businessmen who want to use my name and give me millions of dollars but I don’t allow anyone. Someone offered Rs 350 crore in six months for them to use my name, but I refused. I cannot risk my name. Money is not that important. That is why when the government of India has taken Rs 100-odd crore, partly of me and partly of the trust, it does not make a difference to me. I am not living this life for money.

So, there is no financial setback?

In Bombay, though I used to earn more than a crore, I used to give my family only Rs 40,000 a month, because that was our expenditure. It was more than sufficient. Here I am spending 2,000 ringgit a month, that’s equal to Rs 34,000 a month because my children are not here. They are studying in Riyadh. So that’s all I require. Yes, when I travel for lectures, that is an additional requirement. I have travelled a lot and it was all with my money—from buying tickets to booking hotels—unless when the government or heads of state invite me. Sometimes when I stay in a hotel, the hosts may not allow me to pay and I allow them to do so. Some even offered me a million dollars to deliver a lecture. I said I don’t require it. Now there is an allegation of Rs 193 crore from dubious source. One million dirham was given by Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai. Is he a dubious source? King of Saudi Arabia gave me one and a half crore. Malaysia gave me money. Is it a dubious source? If an inquiry comes, I will be clean.

First the target was IRF. Now it is Harmony Media. It is a company which produces software for Peace TV. It is a business. We are getting foreign currency. Now all the businesses we did from 2006 to 2016, I did not know that it was Rs 79 crore. They did the calculation and termed it money laundering. But how is it money laundering? We gave them all the details. What was the BJP government doing last so many years? Before the Congress came to power, they were in power themselves. See, this is only a gimmick for the vote bank.

The ED talks of personal bank accounts—ten of them.

I have one bank account. I have several companies and I am actually doing business. Is there a restriction in Indian law that a person cannot own companies? People have fifty companies and sometimes there are no transactions in some. They are also alleging that I sent money into my personal account. Now all that money I sent into my account was Rs 49 crore in seven years. I told you my earning is more than a crore a month and I have got a lot of businesses in real estate and other ventures.

It will be a crime if I use some of the money for drugs or terrorism. They said Harmony Media is a factory of terrorism. If it is promoting terrorism then how come the US allowed my channel for so many years? Because all kinds of people are coming close to Islam. As I told you even in Hindus only 0.00001 may be against me. How is it that when I deliver a lecture, 25 per cent of them are non-Muslims. If I am criticising Hinduism why would they come to my talks?

There is allegation that you are mocking at Hinduism and Hindu texts.

I am talking about facts and educating people. Mocking means I am trying to give false information. If someone says 2+2 is three, I will not agree as it is wrong. So I am correcting them.

Are you saying the only authentic scripture is the Quran?

William Muir was one of the staunchest critics of Islam. He was a Christian. He wrote that there was no scripture in the world which was as authentic as the Quran. Leave aside what Muslims say. Hindus say their scriptures have changed, Christians say the same. Which Muslim says the Quran has been changed? So I am quoting their scholars.

If you go to Mahabharata, it has 8,000 shlokas, then its numbers changed. An average Hindu does not know. I am educating them. But am I laughing? Some people take my clip and put laughter in the background like a comedy show, and if someone does that can you blame me? What I am saying is what hundreds of Hindu scholars have said before me. But those scholars are not famous. They are not heard by the masses. All what I speak on Hinduism or Christianity is based on their scholars not Islamic scholars. If I quote a Muslim scholar talking about the Bible, it is wrong.

Am I telling anyone the difference between Hinduism and Islam? For citing differences, you don't even need to read the scriptures. But I talk of similarities. If I can give a lecture on similarities for two hours, I can give a lecture on difference for five hours. But I am not doing that. The first time I gave this lecture and spoke of similarities, there was a backlash from the Muslim community, that how can you say there are any similarities? I told them to listen to my speech and if you find anywhere that I have broken any law of the Quran you catch my collar. Hearing the title invoked so much anger in the Muslims rather than the Hindus, because the mass of Muslims think there is no similarity. After I gave the lecture, they were shocked. If a man is trying to bring two communities together, what is wrong? You asked me which religion is the best; I will say there is only one religion and that is the religion of God. The religion of submitting your will to God. How you want to call it in English, Arabic, Hindi, that is your choice of words.

Will not it be beneficial to return to India and face the law?

If someone proves to me that going back is going to benefit me in life hereafter, I will go today. But I have to see the history of the Prophet, of what he did. When the Prophet was persecuted, he was in minority in Mecca where he lived. His life was in danger. Then the almighty God sent a revelation that now is the time you should migrate. So this is what we learn from the Prophet, that we should not be a dead hero. If I benefit as a dead hero I don’t mind, but if I go back what will happen? I have faith in the judicial system. It was better before than it is now. Before the BJP government came, you could speak against the government, and at least 80 per cent of the times you would get justice. Today, the chances are 10-20 per cent. Moreover, if we see the history, more than 90 per cent Muslims who faced terror charges have been let free after 10-15 years. So if I look at an average, I will be behind bars for about 10 years, and my entire mission would get disrupted. Why should I be a fool?

So, does not the God say go back and face the law?

God says trust in me, but before that tie your camel. I could say if I am unwell I won't go to the doctor, I will sit here and God will heal me. But God says, trust in me but follow my advice and take your precaution. So here I have to take precaution. After I have taken precaution if they catch me, I won't feel bad. So many people are following me. More than 15 Muslim and non-Muslim countries have invited me, saying that I would be be safe there. When India requested the Interpol to issue red corner notice against me, they disagreed. Any unbiased mind, when they see that Interpol is not agreeing, will [understand] that he is innocent. That is the biggest evidence.

Modi himself went to Muslims countries and told them about me. The reply he got from many heads of state was that they personally know Dr Zakir Naik. They said they had attended peace conferences. He had no reply. But that did not come in the media. There are many people who wrote letters to Modi, but that also did not come in the media. But I am sure at the bottom of his heart, Modi knows that Zakir Naik is innocent, without a shadow of doubt. Modi, NIA, ED, all of them know. That is why officers, senior and junior, when they met my manager said that they knew Zakir Naik was innocent. One thing I have to agree; since they knew that the government was pressurising and the case was fake, they did not harass us. I am not saying that everyone is that honest or that they will go out of their way to support someone. One in a million may do that, but most cannot do it.

Have you told the NIA they can question you anytime in Malaysia?

Yes anytime. Not just the NIA, Modi can come himself.

Do all the Indian agencies know your address?

They have my address. The police of Malaysia know. They know everything.

So you are not a fugitive.

They have my mobile number, I have not changed it. They have my WhatsApp number. Everything they have. They can call me.

No one has visited you?

No one from the government of India has visited me. Other Indians, of course, have visited me. But no agency has. What will they ask me, when they know the answers? They mainly want that I go there, and they will arrest me. Unless they chargesheet me I can't get bail and in my case I will not get bail up to three months. After three months chances of getting bail are less. The judge cannot do anything as you have to go through the entire procedure and the procedure is such that it may take 10-15 years. That is foolish. It is all fake news that I am hiding. When a person is hiding he won't want to disclose where he is staying. If I was really doing terrorism activities, would the Malaysian government allow me to be here? So many Interpol heads know me. The moment when the false news came that Zakir is on the Interpol list, I telephoned many European countries. They checked and told me, “Dr Zakir Naik, you are not on the list”.

You said you have faith in the judiciary. So if there is an assurance of justice, will you return to India?

If there is an assurance from the Supreme Court of India, that if Dr Zakir Naik comes, they will not arrest me till I’m convicted, I will come.

There are accusations that you are supporting conversion.

Everyone has a freedom, sister! Does a human being not have a right to choose his religion? If they think that they are getting convinced listening to my speech, someone else can also give a speech and convince them. I agree with you that many people accept Islam because of my speech. It is because of the power of the almighty God. I don’t think I have the power to convert or revert even one human being. It is by God’s grace. Before any conversion in public, I ask them has anyone forced you to accept Islam? Are you doing it at your own free will? Is anyone paying you any money? Most of the times the police catch those people and ask, how many dollars has Zakir Naik paid you? If you think I have planted someone, go and talk to them.

Isn't it brainwashing?

Suppose someone is doing something wrong or he is idle and I tell him to work. Yes, it is brainwashing. I am taking him from wrong to right. What do we do in school? Isn't it brainwashing, if we use a crude word for it? In sophisticated words, we say we are educating them.

Why not educate them in their own religion, to make them better Hindus or Christians?

That is what I am telling them. When they become good Hindus they come close to Islam. So when I tell them let's follow what is common in one god, everyone has to worship the one and last messenger, whether it is Vedas, Upanishads or the Bible, if they have to follow the prophet where will they follow?

How many Hindus know that if someone eats pork, their hands and limbs should be chopped off?

It is there in Manusmriti. It is not there in the Quran. How many know, that the Manusmriti says do not have alcohol or do not gamble? It is there in the Quran and the Bible. But how many know this commonality? They will either admit it is there but say it is not so important. When they realise that these things are common, then they realise that there is one God, then they start questioning. Why should they make images of God because the Bible says you can't make image of God. The Vedas also say that. When I ask them to believe in one God and believe in Prophet, that is the minimum requirement to be a Muslim.

Why can't it be universal God? You may call Him Brahma or Ganesha.

Do you mean to say Allah is a not a universal God? He is the God of the Hindus and Christians as well. Read the scriptures, they say don't make image of the God. You can only give attributes of the God. So I believe Brahma means the creator. But if you give image to him, then you are going against the scriptures. Leave aside the Quran. That is when they realise that if they accept Islam, they are following Hinduism better. I say it is your choice. If they follow correctly, they will attain salvation. So I am saying the almighty God sent only one religion. As the messengers came and the message got corrupt, God sent another message with another messenger. So we believe that there were 1,24,000 messengers sent on the face of the earth. We can't differentiate between them, that is a sin. Allah is Arabic word for 'the God'. You can call him creator, sustainer, cherisher, loving, wise, kind, benevolent, merciful. There are 99 attributes given in the Quran.

Are you inspired by any preachers?

I was inspired by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, who was a preacher. He is a Muslim scholar of the Christian Bible. I met him for the first time in December 1987, when I was in the second year of my medical college. Before I had seen a couple of his video cassettes. But when he came to India we organised a lecture, and after meeting him I got inspired.

You influence so many lives. Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

There are two aspects to it. The popularity is increasing and the enemies are increasing. Show me one person in the world who is famous but does not have a controversy. But, as I said, if I have done some mistake, I would say it is like drowning in shame. But I have not done a single mistake. I may have a slip of the tongue or there could be a grammatical mistake. But if you are talking about teaching someone any inhuman act, I have not done that. Not a single one.

Have you ever said India should be governed by shariah?

I said the world should be governed by shariah law. If they follow it, crime will be the lowest. In which country is there maximum theft or rapes? It is America. Every few seconds there is a rape, which means the law is not good. Where is the least amount of theft? Saudi Arabia. Not that the Saudi intelligence is better than America; the law is better.

What does the Quran say about killing anyone?

If you kill any innocent human being, it is as though you have killed humanity. And this verse is not there in any of the scriptures, the Vedas or the Bible. So to talk about antiterrorism, the verses in the Quran will be number one. Someone asked me which religion is against terrorism, I said the Quran.

You say certain people are using misguided elements to carry out terror acts. Who is to be blamed—the people who are misguiding or the misguided?

Those who are misguiding should be caught and put to death and the person who is misguided also should be put to death.

Do you blame the al Qaeda also for terror acts?

I can only speak about an organisation on which I have done some research, and that is the Islamic State. That does not mean that others are good. Don't get me wrong, but I have not done research.

What made you do research on the Islamic State?

I did some research 2-3 years ago. It was in January 2015. I have not done any thesis, but whatever little I know is that they are wrong. At that time there were many people who were saying they were right, that is why I did some research. I said I will not say anything till I know. Carrying out terrorist acts and killing people, how can they be right?

What is your view on suicide attacks?

The Quran says “make not your own hand the cause of your own destruction”. So suicide is totally prohibited in Islam. As far as suicide bombing is concerned, the Quran says that if anyone kills any innocent human being it is as though he has killed the entire humanity. It is not only prohibited, but also the second major sin in Islam. First is shirq, associating partners with God, where you betray him and worship somebody else. It does not make a difference to him, but it becomes the biggest sin. The second is suicide. So, besides the fact that the Quran prohibits it, I am appealing to all the Muslim youth that even if someone does something to you, you have no right to kill him. You can only catch him and give him to the law. I have said it a thousand times and I make this appeal again.

Why are Muslims taking to terror? Most acts are of Islamic terrorism?

It is the perception that maximum terror attacks are by Muslims and on Muslims also. I feel that the countries which are against Islam, not just western countries, are trying to malign Islam. Today, the fastest growing religion in the world is Islam. It is more than 25 per cent, close to two billion people. So the first fear is of the religion growing and the second is personal benefit. We know the US wanted the control over oil. There is a pact between the gulf countries and the US that the oil should be sold in dollars. If the oil is not sold in dollars, America would be on its knees. This is what Muammar Gaddafi said. I am not saying he was a very good man, but what happened to him? Saddam Hussein also said it. Not that he was a saint, but he was a better human being than George Bush.

Just because America felt they would not be the super power, they created weapons of mass destruction. Even former British prime minister Tony Blair regretted joining the US in military action in Iraq in 2003. So isn't this terrorism? And Muslims are becoming scapegoats. If you look at China, the kind of torture they are inflicting on Muslims in Turkistan is unimaginable.

There are more than a million Muslims in concentration camps where they are forcing Chinese to marry Muslims. All inhuman acts are taking place there and I am doing a research on it. Then there is the Palestine and Rohingya issues also. If all the Muslims are able to unite, such atrocities would not take place.The problem is, each Muslim country is thinking about itself. United we will be strong. A man of truth is not afraid of losses. So I do not mind if they (the government of India) take away my properties. I am not doing it for money. God has given me so much fame and wealth which I felt I could never deserve.

What is your message to Muslim community throughout the world?

I condemn terrorist violence against anyone, Muslims or non-Muslims. It must be punished by law. My message to the Muslim community is that you should read the Quran and understand it thoroughly, and follow its guidance. If someone says this is what Quran says, you must find out yourself what it says. Many people can quote any scriptures but how do you know they are correct? So many people may misguide the Muslims and pass on incorrect information. If you go on social media today, there are thousands of posts with my photograph which I have not made, including a fake one with Hafiz Saeed. Out of these, 40 per cent posts are things I have not said but attributed to me. 20 per cent posts are made by the enemies of Islam and the enemies of me.

Why do you wear a suit and talk in English? This does not gel with the image of a religious preacher.

I am a man of the media. I realised that looks help in perception. Many times looks put you off. If I wear a kurta pyjama, people will feel I am a typical maulana who has studied religion in a typical style. So I want to break that perception. I am a doctor by profession. Some people have a misconception that wearing a tie is not allowed in Islam, which is wrong. The religion says grow a beard, wear a cap, so I am giving a blend. Cap is not compulsory. I am bringing a bridge between the two. People who are very religious cannot criticise me; those who want a person to be modern, I am modern also. And that is the reason people accept me.

I would say English is my mother tongue. If you say the language you can speak and write and think the best, it is English. My mother also speaks fluent English. So there are two mother tongues, one that your mother speaks and other is the psychological language in which you think and speak. Even though I know Hindi, Urdu and Marathi, I am not as fluent. I did my schooling, college and MBBS in English. Later I learned Urdu. The additional police commissioner police in Bombay once told me I must speak in Urdu so that I can convey the message of peace better as people understand Urdu. Hence I learnt it.

Do you have a valid Indian passport?

Yes. Now every three months the Indian government says it is revoked. The fact is that many countries have offered me citizenship overnight, but I have refused because if I take it up, I’ll have to give up my Indian citizenship, which I don’t want to do. Many said we will give citizenship in one day. The Saudi offer was fake news. I have not got Saudi citizenship.

If there is a change in government, will you be open to the idea of returning?

Yes, of course, the chances of returning are much more. Not that tomorrow if there is a change in government I can come the next day. The case against me can proceed. I will cooperate under the condition that I will not be unjustly persecuted. Today, everyone is saying something for their own benefit, including the Congress. Out of the two evils, the Congress is the lesser evil. Not that they are completely honest. If the Congress was completely truthful then Babri masjid wouldn’t have been demolished.

Today, if the Congress feels going soft on Muslims is beneficial, they are going soft for their own benefit. But I am definitely scared for the country and the Muslims if the BJP comes back to power. One of the concerns is extreme right wing, then money power and corruption.

I don’t consider the BJP to be practising Hindus. I consider the Congress more Hindu than the BJP. Does Modi know Hindu scriptures? Let us have a dialogue. Let’s talk about hindutva. Hindu scriptures say don’t cheat, don’t lie. But why are they lying? I would not like to come back if the BJP is in power.