Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” Considered Blasphemy
The year was 1988 when Salman Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses” with shockwaves reverberating throughout the Muslim world over its subject matter. Rushdie, a British novelist, had already received acclaimed after authoring “Midnight’s Children”, which won the Booker Prize in 1981. “The Satanic Verse”, however, landed him in the hot seat, provoking protects throughout the Muslim world – some of which got violent with book burnings and fire bombings. In fact, Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a “fatwa” – a death sentence on Rushdie for “insulting” Islam with his novel. Rushdie was forced into hiding, and was moved with a Special Branch protection team to the Lygon Arms hotel in the Cotswolds (England) after the “fatwa” was pronounced. He spent a decade in isolation until 1998 when the Iranian government effectively withdrew its backing from the “fatwa”.
The book’s story is set in the modern world that is complete with mayhem and miracles. It begins the terrorist bombing of a London-bound jet in midflight. Two Indian actors of opposing sensibilities fall to earth transformed into living symbols of what is angelic and evil. The controversy began with the title of the book, which Muslims found incredibly sacrilegious, and took to mean the book’s author claimed verses of the Qur’an, in fact the whole book, was “the work of the Devil”. Other controversial elements of the work include the name of a prophet modeled on Muhammad who is called Mahound, the Crusader derogatory term for Muhammad. The holy city of Mecca becomes Jahilia, a term denoting the pagan ‘time of ignorance’ before Islam. A film star becomes the Angel Gibreel (Gabriel), while someone named Saladin, after the great Muslim hero of the Crusades, becomes a devil. A follower of Mahound is called Bilal, one of the Prophet’s ‘Companions’, a group equivalent to the Apostles in Christianity. One fanatical Indian girl who leads her village on a fatal pilgrimage is called Ayesha, the wife of Muhammad.
The most offensive for Muslims is the city’s brothel, which is staffed by prostitutes who take the names of Muhammad’s wives. Since Muslims believe that the wives of the Prophet are ‘the Mothers of all Believers’, they esteem them.