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Pseudonym, 56 Homes Over 6 Months & Loss of Colleagues: How A 33-Yr-Old Fatwa Changed Salman Rushdie's Life

By: News Desk

News18.com

Last Updated: August 13, 2022, 10:42 IST

New Delhi, India

In Salman Rushdie’s case, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned ‘The Satanic Verses’ as blasphemy in February 1989 and called for the writer’s death. (Reuters File)

In Salman Rushdie’s case, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned ‘The Satanic Verses’ as blasphemy in February 1989 and called for the writer’s death. (Reuters File)

A $2.8-million bounty was put on the writer’s head and the then 89-year-old Khomeini said anyone who was killed trying to carry out the death sentence should be considered a “martyr” who would go to paradise

Thirty-three years after a fatwa was issued against him by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, sentencing him to death for his 1988 novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked on Friday, with his spokesman saying the controversial author was on a ventilator, will likely lose one eye and his liver was “stabbed and damaged”.

In the religious decree, Khomeini urged “Muslims of the world rapidly to execute the author and the publishers of the book” so that “no one will any longer dare to offend the sacred values of Islam.”

A $2.8-million bounty was put on the writer’s head and the then 89-year-old Khomeini said anyone who was killed trying to carry out the death sentence should be considered a “martyr” who would go to paradise.

The fatwa changed Rushdie’s life forever, forcing the author to go into hiding. Over the next 13 years, Rushdie adopted the pseudonym of Joseph Anton and moved between safe houses, changing base 56 times in the first six months.

So, is a fatwa really so powerful? What does it mean if a fatwa is issued against an individual? News18 decodes:

First questions first, what is a fatwa?

A fatwa is a decree from an Islamic religious leader. In Rushdie’s case, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned ‘The Satanic Verses’ as blasphemy in February 1989 and called for the writer’s death.

However, a fatwa is not a death threat, as has come to be known in popular culture. For instance, in 2005, a group of US and Canadian Muslim scholars and religious leaders issued the following fatwa: “All acts of terrorism are haram, forbidden by Islam. It is haram, forbidden, to cooperate or associate with … any act of terrorism or violence.” The edict went on to say all Muslims had a civic and religious duty to cooperate with law enforcement in their effort to protect civilians.

How did it change the author’s life?

Rushdie immediately went into hiding after the fatwa was issued. In 1993, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran publicly renewed the death edict against the author. According to the Los Angeles Times, the writer, who was still in hiding, appeared at a Sunday service in England, and said he was facing “a straightforward terrorist threat”. However, he promised to increase the frequency of his public appearances.

Rushdie not the only victim

Hitoshi Igarashi, the scholar who translated ‘The Satanic Verses’ into Japanese, was found stabbed to death in the hallway of a building on the Tsukuba University campus, northeast of Tokyo, in 1999. Police said his body had a deep knife wound in the neck and cuts on the hands and face.

A week before this, Ettore Capriolo, the man who translated “The Satanic Verses” into Italian, had been attacked at his Milan apartment. He survived the attack and also managed to conceal Rushdie’s address.

In October 1993, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot three times and left to die outside his home in Oslo. He spent months in a hospital recovering.

Any attempt to call off the fatwa?

In 1998, during an attempt to re-establish diplomatic relations with Britain, leader Mohammad Khatami said Iran wouldn’t support or hinder any assassination attempt against Rushdie.

However, almost a decade later, the state news agency said the edict was still in effect and over the years, the bounty offered for killing Rushdie has climbed to more than $3 million.

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first published:August 13, 2022, 10:08 IST
last updated:August 13, 2022, 10:42 IST