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A fatwa is a ruling or decision by an Islamic cleric. A fatwa can be a ruling on anything, and fatwas are issued by Islamic clerics all the time on everyday religious subjects, such as dress and behavior. Fatwas on everyday subjects rarely receive mention in the non-Islamic press. Much more controversial are fatwas calling for the death of “heretical” Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Rushdie Fatwa

One of the most famous such “death” fatwas in modern times was the 1989 decree issued by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling for the death of British writer Salman Rushdie. The fatwa declared that Rushdie should be executed for having insulted Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses, published in late 1988. It also called for the death of any editor or publisher involved in publishing the novel. The fatwa read, ...

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