Rushdie embraces Islam, seeks end to death threat

December 25, 1990|By Chicago Tribune

LONDON -- Author Salman Rushdie embraced Islam yesterday and said that his book "The Satanic Verses" would not be published in paperback and that he did not personally agree with some statements in the book that most offend Moslems.

Mr. Rushdie, 43, issued the statement in an attempt to get Iran and fundamentalist Moslems to lift the death sentence under which he has lived for 22 months. But fundamentalist British Moslem leaders said that it wasn't enough and that nothing short of withdrawal of the book from stores would remove the sentence pronounced by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"The book itself is blasphemous," said Istiaq Ahmed, spokesman forthe Council for Mosques in Bradford, which represents 75,000 Moslems in the northern English city. "We said from the beginning that our campaign is against the book, not against Mr. Rushdie."

Mr. Rushdie's statement, painfully wrought in negotiations with moderate Moslems over the last 11 months, was his most direct attempt to cancel his death sentence.

First, he said that "there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his last Prophet." In this statement Mr. Rushdie, who has called himself a "non-believer," appeared to return to the Islam of his Indian childhood, although the word "last" modified the usual Islamic profession of faith.

Then he promised not to publish "The Satanic Verses" in paperback, akey demand of his critics, or to permit more translations "while any risk of further offense exists."

Finally, he said, "I do not agree with any statement in my novel 'The Satanic Verses,' uttered by any of the characters who insult the Prophet Mohammed, or who cast aspersions upon Islam or upon the authenticity of the Holy Koran or who reject the divinity of Allah."

"The Satanic Verses" deals mostly with the surrealistic adventures of two Indians in London. Within the narrative are dream sequences dealing with the life of Mohammed that, if read literally, portray the prophet as an indecisive maneuverer who wrote part of the Koran out of political expediency.

In the past, Mr. Rushdie has apologized for causing offense and has said no author can be held to agree with everything his characters say.

"The implication is that, if there were to be another edition of the book, those bits would possibly not be included," said Frances D'Souza, director of Article 19, a group that works for intellectual freedom, and chairwoman of the International Committee for the Defense of Salman Rushdie.

Ms. D'Souza said work on the statement began in February when Mr. Rushdie published an essay defending the freedom of creation and imagination but pleading with "the great mass of ordinary, decent, fair-minded Moslems" to accept that his book was written in good faith.

After that, Ms. D'Souza said, talks began involving the moderate British Islamic society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance and, later, the Egyptian government.

Ms. D'Souza said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may try to persuade the Iranian government to lift the death sentence. But she noted that such a task would be difficult, in part because most Egyptians are Sunni Moslems while the Iranian leaders are Shiites, often a rival sect.

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