It's Valentine's Day 1989. Margaret Thatcher is the premier and Kylie, Yazz and Bros make noise. Far from it, the supreme leader of Iran publishes a fatwa demanding the death of the British writer Salman Rushdie – and the effect on the young Muslims in the United Kingdom is enormous.
Alyas Karmani absorbed all that student life had to offer. He grew up in Tooting, South London, in a traditional Pakistani family. His father was a bus driver and unionist. Religion was an important part of Alyas' education but it was not something that particularly interested him.
"We were obedient to our parents, we went to the mosque when it was necessary, but we had a double underground existence," he says. "We were partying, smoking grass, going out with girls and doing everything we could do."
So, when it was time to choose a university, Alyas escaped from his Pakistani Muslim identity and headed 400 km north of Glasgow. "I was running as fast as I could, I was a" Paki hating myself, I did not want brown friends, all my friends were of the liberal mainstream white type. " my crowd. "
In Glasgow, Alyas would become an important part of the student scene. He organized club nights and enjoyed music and dance. "I had a wonderful time and then something really disturbing happened in 1989."
This drawback was the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini, imposed on Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses, widely regarded as blasphemous in the Muslim world. While Alyas did not think that Rushdie should die, he did not think that the satanic verses were acceptable either. Now, he found himself blamed for a fatwa that had nothing to do with him.
"I thought those friends would understand me and accept me, but now they were pointing fingers at each other, and the conversations were like this:" What's wrong with you, why are you doing this? Why did you threaten Salman Rushdie with death? On which side are you with us or against us? It was really as bad as that. "
Alyas had felt uncomfortable going to mosques, which in the 1980s were almost exclusively run by older men, originally from South Asia, whose mother tongue was not English. So Alyas sought Islamic advice from young English-speaking Muslims and found them. Under their influence, he reconnected with the faith of his parents' generation, but took it in a much more radical direction – the focus was on the overall Muslim identity rather than on the personal morality or spirituality.
"It was a counterculture, there was a dress code and a language, I left my non-Muslim friends, and when I left the university, I completely devoted myself to the movement," he said. he.
"It all started with the publication of the Satanic Verses and the way people have pushed me back.That's why I always say that I'm one of Rushdie's children." White liberals m & # 39; Have radicalized. "
The Salafist school of thought in which Alyas became part is more puritanical than traditional South Asian Islam and has obvious political tendencies. Some of the people associated with Alyas ended up fighting in Bosnia, as members of the Bosnian army. He never went to the battlefield, he says because his skills "consisted in promoting ideology".
Listen to the 10-episode Fatwa series from BBC Radio 4 or download the podcast
The Satanic Verses: 30 Years One will air on the BBC Two on Wednesday, February 27 at 9:00 pm
Today, Alyas has softened her approach. "At the time, we saw only binary options: good or bad, with or against Halal or haram, now I prefer shades of gray," he says.
He remains a devout Muslim who defends "the middle way". He is an unconventional imam and a psychologist. He offers his congregations in Huddersfield and Bradford advice on everything from sex to relationships to mental health.
Ed Husain was a few years younger than Alyas when publishing The Satanic Verses. Still at school, he was excited when his father took him to Hyde Park to protest the book.
The demonstration saw cargoes of Muslims from Glasgow, Bradford, Birmingham and elsewhere; about 20,000 people arrived. Community prayers, which had been mainly reserved for the interior of the mosque, were now taking place in public places in London. Rushdie's effigies were burned and placards threatening violence were commonplace. When his father saw people burn the Satanic Verses at Hyde Park, he decided that it was time to leave.
At home, Ed 's father told him that they were not "that kind of Muslim" but the protest had stung Ed' s interest. He began attending the East London Mosque without his father and was inspired by English-speaking imams who were happy to talk politics.
"I came out muslim & # 39;
Salman Rushdie was a hero for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, then a reporter for the New Statesman – not only for his writings, but also for publicly speaking about racism in Britain. So she read the book.
"I was not offended, I'm not that kind of Muslim, but I asked myself," Why are you doing this? "It deliberately read to me as a provocation," she says.
When the Muslims started burning the book, many of Yasmin's white friends were disgusted. "It's very quickly become" them and us. "At dinners, if I said anything to disagree with Rushdie, people would go away! how difficult it has become. "
Yasmin describes what followed as "a moment of awakening". "I went out as a Muslim." I said: "I'm a Muslim." My mother is Muslim, my family is Muslim, and the white liberals I worked with were shocked. They never saw me that way, it was a problem for them. "
"The fatwa put forward the mosque of East London because it was the men who shouted the loudest, they were the people who were protesting down Down Street, they had an ideology that made them relevant. "he says.
This new zeal for political Islam culminated when Edward's father issued an ultimatum: for Ed to live under his roof, he had to give up Islamist politics. It was a difficult choice between what Ed saw as the mundane solace of his parents' home and the divine cause of serving the global Muslim community. Ed chose the last one. He escaped from the house.
The adventure was short-lived because his father wanted him back under his roof, but in the following years, Ed continued on the path of radicalization.
"I joined even more extremist organizations, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, who believed in a global caliphate," he said.
Ed's religious identity was shaped by notions of global injustice and suffering rather than spirituality.
"The parks in which we had protested against Salman Rushdie were now used to protest against the UK's foreign policy.We had gone from one author's opposition to the British government.We were completely politicized. "
The satanic verses
- The post-modern surrealist novel of Salman Rushdie elicits outrage, demonstrations and calls for a ban as soon as it was published in 1988 – but also counter-demonstrations protesting against censorship and the burning of books.
- The fatwa pushes things to a whole new level, causing a global diplomatic crisis
- Fifty-nine people die in the world – this figure includes murdered translators and those who died during protests
- Rushdie himself will be hiding for nine years.
In college, Ed witnessed a deadly attack on a young boy that we thought was Christian. He said that it was the result of a "supremacist spirit of the Muslim state".
"The person who killed him had come to campus and said:" If you have a problem with Kuffar (non-Muslims) call me. A few weeks later, I saw this kid stabbed, wounded lying in the street, convulsing. "
It was a wake up call. Ed realized that he had lost sight of everything he had liked about his faith. He distanced himself from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Later, he became an adviser to Tony Blair and one of the founding members of the anti-extremist think tank, Quilliam.
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