Conversions 101: Zakir Naik as a case study

Conversions 101: Zakir Naik as a case study


Dr Zakir Naik, Indian public speaker on comparative religion and full time Da’ee, in his lecture ‘Da’wah or Destruction’, to motivate the Muslims to do da’wah says:

If people tell you to mind your own business, you tell them, that as a Muslim it IS my business. In fact it is the business of every Muslim to mind other person’s business as far as dawah is concerned.

Dr. Naik is a controversial and famous personality and ranks 89 in the Indian Express’s list of “100 most powerful Indians in 2010”. Now Dawah is one of the sacred duties of Muslims and religious conversion should ideally be an evolving voluntary process. It is not a one way traffic which one seeks to ban. Zakir Naik himself describes it as a business and so we need to draw attention towards the masses attending his lectures—in other words, his customers and the strategy Zakir Naik adopts to sell his ‘product’ in India.

Target consumer market and macro environment

Social With linguistic, genetic and cultural diversity second only to Africa, which is a continent, India houses more than 17% of the world population. With over 1.2 billion population, of which around 80% is non-Muslim, India holds huge potential for dawah.65% of Indian population is below 35 years of age and typical Hindu families neither promote religious studies during childhood nor there is one religious book to adhere, leading to confusion. So there is embedded alienation to religious texts and general lack of knowledge about their own religion.It is cultural expectancy to have an open mind towards religion as it is a private affair, customizable to suit one’s need and accept new gurus, prophets, sadhu-sadhvis, and goddesses, as it is a multicultural and polytheistic society yet believing in what can loosely be called monism.Community ethics do not reject switching between faiths. Attitude is open towards religious dialogue as “shastrarth” is a Vedic/ancient Indian practice still prevalent in form of debates and lectures. Applying self-auditing ethics to all beings living and even non-living (books) is positive sign for conversion and beginning of dialogue.
Economic India is a developing economy with 70% rural population seeking education, job opportunities and spirituality. Unlike western liberals, Indian liberalism does not separate science and religion through atheism, leaving room and cultural expectancy for spiritual quest.Employment opportunity and economic benefits can be easily combined with spiritual knowledge to lure large numbers both for donation as well as conversion for economic benefits.Another important economic reality is reservations and minority quota in schools, universities, jobs and promotion opportunities which can be used to attract those who are primarily looking for economic benefit through conversion.
Technology With more mobiles than toilets, Internet and mobile usage is on the rise. India one of the fastest growing smart phone markets. According to IDC the smart phone segment is expected to witness a CAGR of 68.4% until 2015.English and Urdu speaking population covers a large proportion. Urdu resembles Hindi and is understood by more than 50% of population. English speaking people though currently at 125 million are estimated to quadruple in next decade. Have phone, be online—this is increasingly becoming a norm helping easy dissemination of information and Dawah material through websites and social media.800-plus satellite television channels are broadcasted and services are provided using locally built satellites from ISRO. Satellite broadcasts are allowed for private channels under 1991 reforms.So one can use English & Urdu languages over websites or television to reach a wide audience.
Political Prevalence of democratic, liberal values. Criticism has been done in past for indulging in appeasement politics but government has covered its stance under the garb of freedom of speech and multicultural secular values.Indian secularism is supposedly based on syncretism and policies are heavily doctored to not let “Hindu majoritarianism” take over.
Legal There are really no laws against conversion. Separate Muslim Personal Law governs the personal affairs of Muslims. Similarly a Christian Family law also exists. Autonomy of religious practices is neither possible to curb in India, nor does the government want to control them in the case of minorities.Legal loopholes exist even in weak laws passed by states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to monitor religious conversion and these loopholes can be easily challenged in court or through backdoor lobbying during electoral season.

Industry analysis

Let’s analyse the level of competition within the industry of religious conversion to understand how Zakir Naik developed his business strategy. Here, it is important to note that majority of the consumers are Indian Hindus and suppliers are considered to be UAE and Middle East based Funding and Award providers who patronize Dr Zakir Naik in his endeavours.


Threat of New Entrants – High Barrier to entry is not high as new firms can enter. In fact Hinduism does not categorize godmen or self proclaimed god avatars under the purview of blasphemy and atheistic sects under Hinduism flourish too.The concept of “consumer loyalty” does not hold strong as liberal religious practices do not condemn switching from one deity to another making switching costs low. Clearly the expected retaliation is low and access to distribution channels is easy.
Threat of substitute products or services – High Highly differentiated products are already available.With low switching costs, consumer has the propensity to substitute and to increase the performance of the product (Prayers to God), consumers tend to try maximising utility by praying through more than one routes.
Bargaining power of customers – High Since the firms in market are numerous, the firm concentration ratio is high giving customers huge bargaining power.
Bargaining power of suppliers – Medium Since South East Asian Muslim population is more than that of the Middle East, Europe, Africa and America combined, the Indian subcontinent is major market which cannot be ignored.For suppliers, this reduces their ability to bargain on funding and they have to provide supplies (read funding) for Zakir Naik to continue his business.Coupled with Zakir Naik’s influential status, the suppliers have low power to bargain.
Intensity of Competitive Rivalry – Low Zakir Naik does not face competition from majority of Hindu gurus as conversion is not one of their primary objectives, though Christian missionaries do pose a serious threat to his business.However he has sustainable competitive advantage in India due to population numbers, level of advertising spending and unity in his own category of product (Islamic Dawah).

Despite high competition within the industry, Dr Zakir Naik has a strong faith in his differentiated product with features that demand customer loyalty and an operational strategy which has proven effective so far. This needs evaluation of the core competence of his business.

Core Competence

The proven history of his business of conversions to Islam and innovative features making his product

(a) Adept at entering new markets, usually quickly to developing markets or markets that display signs of chaos or confusion, and

(b) Dramatically shifting patterns of customer choice (blasphemy laws) thereby establishing a market monopoly.


Now let’s analyse the most important operational aspect of his whole business plan to get an answer to these questions : How does he do it? Why does he do it?


How does he do it? Why does he do it?
TV Channels: Peace TV & Peace TV UrduWebsite: Peace TV 1. Most watched religious channel—100 million viewers across the globe2. Channels uplinked from Dubai Media city for Asia, ME, India and Australia and Uplinked from London for Europe, North and South America3. Dubai International Holy Quran Award year after year4. Website for easy reference, old lectures and reading material for quick usage and reference.
Language- English (Peace TV) and Urdu (Peace TV Urdu) 1. Urdu for North Indian population who speak and understand Hindi2. English for the Indian population which may not understand Hindi but knows English and also for international viewers.3. Lectures are also available on YouTube.
Quoting scriptures of other religions 1. As Sadanand Dhume puts it, Naik has a “carefully crafted image of moderation”, showcasing his gentle demeanour, his wearing of a suit and tie, and his quoting of scriptures of other religions.2. To place himself as a student (well actually Master or an authority) of “comparative religion” and so all that he is speaking is not just his ideological belief but academic work.3. To deduce inferences and conclusion about other religions which he proudly loves to debate on.
Wearing suit and tie but the pant is noticeably above ankle. 1. His suit and tie symbolize modernity, yet his pants above ankle to prove that he is still a devout Muslim because ‘dragging the garment’ implies showing off and letting garments touch the ankles is a sin in Islam.2. To enforce rules regarding clothing that he preaches to those present in his lectures.
Comparative religion 1. Despite being a doctor in medicine, his special emphasis on comparative religion is to bag the confidence of those present in the audience.2. To prove the superiority of Islam over every other religion in the world.3. To show how Christianity is part of Islam.4. To prove how Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu scriptures have forecasted that a prophet will come and he will be the last prophet and messenger of one true god: Allah
Debate 1. To showcase his knowledge of scriptures that he has learnt by heart2. To highlight that the other party is ignorant of the truth3. To challenge by usually and frequently doing dawah on lines: “If I will prove that Jesus was Muslim, will you convert to Islam”, “If I will answer your doubt, will you accept Islam”, “If you can show me one text to oppose my view in your religion, I will leave Islam and accept your faith” and so on.
Non Muslims provided first preference during Q&A session 1. To practically show how to do dawah effectively2. To highlight their ignorance of their own religion and thereby producing a comical show belittling the loyalty of the questioners towards their current belief.3. To win the debate and make the questioner accept that Islam is superior or at least as good as their current religion almost 90+% of the time.
Frequent reminders of the fury of Hell 1. To raise fear obviously and negative reinforcement to not let Muslims digress from Islam.2. To make non-Muslims question themselves if they are following the right religion or not. This tactic of hell immediately after winning appendix-based debate (yes he quotes volume, chapter, line number each and every time he speaks a line from any scripture, even if that means 72 times in a ten minute talk).
Flowchart and proper process based dawah 1. Ground rule is to establish that god is one.2.Then start by bringing in prophecies3. If the target consumer shows ignorance, bombard with quotes from scriptures with reference (volume, chapter, line number)4. If the target consumer doesn’t concede, ridicule him with examples to break him down: for example, why would you go against logic? If one glass has pure water and other water with a drop of urine, which one will you choose?

5. If target consumer shows satisfaction with the answer, ask him/her: Will you accept Islam – the hope for humanity, the religion of peace?

6. If target consumer asks any question, before answering, challenge the person by saying: “OK I will answer that but if I answer correctly will you accept Islam?”

7. If the target consumer says the answer is not correct as per me, go to step 4, If the answer is correct go to step 5

8. Occasionally depending on the resistance of target consumer, give information of channel, website or contact address and leave him/her alone with a message to come to the one true religion.

It can be said without doubt that Zakir Naik uses secularism and liberal ideologies to strike a conversation and then mould the message to suit his agenda, which is converting non-Muslims to Islam. What is his marketing strategy, or why do target consumers get attracted to his product or how can we market our own product are topics of discussion for another time. For now I would like to conclude with a story from the book ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’.

A man was admitted to a psychiatric unit in New Jersey after being arrested wandering around wearing a long white sheet and quietly muttering gibberish. Since he was unable to explain his appearance he was was diagnosed: Schizophrenia, Chronic, Undifferentiated Type. Luckily however during the hospital visiting day, twenty other people wearing white sheets turned up at the unit and ‘speaking in tongues’. The psychiatrist in this case released patient with explanation: ‘One such man is a lunatic, twenty constitute an acceptable and sane community’.

We need to be alert to the fact that the lunatic voice of Zakir Naik could become a sane community someday. Equally, these lunatic voices also need to recognize that our random lunatic voices—per their definition—could become sane community someday.

Ritika Sharma

Ritika Sharma works in the pharmaceutical industry and is a management graduate. Her interests at present are consumer behaviour, management, and politics.