Salman Rushdie keep going admitted to the hospital recovering from the brutal attack he suffered last Friday, when a man burst onto the stage where he was about to offer a conference and stabbed him before the stunned audience.
The writer’s ordeal, however, dates back decades, after his book ‘The Satanic Verses’, published in 1988, unleashed the wrath of Islamic fundamentalism for considering it blasphemous. A year later, Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa asking for his head.
Since then, the novelist has lived more than three decades besieged by constant threats and, for several years, in hiding, hidden under a false name. A curse that extends to other people who participated in the translation or edition of the novel and that cost the life of Hitoshi Igarashi, stabbed to death for translating it to Japanese. Translators into other languages and its publisher in Norway also suffered attempts on their lives for their relationship with the book.
But the conviction that has dogged Rushdie for decades actually stems from a translation error. This is how Antonio Maestre remembered it last Friday in Más Vale Tarde, shortly after the news of the attack was known. As he explained, the threats against Rushdie stem from “a wrong translation that was done in the 19th century” from a part of the Koran.
“A translation can mean death”
Indeed, in his book Rushdie reflects on some verses that Muhammad removed from the Koran because, according to the Muslim tradition itself, Satan inspired them to confuse you. The problem comes from the name of those verses, which in turn give the novel its name.
This is how he explained it to now what leo the translator and writer Nuria Barrioswho reflects precisely about the mistranslations of sacred texts in his book ‘The impostor‘. “Translations are not something trivial, something innocuous, a translation can mean the death of a person“, he warned in that interview. He was referring precisely to the Rushdie case and the attacks against his collaborators.
The expert emphasized that Khomeini did not issue the fatwa against the author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ because he considered the content of the book heretical, but because of his titleWhat is it a bad translation. “They consider that the title refers to the Koran and the Koran is being pointed out as a satanic book“, he explained.
Barrios specified that everything refers to the wording of the Koran itself: Muhammad initially included in the text some verses in which he made reference to three local goddesses. However, those verses were heretical in themselves, “because there is no god but Allah”, so the prophet subsequently suppresses them and “justifies himself by saying that these verses have been inspired by Satan”.
In Arabic, the author deepened, these verses are named with a word that translates as ‘cranes‘, but the British Orientalists at the end of the last century, instead of using that term, called them ‘satanic verses‘.
The controversy, in the title
On the other hand, Salman Rushdie originally wrote his novel in English, but when it was translated into Arabic, the expression ‘satanic verses’ “translates literally and the translation refers to the entire Qur’an”. “The part is translated as the whole”, summarized Barrios, who explained that this error was a “revulsion in the world of translation” due to its terrible consequences for all those involved in the work, to the point that even today the identity of his translator into Spanish is unknown.
In his opinion, the Ayatollah’s condemnation “highlighted the fact that one must be very careful with the translation, because words are loaded with dynamite and the interpretation of the same, of double dynamite”.
In the same sense, the translator and writer Mariano Antolín Rato addresses in this article for the Cervantes Virtual Center how the British Orientalists coined the expression “satanic verses” to refer to what is known in Arabic as “gharaniq“.
Rushdie’s book, for its part, would be translated into Arabic as “Al-Ayat ash-Shataniya” and, as Rato explains, ‘Shataniya’ means “Satan” and ‘ayat’, “the verses of the Koran”. Thus, the title in arabic implied a blasphemy: that Satan composed the Koran, something that has nothing to do with the content of the novel and that almost cost the life of its author.