India Today’s detailed investigation: Zakir Naik paid people to ‘convert’, dramas stages to collect Saudi funds

Zakir NaikThis is India Today’s detailed investigation which reveals that Zakir Naik used to “convert” people by giving them money. The purpose of drama was to gain cheap popularity among Muslims and raise funds from Saudi Arabid. Following is the complete report which will open your eyes.

This is India Today Investigation:

Zakir Naik’s converts were paid to change beliefs, say aides

In the televised conversions he presides over, Dr Naik ensures the potential converts say it on camera that they were neither forced nor bribed to change their beliefs.

By Sushant Pathak |  Jamshed Adil Khan |  Vishwas Kumar |  Harish Sharma  | Posted by Avarnita Mathur

Mumbai/Pune, July 26, 2016 | UPDATED 20:45 IST

1It is suspected that Dr Naik, IRF are misusing funds.

2Allegations are that Dr Naik would brainwash young men.

3Meanwhile, Dr Naik has refused to return India.

Dressed in a suit, he engages with a Christian woman in a quiz over religion as multiple cameras capture his dialogue for a seamless visual delight. On the YouTube channel of his Peace TV, Dr Zakir Naik is seen persuading her to accept Islam. The woman, who claims to have been already inclined towards Islam, switches to the faith after posing some questions to the televangelist across the podium in what takes around 18 minutes on the video-counter to complete the proselytising exercise.

That’s usually how the chief of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) is presented on TV by his own production house and followers – articulate, convincing, learned and an authority of Islam.

In the televised conversions he presides over, Dr Naik ensures the potential converts say it on camera that they were neither forced nor bribed to change their beliefs. And they do in what appears to be a transparent platform allowing people to embrace the faith of their choice out of their free will.

But as serious accusations stemming far away from the lights and cameras of TV studios and auditoriums erupted that Dr Naik used dubious means to execute religious conversions, India Today’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) fanned out to Mumbai and Pune to verify the claims.

“NAIK WAS ON SAUDI PAYROLL”

Four correspondents spent 12 days, meeting the IRF head’s present and past associates in the two cities. Quite startlingly, none of them declined allegations of being lured to Dr Naik’s conversion activities. India Today’s investigative reporters spoke to some of the IRF office bearers who alleged that the televangelist was on the Saudi payroll for proselytising.

PA Inamdar, the president of the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society at Pune’s Azam Campus, hosted Dr Naik’s event in 2008, where the televangelist supposedly converted 12 Hindus and Jains on-the-spot to Islam after a public debate. Inamdar recalled he had expressed his reservations to the IRF chief over those instant conversions. He, moreover, felt they were orchestrated.

“That’s what I am telling you that I spoke with him the moment we stepped down (from the podium) that whatever you are doing (is inappropriate),” Inamdar told India Today’s special crew. “Those who want to convert and convert with full understanding, they need no public platform. According to me, that was all stage-managed,” he remarked.

TACTIC TO ATTRACT FOREIGN FUNDING?

The Azam Campus president shared another grave concern, saying Dr Naik’s proselytising could be his tactic to attract foreign funding. “Second way of looking at it is about getting money from the countries who take interest in these activities,” Inamdar claimed.

He apparently referred to the Arab World that’s currently hosting Dr Naik.

Asked how the televangelist responded to his objections, Inamdar alleged he had termed his conversions a routine. “Yes, (Dr Naik said) it happens routinely,” Inamdar insisted. He again expressed apprehensions that Dr Naik’s on-the-spot conversions could have been pre-scripted. “See everyone has a level of thinking. People’s ability to become emotional and intelligent vary. It’s just emotional. You haven’t learned the A,B,C,D (of Islam) and you abandon the faith of your forefathers after hearing a half-hour speech. That’s either driven by emotions or can be planted,” remarked Inamdar.

Last year, Dr Naik received Saudi Arabia’s most prestigious “Service to Islam” award from King Salman. In 2013, he was honoured with the Islamic Personality of the Year title by UAE PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The IRF head of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation publicly proclaims his faith as superior to other religions. He, however, denies allegations of inspiring young men to join the Islamic State. In an interview to India Today, he called the terror group “anti-Islamic State”.

But police also suspect that Dr Naik and his IRF are misusing funds from countries like Saudi Arabia to carry out illegal conversions in India. As many as 800 such cases of proselytising traced to them are driven by coercion and allurement, claims Mumbai Police.

Religious conversions carried out by force, inducements or fraud are illegal in several states, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

As part of this investigation, India Today’s team visited a madrasa in Mumbai to meet senior cleric Mufti Manzoor Ziayee, who is also advisor at the Haji Ali Dargah, and an old associate of Dr Naik, Asif Khan. Over the past 12 years, Khan’s company in Mumbai has been providing technical support to the IRF for setting up studios and other logistics.

“NAIK EXTENDED BENEFITS TO CONVERTS”

During their conversation with the SIT, Mufti made startling claims that Dr Naik extended benefits to converts. “They were formally paid and got converted,” the cleric alleged when a reporter asked whether a number of Hindus had indeed changed their belief after listening to Dr Naik’s speeches.

“He (the televangelist) gives benefits. He gives a lot of benefits. Not just like that,” Khan added. “If one converts, he gives a lot of support. He helps them stand in the community,” the businessman continued. In his claims, Mufti also alleged Saudi funding behind Dr Naik’s proselytising programs.

“Especially if Saudi Arabia is funding, they (the Saudis) would get to know he’s doing that work for them, making non-Muslims accept Islam. If he doesn’t do that, his funding from there will stop,” the religious leader said.

The SIT dug deeper and tracked down a man who came in touch with the televangelist in the 1990s. Sheikh Irfan is privately employed now. But he was one of Dr Naik’s first interfaces with the people. Irfan was his spokesman in 1992 for some months.

Irfan alleged Dr Naik would brainwash young men into aspects of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam.

“Basically, these people propagate against tomb visits… (then it’s) jehad… if someone doesn’t agree with you through dialogue, then use force (that’s what they believe in). Even bloodshed is justified,” Irfan alleged.

So far, Dr Naik has refused to return home from his safe haven in Saudi Arabia.

IRF DEFENDS ITS PROGRAMS

IRF defended its programs after India Today aired its special report.

“In its history, (the) IRF has never been involved in forced conversions. Conversion itself is not a primary agenda of (the) IRF,” the foundation said in a statement.

“Its agenda is larger awareness and inter-religious harmony,” the IRF claimed. “All these allegations are based on hearsay and opinions of individuals, who are either disgruntled ex-employees or persons with low regard for IRF and Dr Zakir Naik. (The) IRF would not want to comment on these allegations as Dr Zakir Naik himself has made his views very clear on every such issue in the past few weeks,” it added.

The IRF described itself as a research body that publishes literature on Islam and conducts awareness events.

“People interested in Islamic literature and information contact IRF from time to time and attend Dr Zakir Naik’s events,” it said in its statement.

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