Rushdie, Literature Festivals and the Fatwa

    By: Zahoor Hussain Bhat

Salman Rushdie had earned the wrath of Muslims worldwide due to blasphemous content in his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which was published in 1988. It caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world due to its irreverent depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). A fatwa was issued against him by the Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on February 14, 1989 ordering Muslims to execute Rushdie.
On 9th of the current month, the world famous Islamic Seminary Darul Uloom Deoband stressed upon Government of India to cancel the visa of Salman Rushdie who according to the reports was visiting India to participate in a literary festival in Jaipur capital of Rajasthan State from January 20 to 24. After the chances of protests the organizers withdrew his name from the list of participants and he himself declared that he is not attending the festival. The Vice Chancellor of the Seminary Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani in a statement had said, “Government should cancel his visa and should not be allowed to visit India. If he visits it would be adding salt to the injuries of Muslims. He had hurt our religious sentiments.” Omar Abdullah triggered a debate on January 11 when he said that issuing visa to Rushdie is not an election issue for Muslims as they are more concerned with their day to day affairs. Condemning the remarks made by Omar Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islami’s spokesman Zahid Ali said Omar’s remarks depicts his ignorance of the history of Muslims, who have sacrificed everything for safeguarding the honour of the most beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The issue of Salman Rushdie had triggered a debate in Kashmir in the months of August-September last year when the Harud Literary Festival was to begin in Kashmir. It was learnt via a Facebook page that Salman Rushdie is attending the festival. The organizers after facing criticism postponed the event indefinitely. Dr. Nyla Ali Khan an eminent writer and columnist in her article entitled “Harud: Season of despondency and loss” had pointed out that the forum who had to host ‘Harud Literary and Cultural Festival’ in the month of September last year in the Srinagar is the same organization who holds Jaipur Literary Festival.
It is pertinent to mention that Valley observed complete shutdown on June 22, 2007 against Britain awarding a Knighthood to author Salman Rushdie for his novel “The Satanic Verses” by which he rendered the gravest injury to the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. The book created a firestorm in the Muslim World when it was published in 1988.
History bears witness to the assault of the Satanic elements on religious leaders, holy books, religious sites and the assassination of Muslim thinkers. The Prophets had to encounter tyrants and devilish powers trying in vain to stop the spread of monotheism and the liberation of masses. The Almighty’s Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had to face the terrible conspiracies of the disbelievers. The Ulema and the Muslim Ummah in general have never ceased to strive to defend Islam against the insults and acts of sacrilege of the enemies of humanity, especially the colonialist and neo-colonialist powers. Thus, the writing the blasphemous book “The Satanic Verses” by apostate Salman Rushdie in the late 1980’s was culmination of the chain of conspiracies against Islam. The US, Britain, and the illegal Zionist entity had commissioned Rushdie to indulge in such sacrilege, an intricate plot that was defeated thanks to the Imam Khomeini (RA), and his timely Fatwa or irrevocable decree calling for execution of the apostate Rushdie.
Now Salman Rushdie has been again in news after failure of Harud festival and withdrawal of his name from the invitees of Jaipur festival. A number of youth of the Kashmir may be unaware about him and his work against Islam so I thought it is best time to inform them.
History say that Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding when the late Iranian Islamic fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini (RA) issued a religious death decree for alleged blasphemy against Islam in Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” in February, 1989. The contents of the decree (fatwa) read:
“I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran, and all involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.”
It was issued days after “The Satanic Verses” spilled Muslim blood in India and Pakistan, and it was welcomed by all Islamic jurisprudents and scholars, whether Sunni or Shiite. The decree against Salman Rushdie was endorsed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The decree of Imam Khomeini was widely cheered by the Islamic world and breathed into the Ummah the spirit of solidarity and awareness, Dr. Ghiyascddin Seddiqi of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, said in this regard: “In my opinion, the Imam’s decree was a turning point in the history of Islam in Britain. Before the issuance of the decree, Muslims were considered a people without identity and their values and beliefs had no meaning, however, the wave generated by the Imam’s dynamic decree throughout the world, caused the West to view the Muslim society as a power to reckon with.”
The publication of “The Satanic Verses” in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world due to its irreverent depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). India banned the book on October 5; South Africa banned it on November 24; and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Qatar followed within weeks. On January 14, 1989 the novel was the subject of a book burning event in Bradford, England. On February 12, five people were shot and killed by the police during a protest in Islamabad.
Imam Khomeini (RA) pronounced his historic decree against Salman Rushdie for insulting the holy Quran and Prophet Muhammad (SAW). On February 14, 1989, a fatwa requiring Rushdie’s execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, calling the book “blasphemous against Islam”. The late Imam in his decree called on all Muslims and the faithful to work to this end so that no one will dare insult the holy Quran, divine Prophets and religious sanctities. Within a few hours, the news of this religious decree spread to the farthest parts of the globe and suddenly a storm of hatred and disgust toward Salman Rushdie and his supporters swept all over the world.
As the novel also suggested that Rushdie no longer believed in Islam, Imam Khomeini also condemned him for apostasy, which according to the Hadith is punishable by death. Imam Khomeini indicated that it was the responsibility of all “zealous Muslims” to execute Rushdie and the publishers who were aware of its concepts. The contents of the speech are:
“In the name of God Almighty. There is only one God, to whom we shall all return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Quran, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare insult the Islamic sanctities. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing. In addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book, but does not possess the power to execute him, should refer him to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all.”
It was apparent that Rushdie tried to portray the divine religion of Islam as a set of superstitious beliefs on the basis of a series of illusions and unfounded myths. With the money he was paid by the enemies of Islam he sold his soul to the devil and tried to ridicule the Almighty’s last and greatest Prophet in the form of an imaginary novel. Actually, Salman Rushdie by misusing the art and freedom of writing has done irreparable harm to the noble status of the pen. In a pre-planned move designed to test the reaction of world Muslims, he attached the holy Quran, the sentiments of Muslims and the beliefs of all other religions; for instance, he has also dared to insult Prophet Abraham in abusive language.
Imam Khomeini (RA) reacted swiftly and in a dynamic move pronounced capital punishment against him. It was at this stage that the Western countries exposed themselves and in a blundering move they rallied to his support on the dubious claim of support for the freedom of the pen and expression. Western statement faltered more and more, and in an abortive move to pressure Imam Khomeini, they recalled their ambassadors from Iran. The Imam was unmoved. His iron-resolve was God-oriented. It was based on the deep recognition of the rational laws of Islam, the love of the humanitarian ideals of the holy Quran, and adherence to the sanctified personality of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Western media horns continued the stale propaganda of defence of human rights and freedom of thought and expression in order to shield the apostate from justice. As any realistic person knows, anything which injures the sentiments of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims is a clear misuse of the freedom of expression and violation of the most basic values of culture and civilization. According to Ronald Dahl the famous writer of children books in Britain “Freedom of writing does not mean writing irresponsible and impolite words. But a writer, who is keen to preserve the freedom of writing, should be equipped with ethics and morals which act as a natural form of self-censorship. The goal of Rushdie in writing The Satanic Verses was to gain cheap and scandalous publicity.”
Rushdie’s book was published by London’s penguin publishers for sale all over the world, the praise for Rushdie by some so-called cultural centres in the U.S. and Europe as well as by certain Western statesmen, indicated an elaborately hatched conspiracy against Islam.
As Imam Khomeini rightly said: “Their goal is not to defend a person, but to support an anti-Islamic and a negative issue designed by the Zionists. The British and Americans have foolishly and hastily placed themselves in confrontation with Islam.”
Rushdie was then forced to live for a time under British-financed security. Meanwhile, further violence occurred around the world, with the firebombing of bookstores at the University of California at Berkeley which stocked the novel, and the offices of The Riverdale Press, a weekly newspaper in The Bronx, in response to an editorial which defended the right to read the book. On February 24, five people were shot and killed by the police during a protest outside the British consulate in Bombay. Several other people died in Egypt and elsewhere. Muslim communities throughout the world held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. In 1991, Rushdie’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed and killed in Tokyo, and his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed in Milan. In 1993, Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot and severely injured in an attack outside his house in Oslo. Thirty-seven people died when their hotel in Sivas, Turkey was burnt down by locals protesting against Aziz Nesin, Rushdie’s Turkish translator.
Popular musician Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) gave indirect support for the fatwa, and in 1989, confirmed during a British television documentary that he was not opposed to the death sentence. Islam stated that rather than attend a demonstration where Rushdie would be burned in effigy, “I would have hoped that it would be the real thing”, and that if Rushdie showed up at his door, he “might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like… I would try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is.” Islam stood by his statements during a subsequent interview with The New York Times. Islam’s official statement on the matter, still posted on his website, is as follows:
“Under the Islamic Law, Muslims are bound to keep within the limits of the law of the country in which they live, providing that it does not restrict the freedom to worship and serve God and fulfil their basic religious duties. One must not forget the ruling in Islam is also very clear about adultery, stealing and murder, but that doesn’t mean that British Muslims will go about lynching and stoning adulterers, thieves and murderers. If we can’t get satisfaction within the present limits of the law, like a ban on this blasphemous book, “Satanic Verses” which insults God and His prophets — including those prophets honoured by Christians, Jews as well as Muslims — this does not mean that we should step outside of the law to find redress.”
In 1990, Rushdie published an essay In Good Faith to appease his critics and issued an apology in which he seems to have reaffirmed his respect for Islam. However, Iranian clerics did not retract the fatwa. Rushdie subsequently declared that he would stop living in hiding, and that he regretted attempts to appease his critics by making statements to the effect that he was a practicing Muslim. Rushdie affirmed that he is not, in fact, religious. Despite the death of Imam Khomeini and Iranian government’s official declaration, according to certain members of the Islamic fundamentalist media the fatwa remains in force:
“The responsibility for carrying out the fatwa is not the exclusive responsibility of Iran. It is the religious duty of all Muslims — those who have the ability or the means — to carry it out. It does not require any reward. In fact, those who carry out this edict in hopes of a monetary reward are acting against Islamic injunctions.” After the passing away of Imam Khomeini, Western governments thought that it was time to scrap the issue of Salman Rushdie and make Iran revoke the death sentence. Certain pseudo-intellectuals were deceived by this Western plot, but the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, frustrated their designs when he explicitly said: “The Imam’s decree is an arrow which has already been shot and hence cannot be returned to the bow.”
In 1999, an Iranian foundation placed a $2.8 million reward on Rushdie’s life, and in February 2003, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reiterated the call for the assassination of Rushdie. As reported by the Sunday Herald, “Ayatollah Hassan Saneii, head of the semi-official 15th Khordad Foundation that has placed a $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie’s head, was quoted by the Jomhuri Islami newspaper as saying that his foundation would now pay $3 million to anyone who kills Rushdie.”
In early 2005, Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie was reaffirmed by Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatwa on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it.


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