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Salman Rushdie Fatwa

bkyser on Feb 20th 2012

Here is a documentary about the fatwa that was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini to Salman Rushdie on February 14, 1989 because of his book The Satanic Verses, which was published in 1988. Salman Rushdie is a native of Bombay, India and grew up in a liberal Muslim family, however he grew up in Britain. He studied Islamic History at Cambridge University where he first came in contact with the satanic verses associated with the Prophet Muhammad. According to these satanic verses, Muhammad was tricked by the devil into a compromise. Muhammad agreed that the people of Mecca could continue to worship their pagan gods and goddesses since they were having a hard time grasping the concept of a religion with only one god. Muhammad told these stories to Gabriel, who dismissed them, and decided that they should not be included in the Qu’ran. Many Muslims, however, do not believe that these stories actually took place.

In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s main character is named Mahound, which is a derogatory termed used for the Prophet Muhammad. This name has origins from the Crusades when the Crusaders referred to Muhammad with this name. The meaning of Mahound is “false prophet.” Rushdie renames the city of Mecca to Jahilia, which comes from the Arabic word “jahiliyya” which means the “age of ignorance,” or rather pre-Islam. In this book Rushdie also write about a brother where all of the twelve women share the same names as the twelve wives of the Prophet Muhammad. There is also a character named Salman, who may be an autobiographical character on behalf of Salman Rushdie, who doubts Muhammad’s revelations.

Immediately after publishing this book, Rushdie received criticism and warnings from his friends. One commentator in the documentary who is also a friend of Rushdie’s said, “say anything you want about God, but be aware of saying anything about the Prophet Muhammad.” Protests starting occurring all over South Asia after the publication, including in Islamabad, Pakistan, where five protestors were killed outside of the American Cultural Center. In response to the international protests and outrage, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa on February 14, 1989, against Salman Rushdie calling for his death as well as for the death of the publishers of the book and anyone involved with it. In response to this, Britain provided Rushdie with his own personal bodyguard. Britain feared that the British Muslim community would heed the call of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea came from the fact that Muslims the world over supported the fatwa and were united in their acceptance and respect of Khomeini’s decision. There were two Muslim leaders, however, in Belgium, who spoke out against the fatwa and were later found dead. Iran declared a “Day of Mourning” for the people who had died in the protests over The Satanic Verses and more than 10,000 Iranians took to the streets. The British Embassy in Iran was surrounded and trash was thrown at the building, however, nobody was hurt. Nine days after the fatwa was issued all European diplomats withdrew from Iran.

The fatwa greatly impacted Rushdie’s life. He and his family never stayed in one house for more than one night. Translators of The Satanic Verses were also being attacked throughout the world. The Japanese translator was found stabbed and the Italian translator was also found seriously wounded. However, after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, 1989, Rushdie believed that his life might gain some normalcy back. One of the major problems with Khomeini’s death was that the only person who had the authority to change the fatwa was dead. He had taken the fatwa with him to the grave. Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, renewed the fatwa. In order to ease the burden that was now placed on his life, Rushdie agreed to convert to Islam. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was one of many people who helped Rushdie with this matter. Over time, Iranian and British negotiations ensued and Iran eventually released a statement declaring that the Iranian Government would not take any actions against the life of Salman Rushdie. In 2007, Salman Rushdie was offered Knighthood in Britain. This decision once again led to more protests against his new status as a Knight.


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