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Does 'Peace TV' Encourage Interfaith Amity?
Or pride in one's own religion?
Aataai Gazi Mahbub (atagam)     Print Article 
Published 2007-05-10 16:24 (KST)   
Peace TV, an Islamic television channel ostensibly promoting interfaith understanding, is broadcast 24/7 from Mumbai, India and features Islamic scholars as major contributors. One of its aims is to serve as an ecumenical body for Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists worldwide.

Its actual influence is open to question. Does it genuinely encourage an interfaith bridge or provoke a falling out among various believers?

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Peace TV has been telecasting in English and Urdu to more than 125 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Australia since January 2006. Its director is an eminent Islamic scholar of Comparative Religion, Dr. Zakir Naik, who invited Pope Benedict XVI to an open interfaith dialog last September.

It features mainly discussions and debates on Islam, Christianity, Biblical doctrine and comparative theology, including recitations from the holy Qur'an, hymns and spirituals.

In addition to Dr. Naik, the programming staff includes Shaikh Ahmed Deedat (South Africa), Dr. Bilal Philips (Canada), Yassir Fazaga (U.S.), Abdur Rahim Green (U.K.), Hussain Ye (Malaysia), Dr. Jafar Idris (Sudan), Salem Al Amry (UAE), Dr. Israr Ahmed (Pakistan) and Maulana Parekh (India), some of whom are converts to Islam.

Dr. Naik presents the one-hour-long "Truth Exposed" six times a week, the 30-minute-long "Dare to Ask" five times a week, "Let셲 Ask Dr. Zakir," "Da'wah Training Program" and "Izhar-E-Haq."

The first aims to unveil the truth that is often camouflaged in the various scriptures of major world religions. He focuses on the various verses from different religious scriptures with verbatim quotes and references that speak of common terms and similarities in order to bridge the gap between Islam and other religions. "Dare to Ask" focuses on questions like are Muslims fundamentalists and terrorists; does Islam subjugate women and was Islam spread by the sword?

The program "Man With a Mission" features Shaikh Ahmed Deedat, popularly known as the Muslim Scholar of the Bible. He takes comparative religion effectively to a new dimension, presenting a comparative and critical analysis of the Bible and an exposition of Qur'anic messages to a non-Muslim audience.

Also worthy of mention are Dr. Philips' "Fire of Faith" and "Crossfire," jointly by Dr. Naik, Shaikh Deedat and Dr. Shuaib Sayyad and "Peace Missile" by Abdur Rahim Green (U.K.) and Yusuf Estes (U.S.).

Examples of Dr. Naik's commentaries can be seen in his books Islam And Terrorism, Answers for Non-Muslims, Common Questions About Islam and Concepts Of God in Major Religions, among others.

In the first, having mentioned the dictionary definitions of "fundamentalist" according to Websters and the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), he adds "I am proud to be a Muslim fundamentalist" and claims there is not one fundamental tenet of Islam detrimental to humanity. He shares the radical thought that "a true Muslim should be a terrorist only with regard to bad elements, e.g., the anti-social, and not to everyday, inoffensive people, for whom, in fact, he should be a comforter."

He proudly quotes Dr. Joseph Adam Pearson: "People who worry that nuclear weapons will one day fall into the hands of the Arabs, fail to see that the Islamic bomb has been dropped already, having fallen the day Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born."

Dr. Naik presents rational comparisons to show that not only the Qur'an but also the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, the Gita, the Talmud and the Bible support polygamy. Focusing on Hindu vegetarianism, he says Hindu scriptures permit a person to have meat, referring to the Manu Smruti, the Hindu source book of everyday laws and duties (5:30-31 and 5:39-40). He relates that the Bible, like the Qur'an, prohibits the consumption of pork, referring to Leviticus 11:7-8 and Deuteronomy 14:8. He also says that alcohol is banned not only by the holy Qur'an but also by the Bible in Proverbs 20:1 and Ephesians 5:18.

He claims that monotheism is supported not only by Islam but also by other faiths. He rebuts the Christian Trinity by quoting Mark 12:29, John 14:28 and 10:29, Matthew 12:28 and 5:17-20 and Luke 11:20.

He declares that the image of god and the concept of many gods are not supported by Hindu scriptures, referring to the Yajur Veda (32:3), Rig Veda (8:1:1), Brahma Sutra of the Vedantas. (See Answers for Non-Muslims, Common Questions about Islam and Concepts of God in Major Religions).

Most renowned is Shaikh Ahmed Deedat's thought, as featured in his books, including Is the Bible God's Word?, What the Bible Says about Muhammed (pbuh*), Christ in Islam, What is His Name, 50,000 Errors In the Bible and What Was the Sign of Jonah? which are intended to show the Christian the Muslim position in regard to Jesus (peace be upon him), the character of the Prophet of Islam, his mention in Christian scripture and the Muslim view of the present Bible.

In the books Muhammed (pbuh), the Natural Successor to Christ (pbuh) and What the Bible Says about Muhammed (pbuh) he clearly shows that Jesus Christ foretold the Prophet of Islam in the Gospels. He claims that, according to the Gospel, the "Comforter" is known not to be (the Holy) Spirit but rather a human prophet -- the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh). On the contrary, how Islam respects Jesus, his mother Holy Mary and his prophetic status are focused on in Christ in Islam. By a logical comparison of various biblical verses in 50,000 Errors in the Bible, What Was the Sign of Jonah? and Is the Bible God's Word? he claims the Bible's narration and descriptions are not authentic but have been modified by man.

It should be noted that the above books are companion texts to the TV programs.

The broadcast discussions on comparative faith may please Muslims that their prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is a child of the Abrahamic (pbuh) Covenant, according to the Bible, but Christians or Jews may take exception to these concepts because of their lack of faith in the descriptions in the Qur'an. Some Christians and Jews may not sincerely admit the Bible's errancy as explained by Islamic scholars like Ahmed Deedat.

It is well known that the Christian faith reflects the demands of the times. Now, if the Bible does not permit eating pork or drinking alcohol or allows polygamy, then what are believers in the infallibility of the Bible to do? Will they return to the old ordinances or will they adhere to how it is currently taught? When a Hindu or Christian hears that the Trinity or the image of god is not supported by their own scriptures, will they become more fundamentalist or will they disobey the ordinances?

It is very hard to modify our traditional teachings as to whether they are true or false. But history says if someone is observant he/she will face challenges to their faith by his/her opponents but will reject feeling challenged for the sake of good relations. Consequently, interfaith discussions cannot succeed.
As an example, we recall the effect of Pope Benedict XVI's remark on Islam when he quoted a Roman emperor. As part of the reaction to this quotation, Dr. Naik challenged the Pope to an open interfaith dialog, which encouraged Muslims and the Web site of The Pakistan Tribune to invited respondents to post their comments. As a result, Muslims became aggressive, e.g., Amir Ali, a Pakistani, said that the Holy Father, knowing what the likely outcome of the debate would be, refused the challenge. Tanzanian Mohammed Abbas said "what an interesting challenge" and was just waiting to see how it would turn out. From the U.K., Roushanara felt that a live open discourse was exactly what we need.

Christians, on the other hand, were upset, such as the Pakistani Christian who angrily charged that Dr. Naik was really being quite rude toward Christians and also their Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

So we feel that comparative presenters should focus more on those passages or ordinances that endorse equal rights for all, show respect and humanity, morality, and avoid injustice, division and racism. Moreover, the scholars must shun aggressive teachings that encourage militancy or pride in one's own religion. They must recommend following the religious paths as revealed to love and respect one another.
* pbuh: peace be upon him
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Aataai Gazi Mahbub

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