In Islam, what is a fatwa? Why the demand to kill the novelist Salman Rushdie?
THE RELIGIOUS GUY’S RESPONSE:
In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s theocratic leader, ordered the “immediate” assassination of novelist Salman Rushdie because of his novel “The Satanic Verses”. Remarkably, this official fatwa imposed the duty of independent murder in the name of God on masses of Muslim believers in all nations, and also demanded the death of editors and publishers involved in the book.
Three decades later, a Lebanese-American is accused of attempting to murder Rushdie by repeated stabbings on stage at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. The author was seriously injured but survived. Although the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the attack, the Iranian regime Kayhan The newspaper sent “a thousand bravos” to the “brave and dedicated” assailant as activists from other Muslim countries celebrated. We’ll see what prosecutors and defense attorneys finally say about Iran’s ties fatwa of death and sensational bloodshed.
Rushdie’s complex fantasy featured dream sequences in which depraved enemies of Islam – not the author himself – complain about moral absolutism and the treatment of women and belittle wives and companions. relatives of the Prophet Muhammad. They also defy the divine inspiration of the Quran. A the wall street journal The editorial correctly noted that the far greater threat to the Quran is the revisionist theory about its origins by the late John Wansbrough at the University of London.
Rushdie’s novel led to book bans and riots across the Muslim world, and the famous fatwa sent Rushdie into hiding for years. In 1998, the Iranian president declared the matter “over” during diplomatic efforts, but the regime did not actually abolish the fatwa. It was reaffirmed by Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader in 2017 and reposted on a government website five days before the Chautauqua knife attack. Over the past decade, Iranian groups have pledged to pay a $3.9 million bounty to anyone who kills Rushdie.
What should not be lost in the uproar is that Khomeini rewrote the definition of what a fatwa maybe in modern Islam. And although his policies have met with opposition from devout individuals and groups, no effective and comprehensive condemnation of the new concept has been established in global Islam.
In the Islamic tradition, a fatwa is simply a formal decision by a recognized authority on a matter that has not been decided by existing religious law (Sharia) and case law (fiqh). Most often, believers ask for rulings on specific personal matters that arise in limited circumstances. Myriam Renaud of DePaul University says that a fatwa may address, for example, hygiene, marital relations, business decisions, inheritance, lifestyle issues, or the allegiance believers owe to their nation, and “rarely” calls execution. These rulings are separate from the criminal law and judicial procedures of Islamic governments, which may involve the death penalty.
In some strict Muslim nations, perceived blasphemy against God and his prophet, and apostasy from the faith, are considered crimes punishable by death, creating ongoing contentious cases. But Khomeini has turned countless millions of ordinary Muslims into self-appointed would-be assassins who should kill the apostate anywhere on earth. Theoretically, it could inspire a deranged extremist to execute, say, Barack Obama. The former president, who converted to Christianity, is legally considered a Muslim, and therefore an apostate, because his (non-religious) father was a Muslim.
This order of self-defense still in force ignores the justice and trial procedures established by Islam. He seeks to kill not only a Muslim considered a traitor to the faith, but non-Muslims who worked on the book, which prompted a murder in Japan and attempted murders in Italy and Norway. Expanding far beyond Iran into Muslim communities everywhere, the fatwa sparked hysteria about Sharia and undermined the stature of religion in democracies that uphold freedoms of conscience, speech and the press.
Critics of Khomeini within Islam saw no basis in the Quran for his policy and in fact did the opposite. When people have scoffed at faith, God throughout the Scriptures advocates patience or else withdrawal from association (see 3:186, 4:140, 10:44, 41:34, and 45:14) . Verses that express hostility occur in combat contexts, they argue. On this subject, see the comments in Study Quran (HarperOne, 2015), edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University.
What then could justify self-defense justice à la Khomeini? Militant Muslims can cite precedent in authority Hadith collection of the sayings and deeds of the prophet Muhammad. He asked for volunteers to kill the Jewish poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf because he “hurt Allah and His Apostle” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 64, No. 84). Mustafa Akyol of the Cato and Acton Institutes says reform Muslims believe the poet was executed not only for insulting Muhammad but also for inciting polytheists to wage war against the young Muslim movement. Akyol cites two others Hadith traditions in which Muhammad was lenient towards scoffers.
Aykol says Muslims take three main positions on blasphemy. Today’s “extremist” politics agree with Khomeini that anyone who insults Islam and especially Muhammad deserves death, even if perpetrated by militiamen. The targeting of non-Muslims is legitimate, for example the 17 murders in 2017 at the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The “dominant conservative position”, adopted by the four Sunni schools of legal thought and by Shia jurists, also regards “insulting the Prophet” as a capital crime, but punishable “only by the courts, with due process, and not by terrorism or mob violence. “There is disagreement over whether repentance can remove punishment.
Aykol defends the third “reformist” Muslim view that insults are “morally reprehensible” but cannot be treated as crimes. He argues that “the correct Muslim response is either to counter criticism with reason or to ignore sheer vulgarity with dignity” because it earns “respect for our faith” and demonstrates confidence in it.