When the invading Red Army of World War-II repute met its Waterloo in the rugged terrains of Pakistan’s “strategic depth” during eighties amid tumbling world order, the Ayatollah’s statements resonated in the valley. In the post-revolution era, the mystic raised his own audience in the faraway land where Persian influence was a part of life.
In 1989, for three consecutive days, Kashmir was burning at its core.
Word had spread that one of its natives settled abroad in London had published a blasphemous book bashing the region’s majoritarian religion, Islam and its Last Prophet, Muhammad [PBUH) by misusing certain verses of the Holy Book, Qur’an.
In a statement to an India Today reporter, Jammu and Kashmir’s then Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah had said, “The book is a product of the mischievous and lunatic brain…All its copies should be consigned to flames.”
Demonstrations lined up against the streets as locals clashed with armed forces personnel, expressing their rage over the native’s blatant disregard of his hometown’s faith. The Indian government, along with four other countries, in an attempt to cool the chaos, banned the book’s existence from its territory.
That book was “The Satanic Verses” and that native was noted British author, Salman Rushdie, born to Kashmiri Muslim parents in then Bombay.
Violence escalated rapidly worldwide as stores hoarding the book were torched, contributors were targeted and several copies burnt. Appeals heralding for calm and logic were unheard, with Muslims proclaiming infringement on their rights and demanding that action be taken against Rushdie.
And action did come, though, in a manner none could have ever anticipated.
On 14th February, the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a revered political jurist and a religious cleric, Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Mosavi Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious decree) on Rushdie’s book, condemning him and the contents of it to death. Aired on Tehran radio, his statement said:
In the name of God,
We are from God and to God we shall return:
I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qu’ran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. Whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, God Willing. Meanwhile if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that [Rushdie] is punished for his actions.
May peace and blessings of Allah be upon you,
Ruhollah Al-Musavi al-Khomeini
In a matter of time, the initial bounty reward on the author’s head of $1 million quickly surpassed $6 million.
Western governments denounced the fatwa and public opinion outside of Iran began to rapidly form against the Ayatollah. Articles and cartoons targeted his apparent hypocrisy and his extremist stance on opposition against the religion, dubbing it to be a war against the freedom of speech.
International media banged tables and cried foul over the mullah’s words, broadcasting their political interests and deep rooted belief in differing opinions and the diversity of one’s faith.
In the moments following Khomeini’s declaration, however, an explosion of light swirled the Valley into action.
Rumors and claims of Ayatollah Khomeini’s perceived ancestry in Kashmir was enough to hear his unapologetic decree. Thousands pushed their way across the empty streets and loudly chanted slogans favoring the leader’s call, strengthening an even deeper connection that existed between the white-bearded mystic and the pink tea loving people.
Eventually, Rushdie, in a statement of apology many deemed to be condescending, expressed his regret over the distress he had caused to the community. Ayatollah Khomeini, however, refused to revoke the fatwa, stating that “even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell.”
It was a statement that his advocates say showcased to the world for the first time Islam’s disallowance of insults or mockery to its beliefs. A statement that gave it a rightful place among swarming ideologies in a modern era.
This defining moment, one of many, in the Ayatollah’s tenure as the first Islamic Leader of Iran led several to turn and perpetuate a sour eye to the revolution. What they had initially perceived to be a one-man army overthrowing the monarchial and dictatorial regime of Reza Shah had horrifyingly turned into a state governed by conservative clerics and religious fundamentalists who had no regard for human rights and free speech.
His unapologetic sermons, denouncing America and Israel beckoned forth what would be considered the classic war of ideologies between Islam and the West. For a lot of people, including Muslims, he seemed like a troubling figure who could strain international relations and trade between the West and other neutral Muslim countries.
In 2002, more than a decade later, The International Affairs Department of the Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works translated a forgotten book of mystical poetry that had been written by Ruhollah during his active years spearheading the revolution, titled, ‘The Wine of Love’.
The verses of his Persian poetry contained gnostic expressions and mystical meanings explaining the divine relationship he enjoyed with his ‘Friend’, i.e, the Almighty.
Kiss the hand of the shaykh who has pronounced me a disbeliever.
Congratulate the guard who has led me away in chains.
I’m going into a solitary retreat
from noon by the door of the Magus…
The translator, while explaining the verses, wrote, “Pronouncing that someone is a disbeliever is the job of the official clergy, as Imam Khomeini in his official capacity as a jurist condemned Salman Rushdie. Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that the decree [fatwa] was issued right about the time that this poem was written.”
Two decades ago, in the mid-1970s, while setting the soil for his revolutionary message in Kashmir, the timeline of events that occurred in a steadfast procession played a significant and evolutionary role in preparation of the inevitable turbulence.
Resistance leader Maqbool Bhat, who, had gone across the LoC, went underground and had been arrested on his return to Kashmir, was making efforts to sprout an indigenous Kashmiri movement which would be independent of Pakistan.
Outside the turmoil in the region, the Red Army of Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, leading both the US and Pakistan to become involved in secretly aiding opponents of the socialist regime in Kabul, called the ‘Mujahideen’.
According to Rashid Maqbool, the media played an important role in portraying a certain picture of the battle in Afghanistan. “The word ‘Mujahid’ was used even by conservative television channels like Fox Television, and was circulated among all leading newspapers in America. At that time, the Western regime was quite comfortable using it, since they were backing it financially and providing weapons. They believed that Afghanistan was a potent force through which they could break Soviet Russia and win the ideological war.”
The United States was successful in framing the war against Russia in Afghanistan to be a holy war, or ‘Jihad’, which became a rallying point for Muslims in neighboring countries to flock in large numbers and fight alongside them.
At that time, the succession of events seemingly led many to believe that there could only be two ideologies between which a country could choose—either the capitalist or the communist ideology.
Religion had been given an inferior and null position among the leading countries, forcing many Muslim intellectuals to join the camps of communism. Noted figures like Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Josh Malleabadi, among others were traced as advocates of Soviet Russia’s ideology, with Iqbal being attributed to have had famously penned about Karl Marx:
“That Moses without Tajalli*(g),
That Christ without cross,
He is not a prophet,
But keeps the Book for specious appearance.”
However, a paper published by Dr. Waheed Ishrat from Iqbal Academy, titled, “Iqbal and Communism”, in the Urdu daily Nawa-i-Waqt of Lahore for April 21, 1987 in response to a letter stating that some books were being published in the Sindhi language in which Iqbal, on the basis of his revolutionary poetry, was being shown as ‘a communist as well as a cherisher of communism’, argued otherwise.
The paper quoted Iqbal’s article in a Lahore daily, ‘Zamindar’, explaining his standpoint.
“I am a Muslim and believe, on the basis of logical reasoning, that the Holy Qur’an has offered the best cure for the economic maladies of human societies. No doubt the power of capitalism is a curse if it exceeds the limits of the happy mean. But its complete elimination is not the right way for freeing the world from its evils as the Bolsheviks propose.”
Interestingly, Iqbal accredited the idea of communism to ‘Mazdaqiyat’, an Urdu term referring to Iranian philosopher, sociologist and revolutionary ‘Mazdak’, who was said to have had existed during the reign of the Sasanian emperor Kavadh-I and whose beliefs were later considered to be an early form of Communism. Mazdak granted his followers the freedom of engaging in sexual relations without limits of blood or property and to be critical of the powerful position the elite clergy held during that time. Iqbal writes:
“I know as I am aware of the secret of the future
That Mazdakiyat is not a menace ahead
But it is Islam that worries.”
Thus, owing to the recent influx of new ideas and the pressure of choosing a side, when Muslims began to believe that there was no other option for them except to support communism, Ayatollah Khomeini brought religion back into the mainstream discourse; into the political, economic and social spheres.
By raising the sinking ship of religion, he asserted his presence and their objective to compete. His popular slogan traced to Qutb, that echoes among many even today was proclaimed henceforth: “Neither East nor West, only Islam, only Islam.”
As the year 1980 arrived and the ‘honeymoon phase’ of the revolution chugged ahead in full throttle, the roots of the Iraq conflict beginning to peek out, a message by Ayatollah Khomeini to a delegation comprising of Iranians on their way to perform the annual holy pilgrimage of Islam (Hajj) promptly read:
“Rely on the Islamic culture and fight against the West and intoxication with the West and stand on your own feet and attack the ‘West-intoxicated’ and ‘East-intoxicated’ intellectuals to preserve your identity and be aware that the hired intellectuals have brought a calamity to their nation and country, that unless you unite and rely exactly on genuine Islam, what has already happened to you will happen again.”
In reality, not known to the exoteric world, the real test of the revolution had just begun.
To be continued.