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Islam and the fiction of Salman Rushdie

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Rushdie
  • Salman -- Criticism And Interpretation
  • Islam And Literature
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Religious Science


While much attention has been paid to the events which followed the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), there has been little detailed examination of the role of Islam in that novel and in the rest of Salman Rushdie's fiction, notably Midnight's Children (1981) and Shame (1983). His portrayals of Islam and Islamic societies are not easily recognizable via the traditional structures of the academic study of Islam. His divergence from the vast majority of Muslim tradition and experience can be seen firstly through his own experiences in India, England, and Pakistan; and secondly through his provocative literary exploration of religious beliefs, something which has few precedents in the history of Islam. By using Islamic elements and symbols in the same way that Western literatures have explored religious themes, Rushdie presents irreverent satire and often scathing criticism of many aspects of Muslim societies and culture. The most significant aspect of this critique is the attempt to subvert what Mohammed Arkoun called "Islamic logocentrism," the tendency to confine all discourse about Islam to a certain narrow field of textual interpretation. Rushdie's treatment of religion is informed by an ideal which sees reading and writing for one's own purposes to be the highest form of spiritual exercise, and when Islam is subordinated to the writer's imagination, he has little reason to uphold the authority or sanctity of its precepts, principles, or history.

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