This emergent alliance is a reflection of a shift in power in the Islamic world away from its traditional Arab center.
By JONATHAN SPYER,
The name of fugitive Indian Salafi Islamist preacher Zakir Naik is little known in the West. Naik, founder of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, is currently being pursued by the Indian authorities on charges of money laundering and hate speech.Naik is a popular Islamist preacher in his native country. He has been referred to as “perhaps the most influential Salafi ideologue in India” and “the world’s leading Salafi evangelist.” His views on subjects such as homosexuality, apostasy and the Jews are as might be expected (the first two deserve the death penalty, the third “control America”).
The Indian authorities note evidence that two of the seven terrorists who carried out a deadly attack at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1, 2016, claimed inspiration from his teachings.In himself, the fugitive preacher is of only passing interest. Naik’s activities are worthy of further note, however, because the list of his supporters and their activities on his behalf cast light on an emergent nexus in the Islamic world deserving of greater attention. This crystallizing alliance looks set to be of considerable consequence in the period opening up, not least for Israel and some of its partners in the region and beyond.Fleeing from the Indian authorities, Naik has been the lucky recipient of permanent resident status in Malaysia. There, his case has become something of a cause célèbre. The Malaysian Islamic Party, which has four ministers in the current government, is vociferously opposed to acceding to Indian calls for his extradition.Reports in a number of Indian media outlets claim that the (unusual) granting of permanent residency to the fugitive preacher came as a result of a request from the government of Pakistan. The reports further suggest that “Pakistan is also using its relations with… Turkey and Qatar to provide funding to Zakir Naik.”
Naik, for his part, has offered fulsome praise for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking to an Islamist group, headed by Bilal Erdogan, in 2017, the Indian preacher referred to the Turkish leader as “one of the few Muslim leaders who has the guts to support Islam openly,” adding: “Oh Muslim world, wake up…. May Erdogan be the next leader of the Muslim world.”
THE DISPUTE around Naik casts light on the currently burgeoning relations between three significant Muslim countries – Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia. This emergent alliance is a reflection of a shift in power in the Islamic world away from its traditional Arab center.Ankara, Islamabad and Kuala Lumpur, with Qatar as an additional partner, today constitute an emergent power nexus, built around a common orientation toward a conservative, Sunni political Islam. This nexus is united as much by common enmities as by common affections. Its enemies, are India, Israel and (at the rhetorical level) the Christian West.Its rivals within the diplomacy of the Islamic world, meanwhile, are Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally dominated the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the main pan-Islamic diplomatic body, and the UAE.
The crystallization of this new alliance has been apparent for some time. In late September 2019, Erdogan, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met at the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York. The three agreed at that meeting to establish an English-language TV channel to combat ‘Islamophobia’ in the West.Mahathir then sought to convene a summit in Kuala Lumpur, in December 2019, to identify, according to a press release announcing the summit, “what has gone wrong – with a view to eventually reclaiming the Muslim world’s fame and glory of yore.” Briefing the media in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on the summit, Mahathir suggested that “maybe, it can be regarded as the first step towards rebuilding the great Muslim civilization.”The countries invited to the Kuala Lumpur summit were Turkey, Pakistan, Qatar and Indonesia. Mahathir described the invited countries as “a few people who have the same perception of Islam and the problems faced by Muslims.”Subsequent Saudi pressure on Pakistan prevented its attendance at the KL summit. The joint diplomatic activities of the countries invited, however, have continued apace. So far, these efforts have largely been directed at India, with the focus on the issue of the disputed territory of Kashmir.