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Mis/Representations of Islam: Reading Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.

Written by

Ismail Isa Patel
London, May 1998
Please email with suggestions and corrections. Any feedback welcome.

... who fights against the Turks [Muslims] ... should consider that he is fighting an enemy of God and a blasphemer of Christ, indeed, the devil himself...1 Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Muslim society looks profoundly repulsive ... It looks repulsive because it is repulsive ... A Westerner who claims to admire Muslim society, while still adhering to Western values, is either a hypocrite or an ignoramus, or a bit of both ... Arab and Muslim society is sick, and has been sick for a long time. Connor Cruise O'Brian, The Times, May 1989


E. Grislis, 'Luther and the Turks', The Muslim World, Vol.LXIV, No.3 (July, 1974), p.183.



Introduction 1 The Anti-Islamic Tradition 2 The Text 3 Rushdie's Defence 4 The Muslim Response 5 The Western Response Conclusion

4 7 9 14 18 21 24




What is freedom of speech? What are the boundaries, if any, that fiction should be contained within? What position does the artist hold in society? Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, and the 'Rushdie Affair' that followed its publication, have brought these important questions to the forefront of debate. What has also been highlighted by the Affair is the entire religion of Islam - the faith of a billion followers world-wide. Questions have been asked about its place in modern society, about its supposed staunch authoritarianism, its violence and its narrow-minded views. In September of this year we will see the tenth anniversary of the publication of the novel. No doubt there will again be wide coverage of the issue in the media. Yet whether this coverage will be directed against Islam, as before, or whether a fair study will be made of both sides of the argument - that is the religious (Islam) and the secular (the West) - remains to be seen. Arun P. Mukherjee, in the essay 'Whose Post-Colonialism and Whose Postmodernism?', states that:
Without the knowledge of ... cultural apparatus, the readings generated by postmodernist critics are necessarily uninformed ... I have read few Euro-American critiques that really understand the hurt and anger The Satanic Verses has caused in the part of the world I come from. In this part of the world we tend not to notice the hurting capacity of discourses. 2

In the cultural apparatus within which Muslims are brought up nothing is more sacred then Islam. The Satanic Verses therefore caused hurt and anger to Muslims that it seemed the West just could not understand. To add to this Muslims saw the media turn against them during the Rushdie Affair; it was the first time they had received so much coverage in the popular media, and this coverage spoke of 'us' and 'them' - Muslims understood that they were seen as an 'Other'. News and current-affair features, chat shows, the tabloids as well as the quality papers, carried articles that showed Muslims as alien because of their inability to assimilate into British/Western society. With the Bradford book burning of January 1989, and the Ayatollah Khomeini's infamous fatwa of February in the same year, a new angle was brought to the debate; Muslims were seen as narrow-minded 'fanatics' and 'fundamentalists' (a new 'dirty word') because of their 'anti-liberal' and 'antidemocratic' nature. I believe that this has wider implications - the anti-Islamic sentiment in the West was reborn. To begin with, it may be useful to briefly summarise the main events of the Rushdie Affair. On the 26th of September 1988 Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in London by Viking/Penguin3. The Editorial Consultant of the publishing company, Mr. Khushwant Singh, had warned them that the novel would cause offence to Muslims, yet they chose to ignore this warning - maybe underestimating the hurt and anger the novel would cause. Within two weeks of the novel's publication Viking/Penguin had received thousands of letters and phone calls requesting the novel to be withdrawn due to its offensive nature - which they chose to ignore, issuing no

Arun P. Mukherjee, 'Whose Post-Colonialism and Whose Postmodernism?', World Literature in English, Vol. 30, No. 2 (1990), p.4 3 For the chronology of the Rushdie Affair refer to Steve MacDonough's (ed.) The Rushdie Letters, (Brandon: Kerry, 1993), and M. M. Ahsan and A. R. Kidwai (eds.) Sacrilege versus Civility, (The Islamic Foundation: Leicester, 1991)


statements. On the ninth day after the publication of the novel, on the 5th of October 1988, the Government of India, Rushdie's country of birth, announced that it would be banned in that country - much to the author's dismay, as the novel is partly directed to it. Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore and Venezuela followed India's example in banning the novel over the next few months. Peaceful protests against the blasphemy of the novel were also held in London, Bradford, Islamabad, Tehran, Bombay, New York, Dhaka, Istanbul and Khartoum in this period; some of these turned violent as the protesters clashed with the authorities, and these clashes resulted in numerous deaths and hundreds of injuries. On the 21st of October British Muslims handed over a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures to Viking/Penguin calling for the withdrawal of the novel, the publishing company responded by stating that the offence has been due to a "misreading of the book", and that any moves to cease publication of the novel would be "wholly inconsistent with our position as a serious publisher who believes in freedom of expression"4. Two more events took place that have now come to characterise the Muslim position in the Rushdie Affair. The first of these was the symbolic burning of a copy of The Satanic Verses by Muslims protesters in Bradford on the 14th of January 1989. This event gave license to Western critics to portray Muslims as barbaric and uncultured, as Rana Kabbani observes in A Letter to Christendom, the event "matched the traditional Western image of them, making it easy to label them as primitive fanatics not civilised enough to appreciate the value of free speech"5, (the image of the burning book has come to represent Islam's intolerance, and it is therefore significant that two major studies of the Affair, Appignanesi and Maitland's The Rushdie File, and Ruthvan Malise's A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Wrath of Islam - the title is itself revealing - have front covers that show burning copies of The Satanic Verses). This event was followed by the fatwa of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini on the 14th of February 1989, whereby Rushdie was sentenced to death. Again the media reported on the 'violence' and 'oppression' of Islam. The word 'fatwa', which simply means 'ruling', has now in Western eyes become the sinister Islamic 'death sentence'. These two events initiated in the West a new crusade against Islam, but this time it was not in the name of Christianity, but in the name of democracy, and freedom of speech. The Rushdie Affair therefore saw Islam emerge as the enemy of Western 'liberal' and 'democratic' values. Two days after Khomeini's fatwa, Anthony Burgess, in an article for The Independent, entitled 'Islam's Gangster Tactics', stated that:
I gain the impression that few of the protesting Muslims in Britain know directly what they are protesting against. Their Imams have told them that Mr Rushdie has published a blasphemous book and must be punished. They respond with sheeplike docility and wolflike aggression. They forgot what Nazis did to books ... they shame a free country by denying free expression through the vindictive agency of bonfires... If they do not like secular society, they must fly to the arms of the Ayatollah or some other self-righteous guardian of strict Islamic morality.

I quote this particular response because it can be argued that Burgess represents a whole section of the British community; the literati, who hold a powerful position in that they

Letter and press statement issued by Penguin reprinted in Ahsan and Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility, Appendix 1, pp.318-20. 5 Rana Kabbani, A Letter to Christendom, (Virago: London, 1989). pp. 8-9.


have influence over the way in which the rest of the British people see issues (hence the prominent Independent article). Two important points which I hope to investigate in my essay are also brought up in Burgess' argument. The first is what has been described as 'cultural chauvinism' by some (I would argue) more enlightened critics; the view held by many Western observers that the Muslim reaction was due to them being ill-informed, because they hadn't read or understood the book - the position also held by Penguin, as stated earlier. The same critics pointed to what they believed was a great irony, in that the community for which Rushdie wrote the book rallied against it – which to Muslims illustrated the lack of understanding they had with regards to their community in Britain. The second point is the view held by Muslims that the Rushdie Affair manifested 'racism' against them, as demonstrated by Burgess' suggestion of repatriation for British Muslims who hold on to their faith. Yet 'race' was not the issue during the Rushdie Affair, the Muslims who felt ill-treated came from many different races - instead religion was the issue, and the term 'racism' as used earlier has been replaced by a new word, 'Islamophobia', which will be referred to in more detail in the conclusion of this essay.


The Anti-Islamic Tradition
It is important to establish that before the Rushdie Affair there was already a well established anti-Islamic tradition in the West, especially in literature6. Rushdie's novel was by no means the first work of literature that insulted Islam, and its fundamental beliefs, as Kabbani points out, "No one should suppose that Islam and the West coexisted amicably until Rushdie came along to sour our relationship ... there have been tensions between them since the seventh century - that is, since Islam emerged as a political and ideological power able to challenge Christendom"7. The father of anti-Islamic polemics was John of Damascus (675-749), and he began the tradition of ridiculing Islam and the Prophet. He claimed, in his book De Haeresbius, that the Quran was not revealed but created by the Prophet, and that he was helped by a Christian monk, Bahira, to use the Old and New Testament to create a new scripture. He also claimed that the Prophet created verses of the Quran to fulfil his own wants, and these were usually to do with lust and sexual deviancy. Others followed John of Damascus in spreading ideas that portrayed Islam as an inferior religion, such as Peter the Venerable (1094-1156) and Martin Luther (1483-1546), works by figures as well-known as Chaucer, Gower and Dante also contained anti-Islamic elements. All of these figures added to the myths surrounding Islam; the revelations received by the Prophet were claimed to be no more than epileptic fits, and eventually the Prophet was seen as simply the disciple of Satan and the anti-Christ. The language of these works always referred to the Prophet as the 'impostor', the 'pretender', and the 'deceiver' - soon he was referred to as 'Mahound', the devil incarnate (the name Rushdie chooses for his Prophet, of which more will be said later). This sentiment was again revived in the nineteenth-century, when the East again became a favourite subject in the West. Richard Burton (1821-1890), William Blunt (1840-1922) and Charles Doughty (1843-1926) were all major figures in studies of Islam and the East, or Orientalism, but again they provided the West with a distorted view of Islam - presenting the Muslim people as lacking in morals, and being preoccupied with sex and violence. In fiction these pseudo-scientific ideas were given life. In Richard Burton's The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night8, for example, we are provided with the image of Muslims as lacking any decency; Princesses go to visit black lepers to satisfy insatiable sexual appetites, men have they limbs chopped off for being unfaithful, and there is a general preoccupation with sex. In William Beckford's Vathek9 we are provided with the story of a unjust Caliph (Islamic ruler), who sacrifices fifty children to satisfy his greed. Both of these writers use the works of Orientalists, through detailed footnotes, to support their stories, what Byron Porter Smith, in Islam In English Literature, calls the "grotesque scheme of substantiating the incidental features of an imaginative work by means of an apparatus of learned notes"10. Anti-Islamic literature

For an excellent detailed discussion of anti-Islamic works in the medieval period see N. A. Daniel's Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 1960), for Orientalism see Rana Kabbani's Imperial Fictions: Europe's Myths of the Orient, (Pandora: London, 1994), and for an overview see Asaf Hussain, Western Conflict with Islam: Survey of the Anti-Islamic Tradition, (Volcano Books: Leicester, 1990) 7 Rana Kabbani, A Letter to Christendom, p.1. 8 Richard Burton, The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night, (London, 1885-88). 9 William Beckford, Vathek and Other Stories, (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1995). 10 Byron Porter Smith, Islam in English Literature, (Caravan: New York, 1977). p.127


created a version of Islam that was far removed from the real Islam, but there was a purpose behind this misrepresentation, as N. A. Daniel observes in Islam and the West: The Making of an Image:
[the] West formed a more or less invariable canon of beliefs about Islam; it decided for itself what Islam was, and formed a view materially different from anything Muslims would recognise ... The important thing was it suited the West. It corresponded to need ... it gave Christendom self-respect in dealing with a civilisation in many ways its superior.11

In Imperial Fiction: Europe's Myths of the Orient, Rana Kabbani further expands on the reasons why Muslims and the East were portrayed in this manner, and concludes that:
If it could be suggested that Eastern peoples were slothful, preoccupied with sex, violence, and incapable of self-government, then the imperialist would feel himself justified in stepping in and ruling. Political domination and economic exploitation needed the cosmetic cant of mission civilisatrice to seem fully commendatory ... The image of the European coloniser had to remain an honourable one: he did not come as exploiter, but as enlightener. 12

Where does The Satanic Verses fit in to all of this? Already we can see that the text echoes ideas that have been circulated in anti-Islamic propaganda since even the early days of Islam. His text again gives life to the theories of the Orientalists. The actual 'Satanic Verses' that is at the core of Rushdie's novel is a favourite subject that recurs in anti-Islamic literature13. It has been used time and time again in attempts to discredit Islam, and Rushdie is simply the latest to revive the story, and bring attention to it. Through this discussion of the anti-Islamic tradition I wish to illustrate that the Rushdie Affair, and the negative image of Islam and Muslims it manifested, did not simply emerge from nowhere. There remained in the West, from this long history of anti-Islamic propaganda, a feeling of distrust towards Muslims, and the Rushdie Affair allowed these feelings to be brought out into the open, to be articulated into words, and to be formulated into fresh arguments as to why Islam is an inferior and outdated ideology that needs updating - that in its present form Islam, and its followers, both do not have a place in modern Western society (a view that was expressed many times during the Rushdie Affair).

11 12

N. A. Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, p.270. Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions, p.6. 13 See the work of Theodore Noldeke, William Muir and W. M. Watt.


The Text
Why did The Satanic Verses offend Muslims? Western observers and critics have offered various opinions, but here I wish to concentrate on the Muslim viewpoint. I should make it clear that my intention is to concentrate only on the aspects of the novel that deal with Islam - that is, six of the nine chapters. The Satanic Verses offers, in the words of Rushdie, another version of the 'grand narrative' of the birth of a world religion. Yet this version does not have to be historically accurate, because it is, after all, a work of fiction. Rushdie's version has a lot to do with his own relationship with Islam. It is well documented in Rushdie's essay 'In God We Trust', that Rushdie totally lost faith in Islam when he was fifteen years old and studying in England, he states that "quite abruptly I lost my faith"14. Prior to this, Islam played a minimal part in his life, in his words it "took a back seat". Timothy Brennan, in Salman Rushdie and the Third World, points out that Rushdie was always in conflict with Islam, he lived a "childhood of blasphemy", and it was rumoured that "he liked to draw the Arabic script for 'Allah' so that it resembled the figure of a naked woman"15. I would argue that The Satanic Verses is a continuation of this antagonistic relationship Rushdie has with Islam - the distrust and confusion he felt towards Islam in his childhood, which he continued to carry throughout life16, is now expressed using a more complex method, and this unfortunately results in a blasphemous novel in the eyes of Muslims. In The Satanic Verses we have two protagonists, Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, and the novel begins with these two characters falling from an exploding aeroplane to the shores of Britain. The former is an Indian who has lived in England since youth, and now is totally assimilated into British culture and is embarrassed by anything Indian ('Chamcha' means 'spoon' in Hindi/Urdu, which refers to, untranslatably, something equal to 'arse-kisser' in English). Gibreel Farishta (literally, Gibreel Angel) is a great Indian religious movie star, who, having recovered from an illness and having lost faith in Islam, follows a women, Alleluia Cone, to England, after having met and fallen in love with her in Bombay. When the two arrive in Britain they undergo physical changes. Saladin grows horns and hooves, and thick hair develops all over his body, while Gibreel acquires a halo of sorts; "a pale, golden light was emanating ... in fact streaming softly outwards from a point immediately behind his head"17(p.142). The characters therefore metamorphosis into the two poles of good and evil, one taking on the attributes of the devil, while the other that of an angel. Yet as the novel develops the position of the two becomes confused, and this struggle between good and evil is one of the many themes of the novel. As the novel develops Saladin the anglophile becomes more aware of his Indian heritage, and embraces what he formerly struggled to ignore and avoid, while Gibreel becomes more and more confused in his new position in Britain, his loss of faith, and in his relationship to his white lover, Alleluia. By the time we come to the end of the novel Saladin is repaired, and in some respects an improved man after the affair, while

Salman Rushdie, 'In God We Trust', Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, (Granta: London, 1991). p.377. 15 Timothy Brennan, Salman Rushdie and the Third World, (Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1995). p.145. 16 As is expressed in the last few essays of Imaginary Homelands. 17 Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, (The Consortium: Delaware, 1992). p.142.


Gibreel remains forever effected, and ends up committing suicide to gain freedom from his mental confusion. It is in the dreams of Gibreel, which he has with great intensity after the fall from the aeroplane and the metamorphosis, that the story of Jahilia and Mahound is told. It is within the framework of dreams that Rushdie discusses Islam, and what Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies have to say about this is interesting:
Dreams are Rushdie's stratagem for presenting his own ideas ... without having to acknowledge the limits of propriety, respect for the sensitivity of others or the complexity of historical records. Most of all the dream stratagem enables him to play with historical fact, spicing the novel with a grand sufficiency of historical detail to establish his credentials without having to be responsible to accuracy, or honesty, in handling these facts.18

This is not to say that facts have the same status in dreams as in history books, but that within the framework of dreams Rushdie allows himself to discuss and present Islam, without having to be factually accurate; therefore fact and fiction becomes confused. It is important to remember that to many, including people I have talked to, Rushdie's version is accepted as an accurate one, trusted above that of crazed fanatical Muslims. In the chapter entitled 'Mahound', Rushdie initiates his alternative history of Islam. In his dream Gibreel sees the "businessman-turned-prophet", yet the name he is to have is contemplated:
His name: a dream-name, changed by the vision. Pronounced correctly it means he-for-whom-thanksshould-be-given, but he won't answer to that here ... Here he is neither Mahomet nor MoeHammered; has adopted, instead, the demon-tag the farangis hung around his neck. To turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks all chose to wear with pride names they were given in scorn; likewise, our mountain-climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is to be the medieval baby-frightener, the Devil's synonym: Mahound. (p.93)

Rushdie therefore argues that the Prophet Mohammed is to be addressed in the abusive term Mahound, yet this will be done with pride; the 'insult' to be turned into a 'strength'. For me this argument is not convincing in the least. Firstly, this argument implies that the narrative to follow will somehow be a positive one, one which will reclaim the honour of the Prophet in the face of scorn, yet as I will illustrate Rushdie actually does the opposite of this. He adds scorn, and again attempts to dishonour the Prophet. Secondly, the act of turning the term 'Mahound' into a name to be worn with pride also implies, like the example of Blacks, that the people will reclaim the insult for themselves. Yet Rushdie has made it clear that he is not a Muslim. He therefore can not reclaim a term of abuse for another people. What we see is that Rushdie in fact picks up the use of the derogatory term Mahound where the Medieval anti-Islamists left off. The name Mahound becomes a shield for him, it fictionalises the Prophet, yet it can still be recognised as referring to him. With this initiation, we are introduced to the city of Jahilia - which literally translates as 'ignorance', and refers to the Muslim perception of the condition of mankind, and especially the Meccans, before the arrival of the Prophet. The companions of the Prophet are to be found there:

Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair, (Grey Seal: London, 1990). pp.157-8.


The water-carrier Khalid is there, and some sort of bum from Persia by the outlandish name of Salman, and to complete the trinity of scum there is the slave Bilal, the one Mahound freed, an enormous black monster, this one, with a voice to match his size. (p.101)

Rushdie makes no attempt to disguise the names of these great personalities of Islam, yet he uses language of abuse that shows utter disrespect for them - on the same page the poet Baal calls them a "bunch of riff-raff", "goons" and "fucking clowns". This is one of the many references made in the novel that causes hurt to Muslims. Figures that command deep respect in the hearts of Muslims, who are mentioned time and again in canonical Islamic texts, such as the books of Hadith19, are ridiculed. Salman the Persian is later on depicted as a scribe recording the revelations of the Quran as they are dictated by the Prophet, yet he changes and adds to the revelations without the Prophet noticing. He therefore looses faith in Islam, and works against it. In a conversation with Baal he states that "the closer you are to the conjurer, the easier to spot the trick" (p.363), and that the verses of the Quran were "revelations of convenience" (p.365), the Prophet would lay down the law and the "angel would confirm afterwards". Therefore "sodomy and the missionary position were approved by the archangel, whereas the forbidden positions included all those in which the female was on top" (p.364). These latter comments are totally false and again attempt to ridicule the revelations, yet Rushdie includes them within the framework of his narrative - in his insinuations of sexual deviancy we can see the exact similarities between him and anti-Islamic writers of the past. The portrayal of Salman the Persian also deviates from fact, in reality Salman was not a scribe, and he stayed faithful to the Prophet to his death. A question therefore beckons; why does Rushdie choose to portray Salman the Persian in this way? I believe the answer to this question is that Salman Rushdie uses Salman the Persian in a form of metafiction, a method he extensively uses in Shame, another of his novels. Salman the Persian becomes the voice of Salman Rushdie. The irony of the statement made by Mahound, "Your blasphemy, Salman, can't be forgiven. Did you think I wouldn't work it out? To set your words against the words of God" (p.374), has often been quoted, yet the statement also illustrates a serious point. Rushdie's narrative of the birth of a world religion does set itself up against the true version, and to me this statement demonstrates that Rushdie is well aware of the blasphemy of his text. Similarly, at another point of the novel it is stated that, "What finally finished Salman with Mahound: the question of the women; and of the Satanic verses" (p.366). To me, the Salman of this statement is not only Salman the Persian but also Salman Rushdie. Through the character Rushdie gives himself license to express the struggle with Islam he experienced - the faults he personally finds in it are voiced through Salman the Persian. We therefore find that much is said through the character Salman. Muslims were offended by the representation and strong words used against the companions of the Prophet in The Satanic Verses, this alone is enough to warrant hurt and anger in any Muslim. However, Rushdie's representation of the Prophet, and his family, were the main factors that caused real offence and anger in the Muslim community world-wide. Rushdie's abusive use of the term Mahound has already been discussed, yet this is only the beginning of the Muslim grievance. Mahound makes

Such as the works of Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah etc.


statements such as; "writers and whores, I see no difference here" (p.392). He is said to be found in a drunken state by Hind (p.120), and is pictured in intimate situations with her; she "sits close to him on the bed ... finds the gap in his robe, strokes his chest". Later on she is shown licking his feet; "the woman licks, kisses, sucks ... in her overwhelming, excessive, sensual adoration of his feet" (p.374). Salman makes statements about Mahound's sexual activities; the women of Yathrib (the former name of the city of Madina) "turned his beard half-white in a year" (p.366), and that he received revelations giving him "God's own permission to fuck as many women as he liked" (p.386). He also states that Mahound "went for mothers and daughters, think of his first wife and then Ayesha: too old and too young" (p.266). This leads us to the place of the Prophet's wives in the text. In the chapter entitled 'Return to Jahilia' Rushdie creates a brothel named Hijab - The Curtain. Hijab is the act of covering the hair practised by Muslim women, and so to call a brothel that name is already an insult - but within this brothel Rushdie places twelve whores, who each takes the names of, and fit the descriptions of, the twelve wives of the Prophet. These twelve women are shown performing acts that makes their clients 'squeal' with pleasure. The wives of the Prophet are known by Muslims as the Ummal Momineen - Mothers of the Believers. Ayesha is recognised as the greatest authority in the science of Hadith - the sayings and practises of the Prophet. To portray them (or women who coincidentally share their names) in such an indecent way therefore offends Muslims greatly. Furthermore the brothel is paralleled to the Ka'ba, the first Mosque of Islam, and the direction to which Muslims perform their five daily prayers. During the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, Muslims perform Tawwaf - they circle the Ka'ba. In the brothel a similar action is performed by its waiting clients; "curling around the innermost courtyard of the brothel rotating around its centrally positioned fountain of love much as pilgrims rotated for other reasons around the ancient pillar of stone" (p.381). Again, Rushdie offends Muslims by ridiculing their practise. Rushdie's representation of the story of the 'Satanic Verses', is another area of offence. This story alleges that when the Prophet received Sura al-Najm, chapter 53 of the Quran, to the verse "Have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other!", Satan inspired him to add; "These are the high-soaring birds whose intercession is to be desired". Later on the Prophet is said to have been informed of this mistake by the angel Gabriel, and the verses deleted by the Prophet from his recitations of the Quran. This story is considered false by most scholars, both of the past and present, yet At-Tabari and Ibn Sa'd record it in their canonical early histories of Islam. It should be noted that this does not necessarily mean that even they believe the story to be true, as At-Tabari states in the introduction to his book, it may:
contain some information ... which the reader may disapprove of and the listener may find detestable, because he can find nothing sound and no real meaning in it. In such cases he should know that it is not our fault that such information comes to him, but the fault of someone who transmitted it to us. We have merely reported it as it was reported to us.20

The article in which this statement appears provides a detailed argument of why the episode of the 'Satanic Verses' is inaccurate, and of why it was most probably fabricated by the Meccan polytheists to discredit the Prophet, yet Rushdie does not doubt the

M.M. Ahsan, 'The 'Satanic' Verses and the Orientalists', Hamdard Islamicus, Vol. V, No.1 (Spring 1982), p.35.


credibility of the story, as the text states; "they will survive just in one or two unreliable collections of the old traditions and orthodox interpreters will try and unwrite their story" (p.123). Like the Orientalists, he uses the story in an attempt to undermine the authenticity of the Quran, and the Prophet. It is relevant to add to this section that many observers have claimed that Muslims are offended by these factors of the novel because they do not understand or appreciate the conventions of literature; that they are in fact at war with post-modernist technique, rather then with Rushdie and his novel. Such critics claim that Rushdie investigates, explores and indeed criticises Islam in the dream sequences, but he does not directly refer to the Prophet Mohammed, his companions or his family in it - they stress that the novel is a work of fiction. Muslim arguments have shown that they do understand the conventions of literature - they appreciate that the dream sequences are fictional. It is not criticism of Islam that they protest against, such criticism took place even within the Prophet's lifetime. What Muslims protest against is the use of obscene, violent language and imagery when dealing with figures that every believing Muslim holds dear to their heart. Rushdie can argue that the characters that share names and qualities with figures in Islamic history are not intended to actually represent them, and Muslims understand this yet they also understand that he has used names, images and institutions that are undeniably from Islam. It is his harsh and abusive use of these that they are offended by. I will attempt to make a more comprehensive discussion of this later on in the essay, but here I wish to point out that it is their right take this offence - contemporary literary criticism is all about what the reader sees in the text.


Rushdie's Defence
In an interview in the Indian newspaper India Today, Rushdie was asked about the characters from Islamic history in his novel, to which he replied:
I have changed names. I have given the name of an Egyptian temple, Abu Simbel, to the leader of Mecca. I have not called the cities by their names ... the image out of which the book grew was of the prophet going to the mountain and not being able to tell the difference between the angel and the devil. The book is also about the wrestling match which takes place between the two. 21

This interview was published on the 15th of September 1989. In a Channel 4 television programme, The Bundung File, which was recorded on the 27th of January, and broadcast on the 14th of February 1989, Rushdie was again asked about the extent to which the novel is based on the Koran, and Islamic history. His reply was:
Almost entirely. Almost everything in those sections - the dream sequences - starts from an historical or quasi-historical basis, though one can't really speak with absolute certainty about that period of Mohammed's life ... [with the Prophet] there seems to have been a brief flirtation with a possible compromise - about monotheism - which was rapidly rejected ... For a writer, that conflict is fascinating and interesting to explore. So that's what I was doing, exploring. 22

Yet in his open letter to Rajiv Ghandhi, written as a response to The Satanic Verses being banned in India, Rushdie states that:
The section of the book in question (and let's remember that the book isn't actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay) deals with a prophet who is not called Muhammed living in a highly fantasticated city ... in which he is surrounded by fictional followers, one of whom happens to bear my own first name. Moreover, this entire sequence happens in a dream, the fictional dream of a fictional character, an Indian movie star, and one who is losing his mind at that. How much further from history could one get? 23

This shift in Rushdie's position is one of many that occurred in the years following the publication of his novel. It is also one example that demonstrates the hypocrisy of the many arguments he has offered in his defence. Rushdie's earliest responses to the Muslim outcry was one which painted a bleak picture of them as dark and evil. In 'Choice Between Light and Dark' he states that he tries to break taboos surrounding Islam, and it is for this that "the novel is being anathematized, fulminated against, and set alight"24 by Muslims, who represent "the contemporary Thought Police". He also states that, "I tried to write against stereotypes; the zealot protests serve to confirm, in the Western mind, all the worst stereotypes of the Muslim world", and concludes with the image that "the forces of inhumanity are on the march ... Secular versus religious, the light versus the dark ... the battle has spread to Britain, I can only hope it is not lost by default. It is time for us to choose". In his open
21 22

Salman Rushdie, 'Madhu Jain interviews Salman Rushdie', India Today, 15th September, 1988. Salman Rushdie, in an interview in Channel 4 programme The Bundung File, repr. in Appignanesi and Maitland's The Rushdie File, (Forth Estate: London, 1989), p.28. 23 Salman Rushdie, Open Letter to Rajiv Ghandhi, repr. in Appignanesi and Maitland's The Rushdie File, p.44. 24 Salman Rushdie, 'Choice Between Light and Dark', The Observer, 22nd January, 1989.


letter to Rajiv Ghandhi, in interviews, in various short articles written for national newspapers, Rushdie reiterates this image of Islam and Muslims. Yet after the fatwa Rushdie's position changes. With a huge shift to his position he understands that he has, unintentionally, hurt the feelings of Muslims. It is in his essay 'In Good Faith', that Rushdie sets forth the most detailed exoneration of the contents of his novel, and it therefore deserves close attention. 'In Good Faith' addresses itself to the "great mass of ordinary, decent, fair-minded Muslims", with the hope that "a way forward might be found through the mutual recognition of mutual pain"25. In the essay Rushdie argues that The Satanic Verses has now become two novels, one that is imagined to exist from what has been said by Muslims about the novel, and the one that he wrote. He then provides us with a list of these misreadings:
What they have trouble with are statements like these: 'Rushdie calls the Prophet Muhammed a homosexual.' 'Rushdie says the Prophet Muhammed asked God for permission to fornicate with every women in the world.' 'Rushdie says the Prophet's wives are whores.' 'Rushdie calls the Prophet by a devil's name.' 'Rushdie calls the Companions of the Prophet scum and bums.' 'Rushdie says the whole Qur'an was the Devil's work.' And so forth.

What Rushdie actually does is provide a parody of the Muslim arguments as to why the novel caused them offence. In my study of these Muslim arguments I have not found the majority of these arguments. He simplifies them in an attempt to belittle them; what Muslims object to is not that "Rushdie says the Prophet Muhammed asked God for permission to fornicate with every women in the world" but that a character states that he gets "God's own permission to fuck as many women as he liked", or not that "Rushdie calls the Companions of the Prophet scum and bums" but that a character describes them as "fucking clowns". One of the major factors that caused Muslims pain was not that Rushdie insults Islamic figures, but the harshness with which he deals with them, as Webster observes:
It is such extreme language, which is potentially the most violent and the most insulting registers available to Western writers, which, in the pages of The Satanic Verses, is brought into conjunction with some of the most sacred traditions of Islam. 26

The word "fuck" may be used commonly in fiction, even when dealing with religious figures, but what Western critics do not appreciate is that Muslims can not agree that it is acceptable to use such words when dealing with ideas that they hold sacred. They are shocked by Rushdie's use of such language, and as Ahsan and Kidwai make clear; "the freedom to insult is matched by the freedom to feel insulted"27. The use of such words against ideas that they, in the words of one critic, feel an 'unwestern seriousness' towards, is new to them, and can not simply be seen within the Western framework; pamphlets have been written dealing specifically with this subject by Muslim critics28. Rushdie's simplification also attempts to portray Muslims as unable to understand the techniques
25 26

Salman Rushdie, 'In Good Faith', Imaginary Homelands, pp.393-414. Richard Webster, A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and 'The Satanic Verses', (The Orwell Press: Southwold, 1990), p.93. 27 Ahsan and Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility, p.39. 28 See for example Ahmed Deedat's The Satanic Verses Unexpurgated, (IPC: Birmingham, 1989).


used in fiction, yet as this essay hopefully illustrates, criticism of the novel has been made by Muslims who are well aware of the conventions of literature. Rushdie then moves on to the character Salman the Persian, and attempts to explain the reasoning behind his discontent, and statements made by him such as the new religion provides "rules for every damn thing". This character questions, according to Rushdie, the "validity of religion's rules", and he himself then puts forward a question:
... are all rules laid down at a religion's origin immutable forever? How about the penalties for prostitution (stoning to death) or thieving (mutilation)? How about the prohibition of homosexuality? How about the Islamic law of inheritance, which allows a widow to inherit only an eight share, and which gives a sons twice as much as it does the daughters? ...

Here Rushdie simplifies Islamic rules, and therefore misrepresents them, making them seem barbaric. For example, the rule of 'mutilating' thieves does not apply to every thief; a poor man who steals food out of hunger is not punished. It only applies to criminals who steal out of greed for wealth. Similarly, the law of inheritance gives the sons twice the amount it does the daughter because the son will have to share this inheritance with his wife and family. The daughter does not have to do this, the money is hers to do whatever she wishes, and her husband has no right to it. It is unlawful for the father or mother to give the son more than the daughter while they are alive. Overall both men and women receive an equal share of inheritance wealth in an Islamic state. Rushdie ignores the complexity of these rules, and the reasoning behind them, and instead does the opposite to what he claims to be do; "write against stereotypes". He provides the stereotypical image of Muslims as violent, and oppressive to women. In another essay, 'One Thousand Days in a Balloon', Rushdie discusses his conversion, and then rejection of Islam:
Suddenly I was (metaphorically) among people whose social attitudes I'd fought all my life - for example, their attitudes about women (one Islamist boasted to me that his wife would cut his toe-nails while he made telephone calls, and suggested I found such a spouse) ... 29

Here he provides anecdotal evidence to lend support to his claim that Muslims are oppressive to their women. He therefore again affirms the stereotypical image of Muslims. In his essay 'Is Nothing Sacred?', where he explores the place of literature, Rushdie states that "the most secular of authors ought to be capable of presenting a sympathetic portrait of a devout believer"30. Yet in Rushdie's own work, both fiction and non-fiction, we see none of this. Rushdie then moves on to explain how he insults the Prophet's companions as a reflection of them being persecuted in their own time, how the whores take the names of the Prophet's wives to illustrate the "opposition between the sacred and the profane worlds", and of how the term Mahound is used as an act of "reclaiming language from one's opponents" (which has already been discussed earlier in this essay). What Rushdie does in the essay is actually create a third novel; one which, if read properly, does not actually offend Muslims at all. Through simplifying Muslim arguments against his novel, through simplifying what is actually in the novel and through offering simple arguments,
29 30

Salman Rushdie, 'One Thousand Days in a Balloon', Imaginary Homelands, p.437. Salman Rushdie, 'Is Nothing Sacred?', Imaginary Homelands, p.417.


which I personally do not find convincing, he attempts to deny the complexity of the whole issue. What I also find interesting is that Rushdie believes his intentions will somehow convince Muslims that their arguments are wrong, as Webster echoes:
By far the most surprising aspect of his argument is the manner in which Rushdie evinces a seemingly complete and unquestioning faith in the reliability of artists' intentions as a guide to the work of art they have produced ... [he therefore] disregards ... almost the entire history of twentiethcentury literary criticism.31

It is worth noting that after Rushdie has provided a vindication of his novel, he goes on to attack those who have opposed him. He claims that Rana Kabbani "announced with perfect Stalinist fervour that writers should be 'accountable' to the community". What Kabbani actually does do in A Letter to Christendom is provide ones women's view of the Rushdie Affair, and to continue where she left off in Imperial Fictions, in discussing how Rushdie has taken over Western methods of portraying a barbaric East. The word "accountable" is wrenched from this framework and Kabbani is accused of Stalinism on the strength of this one word, Rushdie again does not acknowledge the complexity of her argument. Similarly Brian Clark is attacked, who, Rushdie states, "claiming to be on my side, wrote an execrable play ... entitled Who Killed Salman Rushdie?, and sent it along in case I needed something to read". Brian Clark defended himself in the letters column of The Independent on Sunday, and stated that the play, in reality entitled Who Killed the Writer?, was sent to Rushdie to show him how it was in support of his predicament. Clark was shocked by "a letter from Mr Rushdie's agent saying that if we intended production we should send him a formal note so that he could 'establish Salman's legal rights'". The conclusion of Clark's letter again highlights Rushdie's hypocrisy:
The irony of Mr Rushdie wishing to suppress a play because it offended him was so obvious that it became clear to me he could not be thinking well. I decided not to go ahead with production. No note was sent. It is hard now not to feel that my act of self-censorship was misguided.32

31 32

Richard Webster, A Brief History of Blasphemy, p.89. Brian Clark, 'Who Killed the Writer?', The Independent on Sunday, 11th February 1990, repr. in Sacrilege versus Civility, pp.99-101


The Muslim Response
It is easy to list the instances in the text where Rushdie offends Muslims (and the discussion of these instances above is only a partial one which deals with the major points where Muslims took offence), but it is more difficult to put into exact words the extent to which Muslims were hurt by this representation of Islam; of its founder, key members of its history, and its institutions and practises. Several Muslim critics have attempted to do this; Dr. Zaki Baddawi equates the book to "a knife being dug into you or being raped yourself"33. Sardar and Davies state that "it is as though he has personally assaulted and raped every single believing Muslim man and women"34. Professor Ali Muzrui discusses the analogy given by Pakistanis he met in Islamabad, "It's as if he has composed a brilliant poem about the private parts of his parents, and then gone to the market place to recite that poem to the applause of strangers"35. The sexual imagery of these complaints is commented on by Richard Webster, who states that it "helps to locate the obscenities of The Satanic Verses in a human context and to convey ... Muslims feelings that in the novel Islam is the victim not simply of criticism and satire but an act of cultural rape"36. Professor Muzrui's observations also reveal something deeper in the Muslim grievance, Rushdie's use of his 'inside/outsider' position. Rushdie has extensive knowledge of Islam and Muslims, having been brought up in that environment, yet in adulthood he rejects Islam, and chooses to adopt Western values as his ideal. He then uses the knowledge he has of Islam to hurt Muslims where it hurts most. He has been called a cultural traitor, in that he betrays the secrets that he knows - he exploits what he understands Muslims hold most sensitive. As Timothy Brennan suggests, his "revisions of the historical and mythical narratives of Islam ... were the work of one who knew all the pressure points and who went about pressing them"37. I would argue that a person without the insider knowledge of Islam that Rushdie has could never have written a novel as offensive to Muslims as The Satanic Verses. As I stated in the introduction to this essay, the burning of the novel in Bradford, and Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa, have come to characterise the Muslim protest to the novel, within the West. They therefore deserve closer attention. Muslims were branded Nazis (see Burgess above, who was one among many to compare Muslims to Nazis) after one copy of The Satanic Verses was set alight in a peaceful march of protest in Bradford. The act became to Western observers proof that Muslims were, to quote, "barbarians", "uncivilised", "fanatics", "ignorant", "bloodthirsty bigots" and "medieval fundamentalists"38. However, the book-burning was in fact a last attempt by them to gain attention after a largely ignored and unreported peaceful protest. As Bhikhu Parekh puts it: "Hardly anyone appreciated that the burning of The Satanic Verses was more an act of impatience than of intolerance"39, and as Ahsan and Kidwai observe "the media knew
33 34

Ahsan and Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility, p.35. Sardar and Davies, Distorted Imagination, p.165. 35 Ali Muzrui, 'Novelist's Freedom vs Worshippers Dignity', Sacrilege versus Civility, p.210. 36 Richard Webster, A Brief History of Blasphemy, p.95-6. 37 Timothy Brennan, Salman Rushdie and the Third World, p.144. 38 Ahsan and Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility, p.41. 39 Bhikhu Parekh, 'The Rushdie Affair and the British Press', The Salman Rushdie Controversy in Interreligious Perspective (ed. Dan Cohn-Sherbok), (Edwin Mullen Press: Lampeter, 1990), p.75.


very well that the Muslims' act of burning a copy of The Satanic Verses bore no resemblance to the Nazi burning of libraries and harassment of intellectuals and it was more in the nature of a desperate attempt to draw the attention of the media than an act of intolerance"40. Several Muslim spectators also pointed to the hypocrisy of the media in condemning the book-burning and placing such emphasis on it, when only a few months earlier Labour MP's had burnt a copy of new rules on immigration on the steps of the House of Commons, with hardly any attention being paid to this act of anti-democracy. What interests me in the media's reaction to this incident is the manner in which all Muslims were judged by the actions of two or three individuals. As Parekh states, the reaction was "a wholly mindless anger first against all Bradford Muslims, then against all British Muslims, then against all Muslims, and ultimately against Islam itself"41. The perfect example is formed to the arguments put forward by Edward Said in Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World42, where he discusses the manner by which the media creates an image of Islam as a single 'evil' uniform entity. All Muslims were the same in the eyes of the media, or so it seemed judging by the reaction it displayed to the burning of the novel. Khomeini's fatwa too supports Said's theory. The media took the fatwa to represent the views of all Muslims, yet Khomeini is a Shi'ite Muslim, and represents the views only of that group, which makes up ten to twenty percent of the Muslim population World-wide. Indeed, many Sunni Muslims regard Shi'ites as non-Muslims, and there is irony in that Khomeini has made comments in books that are almost as offensive to Sunnis as Rushdie's novel. Furthermore, his ruling applied only to his own state, Iran. There is a consensus among Muslim scholars that the ruling does not apply, and cannot be executed, outside of the state where it was made. Therefore Rushdie could not be subjected to the rulings of Iran in Britain. The media again avoided any attempt to investigate the complexity of this issue, and all Muslims were shown as supporters of Khomeini, ready to take Rushdie's life. Both of these incidents created in Western minds an image of Islam which was negative, and this was largely due to ignorance and misunderstanding, resulting from the Muslim position being ignored. Srinivas Aruvamudan, in the essay 'Being God's Postman is no Fun, Yaar', states that:
The hypocrisy of Western secular expression has been attacked only by Muslims seeking to find a voice for their outrage - a factor that unfortunately discounts the credibility of their attacks in Western eyes.43

This statement is to some extent untrue. Muslims have indeed pointed out the hypocrisy of the West; of how Spycatcher was banned with no real controversy, of how Penguin themselves burned all copies of Sines' Massacre and declared it out of print, when they were told it was blasphemous, of how Jim Allen stopped the production of the play Perdition, which questioned the Holocaust, after protests by the Jewish community44. Yet non-Muslim observers, such as Webster and Parekh, have also pointed to the hypocrisy
40 41

Ahsan and Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility, p.41. Bhikhu Parekh, 'The Rushdie Affair...', p.76. 42 Edward Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, (Routledge: London, 1981). 43 Srinivas Aruvamudan, 'Being God's Postman is no Fun Yaar', Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie (ed. M.D. Fletcher), (Rodopi: Amsterdam, 1994), p.189. 44 See pages 37-8, of Sacrilege versus Civility.


of Western secular expression, and they too, along with the Muslims, have not been deemed credible, and have largely been ignored. Therefore another broader question needs to be addressed; why was, and is, the Islamic critical response to The Satanic Verses, and the Rushdie Affair, or any critical response which attempts to understand the Islamic viewpoint, considered unworthy of proper attention? I believe that Aruvamudan's reasoning, that the responses are those of emotional 'outrage', does not provide a satisfactory answer - the fact that non-Muslims have done this already disproves his theory. Instead, I believe the answer to the question is more complex, and in some respects more serious. The Muslim critical response is ignored because it does not fit within the strict ideology of the literary class; they have their own 'fundamentalism', and to compromise this with ideas of understanding the Muslim viewpoint would be contradictory to these strict ideals. They simply do not wish to compromise this fundamentalism; and therefore a barrier is established, and two clear poles with regards to the positions on the Affair. I also believe that in some respects their writings are thought of as inferior. Many are new to criticising literature, and have entered the arena with the sole aim of defending the Muslim viewpoint. Nonetheless, this does not give an adequate explanation as to the manner in which these texts have been ignored, because they still would have warranted comment, even if it were only to state their inferiority. Shabbir Akhtar's Be Careful With Muhammed and M. M. Ahsan and A. R. Kidwai's Sacrilege versus Civility are both excellent texts that attempt to illustrate the Muslim viewpoint of the novel and the Affair. As the emotive preface to Akhtar's text illustrates:
An illiterate woman in Bradford went to see her teenage daughter's schoolteacher, who said to her: 'The Satanic Verses is brilliant! In Britain we like to read great literature.' She remained silent and returned home. This book is an attempt to explain that inarticulate believer's anguish. If it achieves anything more, it will be a bonus. 45

The sheer number of articles by Muslims and non-Muslims which appear within Sacrilege versus Civility also illustrates the strength of the Muslim position, yet despite this the texts remain largely ignored. Even the most recent studies of Rushdie cling to the idea that the Muslims were simply irrational in their reaction to The Satanic Verses, and that they exposed themselves as the enemies of free thought.


Shabbir Akhtar, Be Careful With Muhammed, (Bellew Press: London, 1989), p.vii.


The Western Response
One of the most surprising and serious manifestations of the Rushdie Affair was the Western response to the Muslim outcry. This essay has illustrated that some Western critics did make a balanced study of the situation, and thus produced a fair opinion on both the arguments against the novel made by Muslims, and the defence of it by Western critics. Yet the majority of Western critics do not follow this model; they have preconceived ideas about Islam, and this is reflected in their writings. A look at newspaper articles of the period, which is the forum where much discussion took place, including the publication of 'In Good Faith', reveals this trait. Stephen Vizinczey, in The Sunday Telegraph, asserted with fervour that "what is at issue is the militant Islamic right to dictate to us what we can read, write, print, distribute and display"46. The editorial of The Times at one point urged the British government to stiffen laws against Muslim protesters, and while legislation was formed it recommended that "any Muslim troublemaker without full British citizenship should be expelled from the country"47. In the same newspaper Clifford Longley states that Islam "knows how to treat minorities - but it does not know how to be a minority". He writes that Muslims need to accept the principle that "to punish [a man] for his religious thought, is one of the most abhorrent of crimes"; if they do this then "Islam has a healthy future as a Western religion", if not, then "it has no future here at all"48. Longley, and The Times, therefore reflects Burgess' ideas about sending 'them' back to where they came from; they have no place in Britain as they are. Robert Kilroy-Silk, who regularly wrote articles for various papers about the Affair, is even more blatant about his ideas about British Muslims, who to him are 'resident Ayatollahs'. He states that "if Muslim immigrants cannot and will not accept British values and laws then there is no reason at all why the British should feel any need, still less compulsion, to accommodate theirs"49. It is worth noting that Muslim protesters did not break any laws during the Affair, as Kilroy-Silk implies. The question of whether Muslims should have to adopt Western values in order be accepted by Western society is a more serious point, which I intend to look at closely in the conclusion of this essay. The spirit of these commentators seems to be the defence of the 'liberalism' and 'freedom of expression' at all costs. Rational comment on this came from a somewhat surprising quarter, the then Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Roy Hattersley. In an article for The Independent, entitled 'The Racism Of Asserting That They Must Behave Like Us', Hattersley states that:
the idea that we have a duty to applaud his [Rushdie's] assault is a novel interpretation of the liberal obligation ... the proposition that Muslims are welcome in Britain if, and only if, they stop behaving like Muslims, is incompatible with the principle of a free society. 50

There seems to be confusion with the very terms 'liberalism' and 'democracy'. Liberalism, like democracy, is defended as a sacred ideal. Muslims argue that the issue is not about
46 47

Stephen Vazinczey, 'The New Appeasers Who Bow to Mecca', The Sunday Telegraph, 19th March, 1989. Editorial of The Times, under 'A Greater Evil', 6th February 1990. 48 Clifford Longley, The Times, 29th December 1990. 49 Robert Kilroy-Silk, 'Defending Ethnic Minorities', The Times, 17th February 1989. 50 Roy Hattersley, 'The Racism Of Asserting That They Must Behave Like Us', The Independant, 21st July 1989.


the defence of these ideals, but the perversion of them; their protest is not against democracy and freedom of expression, but the freedom to abuse and offend without restraint. Literary criticism dealing with Rushdie lacks any depth of understanding with regards to the Muslim position. For example, Timothy Brennan in Salman Rushdie and the Third World suggests that it offends because it "unravels the religion from within"51. Neil Cornwell in The Literary Fantastic concludes that those who shout the loudest have the least confidence in what they say, and Michael Gorra, in After Empire, claims that Muslims protest because it makes them feel uneasy, as it comes close to the truth. Recent studies too, follow this trend; Catherine Cundy's Salman Rushdie contains no reference to Muslims arguments, accept that the novel now conjures up to the "white majority", the image of "a fanatical, book-burning section of its own population"52, while Jeremy Jennings and Anthony Kemp-Welch's Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie, condemns the Thatcher government for the way they "showed themselves prepared to utter words of apology and regret for the 'offence' caused by the publication of The Satanic Verses"53, the 'offence' in quote marks implying the 'misreading' argument that none was ever given by the text. Texts taking the Rushdie Affair and The Satanic Verses as their primary subject have also been largely one-sided. Appignanesi and Maitland's The Rushdie File purports to be a presentation of arguments by both sides, yet it leans heavily on providing sources that defend Rushdie. Ruthvan Malise's A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and The Wrath of Islam again comes down heavily against the Muslims. It is worth noting that he takes the nineteenth-century Orientalist Edward Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians as a source, where elsewhere Egyptians are said to be sexually inflammable, irrational and incapable of telling the truth54. The most shocking example of this type of text may be Fay Weldon's Sacred Cows, which is more a direct attack on Islam then a study of the Affair. For her Islam is "not a religion of kindness but of terror"55, the "Koran is food for no-thought", and Allah a "God of vengeance" and "wrath". She professes a deep insight on the Muslim community in Britain, and claims that their women are subjected to "arranged marriages", "beatings", "intimidation" and "penalties for recalcitrance"; marriages end in "high divorce rates" and "children in care". What evidence does she have to support this information? A friend who is a social worker. Opposed to this stark image of Islam and Muslims, The Satanic Verses is made to look holy; it reads "pretty much like the works of St. John the Divine at the end of our own Bible ... [Rushdie being] St. Salman the Divine". She adds "I'm joking" to this last comment, but her insensitivity, and her ignorance about Islam, verges on her output almost being racist towards Muslims. And this was not an isolated occurrence; during the Rushdie Affair many Western critics made comments that would simply have been considered unacceptable racism before, the quote I provided at the head of the essay by Connor Cruise O'Brian is another example of this. As one Muslim critic states, if such things were said against
51 52

Timothy Brennan, Salman Rushdie and the Third World, p.144. Catherine Cundy, Salman Rushdie, (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1996), p.65. 53 Jeremy Jennings and Anthony Kemp-Welch, Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie, (Routledge: London, 1997), p.4. 54 Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions, p.41. 55 Fay Weldon, Sacred Cows, (Chatto and Windus: London, 1989), pp.8-23.


Jews, or Black people, or homosexuals then they would be hounded and taken to court, but Muslims are treated differently, they are "fair game insofar as they are powerless"56.


Ziauddin Sardar, 'The Rushdie Malaise: A Critique of Some Writings on the Rushdie Affair', Sacrilege versus Civility, p.290.


In the opening of Imperial Fictions Rana Kabbani quotes the following passage from The Solitude of Latin America, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:
It is only natural that they insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of time are not the same for all, and that the quest of our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them. The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.

Marquez speaks for Latin Americans, yet he puts into precise words the ideas I have with regards to the representation, or misrepresentation, of Islam and Muslims during the Rushdie Affair. Going back to what Mukherjee says in the quote I gave in the introduction of this essay, the Rushdie Affair has illustrated the wide gap of ignorance that exists between the West and Islam. Western critiques of the Affair have used their own yardstick to measure the Muslim response to Rushdie and his novel, and this has resulted in the Muslims being portrayed in an extremely negative light. An understanding of the hurt the novel caused to Muslims has still not been achieved, Western critics do not know the level of love and respect Muslims have for Islam, and the Prophet, and the subsequent anger that is caused when these sacred ideas are attacked by Western discourses. Some spectators have commented that Rushdie is being punished for all the crimes the West has committed against Islam - for the long anti-Islamic tradition that exists within the West. I can see the logic of this argument, and I can also see how Rushdie as the inside/outsider is also made the ideal candidate to shoulder this blame. His offence is seen as all the more worse because of his position as a former Muslim, he knew the hurt the novel would cause, and to Muslims this goes too far. The hurt and anger of Muslims was therefore vented against an individual, when really it was not only against him but against the entire Western system which had treated them so badly over many years. A single word, 'offence', has turned up again and again in this essay. Recently Muslims were again offended by Rushdie when his publishing company, Random House, decided to announce the publication of a new57 paperback edition of The Satanic Verses on April the 7th 1998, which was the day when Muslims celebrated Eid Ul-Adha, the holiest day of the Islamic calender58. At the centre of this debate is offence; taken by Muslims because ideas sacred to them are being abused, by the West because Muslims within their community are protesting and behaving 'undemocratically'. What we find is that the offence taken by the secular West is more similar to the offence taken by Muslims then is first apparent. Both are offended by their sacred ideals being attacked; to Muslims this is Islam, and to the West this is democracy. This also explains the reactions to the book, the zeal with which Muslims condemned it, and the similar vigour with which the West defended it, and condemned the Muslim outcry. How were Muslims effected by the Rushdie Affair? When Roy Jenkins, the 'father' of the Race Relations Act, stated that "we might have been more cautious of allowing the creation in the 1950s of a substantial Muslim community here"59, when they discovered
57 58

In 1994 a limited edition paperback was published by The Consortium, an alliance of US publishers. Information taken from Abdul Adil's article 'Rushdie Provokes Muslims', The Muslim News, 24th April 1998. 59 Roy Jenkins, quoted in Bhikhu Parkesh's 'The Rushdie Affair and the British Press', p.76.


that the Rule of Law does not apply to them on this issue, because the law for blasphemy "protects only the Christian religion"60, when articles appeared such as Norman Stone's in The Sunday Telegraph entitled 'We Need Russian Help Against Islam', stating that:
The Mahdi [the leader of Muslims] is the enemy of mankind, and particularly womankind, and we need all the allies we can get. The world as a whole must unite to make sure that fundamentalist Islam does not get away with it.61

The sense of alienation and frustration they felt was unmatched by the past; frustration because they knew that the reality was far removed from the image of Islam and Muslims the media created, and they were not given the opportunity to let this be known. The view that Muslims should assimilate Western culture, or return to their homelands was another argument that made Muslims feel alienated, and verged on what Muslims saw as, for the lack of a better word, racism. Within Muslim circles a new word was coined to describe this lacking word, and the unfounded fear and hate they and their religion now provoked 'Islamophobia'. Ten years on, the effects of the Rushdie Affair are still to be found. In October of 1997 the Runnymede Trust found in a report on Islamophobia in Britain, that "British Muslims often face discrimination because of their faith rather than their religion"62. The Rushdie Affair is not the sole contributor to this shift of discrimination from race to faith. The Gulf War was another key event that exacerbated anti-Islamic, and also anti-Arab sentiments that already existed in the media and, to some extent, in the attitudes of the British people. In 'Is Nothing Sacred?' Rushdie states that when "no real alternative to the liberal-capitalist social model" is left in the world, then this system will require the "novelists' most rigorous attention". Therefore, he argues that "if democracy no longer has communism to help clarify, by opposition, its own ideas, then perhaps it will have to have literature as an adversary instead"63. I would argue that after the fall of Communism and the Soviet Bloc it is already clear that Islam as an ideology has replaced these adversaries, and is now seen as the new threat and common enemy. Muslims have emerged as the predominant 'Other' by which the West measures itself. Islam is under a renewed attack from the West, and this attack serves to make Muslims ever more aware of their isolation; 'ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary'. Rana Kabbani compares this new anti-Islamic sentiment to anti-Semitism, and concludes that:
I would even be so bold as to argue that there has been a transfer of contempt from Jews to Muslims in secular Western culture today. Many Muslims share this fear: indeed, one has written that 'the next time there are gas chambers in Europe, there is no doubt concerning who'll be inside them'. 64

What I hope I have highlighted in this essay is this extreme concern of Muslims about their place in the West - which is due to the misrepresentation of their faith, founded in the misunderstanding and ignorance that exists within the West. It is this that I believe is

The ruling of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in London, when Abdul Hussain Choudary attempted to summons Rushdie and Viking/Penguin, in The Rushdie Letters, (ed. Steve MacDonough), (Brandon: Kerry, 1993), p.141. 61 Norman Stone, 'We Need Russian Help Against Islam', The Sunday Telegraph, 19th February 1989. 62 Trevor Phillips (chair of the trust), 'Islamophobia in Britain', The Independant, 25th October 1997. 63 Salman Rushdie, 'Is Nothing Sacred?', Imaginary Homelands, pp.426-7. 64 Rana Kabbani, A Letter to Christendom, p.11.


the most serious and dangerous manifestation of the Affair, because of the untold damage it could do in the future. Thirty people have died because of The Satanic Verses; mainly protesters but also translators of the novel and a moderate Imam in Belgium who spoke against the fatwa. People have spoken about the power of the word with this in mind, but what it signifies for me is the powerlessness of those that are isolated and ignored. What I hope I have achieved through this essay is a clarification of the voice and perspective of the Muslims on The Satanic Verses and the Rushdie Affair.


Primary Text. Rushdie, Salman, The Satanic Verses, (The Consortium: Delaware, 1992). Secondary Texts. Ahsan, M. M. and Kidwai, A. R. (eds.), Sacrilege versus Civility, (The Islamic Foundation: Leicester, 1991). Akhtar, Shabbir, Be Careful With Muhammed, (Bellew Press: London, 1989). Appignanesi, Lisa and Maitland, Sara (eds.), The Rushdie File, (Forth Estate: London, 1989). Aruvamudan, Srinivas, 'Being God's Postman is no Fun Yaar', Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie (ed. M.D. Fletcher), (Rodopi: Amsterdam, 1994). Beckford, William, Vathek and Other Stories, (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1995). Brennan, Timothy, Salman Rushdie and the Third World, (Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1995). Burton, Richard, The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night, (London, 1885-88). Cundy, Catherine, Salman Rushdie, (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1996). Daniel, N. A., Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 1960). Deedat, Ahmed, The Satanic Verses Unexpurgated, (IPC: Birmingham, 1989). Hussain, Asaf, Western Conflict with Islam: Survey of the Anti-Islamic Tradition, (Volcano Books: Leicester, 1990). Jennings, Jeremy and Kemp-Welch, Anthony, Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie, (Routledge: London, 1997). Kabbani, Rana, A Letter to Christendom, (Virago: London, 1989). Kabbani, Rana, Imperial Fictions: Europe's Myths of the Orient, (Pandora: London, 1994). MacDonough, Steve, (ed.), The Rushdie Letters, (Brandon: Kerry, 1993).


Muzrui, Ali, 'Novelist's Freedom vs Worshippers Dignity', Sacrilege versus Civility, (The Islamic Foundation: Leicester, 1991). Parekh, Bhikhu, 'The Rushdie Affair and the British Press', The Salman Rushdie Controversy in Interreligious Perspective (ed. Dan Cohn-Sherbok), (Edwin Mullen Press: Lampeter, 1990). Rushdie, Salman, 'In God We Trust', Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 19811991, (Granta: London, 1991). Rushdie, Salman, 'In Good Faith', Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 19811991, (Granta: London, 1991). Rushdie, Salman, 'Is Nothing Sacred?', Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, (Granta: London, 1991). Rushdie, Salman, 'One Thousand Days in a Balloon', Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, (Granta: London, 1991). Said, Edward, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, (Routledge: London, 1981). Sardar, Ziauddin and Davies, Merryl Wyn, Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair, (Grey Seal: London, 1990). Sardar, Ziauddin, 'The Rushdie Malaise: A Critique of Some Writings on the Rushdie Affair', Sacrilege versus Civility, (The Islamic Foundation: Leicester, 1991). Smith, Byron Porter, Islam in English Literature, (Caravan: New York, 1977). Webster, Richard, A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and 'The Satanic Verses', (The Orwell Press: Southwold, 1990). Weldon, Fay, Sacred Cows, (Chatto and Windus: London, 1989). Secondary Journal/Newspaper Articles. Adil, Abdul, 'Rushdie Provokes Muslims', The Muslim News, 24th April 1998. Ahsan, M.M., 'The 'Satanic' Verses and the Orientalists', Hamdard Islamicus, Vol. V, No.1 (Spring, 1982). Burgess, Anthony, 'Islam's Gangster Tactics', The Independent, 16th February 1989. Clark, Brian, 'Who Killed the Writer?', The Independent on Sunday, 11th February 1990.


Grislis, E., 'Luther and the Turks', The Muslim World, Vol.LXIV, No.3 (July, 1974). Hattersley, Roy, 'The Racism Of Asserting That They Must Behave Like Us', The Independent, 21st July 1989. Jain, Madhu, 'Madhu Jain interviews Salman Rushdie', India Today, 15th September, 1988. Kilroy-Silk, Robert, 'Defending Ethnic Minorities', The Times, 17th February 1989. Mukherjee, Arun P., 'Whose Post-Colonialism and Whose Postmodernism?', World Literature in English, Vol. 30, No. 2 (1990). O'Brian, Conor Cruise, 'A Review of The Satanic Verses', The Times, May 1989. Phillips, Trevor, 'Islamophobia in Britain', The Independent, 25th October, 1997. Rushdie, Salman, 'Choice Between Light and Dark', The Observer, 22nd January, 1989. Stone, Norman, 'We Need Russian Help Against Islam', The Sunday Telegraph, 19th February 1989. Vazinczey, Stephen, 'The New Appeasers Who Bow to Mecca', The Sunday Telegraph, 19th March, 1989.