Analysis of Zakir Naik’s claims
25 Dec 2014
Miracles / I'jaz, History of Science
The Masked Arab
This episode of the Masked Arab’s video blog (vlog) critiques Dr. Zakir Naik, a well-known Muslim televangelist, president of Peace TV. The Masked Arab uses clips from a Peace TV commercial and two of Naik’s lectures to show the errors in Zakir Naik’s presentations.
He begins with an anecdote, common among Muslim televangelists, that suggests people become atheists because they believe in science and technology, a statement to which the Masked Arab, who identifies as an atheist, agrees. Naik then suggests that the “manual” for complex machinery should be sought from its manufacturer (again, a common metaphor), suggesting that the manual for people is scripture, specifically the Qurʾān. The Masked Arab rejects this, suggesting the everyone is lying about the manuals. He then begins to step through various errors in Naik’s presentations.
The first interpretation that the Masked Arab addresses is Naik’s presentation of the Big Bang, interpreting verse 21.30 of the Qurʾān. The Masked Arab points out that it is similar to Sumerian mythology, which existed long before the birth of the Prophet Muḥammad. He next addresses Naik’s assertions about the Qurʾān’s discussion of the moon’s light being “reflected light”. The Masked Arab presents the history of science regarding the light from the moon, demonstrating that it was also known long before the birth of the Prophet Muḥammad. He takes particular offense at Naik’s assertion that nūr, which Naik asserts means “reflected light”, means anything other than “light”, and goes through all the Qurʾānic verses in which it merely means light.
Naik is next shown discussing the shape of the Earth, which he says is geospherical, like an ostrich egg, which he says is the translation of daḥahā in verse 79.30 of the Qurʾān. Using al-Ṭabarī’s Qurʾānic exegesis, a well known scholarly work, he shows that this was not understood to mean the Earth is spherical, and several other places in the Qurʾān suggest that the Earth if flat. He also notes that several Greek scholars who predate the Prophet Muḥammad by centuries knew the planet was spherical and even measured the circumference of the Earth.
Naik is then quoted as saying he did not learn in school that the Sun rotates around its own axis, which the Masked Arab says was known by Galileo (16th century), so ought to have been known by Naik’s school in 1982. The Masked Arab notes that no known exegesis of 21.33, the Qurʾānic verse that Naik interpreted to mean that the Sun rotates around its own access, has interpreted the verse thus. The Masked Arab includes here a clip from a recent Arabic-language TV show that is still suggesting that the Sun travels around the Earth, because one should put aside science to follow the Qurʾān, indicating that a few Muslims do not understand Naik’s verse that way at all.
The last group of material addressed here is Naik’s assertion that the Qurʾān miraculously describes the water cycle, which Naik claims was unknown until the mid nineteenth century. The clip shows Naik rattling off verse after verse in which the water cycle is described, to cheers and applause from his audience. The Masked Arab examines the verses and finds that some do not mention water at all. He says verse 39.21 is the most detailed, but doesn’t mention anything that wasn’t known by Greek science well before the time of the Prophet Muḥammad.
The Masked Arab closes the vlog by suggesting that Naik is more interested in making money (through receiving contributions solicited in the opening commercial) than credibly presenting science.
The closing screen provides The Masked Arab’s contact information.
The Masked Arab is fairly sarcastic about Naik’s understanding of Qurʾānic material, but presents premodern exegetical material fairly. His understanding of Arabic, given that he is a native speaker, is excellent. (His videos are generally available in both English and Arabic versions.) It should be noted, however, that most presenters of iʿjāz material assert that the Prophet Muḥammad was illiterate and therefore unlearned, and thus could not have known the Greek scientific material, which presumes learning in the modern mode, that is, through reading books. In the premodern and ancient eras, when books were still a luxury, learning often occurred through the spoken word, thus literacy in the narrowest sense was not required in order to be educated.
The science presented by the Masked Arab is accurate; Naik’s is not.
The historical information provided by the Masked Arab is accurate.
About The Masked Arab
The Masked Arab is the pseudonym for a former Shīʿa Muslim from Iraq. In his young adult years — probably in early 2014 — he encountered web sites debunking Islam. As he was a devout believer at the time, he sought out materials in order to understand why the sites rejecting Islam were incorrect. As it turned out, he found that those sites made more sense to him than the Muslim apologetics on which he had been raised. His explorations of topics has led him through a wealth of reference tools and materials on the Qurʾān and the Prophet Muḥammad, giving his materials a sound basis in both Sunni and Shīʿa religious thought.
The Masked Arab is connected on a variety of social media, including Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
“Leaving Islam and coming out as an atheist (sort of).” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yewG5RoKLNc, accessed 30 Nov 2015.
“The Masked Arab”. Facebook, accessed 30 Nov 2015.
“The Masked Arab”. Twitter, accessed 30 Nov 2015.
“The Masked Arab”. Patreon, accessed 30 Nov 2015.
About Zakir Naik
Dr. Zakir Naik is a Muslim preacher and international orator from India. He was born in Mumbai on October 18th, 1965 and studied medicine at Topiwala National Medical College and the University of Mumbai. He has a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS). In 1991 he turned away from practicing medicine to found the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), a non-profit charitable trust in Mumbai, whose operations were closed down by the Indian government in November 2016. The IRF serves to promote dawah, or the proselytization of Islam. He has additionally founded the Islamic International School, which is managed by the IRF, and is the founder and president of the Islamic educational television network Peace TV.
As a speaker Naik has achieved recognition and awards within India as well as internationally. He was honored with the 2013 Islamic Personality of the Year Award presented in Dubai. He has additionally been recognized twice by Indian news publication Indian Express as one of the “100 Most Influential People in India” and four times by George Washington University’s “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World,” most recently in 2014.
Naik’s subject matter, style and platform have all contributed to his prominence as a fairly well-known and fairly controversial preacher. Naik promotes a strict, literalist version of Islam, and is famous as a preacher for extensively quoting from the Qurʾān. He has been called an exponent of the Salafi ideology, although he himself does not use this label as he rejects any form of Islamic sectarianism. He has maintained that the only absolute authority is the Qurʾān itself, and has made a name for himself with his Qurʾānic knowledge and memory.
Naik also holds the dubious distinction of being the speaker on science and Islam most commonly spoofed. One may occasionally find videos using his name in the title in an effort to draw viewers, even if he does not appear in the video.
In July 2016, Naik was linked to bombers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the Indian government began investigating him. The IRF in India has closed (including its web sites), and Naik has remained out of the country to avoid arrest. It has been reported that Naik has taken citizenship in Saudi Arabia. He continues to give lectures outside of India.
For a longer discussion of Naik, click here.
“Dr. Zakir Naik.” Islamic Research Foundation. Islamic Research Foundation, n.d. Accessed 18 Nov. 2014.
“King Salman grants Dr. Zakir Naik Saudi citizenship.” The Siasat Daily, 19 May 2017. Accessed 4 July 2017.
“Zakir Naik.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Nov. 2014. Accessed 18 Nov. 2014.
Biswas, Shreya. “Who Is Zakir Naik? Were the Dhaka Attack Terrorists ‘Inspired by Him’?” India Today, 6 July 2016. Accessed 13 Sep. 2016.
Hassan, Rashid. “Ban on Peace TV Will Be Lifted Soon: Zakir Naik.” Arab News. Arab News, 6 July 2014. Accessed 18 Nov. 2014.