British author Salman Rushdie embraced Islam on Monday, disavowed parts of his novel “The Satanic Verses” that many Muslims have branded as heresy--and said that he feels much safer now from Iranian death threats.
The 43-year-old Rushdie, who was born in India of Muslim parents, has been in hiding under police guard for 22 months since Iran’s late leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, angrily accused him of blasphemy against Islam and offered $1 million to anyone who would kill him.
As recently as earlier this month, Iranian authorities reconfirmed that death threat and the million-dollar bounty for killing him.
Rushdie said in a telephone news conference that it is up to Iranian leaders whether to withdraw the death threat. But he added, “I feel a lot safer tonight than I felt yesterday.”
He spoke to the news conference from a secret hiding place after signing a formal statement.
Rushdie’s statement was made public by Dr. Hesham Essawy, president of the Islamic Society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance in the United Kingdom. In it, Rushdie declared:
“In the presence of his excellency the Egyptian secretary of state for endowment and head of the Supreme Council of Scholars of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mohammed Ali Mahgoub, and a group of Islamic scholars:
“1. To witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his last prophet.
“2. To declare that I do not agree with any statement in my novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ uttered by any of the characters who insults the prophet Mohammed, or casts aspersions upon Islam, or upon the authenticity of the holy Koran, or who rejects the divinity of Allah.
“3. I undertake not to publish the paperback edition of ‘The Satanic Verses’ or to permit any further agreement for translations into other languages while any risk of further offense exists.
“4. I will continue to work for a better understanding of Islam in the world, as I have always attempted to do in the past.”
Rushdie said that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had helped him in his attempts at reconciliation with the Islamic world. “I am very grateful to President Mubarak for his support in this initiative.”
Rushdie’s literary career has thrived on controversy, but nothing earlier in his writing life matched the uproar provoked by “The Satanic Verses” in the Muslim world, especially among fundamentalists who found heresy and blasphemy in his novel.
“The Satanic Verses” has sold more than 1 million copies in English--almost three-quarters of those in the United States. It was translated into 15 languages and banned in more than 20 countries.
Rushdie’s native India was the first to ban the book, taking that step in October, 1988. By February, 1989, when Khomeini publicly condemned Rushdie and offered to pay $1 million for his death, book-burnings and riots were occurring across the Muslim world.
Elsewhere, book-burnings and bombings blamed on reaction by Muslim fundamentalists to “The Satanic Verses” extended from Britain to Berkeley, Calif. Firebombs were hurled through windows of two Berkeley bookstores.
At the same time, bomb threats were being made against Viking Penguin, Rushdie’s U.S. publisher, forcing periodic evacuations of its offices in Manhattan.
“The Satanic Verses” is an allegorical fantasy about the struggle between good and evil, a surrealis-tic journey by an Asian immigrant into an alien Western environment, and it also questions the tenets of Islam.
Islamic scholars were particularly angered by a dream sequence on the temptation of a prophet named Mahoud--a variation of Mohammed--and by Rushdie’s giving prostitutes in the book the names of Mohammed’s wives.
Many Muslims worldwide objected to the implication of Rushdie’s novel that Mohammed wrote the Koran, Islam’s holy book, instead of receiving it from God.
In London on Monday, Essawy said that Rushdie now has a “clean slate” with the Muslim world because he has professed his belief that “there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is his last prophet.”
Rushdie’s formal statement was welcomed by other Muslim leaders, who nonetheless demanded that “The Satanic Verses” be withdrawn entirely from circulation.
“Until the book is completely removed, our campaign goes on,” said Sher Azam of the Council for Mosques in Bradford, where the book has been publicly burned.
Essawy argued that Rushdie could not be sentenced to death as an apostate because he had not been a believing Muslim when he wrote the novel.
He characterized Rushdie as a “convert” and quoted the author as saying: “There is no difference between Rushdie and Islam.”
“This is the community that is close to my heart,” Rushdie told the news conference. “To come closer to it has given me a great deal of joy.”