Our number one on ‘Did you know?’ is Salman Rushdie, author of the most controversial novel,The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, in 1988, published his novel The Satanic Verses in the UK. (Now, if the title has not yet got you curious, here’s why Rushdie is number one.)
Did you know that publishing this not only made him the writer of the most controversial novel, but also the writer who is most wanted dead by the Islamic world?
Rushdie landed a bounty on his head, and this has remained on his head till date. The thing is, Rushdie had always been a daring writer, and I guess it was only a matter of time before he fine-tuned his reputation. The Satanic Verses had a large number of Muslims worldwide chanting;
KILL SALMAN RUSHDIE!
Why did the book anger Islamist states? (Did you read the title well?)
Just like some books are not found in the Bible but are said by some to have been a part of it, or lost parts of it, so the Satanic Verses are parts that are not in the Qur’an, but are believed to be verses that were spoken by the prophet Muhammad as part of the Qur’an, but verses he later crossed out because he admitted later it was the devil that sent him those verses to deceive him. These verses apparently permit the acts and worship of lesser gods; goddesses, to be precise. These verses were later labeled The Satanic Verses by Western scholars.
So, right from the title, there was a problem. The content of this book is filled with what the Islamist States called violations of their laws. Most names of characters in this book are considered to be derogatory plays on the names of the Prophet Muhammad, Angel Gibreel, Saladin, Ayesha, and Muhammad’s wives (who in the book were staff members of a brothel.) Then there were things that were said in Characters’ conversations that either spoke against Islamic laws or beliefs, or were direct statements that encouraged rebellion and promoted the acts of infidels.
In short, Rushdie published his death sentence!
Months after it was published, the book was banned in several countries including India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Sudan.
Threats were flying from angry Muslims all over the world.
Bookstores that sold the book received their share. Eventually, the attacks started. Publishing houses, bookstores…so intense was the anger of offended readers that when a bookstore had copies of the book, they’d hide them. Muslims poured out onto streets protesting the book, it was no joke.
In 1989, a Muslim leader called for the death of Rushdie along with his publishers.
“We are from Allah and to Allah we shall return. I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, and the Qur’an, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever killed in this cause will be a martyr, Allah willing. Meanwhile, if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that Rushdie is punished for his actions…”
Now, soon after this, Rushdie issued an apology for all that the book caused, after being advised that an apology will save his neck. Well, this was the response from the Imam;
“Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell. If a non-Muslim becomes aware of Rushdie’s whereabouts and has the ability to execute him quicker than Muslims, it is incumbent on Muslims to pay a reward or a fee in return for this action.”
This judgment and later declaration were responded to from those who were for and those who were against, both in the Western world, and the Islamic world. After a decade, attempts were made to revoke the judgment and the attempts kept on till 2006, when Iran declared that it will remain permanently. According to Rushdie, he receives a threat from Iranian extremists, annually.
Oh yes, he is still very much alive. The book however, has been life-changing for Rushdie and his family. In 2012, he published a memoir capturing his years in hiding – Joseph Anton.
As a young unpublished writer, Rushdie both inspires and leaves me more than a little worried. Here is a man who set out to write out his imagination (of course informed by what he had been exposed to through reading, etc.) and this is what happened after. It makes you wonder how much freedom you have under imaginative writing. It makes you wonder if you are safe letting your mind run so wildly.
There are some things that have become so dear to me that I have already started writing them into novels I am working on. Some friends I let in on these things warned me to, if I do, publish under a pseudonym (Hi Taka! Lol!), and I actually do think about it, though I doubt I will. One thing I admire about Rushdie is his bravery, although I believe he has his own regrets. To be a writer is not an easy thing, I guess. Cheers to our passion!
So here’s to the World’s most Controversial Writer with a bounty on his head… *drumroll*