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Who is Salman Rushdie?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Salman Rushdie is a Booker Prize winning author who has written one of the most controversial books of our time. Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India on 19 June 1947. He was brought up in a middle class family and was educated in both Bombay and England.

Rushdie's first published novel was Grimus in 1975, and the Booker Prize winning novel Midnight’s Children followed in 1981. Grimus was not a particularly well known novel, but Midnight’s Children was highly praised and influential in much recent Indian writing. However, it was with The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, that Salman Rushdie became known the world over.

Much of the world's Islamic population read the content of The Satanic Verses as a blasphemous representation of the prophet Muhammad. The book was consequently banned in many countries with large Muslim communities, but worse was to follow. On Valentine’s Day in 1989, a fatwa was announced on Radio Tehran by the leader of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared that The Satanic Verses was blasphemous and announced that Salman Rushdie should be executed. A bounty was placed on Rushdie’s head, and Khomeini declared that whoever was responsible for the execution, if they were to die themselves, would be regarded as a martyr.

What followed for Salman Rushdie was years of hiding, at times not being able to spend consistent nights in the same bed. He endured almost round the clock protection for the next ten years. He moved constantly to secret locations until the fatwa was broken in 1988, but Iran’s revolutionary guards ordered the murder of Salman Rushdie again in 2003.

Most of the literary work of Salman Rushdie has been overshadowed in the public’s eye by the fatwa. The Satanic Verses may always be the book that Salman Rushdie is best remembered for. Since its publication, violence and death have followed in its wake. People who have been linked to the publication and translation of the book have been seriously attacked, some killed.

Despite the fatwa, Salman Rushdie has never shied away from speaking out about the religious fanatics who would have him executed. Rushdie has said that the Muslim world is not just populated by fanatics, but also by courageous and forward-thinking individuals. However, he also fears that the fatwa is no longer only on his head, but on the world's. He claims that the West is now slowly changing its thinking and censoring its thoughts through fear of reprisals.

Salman Rushdie now divides his time between New York and England. He claims that he feels safer in New York than anywhere else. He has written 14 novels, and perhaps more than most, he knows that freedom of speech cannot always be taken for granted.

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