Prof. Karuna Rajeev
Anglo American Literature
24th October, 2013
The Rushdie Affair
More renowned for his controversies than his awards, Booker Prize winner, Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist and essayist. Though much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent a dominant theme of his work is the story of the many connections, disruptions and migrations between the Eastern and Western world. He is associated with the magical realism style of writing and has been often compared to the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though he himself claims to have learned from the older tradition, from writers like Gogol or Dickens, “who have that ability to be on the edge between the surreal and the real.” Born in a liberal westernized family, Rushdie never experienced the extreme religious fervor that orthodoxy inspires amongst followers. He had a Christian nurse, for whom his family celebrated Christmas, and his friends were from different religions, none of which “struck me as being particularly important.” (Rushdie: “In God We Trust” 376-377). However, In “Why I Have Embraced Islam,” he goes on to say: “Although I come from a Muslim family background, I was not brought up as a believer, and was raised in an atmosphere of what is broadly known as secular humanism.” This ‘atmosphere’ can be understood to be a reference to Rushdie’s birthplace and childhood residence, Bombay-the cultural melting pot of religions, languages and identities, sprinkled with the fairy dust of cinema. Having begun his journey as a copywriter, Rushdie’s first novel Grimus (1975) failed to get him much recognition. His second attempt however lead to worldwide fame and the 1981 Booker in his hat. Midnight’s Children, 1981, thus launched Rushdie. Here lies the problem. Although Islam has its own stories and tales, the modern novel does not go well with a religion that is constantly trying to purify itself from modernizing, liberal tendencies. The novel, thus is seen as a foreign form, one associated with liberality and lax morals, in other words – the west. Islam, to a conservative Muslim, is not just a religion, it is a way of life. The novel, to such a cultural framework is trivial, and even potentially dangerous when it subverts the fundamental beliefs. This is exactly where Rushdie becomes a target of hate and violence for the orthodox Muslim world. For Rushdie, free speech and storytelling can liberate the world. As he himself puts it in his essay “Is Nothing Sacred”: …If religion is an answer, if political ideology is
an answer, then literature is an inquiry; great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, opens new doors in our minds.
. . . literature is, of all the arts, the one best suited to challenging absolutes of all kinds; and, because it is in its origin the schismatic Other of the sacred (and authorless)
text, so it is also the art most likely to fill our god-shaped holes.
The Satanic Verses
First published in 1988, Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses was inspired in part by the life of Prophet Muhammad,. The title refers to the satanic verses, a group of alleged Quranic verses that allow intercessory prayers, quite simply prayers made on behalf of others, to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses: Allāt, Uzza, and Manāt. The part of the story that deals with the "satanic verses" was based on accounts from the historians al-Waqidi and al-Tabari. The novel was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Violent.death threats were made against him, including a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989, which called for him to be killed. Using elements of magical realism, this frame story reveals its sub-plots as dream visions experienced by one of the protagonists, Gibreel Farishta. These are linked together by many thematic details as well as by the common motifs of divine revelation,...
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