Muslim Representation in Salman Rushdie’s Novel The Satanic Verses

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

The issue of Muslim representation in discourse gained momentum with the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. The book was considered to be an attempt to defame the religion Islam, especially the Holy Book of Muslims The Qur’an. The publication of this literary piece in 1988 caused much furore all over the world, as Ayatullah Khomeini issued a death fatwa on Rushdie which led to book burnings and violent protests in England.

This forced Salman Rushdie to go into hiding for five years. Besides this, many of the translators of the book were killed and bookshops in America were bombed for selling the novel. (Malik “Shadow of Fatwa” 114). As a result of this, Kenan Malik argues, “the burning book became an icon of Islamic rage, and a portent of a new kind of conflict” (“Marketplace”, 40), thus causing it to stand as the authentic voice of all British Muslims when it certainly was not. (41).

On the contrary, Muslims now felt it important to come out with their real experiences of living Islam in order to dispel myths and misinterpretations surrounding this faith and its people. These British Muslims suddenly became more conscious of their identity as the followers of Islam or as being associated with it since birth. During this time, two categories of fiction came from British Muslims—one, which was strongly against Islamic principles and denounced them—and the other, which depicted human beings who adhered to Islam genuinely and lovingly.

While the former was being criticised in the book burning processions, and the street protests, the latter seemed to connect with the readers more and came to be known as halal fiction, as a counter-response to Rushdie’s so-called “blasphemous” work.

The encounters Aslam had with the beliefs and practices of orthodox, radical adherents of Islam made him feel that this was a ‘strict unsmiling faith’ which raised harsh, cold individuals that lived aloof lives. This helped him to paint some Muslim characters, like that of Casa in The Wasted Vigil, with similar reclusiveness. Specific memories from actual interactions and second hand information are visble in various guises in Aslam’s fiction and non-fiction, such as the essay ‘God and Me’, which was published in an edition of Granta magazine devoted to exploring through literature ‘the varieties of religious belief and their personal, social and political effects’ (Granta 2006: back cover). Not just this, but many incidents in his novels are directly related to his childhood and growing up experiences. For instance, the episode of a cleric beating terrified young kids at failing to read Quran properly, as well as the remembrance of his uncle who used to break his “idolatrous” toys.

His preference of art implies that only through art, one would be able to truly portray humanity whether it is an immigrant community or local people, in all its forms. Along with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aslam’s father Mian Mohammad Aslam, who has written poetry under the pseudonym Wamaq Saleem, appear in the novel as figures who through their art are able to bring people of diverse cultures and attitudes together. Shamas too is a poet but he stops writing when his social obligations start taking most of his time.

Aslam has previously set his narratives in Pakistan and amongst the Pakistani diaspora. His novel, The Wasted Vigil (2008) features a range of characters who come from disparate parts of the world, and is substantially set in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which seems to consolidate a shift in their post-9/11 fiction toward a direct engagement with questions of Islamic faith, politics and identity arising in contemporary zones of international conflict located increasingly close to ‘home’.

In the years after “war on terror”, demand has been placed upon transnational and diasporic writers of South Asian Muslim origin to reveal to western readers ‘where their identifications, the centres of their subjective universe lie’ (Werbner 2002: 3), either directly or through their fiction. In this period “distinctions between fact and fiction, and between autobiographical and novelistic formats, have become blurred, such has been the ‘fascination’ on the part of the media and government with learning ‘“voices from within” Muslim communities’ (Morey and Yaqin 2011: 15) that may illuminate the workings of “the Muslim mind” for the general public (Davids 2009: 178).”

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