JEDDAH: Eminent scholar of comparative religion Dr. Zakir Naik has invited Pope Benedict XVI for an open inter-faith dialogue.
The Pope`s recent statement, which included a quote from a 14th century Byzantine emperor, sparked outrage in the Muslim world. In his latest efforts to calm down the Muslim anger the Pope invited diplomats from 20 Islamic countries at his summer residence in south of Rome.
This extraordinary gathering was seen as the latest effort by Benedict XVI to quell the furor stirred two weeks ago by controversial remarks he made about Islam. He is attempting to channel the emotion into what he calls an authentic and respectful dialogue.
Dr. Naik sees the Pope`s statement on Islam as pre-planned. "He (the Pope) knew very well what he was speaking at University of Regensburg in Germany on September 12," he said.
"The Pope`s apology to the Muslims was at all not an apology rather it was putting salt on the wounds," said Dr. Naik, adding that the Pope should have explicitly apologized and retracted his statement.
Benedict XVI seems to be toeing the same line of neo-con as that of President George Bush, he said. Dr. Naik said if the Pope wants to initiate an authentic dialogue then he is more than willing to participate in such an inter-faith debate.
"I am more than willing to participate in the inter-faith dialogue with Pope Benedict XVI. I am ready on any topic he (the Pope) wishes as long as it focuses on Quran and the Bible," Dr. Naik said. He said he can go to Rome or Vatican to meet the Pope.
"I can go to Rome and to Vatican on my own expense if an Italian visa is arranged for me," he told ONLINE after delivering his lecture on "20 most common questions about misconceptions of Islam," organized by Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh, attended by a number of ambassadors, diplomatic staff and members of the Sri Lankan community.
Dr. Naik during the past three years has delivered over 600 lectures in the US and Canada. "I am absolutely ready for an open and public debate with the pope under live international TV coverage," he said.
Let the 1.3 billion Muslims and 2 billion Christians around the world listen to the debate based on equal slot of time allotted to both sides, he said. "It is not only a debate but also a question and answer session allowing the people to ask queries," he said. He said he is not in favor of closed-door meeting with the Pope, as was suggested by his predecessor Pope John Paul II, when South African-based Islamic scholar Ahmed Deedat invited him for open dialogue, he said.
"Pope John Paul told Shaikh Deedat to come to his cabin for a debate," he said and added why does the inter-faith dialogue be held behind closed doors? Dr. Naik said the best way to counter the onslaught on Islam is that the Muslims should have their own media.
"Unfortunately, most of the international media is controlled by the Western (lobby). Unless you (Muslims) have your own media they (Westernerns) can very conveniently convert black into white, day into night, a hero into a villain and a villain into a hero," he said.
Dr. Naik, who has launched his own religious satellite channel called Peace TV, said Muslims do have their own media but what he meant by international media is similar to the Time and Newsweek and TV channels such as the BBC and CNN, when Muslims can project their views and convey the message in right perspective.
"I have a future plan to launch a news channel," he said. He said there are at least 100 Muslims that he knew, who can take such an initiative and launch at least 10 satellite channels.
People should not wait for Muslims organizations such as IIRA or OIC to take steps in this direction, he said.
"Any individual businessman can take the initiative if Muslim bodies such as OIC or IIRA are not coming forward in this direction," he said.
Dr. Naik has also endorsed former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Muhamamd`s views that the Muslims should stop to operate US dollar-denominated bank accounts. "I have been preaching (that) Muslims should stop dealing in dollar," he said. He also called on the Muslim world to launch an Islamic currency to counter dealing in dollar.
Muslim countries should not peg their currencies to the dollar. "By that time the individuals and businessmen should stop dealing in dollar," he said. He said he has been mobilizing the people wherever he goes asking them not to keep dollar accounts or even the currency.
The moment you exchange dollars you simply convert that amount with any currency such as riyal, dirham, dinar or be it yen or euro "but not to keep in dollar-denomination account," he said.