Rushdie’s attack sparks interest in backstory: what is a fatwa?

After Salman Rushdie was attacked as he started a conference in western New York on Friday, it was a powerful reminder that an Islamic leader had issued a high-profile edict calling for the writer’s death in reaction to his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”.

This death sentence – a fatwa – had immediate effects on Rushdie’s life, prompting him to hide for the better part of 10 years and harass him and others around him who were linked to the publication of the book.

But what exactly is a fatwa? And how could that be a factor in Friday’s stabbing, which took place in front of an audience of 2,500?

First we will need some basics.

Who is Salman Rushdie and what is his background?

Rushdie was born in India in June 1947 and grew up in Bombay before moving to England for public boarding school and then university. He worked as a copywriter for years, then published his first novel, ‘Grimus’, in 1975. He did not achieve literary acclaim until his second book, ‘Midnight’s Children’, won the Booker Prize in 1981, the UK’s most prestigious award. literary prize.

Speaking on PBS in 2006, he called himself a “hardcore atheist.” The writer was knighted in 2007 by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for services to literature. To date, he has written 14 novels, including the most recent “Quixote” from 2019.

Rushdie has been married four times, most recently to “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi from 2004 to 2007. He has two sons – one with his first wife Clarissa Luard and another with his third wife Elizabeth West. His second wife was American author Marianne Wiggins.

What is a fatwa?

Simply put, a fatwa is a decree from an Islamic religious leader. In Rushdie’s case, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned “The Satanic Verses” as blasphemy in February 1989 and called for the writer’s death. Partly because the situation was so publicized, “fatwa” and “death sentence” became linked in American popular culture.

But a fatwa is not always about violence. For example, in 2005, a group of American and Canadian Muslim scholars and religious leaders issued the following fatwa: “All acts of terrorism are haram, prohibited by Islam. It is forbidden to cooperate or associate with … any act of terrorism or violence. The edict added that all Muslims had a civic and religious duty to cooperate with law enforcement in their efforts to protect civilians.

What is “The Satanic Verses” and why has it been declared offensive?

“The Satanic Verses” was Rushdie’s fourth novel, published in 1988. The author described the novel, written in English, as primarily a chronicle of the immigrant experience. However, devout Muslims have criticized the book’s characterization of Muhammad and other figures of early Islam. Notably, he portrays the prophet as momentarily weak. A Southern California Muslim told The Times at the time: “I think this is an attack on the miracle of the Quran itself.

Some details on the 1989 Rushdie fatwa

Rushdie immediately went into hiding after Khomeini called for his death in February. Wiggins, his wife at the time, told a British newspaper that year they had moved 56 times in five months – every three days – and always had an armed bodyguard following the announcement on Tehran radio. Khomeini died in June 1989, months after the Rushdie edict was issued, but the fatwa survived.

In 1993, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran publicly renewed the death warrant against the author. The writer, who was still in hiding, appeared at a Sunday service in Cambridge, England, and told the congregation he faced “a simple terrorist threat”. He had then sworn to intensify his public appearances.

Has anyone else been caught up in the fallout?

In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the scholar who translated “The Satanic Verses” into Japanese, was found stabbed to death in the hallway of a building on the university campus in Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo. His body had a deep knife wound in his neck and cuts on his hands and face, police said.

A week earlier, Ettore Capriolo, the man who translated “The Satanic Verses” into Italian, had been attacked in his Milan apartment, suffering stab wounds to his neck, chest and hands. Capriolo survived the attack. The assailant had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Capriolo to reveal Rushdie’s address.

In October 1993, the Norwegian publisher of the novel, William Nygaard, was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in Oslo. He spent months in a hospital recovering. It wasn’t until 2018 that authorities filed charges and said the shooting was linked to the “Satanic Verses.”

Has anyone tried to cancel the fatwa?

No. In 1998, in an attempt to restore diplomatic relations with Britain, leader Mohammad Khatami declared that Iran would not support or hinder any assassination attempt against Rushdie, but nearly a decade later, the state news agency said the edict was still in effect.

Over the years, the bounty offered for killing Rushdie has ballooned to over $3 million.

What was Rushdie doing when he was attacked?

Rushdie and conference moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for free creative expression,” according to the Chautauqua Institution’s website. , known for its summer conference. series.

Other speakers scheduled for upcoming conferences include ballet dancer Misty Copeland, political commentator and LA Times contributor Jonah Goldberg and journalist Maria Ressa.

Who is the suspect in Friday’s attack?

A man dressed in black and wearing a black face mask rushed onto stage at the Chautauqua Institution conference and appeared to punch or stab Rushdie 10 to 15 times before the 75-year-old fell or was pushed on the ground. The man was immediately arrested by a policeman who was on the scene.

New York authorities identified the suspect Friday afternoon as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, NJ, according to the Daily Beast. Matar has not been charged but is accused of stabbing Rushdie in the abdomen and neck. A doctor attending the conference provided assistance just before paramedics arrived, law enforcement said, according to ABC News. Rushdie underwent surgery, but his condition was not immediately known as of Friday afternoon.

Also unclear Friday? The pattern of Matar.

Witness Carter Byham told The Times that the suspect “crewed up behind him very quickly with a short-bladed black knife” and that “the first attack was to the throat on the right side.”

The moderator “addressed the guy,” Byham said.

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