ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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How Zakir Naik Appropriated Liberalism’s Flaws—and Won

If Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik is symptomatic of religious fundamentalism, we have to pin which part of his rhetoric accounts for it, and how is it different from other secular affirmations of truths. Any attempt to rerun the old narrative of the irrationality of religion, and of Naik’s supporters being blinded by unexamined religious passion, falls flat on its face. Naik’s religion in fact, is an embarrassingly evolved version of how a rational religion was conceived post-Enlightenment, and his justification of punishment and justice in Islam strikingly mimics the operation of the modern secular world. This is also how he has been able to gain legitimacy amidst an audience that sees itself as modern.

Nehru's Faith

When religion is being held up as a unique source of faith, we need to remind ourselves that there are other firm foundations upon which we can build moral and ethical projects, in both private and public life. If secularism, as we have recently been told, has multiple meanings, so too does faith. In our own recent history, there is perhaps no better practical instance of the effort to find a non-religious bedrock for morality than that of Nehru himself. Today, as we survey the shattered nationalisms of the Balkans, as we feel collapsing about us the ruins of Arab nationalism, as we see the precipice on which nations like Indonesia balance, it is more important than ever to see the force of what Nehru understood. It is exactly religion's persistence, its fulsome presence as we stumble into the new century that, far from undermining or disproving the force of Nehru's views on the subject, exactly underline their relevance and resonance for us today. On this particular point, he just was right.
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