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Why Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ Is Still Considered Controversial

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Why Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ Is Still Considered Controversial

The author was recently stabbed and is in the hospital with serious injuries.

Three decades ago this month, “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie was published and at the time set off angry, angered demonstrations worldwide, including violence. The book mainly goes to the heart of Muslim religious beliefs as Rushdie, in dream sequences, challenged and somewhat mocked some of its most sensitive tenets. 

It resulted in Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khoemeini, issuing a fatwa or perhaps a religious ruling in 1989 ordering Muslims to kill the author. 

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Rushdie, born in India to a Muslim family, was a British citizen living in the UK when he wrote the book. And due to the ruling, he was forced to go into hiding for over a decade. In his book, Rushdie attributed specific passages in the Quran that place men in charge of women & give men the right to strike wives from whom they fear arrogance to Mahound’s sexist views. 

But muslims believe the Prophet Muhammed was visited by the angel Gibreel – Gabriel in English, who, over 22 years, recited God’s words to him.

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In turn, it’s also believed Muhammed repeated the words to his followers, which were eventually written down and became the verses and chapters of the Quran. Rushdie’s novel took up on the mentioned above as one of his main characters, Gibreel Farishta, has a series of dreams in which he becomes his namesake, the angel Gibreel. 

In these dreams, Gibreel encountered another central character in ways that echo Islam’s definitive account of the angel’s encounter with Muhammed. 

Rushdie opted for a provocative name for Muhammed as the novel’s version of the Prophet is Mahound, an alternative name for Muhammed sometimes used during the Middle Ages by Christians who considered him a devil. Additionally, Rushdie claimed Mahound put his words into the angel Gibreel’s mouth and delivered edicts to his followers that conveniently bolstered their self-serving purposes. 

Rushdie, in his fictional retelling of Islam’s key events, for most Muslims, implies that, rather than God, the prophet Muhammed is the source of revealed truths. 

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In his defense, some scholars have argued his irreverent mockery is intended to explore if it is possible to separate fact from fiction. Literature expert Greg Rubinson pointed out that Gibreel cannot decide what is real and what a dream is. And following the publication, Rushdie himself argued that religious texts should be open to challenge. 

So far, threats against Rushdie’s life persist, and he has just been stabbed at an arts festival in New York State. 

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He is currently in the hospital with serious injuries, all because of his book from 30 years ago. In a 2015 interview, he said: “It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance while being skeptical about their ideas, even criticizing them ferociously.” This view clashes with the thought of those for whom the Quran is the literal word of God.

However, after Ayatollah’s death, Iran’s government in 1998 said it wouldn’t carry out his fatwa or encourage others to do so. The new ruling prompted Rushdie to live in the US & make public appearances. While mass protests have stopped, the themes raised in his novel remain debated, especially as Rushdie appeared to cast doubt on the divine nature of the Quran. 

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