It is perfectly natural that Muslims should feel outrage at Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, a deranged novel which insults prophets and suhaba (prophets' companions), very often taking their original names. It is also perfectly natural that we express these feelings of outrage in various legitimate ways. But believers never let emotions so overpower themselves as to loose sight of fundamental realities. They see things with the light of God.
The first fundamental reality we need to keep in mind in that Rushdie's book is outrageous because it insults the prophets and insulting the prophets is rejecting them and rejecting them is kufr (rejection of God and His Communication) and kufr is outrageous and leads to hellfire. If Rushdie's book is judged not to be kufr, then all the emotional reaction against it must be regarded as grossly exaggerated and a considerable waste of time and emotional energy.
Another sober reality to keep in mind is that Rushdie's variety of kufr is not the most serious nor is it the most harmful for Islam.Qadiyani (Ahmadis) and Secularist forms of kufr are far more serious and harmful. No Muslim can be mislead, unless he is already munafiq (hypocrite), by Rushdie's book, since it is so openly and so outrageously against Islam. But millions of innocent Muslims have been mislead by Qadiyani religion, since outwardly it appears to be like Islam.
Secularism is even worse, since it has not been as widely recognized to be kufr even though it has destroyed the power of Islam. Most Muslim countries today are under secularist rule and their secularist rulers command people to disobey Allah. For example, in Turkey and some other Middle Eastern countries, Muslim women have sometimes been prohibited from wearing hijab, which is something that Allah has commanded. If there is anything kufr, it is to tell people to disobey Allah's commandment.
Yet it is ironic that we do not react to Qadiyani and secularist kufr in the same way that we have reacted to Rushdie's variety of relatively harmless kufr. In some ethnic associations, members are joining the Muslim Ummah in condemning Salman Rushdie's work. But some of these same members, do not hesitate to befriend the Qadiyanis and the secularists and to run elections hand-in-hand with them. More than that, these same members have turned against those Muslims who have pointed this fact to them and to the Muslim community. There can be little doubt that if in these associations there were some followers of Salman Rushdie some of our position hungry "brothers" would be busy forging alliances with them in order to get their votes.
But maybe Rushdie does have followers in ethnic associations. It is noteworthy that Rushdie describes himself as a "secularist Muslim" which is, of course, a contradiction in terms. Now in ethnic associations there are quite a few people who also describe themselves as "secularist Muslims".
It is certain that in most major cities in North America and Britain there are some very committed secularists of Indo-Pakistani and Muslim origin. They are in touch with each other and they provide each other with moral support and ideas. They also try to infiltrate Muslim organizations, which is quite easy to do, since most Muslims are unaware of, or indifferent to, the dangers faced by Islam and Muslims. They are either busy praying or making money or both.
Why did he do it?
It may be instructive to try to understand the mentality of Salman Rushdie and his motives for writing a book so offensive to so many people. It seems that the key to the understanding of Rushdie's mentality is provided by a statement by Tom Brokaw of NBC news. Rushdie, he said, thrives on celebrity. Rushdie is like a child who needs to be the center of attention. One of the cheapest ways to catch attention is to insult or harm a great or famous personality. This is the strategy used by those mad individuals who have assassinated or tried to assassinate, U.S. presidents in order to catch the word's attention and make a name for themselves in history. Salman Rushdie has tried to win attention and fame by assassinating the characters of some of the worthiest human beings who ever lived: prophets and suhaba.
What can we do?
In the last analysis there is not very much that one can do to curb the evil of Rushdie's work. Every step one takes has both advantages and serious disadvantages. Thus, if you protest against the book, some people will become aware of its evil and of the great love and reverence Muslims have for the prophet. But protests also increase sales and make the author and the publishers wealthy, famous, and therefore happy. Threats to the life or wealth of key individuals is indeed effective in making them cautious but public threats of actions illegal in the western countries are harmful to Islamic and Muslims interests in other ways. Ignoring the book would have been the best solution, since the book is relatively dull and would have faded away by boring its non-Muslim readers and disgusting the Muslim readers. But the great disadvantage of this solution is that it is practically impossible, since somewhere in the vast Muslim Ummah someone is bound to get excited at the blasphemous book and then this excitement is bound to spread like fire.
If Muslim governments got together and used their financial power to pressure the West, the book would have probably been banned. But the kings and dictators who rule the Muslim world have no will to exert such power: they use such power only against films as "Death of a Princess" which presents them negatively. Moreover, use of such power against one relatively less serious threat to Islam may be disproportionately costly for the Ummah. In short, in the face of Rushdie the Muslim Ummah is like an elephant against a tiny irritating insect.
LET US MOVE ON
The best thing an elephant irritated by an insect can do is to move to another place and this is what we should do. Let us move on and get busy with the work of building the Ummah and clearing the mess created by centuries of neglect. After all, Salman Rushdie is a product of the mess in which we find ourselves and which is reducing respect for Muslim civilization in successive generations of Muslims.
There are many things each one of us can do to strengthen Islam and move the Ummah forward in his or her small way and in his or her small circle. Some of these things are very easy. For example, in future elections in our ethnic associations we can use our vote or the vote of our friends to defeat the Qadiyanis, secularists and those Muslims who sympathize with them and support them and to bring into the board those sincere Muslims who will build things for the glory of Islam, for the honour of Muhammad and for the welfare of fellow Muslims.
First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1989. Copyright Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.