Rushdie earned a fatwa from Iran's Islamic regime in 1989 sentencing him to death for his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which forced the British writer to live in hiding under police protection for years. — File Photo

NEW DELHI: British author Salman Rushdie has dismissed demands by an influential Islamic seminary in India that he should be banned from entering the country to attend a literature festival later this month.

Rushdie, who was threatened with death in a “fatwa” order from Iran over his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”, is due to speak in the city of Jaipur alongside fellow writers such as Lionel Shriver and Richard Dawkins.

Maulana Qasim Nomani, an official of the Darululoom Deoband seminary, called for India to cancel Rushdie’s visa, saying that “the man whose blasphemous writings have hurt the sentiments of Muslims all over the world must not be allowed to set foot on Indian soil.” Rushdie – who was born in Mumbai in 1947 -- responded late on Monday by pointing out on Twitter that he did not need a visa to visit India.

The novelist spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989 calling for his death for alleged blasphemy against Islam in “The Satanic Verses”.

The Times of India said on Tuesday that Rushdie had visited India dozens of times over the last 20 years and it accused the seminary of trying to link the issue to state elections in Uttar Pradesh that begin on February 8.

“Whenever Rushdie has come here, we have always condemned it,” Maulana Abdul Khaliq, seminary deputy vice chancellor, told AFP. “People who admire him can go and find him abroad.” The seminary, which is located in Uttar Pradesh, was at the centre of a row last year between reform-minded new rector Gulam Mohammed Vastanvi and the school’s traditionalists.

Vastanvi said he was sacked six months into his job for trying to modernise the curriculum, which is based on a 17th-century syllabus that focuses on Islamic law and spirituality.

Organisers of the Jaipur festival said Rushdie had attended literary events in India without incident in recent years, and was still scheduled to speak on January 20 and 21.

“In plural societies such as ours, it is imperative that we continue to allow avenues for unfettered literary expression,” they said in a statement.

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