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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 15:29 GMT

World: South Asia

Muslims 'ready for Rushdie sacrifice'

The Satanic Verses was published 10 years ago

A senior Muslim cleric in India has said that Muslims should be prepared for any sacrifice if Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial novel The Satanic Verses, returns to the land of his birth.

Syed Ahmed Bukhari, deputy priest of India's largest mosque, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, said: "We shall pursue Salman Rushdie relentlessly if he comes to India."

"If we have to give our lives, we are ready," he said.

He was speaking after Muslim Friday prayers.

The British author was accused of insulting the prophet Mohammed when the book came out in 1989 and was sentenced to death under a fatwa issued by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

He was granted a visa to return to India on Wednesday and India's Muslim community has been in turmoil since the news became public.

India - home to 125 million Muslims - was the first country in the world to ban The Satanic Verses.

But the secular Congress Party has since lost power and Muslim leaders see it as no coincidence that the visa has been approved by the government, which is dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

'Inflame religious passions'

Earlier, Syed Ahmad Bukhari had described the decision to grant Mr Rushdie a visa a ploy by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to inflame religious passions.

Mr Bukhari said: "Here is a man who is hated and reviled by Muslims the world over for his book 'The Satanic Verses.' Why is the government giving him so much importance? Why is it letting him come?

Mr Bukhari predicted there would be nationwide demonstrations against Mr Rushdie's visit and said he feared communal violence.

"Hindus and Muslims are already divided over the issue. It could lead to very serious trouble. That is what Hindu fundamentalists want," he said.

'Why shouldn't he visit India?'

However, a BJP spokesman said: "Rushdie is of Indian origin. Why should he be prevented from visiting India when other people are allowed?"

[ image: L K Advani:
L K Advani: "Rushdie is a wonderful writer"
Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani said last year he was an admirer of Rushdie.

He said: "He is an outstanding writer and is welcome to return home."

Since Ayatollah Khomeini's death Iran has gradually distanced itself from the fatwa but many fundamentalist Muslim groups still consider him "public enemy number one". He remains under 24-hour police guard when in the UK.

Mr Rushdie's lawyer Vijay Shankardas says he intends to visit India in the next few weeks.

It is not clear whether he will visit a villa, owned by his family, in the northern hill resort of Solan. It has been restored in recent months with the idea of turning it into an arts centre.

Last year Mr Rushdie spoke about how "hurt and humiliated" he felt by India's rejection.

Despite the visa approval there is no sign that India plans to lift the ban on The Satanic Verses.

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