American televangelists have Muslim counterparts, you know. One of them, India's Dr. Zakir Naik, just got the $200,000 King Faisal International Prize in Saudi Arabia for his outreach to some 100 million online viewers -- an outreach seen by many as inspiring, by some as controversial.
The Washington Post offers a rather terse report on the doctor's honor, studded with 15 linked articles and videos. But the story is a mixed bag. It highlights the controversies more than the body of Naik's message. Some of it is blurred or inaccurate. And it scarcely allows the man or his supporters to answer.
The report starts impartially, then quickly turns into j'accuse:
Naik's creed is an expansive one. "Islam is the only religion that can bring peace to the whole of humanity," he said in a video biography aired at the ceremony.
The preacher is not short of controversy. His orthodox, Wahhabist views — affiliated closely with the Saudi state — are polarizing in India, which is home to a diverse set of Muslim traditions and sects.
Then comes a laundry list of Naik's pronouncements: 9-11 was an "inside job;" Christians are deceived by Satan; Jews control America; Muslims may have sex with their slaves, and Muslim terrorists do no worse than the U.S. does. The newspaper adds that Sufi Muslims picketed Naik in New Delhi this year, condemning his beliefs as divisive and dangerous.
I'll be blunt: Much of this article rubbed me wrong. As an evangelical Christian, I naturally don’t share the religious conclusions of Naik or any other Muslim. Nor do I have much patience for conspiracy theories or moral equivalencies with terrorists. But as an evangelical Christian, I also know what it's like to be caricatured with stereotypes and biased reporting.
But let's look closer.