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The reason why Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” has haunt him for years

The Indian-British author published one of the most controversial books of all times, infuriating a whole country that put a prize on his head.

Throughout history, there have been forbidden books and even cursed books that have been tried to be silenced and forbidden. Among these almost endless lists of books is one that has not only infuriated an entire country but also has made its author live with fear to the point of being attacked by extremists.

We are talking about “The Satanic Verses” by Indian-British author Salman Rushdie, who recently was attacked and sent to the hospital after an individual tried to end his life.

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But, why is so controversial this novel? Well, it turns out that it challenges the basis of the Quran and Islam, and some, especially in Iran, took this fiction work as a threat to its religion and core beliefs.

What is so controversial about “The Satanic Verses”?

First published in 1988, the book caused controversy for, in a way, questioning Muslim religious beliefs and even, sometimes, mocking some of its most sensitive tenets.

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In his novel, Rushdie tells the story of Gibreel Farishta, a man who has a series of dreams in which he becomes the angel Gibreel. Later, he encounters Mahound, Rushdie’s version of the Prophet Muhammed who is being used by Gibreel to deliver edicts to his followers that serve to his own purposes.

This, of course, is related to the belief that the Quran was dictated by the angel Gabriel to Muhammed; therefore, Rushdie appears to cast doubt on the divine nature of the most sacred book in Islam.

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Another big controversy about Rushdie’s choice of names for his characters is that Mahound is an alternate name for Muhammed and was used during the Middle Ages by Christians who considered the Prophet a devil.

The consequences

The writer, who was born in India and raised in the United Kingdom, was sure that his novel would cause some discomfort amongst certain communities, but go as far as to receive death threats.

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“I expected a few mullahs would be offended, call me names, and then I could defend myself in public,” Rushdie would tell an interviewer much later.

But what really happened is that his novel infuriated the Iranian government and on February 14, 1989, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa (a religious decree), calling on all Muslims to execute not just Rushdie but everyone involved in the book’s publication.

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It got to the point that an Iranian religious foundation offered a $1m bounty for Rushdie’s head. $3m if an Iranian did the job.

Of course, this led the writer to go into hiding and be escorted at all times. He was now a wanted name with a price on his life.

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He lived in a remote farmhouse in Wales for years under the alias name of Joseph Anton. But it all came to an end in 1997, when Sayyid Mohammad Khatami, a reformist Iranian president took office and announced that his government would no longer actively seek to execute the fatwa on Rushdie.

The agreement came as a diplomatic resolution done by the British and Iranian governments under the promise of diplomatic relations with Britain in exchange for “releasing” Rushdie.

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The writer was relieved of the agreement and came out of his hiding, saying that he had no regrets about his book.

“The Satanic Verses is as important in my body of work as any of my other books,” he said, according to The Guardian. As part of this new freedom, the writer also revealed that he did not embrace Islam as he had previously said believing it would end the fatwa on him.

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Salman Rushdie apparent freedom

By September 2001, the writer started going public more often, even appearing in movies like Bridget Jones. But he was always accompanied by armed policemen or guards. In 2019, Rushdie said to the Agence France-Presse that it was time to go after someone else.

“We live in a world where the subject changes very fast. And this is a very old subject. There are now many other things to be frightened about – and other people to kill,” he said.

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Since the publication of the book, many people involved in it have been attacked. In July 1991, the Japanese translator and professor of Islamic culture, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death at a University in Tokyo. A few days later, the Italian translator was badly wounded and two years later, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot and seriously injured.

More recently, Salman Rushdie was the target of an attack that left him wounded and needed hospitalization, however, his agent declared the author is out of danger and recovering.

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So, it seems that after 33 years, “The Satanic Verses” still haunt Rushdie.

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