Why Muslims lag behind

Khushwant Singh


At the recent Book Fair in Delhi there was a stall selling Islamic literature. Friends who went round the stalls told me that among the hottest sellers was “Answer to Non-Muslim Common Questions About Islam” by Dr. Zakir Naik (Madhur Sandesh Sangam).

The learned doctor, who has a phenomenal memory when it comes to quoting chapters, verses and lines of the scriptures, has chosen 20 questions, most often asked by non-believers: they include polygamy, burqa, drinking, eating pig meat, afterlife, and kafirs. I have heard Zakir Naik hold forth on these and other subjects several times on television before large receptive audiences, who hear him spellbound. I disagree with almost everything he has to say about misconceptions about Islam. Though by definition a kafir (I don’t believe in God, satan, angels, devils, heaven or hell), I feel hurt and angry because I am emotionally and rationally bothered by the sorry plight of Muslims today. I find Naik’s pronouncements somewhat juvenile.

They seldom rise above the level of undergraduate college debates, where contestants vie with each other to score brownie points. I will deal with only four of the twenty topics he deals with — two of minor and two of major importance. Why is eating pig meat forbidden in Islam? Dr. Naik tells us that the "pig is one of the filthiest animals on earth."

Agreed, it eats garbage, including human and animal excreta. He further adds, “The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate." I admit I was not aware of this swinish aberration. He goes on to list 70 different types of diseases caused by eating pig meat. He does not tell us why the vast majority of non-Muslims, non-vegetarians of the world, relish pig meat in different forms: ham, bacon, pork, sausages, salami, etc.

Many Pacific island economies depend on breeding pigs. I for one have not heard of great epidemics caused by consumption of pig meat. Why is alcohol forbidden to Muslims? Actually, what is forbidden by the Quran is drunkenness, not drinking. However, Dr. Naik construes it to be a sin. He says, “Alcohol has been the scourge of human society since time immemorial. It costs enormous human lives and terrible misery to millions throughout the world."

He lists 19 diseases, including eczema, caused by the intake of liquor. One does not have to quote the scriptures to prove that excessive drinking ruins one’s health, impoverishes families, and leads to bad behaviour and crime. It is plain common sense. People all over the world overdo it and suffer. Those who drink within limits enjoy it. I have been drinking for 70 years. I have not been drunk even once in my life, never fallen ill nor offended anyone.

I am 94 and still drink every day. My role model is Asadullah Khan Ghalib. He drank every evening and alone. I look forward to my sundowners. For me and for millions of others, drinking has nothing to do with religion. Let us see what Dr. Naik has to say about two more serious subjects: polygamy and hijab (veil).

“The Quran is the only religious book on the face of this earth that contains the phrase "marry only one," he asserts, and explains the verse on the subject "marry women of your choice, two, three or four; but only fear that ye shall not be able to do justice (with them), then only one". And since "ye are never able to be fair and just as between women. Therefore, the verdict is in favour of one wife at a time. "Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims," writes Dr. Naik.

There are more women than men in the world; so what are women who can’t find unmarried men to do except become co-wives of married men? Or become “public property?” So goes the learned doctor’s argument.

He does not deign to deal with the situation as it exists today. Every religion other than Islam: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism now forbids men from having more than one wife at a time.

Muslims are the sole exception though and only a miniscule minority, mainly Arabs, have multiple wives. Apply for a visa to some country like Indonesia and Malaysia and you will have to fill a column naming up to four wives accompanying you. The answer to the problem of women outnumbering men is not polygamy, it is the freedom to engage in extramarital relations or have them staying single. It is better than having a harem.

Dr. Naik is in favour of women wearing burqas from head to foot, girls not going to mixed schools or colleges, nor going into professional institutions in which they have to expose their faces, etc. This amounts to denying them equal rights with men. In my view, shared by all my Muslim friends, burqa is the single most reprehensible cause for keeping Muslims backward (it is synonymous to jehalat — ignorance and backwardness). The sooner it is abolished, the better. He castigates the western society in no uncertain terms: “Western talk of women’s liberalisation is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul, and deprivation of her honour.

“Western society claims to have uplifted women. On the contrary, it has actually degraded them to the status of concubines, mistresses, and society butterflies who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketers….” All I can say in reply is “Dr. Naik, you know next to nothing about the Western society and are talking through your skull cap. People like you are making the Muslims lag behind other communities.”

Webmaster's note: This article was first published in the Hindustan Times on November 3, 2007.

We are NOT apologists and agree with and accept valid criticisms of Muslim preachers. The prohibition against swine has more to do with scriptural symbolism than with health. Islam is, for us, one of many paths, since God says in the Qur’an that messengers have been sent to different nations, and each has its own path. Our view is that theological differences are often based upon fallible deductions, and doctrine often has more to do with culture and place since there can be no single universal application of any enjoined / proscribed concept, even among members of the same faith. This is why God also says that "He does not enjoin upon any being that which is beyond his / her ability." We are not advocating that Muslims should start eating pork and drinking alcohol. We do agree with Khushwant Singh that Dr. Naik’s logic and pronouncements are juvenile, including his bigoted views of women.

Posted July 3, 2015