Misinterpretation of the Gita by
Dr. Zakir Naik
to this website By
Alok K. Bohara, Ph.D.
You-Tube buzz about the outrageous claims by a so-called scholar of comparative
studies, Dr. Zakir Naik
and President of Islamic Research Foundation of
), has drawn the attention of many Hindus
from around the world. This globe trotting
internet sensation has been accused of using selective quotes out of context
from various Puranas to cast dispersion on the Vedanta philosophy, the Gita and
their teachings. Using a rapid fire Sanskrit chanting technique and misquotes,
this Muslim scholar entertains the vast audience, but in the process manages to
offend many Hindus. At a deeper level, he
is not doing any favor to the faith of Islam. First, he claims that the early
teaching of the Vedanta and the Islamic prophesy and its teachings have a common
root, and that the Vedanta tradition concludes with Islam and its Prophet
Mohammad. Second, the early orthodoxy Hindu rituals and outdated social customs
are the true teachings of Hinduism, not the liberated teachings of the Gita.
repeated chanting of misquotes from the Vedic scriptures, in this age of
Internet, is going to create a bad impression of such a wonderful tradition of
the Vedic philosophy and the Gita, which was just celebrated in the Story of
India BBC documentary as being no less than a gift to humanity. Such
misinformation based on the innuendos and misinterpretation of the Purans and
the Vedas may not help patch the religious harmony between the Hindus and the
Muslims in a country like
Naik’s false teaching of the Gita needs to be debunked by the Vedanta
scholars. It has been widely acknowledged that the Gita’s teaching is
profoundly way ahead of its time with a vast appeal to people of many faiths and
creeds. In July 16, 1945, nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer famously recalled
this quote from the Bhagavad Gita after seeing the mushroom cloud from the first
atomic bomb test in
the radiance of a thousand suns were to
at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one."
I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
inscription at the testing site, aptly named as the Trinity Site, had been the
source of deeper curiosity for many westerners towards this ancient text.
Similarly, some scientists are awed by the
revelation in the Gita that the creation and destruction, postulated in a vast
time scale, are essential part of the cosmic evolution. At the same time, the
Gita seems to contain the fountain of spiritual wisdom as reflected in this
quote by a famous German author Herman Hesse: “The marvel of the Bhagavad-Gita
is its truly beautiful revelation of life's wisdom which enables philosophy to
blossom into religion.” The vast span of knowledge and wisdom in Gita, ranging
from the nature’s cosmic evolution and creation of the physical world to the
subliminal inner self journey, has stood the test of time and space.
the contrary, the undertone of Dr. Naik’s so-called scholarly rote sermon with
rapid citation against the Vedanta and its true
teaching seem both childish and full of ignorance. Furthermore, his continuous
push for the revival of the throwback era of superstitions and social dogma in
sub-continent seems to be motivated by his own insecurity in his faith. Why
else would you spend so much time fighting such a profoundly secular universal
teaching contained in the Gita, especially when it is not even your own
religion? Because of his habit of playing fast and loose with the words and
facts, many Imams held a press conference to condemn him for his political
about the battle in
his rote memorization of the Puranas and the Vedic citations, he draws applaud
from the crowd. But, if you listen carefully to his words, he professes taking
the Indian society back to the medieval age by undermining the liberated true
teachings of the Gita. Only an insecure person like him would make an argument
that the Islam and its prophet came from the Vedanta. Islam can stand on its
own. He is insulting both religions.
Citing Manu Smriti and the Koran, he defends veiling of the
women. Then he cites the examples of Dashrath to defend polygamy. Most offensive
of all is this:
and Dasharath can have multiple wives, then why can't we Muslims have
four?" I wonder what must be going through the minds of the Muslim women in
the audience. At the time for a need to fight for women’s rights and against
the Talibanism, Dr. Naik selectively quotes various scriptures, and professes
putting women behind the parda and at the discretionary pleasure of men. All
should be outraged by this.
Many Gita followers do not have any problem with other
religions. In fact, the Gita teaches tolerance, and allows people to take the
path of their choice. The Gita is not a book of commandments, but is a scripture
of choices. As being a Muslim scholar, Dr. Naik needs to be careful not to
spread rumors about another religion. In particular, such an out-of-context
reference to these spiritual personalities like
and Dashrath of another religion will not create harmony and understanding in a
country which is already torn apart by religious strife.
We still have a fresh memory of the Danish cartoon
incident, and how it created riots in many countries. Many Muslims around
the world saw these cartoons representing a direct attack on the Prophet and on
Islam. The Satanic Verses (1988) created similar uproar around the world and
became a center of protests from Muslims in several countries. The author Salman
Rushdie even faced death threats and a fatwā (religious edict) by Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, and had to go in hiding for many years. His patronizing
behavior towards the Hindu followers in the audience is outrageously offensive.
For example, Dr. Naik’s reference to
and Dashrath, with a smirk on his face, may be misinterpreted by many Hindus as
a direct insult to Hinduism. To many Hindus, these personalities from the two of
the most holy scripts of the Hindu religion --Mahabharat and Ramayan-- are
divine, and they certainly do not evoke the images of polygamist playboys.
We are not a mature society like the
where the front page cover of Obama and his wife as gun totting Muslims
in the New Yorker hardly incites any street protests. He also comes very close
making it a holy duty of every Muslim to use violence against “terrorist
”. These days, we need preachers of peace, not the promoter of violence.
Furthermore, it will be very damaging to those countless people in
who are struggling to bring about social change in the society. This shows that
Dr. Naik is not a spiritual person of faith, but a man of mean spirit. He is not
representing the faith of Islam in good light.
In an effort to undermine the Gita, he dismisses the
contribution of great personalities like Sankaracharya, Vivekananda, and Ram
Mohan Roy, and brands them as misguided reformers under the influence of the
British Raj. Some of his outrageous claims include: Mohammad’s arrival as an
avatar of Kalki was predicted in Rigveda and Bhawisya Puran, and thus Islam and
Mohammad conclude the religious prophesy predicted in the Vedanta traditions.
Many scholars have dismissed these claims through linguistic analysis and other
scholarly arguments. He also puts forth pseudo-scientific gibberish of exploding
nebula as an argument of the Koran’s creation theory. It is an insult to the
true teaching of Islam.
His loathing towards the Gita does not stop here. His
criticism of vegetarianism in defense of cow slaughter is quite outrageous too.
He declares that the Hindu belief in non-violence deprives us human of protein.
According to him, our breathing kills millions of bacteria, and thus the Hindu
belief on vegetarian diet and non-violence is unnatural and ridiculous. This
should be offensive to the great religions of Buddhism and Jainism. This clearly
should also be unacceptable to those who follow Gandhi's path. In fact, he
ridicules Jainism for influencing the early meat eating Vedic followers, and for
converting them into vegetarians.
It is one thing to teach your own religion to others and
show the path of understanding and hope. He, as a Muslim scholar, on the other
hand, is deliberately telling Hindus to change the way of their thinking and
spiritual focus by ridiculing their choice of spiritual guidance. He wants them
to abandon the teaching of the Gita and follow his version of hybrid religion
with full of outdated dogmas.
I wonder how the American public would feel if the Hindus
here were to go around in the
telling everyone in big masses to abandon the Holy Bible in favor of the Old
Testament. It is one thing to have a scholarly conversation in a seminar
setting, but his huge masses seem more like a misguided sermon and propaganda
rather than an intellectual discourse.
Dr. Naik needs to be careful not to get carried away in his
punditry of Sanskrit language and the power of rote memory of the Puranas.
The Gita describes these types of people as having dry knowledge but no wisdom.
Rote memory alone will not bring about religious harmony in a complex country
. A talented scholar like Dr. Naik should also do some self reflection to
understand the soulful feeling of the millions of Hindus around the world by
studying the Gita more carefully.
His lecture series can be found here: