Qatar targeted India on Nupur Sharma: Modi government must return the favour on Zakir Naik

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Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik is in Qatar to reportedly deliver speeches during the FIFA World Cup. Banned in India, his organisation, Islamic Research Foundation, has received funding from the Arab country. AFP

This year’s edition of the Fifa World Cup is controversial for many reasons. But the most defining controversy from India’s perspective is the platforming of hate monger Zakir Naik by Qatar, the host state to deliver a series of religious lectures during the tournament.

Zakir Naik is a wanted man in India facing multiple cases of terror-funding, hate speeches and money laundering that are being probed by the Enforcement Directorate and National Investigative Agency.

In 2016, Naik had fled from India after one of the blast accused in Dhaka Cafe bombing told the Bangladeshi investigators that he was inspired by Zakir Naik’s lectures on YouTube. Now imagine, a blast accused in Bangladesh was drawing inspiration from an Indian hate-monger to become a terrorist. This was the level of pull that Naik enjoys among youth. After fleeing, he hasn’t returned to India and figures on the country’s most-wanted fugitives list.

Naik’s Peace TV has been banned by many countries including Bangladesh over hate speech. List of his hate-filled statements is long as he advocates all Muslims to become terrorist like Osama bin Laden, death penalty for homosexuals, and right to beat wives “gently”. He also supported ISIS for keeping sex slaves and their destruction of religious places of any other religion except Islam. Two Kerala youth even went on record to state that they joined ISIS due to motivation provided by Naik’s speeches. Naik is facing charges under the UAPA in India with India leading a concerted attempt to get him extradited from Malaysia, his current country of permanent residence.

Meanwhile, Qatar has raised a storm by inviting him to deliver lectures during the FIFA World Cup as if the current edition of the football tournament wasn’t already courting enough controversies. Qatar is currently facing global heat over deaths of migrant workers during World Cup preparations, its treatment of the LGBT community, its ban on liquor during the tournament and a very strict code of behaviour outlined for the fans who are in Qatar to enjoy the game. Ironically, Naik himself had once called professional football has “haram” or sinful in Islam.

What explains Qatar’s move to invite a globally-condemned hate-monger like Zakir Naik to its shores when India has clearly declared him a wanted fugitive? Well first of all, it must be remembered that it was Qatar that led the diplomatic charge against India in June when a spokesperson of the ruling party, BJP, had given a statement on Prophet Mohammad during a TV debate. At that time, many in India had pointed out that her statement contained the exact facts that Naik has himself stated on his channel. Then why did Qatar take offence on one and is laying out a red carpet for another?

Answer lies in Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. India has of late become a target of MB’s activities with Twitter storms full of anti-India hashtag being conducted from Turkey, Pakistan and Qatar, key backers of Muslim Brotherhood in the Islamic world. Even during the Nupur Sharma controversy, the attack against India originated from International Organisation for the Support of Prophet of Islam (IOSPI)-run handle which is propaganda arm of Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar is vying for greater influence in the Muslim world along with Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia even if that requires it to join hands with forces of terror and hate. Research investigations carried out by many organisations have indicted Qatar-based charities for funding radical Islamic fronts in India based on the Salafi School of Islam. Now where does that leave India? Well India has many problems related to radicalism of its own. Just few weeks ago, a module was busted in India’s Kanpur that called for a Mission 2047 to turn India into a Muslim-majority country. Its top court has also noted that religious conversion is a national security problem. In a country that is multi-cultural and multi-religious, as mandated by the Constitution, people like Naik create more troubles.

India was asked to explain Nupur’s remarks by the Gulf countries led by Qatar. But now Qatar is itself platforming a hate-monger like Naik. India must return the favour on an ‘as soon as possible’ basis. Other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are marching towards more inclusive and equal societies and preferring warm relations with India. Here the outlier state Qatar must be politely told to deplatform and reject elements like Naik strongly. As a country that believes in democracy, secularism and equal rights for everyone, this is the least that it can do on the matter.

The author is a PhD in International Relations from the Department of International Relations, South Asian University. Her research focuses on the political economy of South Asia and regional integration. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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