Muslims should not be afraid to critically engage on controversial issues in Islam, says arts and culture commentator Kalim Rajab. He was responding to the attack on Durban author Zainub Priya Dala last week, purportedly in response to her praise for the writing style of controversial novelist, Salman Rushdie. The debut novelist was forced off the road and held at knife point last Wednesday, with the unknown assailants also hurling a brick in her face.
Salman Rushdie, an award winning novelist, raised the ire of the global muslim community with his 1988 publication ‘The Satanic Verses’, seen as blasphemous towards Islam. The book became a major issue of contention upon its release, sparking widespread protests and a fatwa issued for his death. This led to several attempts on his life, as well as the murder of the book’s Japanese translator.
Speaking to VOC Drivetime on Monday, Rajab said the attack was not simply a black and white issue, but rather something that was in need of critical address by the Muslim community.
“I do think we should be engaging as a community, and as members of a particular faith. I personally think that, if our faith is going to move forward, closed thinking will not help that. We’ve got to be engaging and open,” he stated.
The attack stems from comments made by Dala at a workshop a day prior, in which she expressed admiration for Rushdie’s writing style. As a result, several audience members got up and left. Rajab said it was the prerogative of those in the crowd to walk out if they were unhappy with her statements.
“I have to say that in terms of people getting up and leaving, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I don’t agree with them myself, and I have no problem with an author expressing their admiration, as I have done, for Salman Rushdie,” he said.
University of Johannesburg academic Safiyyah Surtee agreed that a sentiment of disagreement can be expressed by verbally objecting.
“Yes, her admiration of his writing style does not indicate agreement with the content of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie’s other novels are not offensive to Muslims and have been acclaimed for their style. I think writers, and everyone really, have the right to admire whom they wish. I don’t believe her comments served as a provocation for physical assault in any way whatsoever,” she said.
While Rushdie has been widely condemned by mainstream Muslim clerics, she believed the calls for his death in response to the book were not justified.
“As a Muslim, The Satanic Verses was very offensive, in bad taste and simply poor writing, but I don’t abide by an interpretation of my faith which would allow for a human being to be killed for his or her writing. Different ways of thinking and disagreements are part and parcel of the human experience. We must deal with them with the grace and mercy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).”
Violence, said Rajab, stemmed from a sense of fear and suppression within the Muslim community, whereby people were either unable to, or too scared to speak their mind on controversial topics.
“Have debates and discourse, even if it goes against the grain. It does not mean that your faith is any less,” he stressed.
He urged local Muslims to address the attack with the same ‘not in our name’ slogan that has made headway amongst the global Muslim population, in response to any radical attacks purported in the name of Islam. He also called on people to engage with the material in question, before passing judgment.
“I don’t know how many people have actually read the book, but there shouldn’t be a fear to do that…actually read it yourself rather than just accepting what a Moulana, who probably hasn’t read it either, has said.”
Rajab noted that much of the books controversy stemmed from the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, adding that there were many other books that questioned the Islamic faith, none of which received the same ridicule and condemnation as The Satanic Verses. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)