In 1988, The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, hit stores and was an immediate non-hit. But its content, very loosely based on Islamic lore, upset Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Not only did Khomeini not endorse the book, seek Rushdie’s autograph, nor recommend it highly, he declared via fatwā that Rushdie should go into applications development instead.
Just kidding. He of course demanded that Salman Rushdie be put to death at the nearest convenience.
In the Spring of 1989, shortly after the fatwā was issued and still more-or-less in the news, the Czar happened to be sitting in a Korean restaurant with a small group of people, including a husband and wife. The wife was originally from Pakistan, and while she openly admitted to be Muslim, she was by modern accounts extraordinarily liberal: she never covered her hair (at least in the Czar’s presence), married a Catholic, and supported Israel, among many other things.
Mrs. N, as we shall call her, is now sadly deceased as a victim of cancer, but the Czar remembers numerous conversations with her on a vast variety of topics. On that particular day in that restaurant, we were well-sated on hanshik and soju. As we awaited the bill, one of our dining companions asked her to clarify what a fatwā even was, the word having been in the news so much in the previous weeks.
Mrs. N explained that a fatwā was a clarification or point of order on a topic of Islamic law, issued by an official expert on the topic. Yes, she was aware of Khomeini’s fatwā, of course, and conceded that he probably would, in fact, be recognized as someone able to issue them.
What did she think of the Salman Rushdie fatwā? She admitted she had no real opinion on its value, as she had not read the book, didn’t believe that Rushdie was offering a real religious opinion as he was not a Muslim himself, and that the whole reaction to the book seemed, well, a bit of an over-reaction.
Our dining companion then asked the most interesting question: did Mrs. N sense any obligation to carry out the fatwā?
Absolutely, she said. As a Muslim, she stated she was required to kill Salman Rushdie if any such opportunity presented itself.
Now, bear in mind, Mrs. N neither supported Khomeini nor was she Shīʿa. She also immediately stated she had no intention to every carry out such an act; just that she was required to do so even though Khomeini was, to her, as faraway as one distant branch of Christianity was to another. This last point sparked considerable discussion among our group. One of us drew an analogy: Rushdie writes a book that attributes some scandalous but apocryphal comments to St. Luke. A Methodist bishop announces that Rushdie should be assassinated for doing so; would a Greek Orthodox church member be obligated to carry out the task? Mrs. N looked a bit uncomfortable, but said in many respects, that analogy was pretty close to what was going on in Islam at the time.
Wow, the original topic starter exclaimed, Islam might benefit from having a pope.
But here’s the more interesting thing for the Czar: Khomeini did not issue a legitimate fatwā on Rushdie, a fact which is still being misreported in the press. A fatwā must be reviewed and approved through a complex process, and Khomeini’s never was. Abdallah al-Mushidd, the leader of the fatwā council at the time, stated this was a matter for Islamic courts, and he rejected the moral and legal standing of Khomeini’s fatwā across the board. The Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, in Mecca, went further and stated that Khomeini himself had violated Islamic law by issuing an illegitimate fatwā without the authority nor legal grounds to do so.
Okay, nice bit of trivia. But why is that interesting? Because Mrs. N believed it. And so apparently did a large number of non-Iranian Muslims who either perpetrated or planned to commit the murders of many people associated with the printing, publishing, or even translation of the book. And that includes Hadi Matar, accused of the brutal attack on Salman Rushdie last week, over 33 years after Khomeini’s declaration.
If guilty, Matar (an interesting last name in Spanish, by the way) seems to understand Islam about as well as Mrs. N did: not nearly well enough. 33 years later, and Islam still doesn’t have a pope.
We hope that Rushdie recovers from his terrible injuries.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.