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What I Learned as a Young Muslim Reading Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses'

'The Satanic Verses' is to Muslim intellectuals what 'Infinite Jest' is to hipsters: It's on everyone's shelves and they all have strong opinions on the author, but most haven't read past the first 30 pages.
March 14, 2016, 5:50pm

Rushdie was tired, and I was ecstatic. Photo via the author

I was at the airport, waiting for my father to return from an Umrah trip to Saudi Arabia and feeling anxious from three too many shots in my iced coffee when my mother pointed to the gates and mumbled, "Hey look, it's that writer you like—the one your dad hates." I looked over and saw a tired man in a suit: Sir Salman Rushdie. He was standing in a weary, tired daze from his 14-hour flight, and I immediately bounded over and added to his confusion with questions, admiration, and a request for a selfie.

In the Qur'an, there is no explicit mention of a worldly punishment for blasphemy, as there is for offenses such as apostasy. And although Rushdie is addressing deeply conflicting questions we have about our faith, I believe he excuses himself from insult because he is operating within art. Furthermore, I believe addressing questions of faith is important, especially as a lot of Muslims, such as those fleeing Syria for the West, are experiencing a sense of spiritual disarray on a regular basis. Documenting feelings is not blasphemous, and especially not when what constitutes as "blasphemy" is open to interpretation.


As a Muslim raised in the West, it's a natural tendency to question your faith. The novel affirms that a loss of faith leads to a soul in crisis, precisely when the environment you're introduced to is not built on the belief systems you were raised to be immersed in.

But what bothers me most about this fatwa revival is the obnoxious arrogance of such a decision or "opinion," as if the face of Islam and Iranian culture hasn't been tarnished enough. Its shameful to think that an appointed leader from a culture that gave us writers like Attar and Sadegh Hedayat, and filmmakers such as Kiarostami, Panahi, and Makhmalbaf ignorantly refuses to nurture the nation's artistic potential. Instead, Iran is choosing to fuel bigotry.

In high school, I remember lying to my cousins about liking Salman Rushdie. I was afraid they'd label me an atheist or a munafiq, but the truth is they were the real hypocrites. Pretty much no one in my family had read The Satanic Verses. Neither had any of my family in America, Germany, Pakistan, or Afghanistan—the latter didn't even have access to books, yet they all blindly agreed that this man deserved death.

This hypocrisy might be what really annoys me, or maybe it's that people often aren't equipped with the tools or intellectual opportunities to think for themselves, or enough freedom to judge work on its own merit. The Satanic Verses is to Muslim intellectuals what Infinite Jest is to hipsters. It's on everyone's shelves, and they all have strong opinions on the author, but most haven't read past the first 30 pages.

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