Celebrated author Salman Rushdie was brutally stabbed on Friday by a 24-year-old man, Hadi Matar, at an event in New York City. According to early reports, the primary investigation stated that Matar comes across as a supporter of fundamental forces in Iran, which had issued a fatwa in the 1980s for Rushdie’s literary work.
The writer, who was born in 1947 in Mumbai two months before the Indian independence from Britain, had spent years in hiding for his radical writings. He had taken up "Joseph Anton" as a pseudonym, when he was hiding from the radical forces after Iran's spiritual and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa over his novel, The Satanic Verses, in the 1980s.
Why was the fatwa issued against Rushdie?
A fatwa is a decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader or a mufti. As per the religious laws, a mufti can form his opinion on any legal issue concerning the religion of Islam, and issue a fatwa keeping the faith and beliefs in his mind.
Rushdie's literary career spanned over five decades. He got his first recognition with his second novel, Midnight's Children, which won him a Booker Prize in 1981. His first book, Grimus, was not a success, although literary gurus have termed it as a fine piece of work.
Things changed for him after his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in September 1988. The novel was a success at once in countries like the US but sparked a huge outrage among some groups of Muslims, who said that the writing was blasphemous.
The book was first banned in India, and Pakistan followed it. Many Muslim countries and South Africa banned the book.
Though the novel won the Whitbread Prize for novels, the protests gradually intensified and protestors took to the streets.
In 1989 (February), Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa for Rushdie for “insulting Islam” in his novel, and asked all fellow “brave Muslims” to kill the writer. Additionally, he gave orders against those who were selling the book. The fatwa had a reward of $3 million.
Years of protests and hiding
Rushdie is not the only one who has paid a heavy price by staying in hiding for years. Those involved in bringing the book out were also threatened, and some killed.
Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi, who translated The Satanic Verses, was found dead at a Tokyo university in July 1991. He was stabbed multiple times and his killer was never found.
In the same year, Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was stabbed for translating the book in Milan. But the doctors saved him.
Two years later in 1993, Norwegian translator William Nygaard was shot dead outside his Oslo, but he also survived.
Rushdie published his autobiography in 2012 mostly covering the time after the controversy broke out over The Satanic Verses.
In recent times, the death sentence against Rushdie was not formally backed by Iran's government, and the author started making public appearances despite fresh death threats from time to time. In 2019, Khomeini's successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the fatwa was “irrevocable”.
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