Dressed in a suit, he participates with a Christian girl in a quiz over faith as his conversation is captured by multiple cameras for a visual delight that is seamless. The girl, who claims to have been already inclined towards Islam, switches to the beliefs after introducing the televangelist some questions across the podium in what takes around 18 minutes on the video counter to finish the exercise that is proselytizing.
That is generally how a chief of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) is presented on TV by his production house and followers - articulate, convincing, learned and an ability of Islam.
In the televised conversions he presides over, Dr. Naik ensures the potential converts say it they were neither forced nor bribed to shift their beliefs. In what seems to be a clear platform enabling people to embrace the faith of their choice out of their free will and they do,
"NAIK WAS ON SAUDI PAYROLL"
Four correspondents spent 12 days, meeting with the IRF head's present and past associates in both cities. Rather startlingly, none of them declined allegations of being lured to Dr. Naik's conversion activities. India Today's investigative reporters talked to some of the IRF office bearers who alleged that the televangelist was on the Saudi payroll for proselytizing.
PA Inamdar, the president of the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society at Pune's Azam Campus, hosted the event of Dr. Naik in 2008, where the televangelist purportedly converted 12 Hindus and Jains on the spot to Islam. Inamdar remembered he'd expressed his reservations over those immediate conversions to the IRF chief. He, moreover, felt they were orchestrated.
"That's what I am telling you that I talked with him the minute we stepped down (in the podium) that whatever you are doing (is improper)," Inamdar told India Today's special team. "Those who desire to convert and convert with full understanding, they desire no public platform. According to me, that was all stage-managed," he remarked.
APPROACH TO ATTRACT FOREIGN CAPITAL?
The Azam Campus president shared another grave matter, saying the proselytizing of Dr. Naik could be his strategy to bring foreign capital. "Second way of looking at it is about getting money from the states who take an interest in these tasks," Inamdar maintained.
He apparently referred to the Arab World that is currently hosting Dr. Naik.
Requested the way the televangelist reacted to his expostulations, Inamdar alleged he had termed his conversions a routine. "Yes, (Dr. Naik said) it happens routinely," Inamdar insisted. He expressed apprehensions that Dr. Naik's on the spot conversions could have been pre-scripted. "See everyone has a degree of believing. Individuals' ability to become emotional and intelligent vary. It is only psychological. You haven't learned the A, B, C, D (of Islam), and you abandon the religion of your forefathers after hearing a half-hour address. That is either driven by emotions or can be put," noted Inamdar.
A year ago, Dr. Naik received Saudi Arabia's most esteemed "Service to Islam" award from King Salman. In 2013, he was honored with the Islamic Personality of the Year title by UAE PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The IRF head of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation freely proclaims his faith as superior to other religions. He, however, denies claims of inspiring young men to join the Islamic State. Within an interview with India Today, he called the terror group "anti-Islamic State."
But police also suspect that Dr. Naik and his IRF are misusing funds from states like Saudi Arabia to perform prohibited conversions in India. Coercion and allurement drives as many as 800 such instances of proselytizing traced to them, claims Mumbai Police.
This month, an IRF staff and another person were arrested over accusations of radicalisation and forced conversions.
Arshi Qureshi, a guest-relations manager at the organization of Dr. Naik, was decided with investigations from Kerala, who are suspected to have joined the ISIS. After his arrest, sleuths took Rizwan Khan into detention.
The Mazgaon NGO is discovered to be having links with the IRF, researchers say.
Based on Maharashtra's anti-terror squad Khan and Qureshi have converted around 800 individuals under suspect circumstances. Last week all the people who converted had seen with the IRF, ATS sources told India Today.
Before their proselytizing, they were provided Islamic texts by Qureshi in the IRF, according to top researchers.
Religious conversions carried out inducements by force or fraud are prohibited in several states, for example, Odisha, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh.
As part of this investigation, the team of India Today visited a madrasa to meet senior cleric Mufti Manzoor Ziayee, who's also an adviser at the Haji Ali Dargah, and a vintage associate of Dr. Naik, Asif Khan. For setting up studios and other logistics over the past 12 years, Khan's company in Mumbai continues to be supplying technical support to the IRF.
"NAIK EXPANDED BENEFITS TO CONVERTS"
During their dialog with the SIT, Mufti made claims that were startling that Dr. Naik expanded advantages to converts. "They were formally paid and got converted," the cleric alleged when a reporter asked whether some Hindus had indeed altered their belief after listening to Dr. Naik's speeches.
"He (the televangelist) gives benefits. He gives a lot of advantages. Not just that way," Khan added. "If one converts, he gives a lot of support. He helps them stand in the community," the businessman continued. Behind Dr. Naik's proselytizing systems, Saudi funding was additionally alleged by Mufti in his claims.
"Especially if Saudi Arabia is financing, they (the Saudis) would get to understand he's doing that work for them, making non-Muslims accept Islam. If he does not do that, his capital from there will quit," the religious leader said.
The SIT dug and tracked down a man who came in touch with the televangelist. Sheikh Irfan is independently employed now. But he was one of Dr. Naik's first interfaces with the folks. Irfan was his spokesman for some months in 1992.
Irfan alleged young men would be brainwashed by Dr. Naik into aspects of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam.
"Fundamentally, these individuals propagate against grave visits... (then it's) jehad... if someone does not agree with you through dialogue, then use force (that's what they believe in). Even bloodshed is warranted," Irfan alleged.
Up to now, Dr. Naik has refused to return home from his haven in Saudi Arabia.
IRF DEFENDS ITS PLANS
Its programs were defended by iRF after its special report aired.
The conversion itself is not a primary program of (the) IRF," the foundation said in a statement.
"Its program is larger recognition and inter-religious harmony," the IRF asserted. "All these claims are derived from hearsay and opinions of individuals, who are either disgruntled ex-workers or persons with low admiration for IRF and Dr. Zakir Naik. (The) IRF wouldn't normally need to comment on these claims as Dr. Zakir Naik himself has made his views very clear on every such dilemma in the past few weeks," it added.
The IRF described itself as a research body that publishes literature and conducts awareness events.