What to Know About the Fatwa Against Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie has been living under a death sentence since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses,” which fictionalized parts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad with depictions that many Muslims found offensive and some considered blasphemous.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, issued a fatwa on Feb. 14, 1989, ordering Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie and putting a price on his head of several million dollars.

Mr. Rushdie, who lived in London at the time, immediately went into hiding with 24-hour protection from the British police, moving every three days from place to place until a fortified safehouse was prepared for him. He lived there for most of the next 10 years.

Even before the fatwa, the book was banned in a number of countries, including India, Bangladesh, Sudan and Sri Lanka. Many died in protests against its publication, including 12 people in a riot in Mumbai in February 1989 and six more in another riot in Islamabad. Books were burned. Reaction intensified after the publication of the book in the United States that same month, even as more countries banned it. There were attacks on bookstores and threats to many more.

After the fatwa, a halfhearted apology from Mr. Rushdie, which he later regretted, was rejected by Iran.

Many people connected to the book were also targeted, and several were injured. In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death and its Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was badly wounded. In October 1993, William Nygaard, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and seriously injured.

The fatwa was maintained by Iran’s government after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini for 10 years, until 1998, when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who was considered relatively liberal, said that Iran no longer supported the killing. Mr. Rushdie then began to make public appearances again, attending book events, parties and dining out in restaurants.

But the fatwa remains in place, with a bounty attached from a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation.

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