Thousands gather in Dubai to hear one of the world's most famous religious scholars exhort believers to do their part to spread Islam.
The perfect time for dawah
Ramadan is an ideal opportunity for Muslims to share their faith with their non-Islamic friends, colleagues and neighbours, the leading Indian religious scholar Dr Zakir Naik said this week.
The Mumbai-based academic said Ramadan was the perfect time for Muslims to perform one of the major obligations of their religion: dawah, the inviting of others to Islam. "In Ramadan, there is more chance to do good deeds. As for non-Muslims, the message of Islam will go straight into their hearts. They will come close to Allah," he said. His lecture, entitled "Dawah or Destruction", was held on Thursday night as part of a Ramadan series sponsored by the government-run Dubai International Holy Quran Award. The free event at the Dubai Expo Airport Centre was attended by nearly 20,000 people.
Muslims of many nationalities, as well as people of different faiths including Sikhism, Hinduism and Christianity, and even some non-believers crammed into the conference hall. Dr Naik, who dedicates his life to propagating Islam, owns the Mumbai-based Peace TV channel, the most popular Islamic channel in the world. He said he had memorised the Quran and the Bible and often quotes from them to support what he says.
"In Surah Al Imran, God tells us, 'You are the best of the peoples ever raised up for mankind'," he said, referring to Muslims. "So Allah is calling upon us Muslims. He is giving us honour and whenever an honour is given, it is followed with responsibility." His sometimes humourous style also drew laughs and cheers from the listeners, many of whom were visibly excited to see one of the most famous Muslims in the world.
Many filmed his speech on mobile phones and captured the moment with photographs. Visitors travelled from as far as Britain to attend the talk. In February, the Indian Express newspaper ranked Dr Naik 82nd on its list of 100 Most Powerful Indians. He was the only religious leader on the list. It is the duty of every Muslim to spread the message of Allah, he said. "Propagate, even if you know one verse of the Quran. Whatever you know properly, as long as you know it correctly, you have to convey that message to the others."
Even though December is still several months away, Dr Naik admonished Muslims not to return their friends' Christmas greetings when the holiday came around. They should use the opportunity to draw them towards Islam instead, he said. "You will have Christmas coming and we say 'Merry Christmas'," he said. "We are saying Allah has a son. You are bearing witness that He has a son on December 25. "Every day our non-Muslim colleagues, neighbours and friends, they are abusing Allah by saying he has got a son, and we can't even open our mouths."
It was dangerous for Muslims to fail in this duty, he said. "Muslims should convey the message of Islam and the message of Allah to non-Muslims, or they [Muslims] will be destroyed." He warned Muslims not to resort to aggression and violence, however. "I'm not telling you to punch, hit, fight or kill them," he said. "At least open your mouth. We're afraid to even talk to them [non-Muslims]." He emphasised: "The best jihad, according to me, is to convey the message of Allah to the non-Muslims. It's removing the misconceptions of Islam. We Muslims are sitting on our backsides doing nothing."
At the end of his two-hour talk, the floor was opened for questions. Non-Muslims were encouraged and given priority to quiz Dr Naik. "You are most welcome to criticise me," he invited them. "I love it. You can attack me." One member of the audience said she had recently converted to Islam. A standing ovation, cheers of "Allah is the greatest," and gifts of money and other things to the young woman, who wished to remain unnamed, quickly followed.
Another person in the crowd, Shazia Bashir, an Indian who works in Dubai, said the event had made her feel "proud to be a Muslim". "I am very happy with his speech and so pleased that the lady who recently reverted to Islam spoke up. It's so important that we bring more people to Islam." The lecture also had a marked effect on Insherah Ibrahim, aged 12. "I used to watch Peace TV and Dr Zakir Naik, he is really great," said the Indian girl, who lives in Dubai. "I think we need more speeches like this. I am planning to speak more to the non-Muslims about Islam. I am speaking to my best friend about it and will advise her about Prophet Isa [Jesus], but it is up to her in the end."
Dr Mehjabeen, another Indian living in Dubai, said: "Dr Zakir Naik always proves that Islam is the modern day religion and this has been shown scientifically. People are really thinking it over." Sumerah Saeed, a 25-year-old Pakistani student in Dubai, said the speech would inspire her to summon others to Islam. "My brother and I always use his lectures so we had to be here," she said. "So many questions arise for us as Muslims and he shows us how to talk to people. His lectures always guide us."
Dr Naik's was scheduled to speak again yesterday evening concerning the misconceptions about Islam. firstname.lastname@example.org