A Fatwā Revisited, A Veil Lifted

Is Salman Rushdie a blasphemer or a humanizer? 

When Salman Rushdie received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, there were protests throughout the Muslim world. To many Muslims, Rushdie's name was synonymous with blasphemy, and England's action was therefore seen as an endorsement of blasphemy.


In Pakistan, for instance, Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, the minister for parliamentary affairs, said "this is a source of hurt for Muslims and will encourage people to commit blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad."

Is Salman Rushdie a blasphemer or a humanizer? 

Here is a perspective from Big Think blogger and self-proclaimed Muslim apostate Tauriq Moosa, who described his first exposure to Rushdie:

Rushdie’s words, like an exquisite assassin’s blade whose beauty makes you forget your throat is slit, stayed with me for days. Like flies, his thoughts and anger followed me. I can still smell the original copy.

What was so wounding at first (and then ultimately enlightening) to Moosa as a Muslim was that Rushdie had humanized Muhammad. In doing so, Moosa writes, "Rushdie also [humanized] the faith."

Religion is a manmade construct, as well as fiction, and yet the veil is not often lifted. In Salmon Rushdie's highly anticipated and well-received memoir, the veil has been lifted on the writer, and Rushdie has succeeded at humanizing Rushdie. 

The New Yorker has published an excerpt from Rushdie's memoir in which the author writes in the third person of the day the fatwa was issued against him:

Somebody gave him a printout of the text as he was escorted to the studio for his interview. His old self wanted to argue with the word “sentenced.” This was not a sentence handed down by any court that he recognized, or that had any jurisdiction over him. But he also knew that his old self’s habits were of no use anymore. He was a new self now. He was the person in the eye of the storm, no longer the Salman his friends knew but the Rushdie who was the author of “Satanic Verses,” a title that had been subtly distorted by the omission of the initial “The.” “The Satanic Verses” was a novel. “Satanic Verses” were verses that were satanic, and he was their satanic author. How easy it was to erase a man’s past and to construct a new version of him, an overwhelming version, against which it seemed impossible to fight.

Here is a selection from the audio edition of Joseph Anton: A Memoir, read by Salman Rushdie. In this section of the prologue, Rushdie gives his personal account about his years in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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