MUMBAI – Popular Muslim televangelist Dr Zakir Naik, who was reportedly a religious inspiration to one of the Holey Cafe attackers in Dhaka, was recently criticized by Darul Uloom in Deoband, India, a widely-accepted seat of learning in the South Asian Muslim milieu.

Darul Uloom in Deoband has been issuing a series of fatwas criticizing Naik since 2007. The institution considers Naik to be a self-styled preacher, who does not adhere to any of the four traditional schools of Islamic thought, known as maslak.

Darul Uloom’s fatwas label Naik as a “ghair muqallidin”, a term used in Islam to describe those whose understanding of Islam is not directly derived from any one of the four established schools of Islamic thought.

Akhtarul Wassey, professor of Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia says, “I don’t agree with his polemical approach. Islam is a religion of dialogue. As far his sources are concerned, he has a Salafi line of thinking. But one thing is clear that he doesn’t preach wanton violence as is often accused.”

Darul Uloom’s edicts, entered as “fatwa number 1541/1322=B/1429” in its official edicts list, states: “The statements made by Dr Zakir Naik indicate that he is a preacher of Ghair Muqallidin, he is of free mind…one should not rely upon his speeches.”

Another fatwa, numbered 352=363/B, says his knowledge is “not deep”, “not reliable” and “Muslims should avoid listening to him.”

“We are not going into whether Zakir Naik knows the Quran or not. No, we are not saying that. We are saying it is important to follow one or the other maslak, all equally valid,” Abur Rahman Qasimi, a former Darul Uloom student and the founder of Meerut’s Hidaya madrassa, said.

Naik’s speeches have sometimes been called bigoted, often a mix of traditional Quranic discourse and harsh civilizational rhetoric.

“I am absolutely against Muslims who kill, but what is the US doing?” Dr Naik told the New York Times, after being  recognized by the Saudi government for “service to Islam” in 2015.

Seemingly under pressure to respond, Dr Naik had put out a recorded message on Twitter to refute the charge that he inspired one of the Dhaka attackers. “Ninety per cent of Bangladeshis know me…That’s a different issue that he (the attacker) may have been my fan but to say I inspired him to kill innocent human being is devilish,” Naik says in the video.

Zakir Naik has been banned from delivering lectures in the UK and America. Although well respected by a wide variety of people from different Muslim countries, including many in Islam, he has also gained notoriety for subtly endorsing religious extremism.

In one lecture, he says, “If he’s (Laden) terrorizing the terrorist, I am with him, if he’s not I am against him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. Whether he is or not I don’t know… So don’t go and tell outside that Zakir Naik is for Osama bin Laden. I don’t know what he is, I cannot base my judgment only on news.”