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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Words can never hurt us - Inayat Bunglawala

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses.

At the time, extracts from the novel were circulated by some Islamic organisations to mosques and Islamic societies across the country to help acquaint British Muslims with its contents.

I was in my second year at university and could not comprehend why someone like Rushdie, who had been brought up in a Muslim family, would write a provocative novel that he must have known would cause offence to millions of people.

Why constantly refer to the Prophet Muhammad as Mahound, the old medieval name for the devil? And to have a group of prostitutes in a brothel to take on the names of the prophet's wives in order to better arouse their clients – what was Rushdie thinking?


As per Islamic tradition, I have spent this month of Ramadan re-reading and studying the Qur'an. It is an unfailingly joyous experience. Every time I read it I marvel at the achievements of the Prophet Muhammad. He was the restorer of a pristine monotheism, blessedly free from the confusing Christian doctrine of the trinity and the narrow Hebrew tribalism of Judaism. His revolution in Arabia changed the course of human history and launched the Arabs on to the world stage for the first time.

The point I am trying to make is that his achievements are by no means diminished simply because of the writings of Rushdie or the Jewel of Medina author, Sherry Jones.

The Qur'an records the prophet being vilified as a "madman" and a "sorcerer" by his pagan opponents. The Qur'an consoled the prophet against these taunts and urged him to be patient while assuring him that "soon you will see and they will see which of you is afflicted with madness" (chapter 68, verses 5-6).

Let Rushdie, Jones and co write as they please. Muslims are likewise at liberty to use those very same freedoms to promote their own understanding of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad.

So what will happen when the Jewel of Medina is published next month? If the views articulated by my correspondents now constitute the majority view amongst British Muslims then that would be a hopeful sign.


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