Salman Rushdie, “The Satanic Verses”

By: María Hawthorne

Salman Rushdie’s novel, “The Satanic Verses,” captivates readers with its gripping tale of two men, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, who meet on a fateful plane journey to England. When an explosion rocks the plane, Gibreel transforms into the angel Gabriel while Saladin becomes the embodiment of the devil. As they plummet to the ground, Gibreel experiences a series of vivid dreams, including a daring retelling of Muhammad’s story that stirred controversy due to its depiction of prostitutes named after Muhammad’s wives. Another dream parallels the story of Jesus through the young girl Ayesha, whose prophecy fails to materialize, resulting in tragedy.

The novel delves into two central themes: religion and the dichotomy of good and evil. Through the transformations of Gibreel and Saladin, Rushdie challenges the notion of rigid binaries. Despite being an angel, Gibreel is capable of heinous acts, ultimately taking his own life and the life of his girlfriend. On the other hand, Saladin finds redemption, reconciling with his father, inheriting wealth, and finding happiness in a renewed relationship. Rushdie’s exploration of these themes exposes the complexities of human nature and the limitations of categorization.

Published in 1988, “The Satanic Verses” garnered both acclaim and controversy. The novel received the Whitbread novel of the year award and was a finalist for the Booker Prize. However, its critical success was overshadowed by the vehement backlash it faced. The use of Islam in a satirical manner led to its banning in several countries, most notably Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie, urging his followers to kill the author, editors, and publishers. This dangerous situation forced Rushdie into hiding under police protection for a painstaking nine years. It was not until 1998 that the Iranian government announced a change in their stance, ceasing their pursuit of Rushdie’s life.

Born on June 19, 1947, in India, Salman Rushdie is a British-based writer. Educated at Cambridge University, he initially worked as a copywriter. Throughout his career, Rushdie has daringly tackled religious and political topics, often sparking controversy. “The Satanic Verses” marked his fourth novel, published amidst the turmoil surrounding its release. Despite the challenges he faced, Rushdie continued to write, publishing four more books while in hiding. These include “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” “Imaginary Homelands,” “East West,” and “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” released between 1990 and 1995. After the fatwa was lifted, Rushdie chronicled his experiences in hiding under the pseudonym Joseph Anton. Since then, he has remained a prolific author, with an impressive body of work comprising over 30 books.

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