Rushdie, Salman (1947– )

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Salman Rushdie is a novelist and critic who became a household name after his fictional work, The Satanic Verses, was protested by numerous Muslims and Muslim groups. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa (legal opinion) sentencing Rushdie to death, and as a result Rushdie was forced into hiding in England from 1989 to 1998. In later years he moved to the United States, dividing his time between Los Angeles and New York City.

Rushdie was born to Muslim parents in Bombay, India, and was educated at the Cathedral School. In 1961, he left India to attend Rugby, a prestigious boarding school in England. Rushdie then attended King's College, Cambridge, where he wrote a paper on Muhammad and the origins of Islam for part of his honors examination in history. Early literary influences on Rushdie were the Thousand and One Nights and the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a family friend.

Rushdie's first novel, Grimus (1975), was a variation of the medieval Sufi poet Farid al Din Attar's The Conference of the Birds. It was a commercial failure. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), was about the lives of 1001 children born at the stroke of midnight on India's independence from Britain. This book won him critical acclaim, including the 1981 Booker Prize. However, Rushdie's satirical portrayal of Indira Gandhi resulted in a lawsuit that was resolved only after a sentence considered particularly hurtful by Gandhi was omitted from subsequent editions. His third novel, Shame (1983), satirized Pakistani politics and politicians, such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Zia al-Haqq, in the way that its predecessor had satirized Indian politics. Clearly, Rushdie knew much about Islam, Muslims, and South Asian politics and culture.

The Satanic Verses (1988) was Rushdie's fourth novel, and dealt with the themes of migration, of being a member of a dark-skinned minority in England, and of the multiple identities that come with being Asian in London. The main character is Gibreel Farishta, an Urdu name that translated into English as "the Angel Gabriel." Beginning with the second chapter of the book, Gibreel has a series of dreams. The first of these features a character named Mahound, who is an orphan, a businessman living in a city named Jahilia, who through revelation begins to preach a religion called "Submission." This religion is, of course, Islam. In another chapter, Gibreel has a series of encounters with an exile known simply as "the Imam," who is intended to be recognized as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The book was first banned in India on 5 October 1988 at the urging of several Indian Muslim politicians. Subsequently, the book was banned in South Africa (24 November 1988), burned publicly in Bradford, England (14 January 1989), and protested against in Islamabad (where six people died during a riot on 12 February 1989) and Bombay (with twelve people killed in a riot on 24 February 1989). On 14 February 1989, Khomeini pronounced his death sentence on Rushdie. While distancing itself from Khomeini's death sentence, the eleventh session of the Islamic Law Academy of the Muslim World League (held in Mecca from 10 to 26 February 1989), issued a statement declaring Rushdie an apostate and recommending that he be prosecuted in a British court, and tried in absentia under the shari˓a laws of an Islamic country.

On the whole, North American responses were much more muted and peaceful than in other countries. To take the case of Toronto, the city with the largest population of Canada's Muslims, there was a deliberate effort made by various Muslim communities to keep the protests nonviolent. The protests in Toronto were not used for political purposes, in the same way that they were used in, for example, Iran or India, and there was even some sympathy and tolerance expressed for Rushdie.

See alsoArabic Literature ; Persian Language and Literature ; South Asia, Islam in ; Urdu Language, Literature, and Poetry .


Appignanesi, Lisa, and Maitland, Sara, eds. The Rushdie File. London: Fourth Estate, 1989.

Clark, Roger Y. Stranger Gods: Salman Rushdie's Other Worlds. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.

Fischer, Michael M. J., and Abedi, Mehdi. Debating Muslims:Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Hussain, Amir. "Misunderstandings and Hurt: How Canadians Joined Worldwide Muslim Reactions to Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses." Journal of the American Academy of Religion vol. 70, no. 1 (March 2002): 1–32.

Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Freedom of Expression in Islam. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society, 1997.

Amir Hussain