The Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church sanctuary was packed, standing room only, to hear world-renowned author Salmon Rushdie speak at the Mississippi Book Festival earlier this month.
The crowd was a testament to how much Mississippians love literature. Indeed, the phenomenal success of this festival is heartening in a time of superficial social media domination.
But the Rushdie crowd illustrated something special: That Mississippians would not be cowed by Islamic fanaticism, even at the risk of their personal safety.
You see, the government of Iran has issued a fatwā against Rushdie, calling for his immediate execution for writing a book its Muslim leaders found offensive.
According to Wikipedia, the publication of “The Satanic Verses” in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was seen by some to be an irreverent depiction of Muhammad. The title refers to a disputed Muslim tradition that is related in the book.
According to this tradition, Muhammad added verses to the Qur’an accepting three goddesses who used to be worshiped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the “Satanic” verses). However, in Rushdie’s novel, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gabriel.
The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities (13 in total: Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore, Venezuela, and Pakistan).
In response to the protests, on January 22, 1989, Rushdie published a column in The Observer that called Muhammad “one of the great geniuses of world history,” but noted that Islamic doctrine holds Muhammad to be human, and in no way perfect. He held that the novel is not “an anti-religious novel. It is, however, an attempt to write about migration, its stresses and transformations.”
On February 14, 1989, a fatwā ordering Rushdie’s execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, calling the book “blasphemous against Islam.” A bounty was offered for Rushdie’s death and he was thus forced to live under police protection for several years. In March of 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.
When asked by a reporter for a response to the threat, Rushdie said, “I wish I had written a more critical book.” Later, he wrote that he was “proud, then and always,” of that statement; while he did not feel his book was especially critical of Islam, “a religion whose leaders behaved in this way could probably use a little criticism.”
To Americans, it is inconceivable to think our government would call for a person’s execution based on a novel that mentioned Jesus Christ in a different light. That’s because we live in a free country dominated by a religion that accommodates dissent and would never kill in the name of its leader.
Not only did Jesus Christ abhor violence, but He preached that you should love your enemies.
In Matthew 5: 43-48, part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
There could be no two religions more different than Christianity and Islam. Christianity is all about loving your neighbor to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Islam is all about subjugating infidels to the point of death. Christianity’s power comes from Jesus sacrificing Himself for us on the cross. Islam’s power comes from the sword.
Islam wants to run the government. It wants total power. Sharia law is part of the Islam and it consists of an ancient, draconian form of law and order such as stoning gay people and subjugating women.
Christianity doesn’t want to run the government. It wants to change your heart. When officials tried to trick Jesus into defying the Roman emperor, which could be an excuse to arrest him, Jesus said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This laid the foundation for the separation of church and state and allows our democratic republic to operate in harmony with Christianity.
Of the world’s 7.2 billion people, 2.4 billion are Christians and 1.8 billion are Muslim. Truly, these two religions are battling for the soul of mankind. Now that communism is dead, it is the biggest ideological battle in the world today.
As we speak, relations between the United States and Turkey are at an all-time low because Turkey continues to imprison Andrew Brunson, a Christian missionary, on trumped up spy charges. Can you imagine something like that ever happening in our country? President Trump’s willingness to stand up to Turkey over the Brunson affair explains why American Christians are willing to give him a pass on his sinful behavior.
It would be nice to embrace the concept of religious tolerance but it takes two to tango. The Muslim religion needs its own Reformation. Until then, the world is in a titanic religious battle and there is no easy resolution. There will be much bloodshed ahead.
That being said, it was encouraging to see that Mississippians were not intimidated in the least by the violent, fanatic fatwās of Iran’s religious and government leaders.
Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.