Feroza Jussawalla on Migration in The Satanic Verses

In "Rushdie's Dastan-e-Dilruba: The Satanic Verses as Rushdie's Love Letter to Islam," Feroza Jussawalla makes an interesting argument for viewing the main characters of the novel not as rootless exiles, but as exhibiting characteristics typical of Muslims in India, both by history and by tradition. Their transplanted nature can be seen as part of their heritage rather than as a break with their heritage. She argues that the Persian conquest of India is at least as significant to Rushdie as was the English conquest, and that the Indian Muslim culture he explores in the novel is largely a Persian Mughal import which needs to be seen against a colonialism that goes back half a millenium.

Arguing against Gayatri Spivak's analysis of these characters, she comments:

this is a rather narrow, eurocentric view of postcoloniality, as it sees all colonization as stemming from Europe and in that it sees an individual like Rushdie as the effect of post-European colonization. Rushdie is the European metropolitan intellectual who does not dislodge metropolitan definitions but instead reinscribes them into his roots and his history, which are post--yet another colonization--Muslim colonization.

In contemporary academic criticism, the two main characters of The Satanic Verses, Gibreel Farishta and Salahuddin Chamcha, are seen as the essence of post-European coloniality--as hybrid migrants. But migration and hybridization are not just conditions of recent postcoloniality. They are in Rushdie's work metaphors for the Prophet, who himself was a migrant who took shelter in exile. Rushdie parallels their migration with Mohammed's emigration to Yathrib, where in exile he rethinks his sense of idenity. Both these characters do so too as they find that their liberation from the monstrous states they have grown into (and here Rushdie literally depicts them as monsters), from their doubts and their distance from their faith, can be gained only through their own people, the family that owns the Shandaar cafe, actually the family with another Islamic metaphor, the family of Hind Sufayan. Though the Sufayans had originally been opposed to Mohammed, through a series of treaties, Abu Sufayan himself, a powerful campaign organizer, remained neutral in the battle against Medina. Mohammed had granted complete immunity to any Medinans who took shelter in the Sufayan's home. Thus it is that Rushdie's character, the contemporary mohajir (immigrant), Saladin Chamcha, takes shelter in the Sufayan home and is liberated only through them. Rushdie is in fact saying that liberation from this "subaltern" status can only be achieved by turning to one's roots and one's religious/national group/family.

Thus, Gibreel Farishta and Salahuddin Chamcha reject their categorization as half-breed bowler-hatted Englishmen and stretch backward into their Islamic history which they reclaim in a celebration of their heritage--a celebration that has been misunderstood largely by contemporary critics such as Homi Bhabha, who classifies these fictional characters and their real-world counterparts as subalterns in a marginalized space. It is this interpretation of the work that those who actually occupy the marginal spaces in metropolitan London--the Muslims of Bradford and Brick Lane--have been deceived by. They have been led by all the Western press's interpretations, which are largely dependent on academic interpretations, to see Rushdie's fictional characters as caricatures of themselves. They therefore attempt to reject this caricature of themselves as violently as they can through book burnings and so on.

"Rushdie's Dastan-e-Dilruba," pp. 60-61.