Though some people have ascribed their own intolerance and narrow-mindedness to Islam, there is not a shred of evidence from the Holy Qur’an that Islam propounds the death penalty for blasphemy.
The Review of Religions (1999) pp. 7-20
Few books in living memory have sparked off such a fiery controversy on the International scene as did Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Making its first appearance in September 1988, it was soon nominated for the Booker and Whitbred library awards in which it was voted runner-up.
The Muslim world was shocked and enraged at the insulting references in the novel about Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his companions. Outraged by the sheer indifference displayed by the British Government for not taking any legislative action, a copy of The Satanic Verses was set on fire in January 1989 by some Muslims in Bradford to protest the authorities and to publicly express their disgust and anger at the vulgar nature of the novel. According to the official Iranian news agency, Muslims have been especially offended by a dream sequence in the book which the Prophet Abraham is called “bastard” and Bilal, Islam’s first Muezzin (prayer caller) an enormous black monster, and prostitutes take the names of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. The fury of Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran was expressed by his death sentence on Salman Rushdie, which he issued on 14th February, 1989, declaring that … the author of “Satanic Verses” is against Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an, and all involved in its publication, are sentenced to death.
Muslims all over Britain and elsewhere organized protest marches to demonstrate against the book, and some Muslim groups began to raise slogans to endorse the Iranian call. A police armed guard was arranged for the writer who then went into hiding as the threats were being taken very seriously.
The whole of the Western World was outraged over Khomeini’s edict to a question of freedom of expression. It is a positive outrage to civilized standards… remarked one Conservative MP. His outrage was shared by M.Ps who had sponsored a Commons motion criticizing Mr. Rushdie’s book just a month before.
All diplomatic ties with Iran were severed. Embassy staff of Western nations in Iran were called back, and those of Iran sent home. This religious controversy had now acquired a political overtone. Or did it not indicate a political conspiracy right from the start?
In retrospect, the events that unfolded ever since the publication of The Satanic Verses’ have only served to unleash intolerant attitudes, heighten racial tensions, jeopardize international relations and threaten the very prospects of brining the whole world together under the banner of peace.
What solution can there be to this dilemma? Does the right of freedom of expression give one the license to injure the feelings and trample upon the rights of fellow citizens? In the name of fiction, is it permissible to cross the bounds of decency? They say that the truth is often stranger than fiction! What is the truth about Islam? Does it indeed advocate the death penalty for blasphemy? Or is Rushdie to be punished for abandoning Islam and betraying the faith? But was Rushdie ever really a Muslim? What provoked a severe reaction from Iran and not from other Islamic nations?
This is an attempt to make a critical analysis of the book, the issues it raised and the events which followed the publication of The Satanic Verses a year ago.
Freedom of Expression vs. License to Insult
The issue of Salman Rushdie’s freedom of expression was at the forefront of this controversy. Article 19 of the United Nations’ – United Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression which Salman Rushdie declared was an issue much larger than my book or indeed my life. However, a letter of a Muslim, published in a newspaper argued that, freedom of speech is all very well but it should not extend to deliberate by insulting and slandering of people’s beliefs. Perhaps (you) would like to define the borderline whereby criticism becomes insult and freedom of speech undergoes censorship. So let us now endeavor to analyze the term freedom of expression and its implications.
Freedom of expression is indeed a fundamental human right which has been enshrined within the constitution of the United Nations Charter. But so also is the right to protection of the law against attacks on one’s honour and reputation (Article 12). It is argued that when the speech becomes abusive and the bounds of decency have been crossed, then the rights of others are being trampled upon, and this is where freedom of speech must undergo censorship (Article 29). This point has not been recognized by those who framed the blasphemy laws. Besides, it is not mere criticism or a difference of opinion which is censored, but rather, it is the manner of expression of the criticism. If this is abusive, that constitutes a blasphemy. So once the boundaries of decency have been crossed, it is no longer a question of freedom of expression but one of civilized conduct.
If, for instance an MP were to abuse the Prime Minister in the British Parliament using vulgar terms such as whore, bitch or bastard would be glorified under the banner of freedom of expression or opinion? On the contrary, his outrage would be vociferously condemned as an affront to all civilized standards. He would be forced to retract his words. There are certain norms of decency which no one is permitted to violate regardless of any freedoms or liberties, especially in certain establishments such as that of Parliament. And religion must be included within this category for the sake of peace and order (Article 29).
No one shall be subjected… to attacks upon his honour and reputation, proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12). Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such… attacks. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject… to the limitations… determined… solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and general warfare… (Article 29). Why doesn’t the Government impose limitation on Salman Rushdie’s freedom of expression, and thereby safeguard the right of the Muslims to protection of law from an attack upon their honour. Why so much emphasis on freedom of speech?
Another interesting argument that has been put forward is that the right of not being abused must also be safeguarded since there is no reason that the tongue should be any more sacred than the ears or the eyes. Besides, if pornography undergoes censorship to guard the eyes from obscenity, shouldn’t blasphemy also be curbed to protect the eyes and ears from filth? The British Government is hypocritical in that is endeavors to protect the rights if its own religion (i.e. blasphemy laws for Anglican Christians), but imposes freedom of speech on others. And why is it that apart from Her Majesty the Queen (Head of the Church of England), anyone else may be insulted at the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London? Surely all religions and their founders must be included within this sacred category. It would be hypocrisy not to!
The fact of the matter is that The Satanic Verses has been written in a manner which has crossed all boundaries of decency. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his companions are depicted in such a manner as would offend the taste of every decent person, whether Muslim or not. Such being the case, it indeed appears reasonable that the blasphemy laws should be extended to protect all religions and ideologies from abuse. This will ensure both the removal of The Satanic Verses from circulation, and will also prevent such obnoxious material from being marketed anytime in the future.
Fact of Fiction?
All the events and characters in this book are entirely fictitious, and are not intended to represent any actual event or real person either living or dead.
It was strongly argued by Salman Rushdie and other that as his novel was a fictitious one, no one had the right to restrict his imagination. So let us now examine this claim that The Satanic Verses is a work of fiction.
Indeed, the story concocted by Mr. Rushdie is entirely imaginary in that it has no real bearing on reality whatsoever. However, whilst the story may be unreal and imaginary, the tale is woven around real and well known people. Usually, in any work of fiction, there is a disclaimer such as the one quoted above. However, Mr. Rushdie makes no such declaration in his novel. A fictitious tale woven around imaginary people is indeed a work of fiction. But if the people are real, and well-known to millions as in this case, regardless of whether the events are imaginary or not, such a novel cannot and should be described as a work of fiction.
If, for instance, a filthy and indecent fictitious tale is woven around the person of Her Majesty the Queen, would it be lauded as a masterpiece or imagination? Similarly, when an insulting and abusive tale is concocted, hurling filth and attributing indecency to well-known people who are deeply revered and loved by a thousand million people all over the globe, how could it, by any stretch of imagination, be seen as a work of fiction? Perhaps this is because the Western readers, in their ignorance of Islamic history and unfamiliarity with the names of the Prophet’s companions, fail to see connotations and inferences implied by the passages. Whatever the case in reality The Satanic Verses is neither fact nor fiction.
Death Sentence For Blasphemy?
The Rushdie affair brought into question the very teachings of Islam on blasphemy, apostasy and other related issues. In fact it raises fundamental issues which need to be clarified before we delve into the Rushdie affair any further. The prevalent conception in the Western world about Islam is a narrow-minded, intolerant and barbaric religion which advocates conversion at the point of the sword, and the death penalty for blasphemy. But is this really what Islam is? In fact, this raises the important question as to whether religion should be judged by the actions and notions of its present-day followers, or from the more authentic reliable sources of which the religion is based?
For instance, would it be right to judge Christianity from the modern day Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland, a war that is being waged in the very name of Christianity? Or from the Christian atrocities of the Middle Ages, such as the Spanish Inquisition where tortures like the rack, and an ingeniously horrific device known as the Iron maiden were use to extract the truth. Was this the Christianity practiced and professed by Jesus who was himself the object of severe and untold persecution?
Qur’anic Teaching on Blasphemy
First of all, it needs to be clarified that there is absolutely no Qur’anic teaching which imposes any sanction whatsoever on freedom of expression of conscience. The Holy Qur’an gives full rights to all and sundry, irrespective of personal ideology, way of life, and creed.
The Holy Qur’an (Ch. 2, V. 256) clearly states:
There shall be no compulsion in religion.
Here the word religion (deen in Arabic) means any creed, religion, faith, ideology or way of life.
Though some people have ascribed their own intolerance and narrow-mindedness to Islam, there is not a shred of evidence from the Holy Qur’an that Islam propounds the death penalty for blasphemy. On the contrary, restriction on abuse has actually been placed on the Muslims themselves. The Holy Qur’an teaches Muslims no to insult the idols of idolators (6:108), even thought idolatry is regarded as such a grievous sin that God would never forgive (4:49). Muslims are not even allowed to abuse the most outrageous thing in the eyes of God!
This lofty teaching of the Holy Qur’an finds not comparison even in the civilized world of today. Whilst the Holy Qur’an requires Muslims to respect others, the British Common Law demands that everyone should honour their religion. Yet it is Islam which is always condemned as being backward!
What greater blasphemy could there be than against God Almighty Himself? Yet the Holy Qur’an prescribes no punishment for such a grievous blasphemy against God, as might well nigh (cause) the heavens to burst thereat, and the earth cleave asunder and the mountains fall down in pieces (19:90). Another reference to blasphemy is that of the Jews against Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Holy Qur’an refers to this as a grievous calumny, but once again, no penalty whatsoever is prescribed for the Jews.
The duty of Muslims is to advise the blasphemers to desist, and leave their company if they do not take heed (6:68-69).
Muslims are further instructed to return to such company once they change the topic. Obviously this injunction would be inappropriate if the punishment was indeed a death penalty! Muslims are told they will not be held accountable for the misdeeds of others (6:69), and that Allah Himself will take whatever punishment He deems appropriate (4:140).
Hence, nowhere in the Holy Qur’an is even the remotest hint of any punishment for blasphemy which may be inflicted by human hands either individually, politically or administratively.
The Prophet’s Verdict on Blasphemy
An incident in the life of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, clarifies his own understanding of this issue. If we are intent upon judging Islam by the actions of its followers, why not observe the conduct of him who has been described as the first and foremost of all the believers (6:163). Furthermore when his wife Ayesha was asked to describe his character, she replied: His character was the Holy Qur’an. Hence in the person of the Holy Prophet we have a living commentary and exposition on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an.
In fact, a most heinous blasphemy was committed against the Holy Prophet himself when he was ruler of Madinah. A hypocrite, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, whose cherished desires of becoming chief of Madinah were shattered by the arrival of the Prophet, during the course of a campaign blatantly boasted that, if we return to Madinah, the one most honoured (i.e. himself) will surely drive out therefrom the meanest (i.e. referring to the Prophet). (63:8).
The faithful companions of the Prophet were outraged, none more so than Abdullah’s own son who was a sincere Muslim. With sword drawn, he implored the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. But each and every time he refused, and emphatically declared that absolutely no action whatsoever should be taken against Abdullah for his blatant blasphemy.
However, this incident does not end here. Many years later, when Abdullah eventually died, the Holy Prophet himself stood up to conduct his burial proceedings. The Prophet was well known to be full of compassion, and kindness, yet this action of his surprised even some of his own faithful companions. Hazrat Umar, went and stood right in front of the Prophet and reminded him that the Holy Qur’an declared about hypocrites: “Ask thou pardon for them or ask thou not, it is the same to them. Even if thou were to ask pardon for them seventy times, Allah will never forgive them (9:80).
Hazrat Umar related the following incident:
When the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah, went and stood by the dead body of Abdullah ibn Ubayy and was about to pray, I asked him: Are you going to pray over God’s enemy? The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, smiled and said, Get behind me Umar, I have been given a choice and I have chosen. It was said to me: Ask pardon for them, or ask it not… If I knew that by asking pardon more than seventy times, he would be forgiven, I would do so. Then he prayed over him and walked with his dead body and stayed at his grave until he was buried. (Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah by Abdul Malik Don Hisham op.cit., 927).
This is the real Islam as taught in the Holy Qur’an and put into beautiful practice by him (may the peace and blessings of God be on the Prophet) who noble example Muslims are bidden to follow (3:31, 33:21. What a lofty teaching and what an inspiring exemplar!
Treachery by an Apostate?
Clifford Langley, Religious Affairs Editor of The Times, tries to explain Why Islam is now inflamed. He writes: In the eyes of fellow Muslims, apostasy from his faith is the most serious crime a Muslim can commit. The second most serious crime is to insult the prophet Muhammad. Put them together and they constitute the sort of challenge which will drive fanatical Muslims to the extreme… Under Muslim law an apostate should be put to death; it is a matter of honour that any slight on the honour of Muhammad must be avenged… There is nothing so surprising therefore in the International Muslim protest over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses… (The Times, 15th February 1989).
I have already proven conclusively that so far as the Holy Qur’an is concerned, there is no text, no verse, not a single word that prescribes any worldly, political or administrative punishment for blasphemy. As with blasphemy, so also with apostasy. Nor is there any action of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which even remotely advocates any penalty either blasphemy or apostasy. Here again, some intolerant and ignorant Muslims have, most unfortunately, attributed their own bigotry to Islam, which the Religious Affairs Editors of The Times has taken for granted.
Nor was Salman Rushdie ever a Muslim, in the real sense of the word, to have departed from the faith of Islam in the first place. Salman Rushdie did not have the remotest connection with religion and he admits this himself. He did not even have a Muslim upbringing, as Philip Howard, Literary Editor of The Times comments: His father was Anis Rushdie, a wealthy businessman who died in 1987. The son was brought up in an Anglophile, Anglo-centric way.’ (The Times, 15th February 1989). Being brought up and bred as an atheist, he could he ever been a Muslim or a follower of any other religion for that matter. It was in fact his lack of faith which emboldened him to write such a scandalous book despite being warned of the possible dire consequence of such a work.
The only way Rushdie can be described as a Muslim is the sense used by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, when he remarked that every child is born a Muslim. He meant that Islam is a religion which is based upon, and ingrained within, the nature of man. And so far as man is concerned, the notion of compulsion is inconsistent with his very nature. In fact, such a notion is utterly abhorrent to Islam. The early history of Islam shows that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his band of followers were themselves the victims of severe and untold persecution arising from apostasy, having discarded their former creed and way of life. It was for the safeguarding of their freedom of conscience and belief that Muslims were allowed to take up the sword against that of an enemy intent upon wiping out Islam by force. This is the true Jihad which these Muslims are seen in the West as going about converting people at the point of the sword. Even more ironic is that this new murder call is being justified in the very name of him upon whose head was rewarded 100 camels!
Islam is the only religion whose scripture guarantees freedom of conscience and belief in express and emphatic terms:
“There is (to be) no compulsion in (matters of) faith. Verily right has been made distinct from wrong” (2:256).
This freedom is so repeatedly affirmed in the Holy Qur’an, with such a wealth of illustration and exposition, that it does not leave the slightest room for doubt on the matter. For instance: Proclaim O Prophet: This is the truth from your Lord: then let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve (18:29). Whoever follows the guidance truly does so for his own benefit; and whoever goes astray does so to his own detriment. Thou art not appointed a guardian over them (39:41).
The following verse clarifies the Islamic position on apostasy:
“Those who believe, then disbelieve (i.e. become apostate), then believe (again), then disbelieve (i.e. become apostate again) and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief. Alah will never forgive them nor guide them to any way of deliverance (4:137).
Clearly, one is free to re-enter the religion of Islam having once become apostate. How could this be if the penalty for apostasy was death?
Religion and Politics
Religion and politics appear to have a mysterious relationship. Religion is often accused of creating disorder, and is alleged to promote more bloodshed then prevent it. The history of religion begins with the story of Abel, who was murdered by his own brother for some personal gain. Perhaps what Cain did to Abel is just what politics does to religion. It is corrupt human beings who exploit religion to further their ulterior motives. It is unscrupulous politicians who play havoc with religion. It seems as though we are still living under the curse of Cain!
Politicians speak highly of civilization profess devotion to principles, and the promotion of human values. They cherish their own image as the champions and guardians of civilization yet their loyalty to these values remains so long as there is no conflict with their personal interest. The moment this happens, the entire super-structure of values crumbles to the ground.
The Ethiopian famine of a few years back illustrates this point. The whole world was moved at the shocking intensity of this disaster. But when the UN forewarned the West of the impending doom years before the famine struck, no one stirred a finger, nor a hair was raised.
And the Russian politicians were also waiting. Why? Because the leftist Marxist philosophy is of course more easily accepted at the height of poverty and starvation! When ultimately Russia did make a move, it was time for the west to mobilize its own propaganda. How could communism be hailed as the champion of civilization and be allowed to win the hearts of a whole nation? So this is the real face of politics ad politicians. In their bid to beautify their own image, it is religion which is made to appear hideous. It is politicians in the garb of religious divine, who convert Friday sermons into political broadcast; it is they who turn white minarets into columns of darkness, and from here propound a hellish philosophy to those who come in search of paradise.
It was politicians of Rome who put helpless Christians before hungry lions. The crowds roared with laughter at the crunching sound of bones, which the wild beasts devoured to satisfy their hunger. It is the insatiable desire of politicians for power which has taken hostage the religion of Islam.
It is said, Truth is often stranger than fiction. The Western world has indeed been made a stranger to the real Islam, thanks to its exploitation by unscrupulous politicians, the foolish actions and notions of some ignorant followers and a hideous deception by hostile critics. The real Islam is the most beautiful religion. Islam literally means peace and the surrender of ones will to that of a Merciful God, Allah by name. Islam preaches harmony, and promises global peace and tranquility through the establishment of a permanent spiritual relationship with One God. Islam requires belief in all Prophets including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Confucious, Zoroaster, and many others. Muslims are expected to utter the respectful benediction Peace be upon him after mentioning the names of every Prophet. Thus, by inculcating respect for other religions, Islam endeavors to establish peace and understanding between all people. This is the real Islam as taught by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whom Muslims honour as the greatest of all Prophets.
A Political Conspiracy?
It can be confidently stated after a careful study of The Satanic Verses, that there are religious forces behind this work. An even more startling claim, perhaps, is that some political conspirators appear to be working hand-in-hand with the religious forces. Let us examine both these allegations in light of the contents of The Satanic Verses.
The roots of this book can be traced to the time when orientalists, in their devotion to Christianity and intolerance towards Islam, exploited every spurious narration in order to attack Islam. To this goal, unreliable narrations were quoted as hard facts, so that a totally unacceptable picture of Islam may be presented to the Western reader. Such narrations were of very doubtful origin, collected centuries after the advent of Islam, and are not consistent with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, nor have they been given any credence by any scholar of Islam. The narrators have themselves proven to be liars and hypocrites. Now, once again, this time under a different garb, the same doubtful sources and narrations have been rehashed into The Satanic Verses.
One thing is certain that this book is not the work of an individual effort, as Salman Rushdie did not have any remote connection with religion (as discussed earlier). It is therefore surprising that he should have come up with the same material used by earlier enemies of Islam in their attacks on Islam, nor can this be a coincidence. The book is in effect a collection of all the filth collected over the centuries, particularly those which fit the Western temperament today. Sexual overtones, which are very popular nowadays, have been freely employed in this book to create a very obscene work appealing to base desires. It appears he was instructed to write a book that would destroy all good thoughts about Islam, and to suppress the new emergence of Islam. Rushdie’s lack of faith, purity of heart and decency, and the lure of riches from promises of wealth, emboldened him to this task, despite being forewarned of the possible dire consequences of such a work.
On example of the vulgar contents of the book is the filthy misrepresentation of the wives of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, as prostitutes. He creates an imaginary house of prostitutes within the Holy Ka’bah at Makkah, the names of prostitutes being those of the wives of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Hence a parallel is created between real and imaginary, simply because there are absolutely no traditions, even those of a spurious nature, which could misrepresent the wives of the Holy Prophet (saw) in such a fashion. Clearly, this information could only have been provided by some well-informed group of conspirators who had an axe to grind with Islam.
It is also apparent that The Satanic Verses was intended to provoke a severe reaction especially from Iran. Of all the Companions of the Holy Prophet (saw), his only Iranian disciple (Salman Farsi) is particularly singled out for a vicious attack on his character. This appears to be an indication of some political vengeance hidden behind this façade of art and literature. Was this because Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran had adamantly refused to succumb to Western pressures?
Khomeini saw Western nations as being two-faced in their dealings with Muslim nations by selling them, in most cases, second rate weapons in exchange for a major share of the oil wealth of the Arab nations. These weapons may be used against other Muslim nations but not against non-Muslim countries, while at the same time bad publicity was given to the Muslim states. Furthermore, the Muslim states had practically become economic and political slaves of the Western world. Khomeini tried to reverse this trend for which he is despised, yet credit must be given to him in that, unlike other Muslim leaders, he never bowed down before that which he considered to be false. He cannot, however, be condoned for his crude actions, having done an injustice to himself, his own people, and the image of Islam.
When Khomeini announced the death sentence of Salman Rushdie, so strong and vociferous was the West’s reaction that all of Europe and the USA united in calling back their embassy staff, and sent the Iranian embassy staff back to their own country. The basis for this severe action was apparently the outrage of all civilized standards. However, when similar death threats were made against the Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with the promise of a reward of L40,000, and published within British newspapers, the reply, in writing, from the Home Secretary, when this was pointed out to him, was that he wasn’t sure whether any crime had been committed! So the extreme reaction to Khomeini’s edict was not a matter of adherence to any civilized principles. Clearly, the difference in attitude is political.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly proclaims that everyone has the right to protection of the law against… attacks upon his honour… (Article 12). Furthermore, in the interest of public order, no one should be allowed to trample upon the rights of others, (Article 29). However, not even in the interests of peace and order was any legislative action taken by the government, and the feelings and sentiments of Muslims, were in effect, being dismissed as though they didn’t exist at all.
The Western word does not appear to appreciate the degree of reverence of Muslims, for their Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Perhaps the answer partly lies in Kipling’s saying: East is East and West is West; and never the twain shall meet. This might also explain why extreme medieval connotations were attached by the press to the book-burning affair in Bradford. In the Middle Ages, this would imply a condemnation of either intellectualism’ or heresy. But book-burning is a common-place event in the streets of certain Asian countries and in a mere protest against the book and no more.
However, no hue and cry was raised by the media when certain members of Parliament set fire to some papers just a few weeks before the Bradford incident. The same double-standards seem to apply to any even related to the Muslim world. Atrocities perpetrated by so-called Muslim groups are dubbed as Islamic terrorism (a contradiction in terms!). Yet the Protestant-Catholic conflict of Northern Ireland is not termed Christian-beastliness. Nor is the savagery of Hitler condemned as Christian-barbarism. The entire history of the Middle Ages can be smeared red with the blood of Christian nations. Yet whenever a Muslim state endeavors to acquire such weapons, it is dubbed as an Islamic bomb. The explosion of the Rushdie affair into an international crisis owes much to this narrow-mindedness towards Islam.
The rather foolish propaganda by some Muslims made The Satanic Verses a best seller, just like Peter Wright’s novel Spy-Catcher before it.
Ironically, these demonstrations were meant to prevent people from reading a blasphemous novel. The result was just the opposite as passages from the book were quoted in newspapers and magazines, and read out in the news on radio and television. Translations of the novel into various foreign languages, so as to meet the demands of the non-English speaking world, is already well under way.
However, the protests of ordinary Muslims were indeed genuine and spontaneous as their feelings had been seriously hurt. Their deep-rooted sense of reverence for Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him is a love much more profound than even their affection for their own parents. And that child is yet to be born who wouldn’t defend an attack on his or her own parent’s honour! In an increasingly smaller world, one must have regard for all people, yet at the moment the West seems to be saying that we don’t care about your feelings at all. This can hardly be the basis for trust and friendship.
However, when one looks at the affair, one thing is certain. It has unleashed racialist and intolerant attitudes somewhat akin to those prevalent to Nazi Germany. Some tabloids have used this row as an excuse to call for the deportation of Muslims, and the Independent declared there was no place for intolerant Muslims in a tolerant Britain! The minds of the west have been agitated over a very delicate and sensitive issue, which has real potential to acquire the ugliness of Nazi Germany. We can only hope and pray that no such controversy arises in the future which would rekindle these fiery emotions from within the hearts of those still inflamed over the affair.
The blasphemy laws should be extended to protect all religions and ideologies. This will ensure both the withdrawal of The Satanic Verses from circulation, and will go some way to prevent such obnoxious material from being marketed any time in the future. At least we can then hope to live in peace for some time to come.
Finally, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim point of view, the most distressing aspect of the affair was the further damage it has done to the image of Islam. Political grudge there may well have been against Khomeini, but this should not have been taken out on Islam. Khomeini’s edict was indeed a most outrageous one. However, religion should always be judged from the sources upon which it is based, and not from the pronouncements of fanatics or politicians. Furthermore, there should be one common yardstick for judging all religions and ideologies. The Islam taught by the Holy Qur’an and practiced and professed by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is a most beautiful and attractive religion. I have already proven conclusively that so far as the Holy Qur’an is concerned, there is no text, no verse, not a single word which prescribes any worldly, political, or administrative punishment for either blasphemy or apostasy. And the noble conduct of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, reiterates that is a most exemplary matter. It is this very Islam which will captivate the hearts of the entire world and the Sunrise of truth will dawn from the West as foretold by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, fourteen hundred years ago