Last week, 24-year-old Hadi Matar left New Jersey for Chautauqua, New York. He said he wouldn’t be coming back for awhile. He arrived early with a fake ID and an advanced pass to a lecture by famous author Salman Rushdie. On August 12, Matar put on a black mask, grabbed a knife, stormed the stage, and attacked Rushdie.
This wasn’t the 75-year-old author’s first brush with danger. Rushdie has spent decades with a bounty on his head—all because of his writing.
Rushdie comes from a Muslim family but considers himself an atheist. In 1988, he released a novel called The Satanic Verses.
Christians believe the entire Bible is inspired by God. Muslims believe the Qur'an is inspired by God—but not necessarily the entire Qur'an. Unlike Christians, many Muslims believe parts of their religious text were written by mistake. They call these the “Satanic Verses.”
In Rushdie’s novel, he questions the origins of Islam. He suggests the prophet Mohammed—not God—came up with the Qur'an.
The novel infuriated many Muslims. In 1989, Iran’s supreme leader issued a fatwa. This religious declaration ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie.
Rushdie went into hiding for nine years under a British government protection program. Then he carefully resumed public appearances, avoiding violence—until now.
In a statement, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden expressed their sadness at the attack: “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Rushdie questioned Islam through his writing. To many Muslims, that amounts to blasphemy. But does a true religion need to fear free speech and questioning?
Rushdie survived, but with life-altering injuries. As of August 13, he could speak and joke again. Iran denies involvement, but some Iranians praise the attack. The fatwa declared decades ago remains in effect.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. — James 3:17
(Salman Rushdie at the 68th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner in 2017. AP/Evan Agostini/Invision)