What Religion is Salman Rushdie?

Salman Rushdie is a famous and controversial British Indian novelist known for books like Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. His writing frequently examines themes of migration, identity, religion and history.

Rushdie was born to a Muslim family but has renounced religion as an adult. His religious background and critique of religion in his books, especially Islam, has made Rushdie a target for religious extremists.

What is Salman Rushdie’s Religious Background?

Salman Rushdie was born in 1947 in Bombay, India to a wealthy Muslim family. His father, Anis Ahmed Rushdie, was a businessman and his mother, Negin Bhatt, was a teacher. The Rushdies were an affluent Muslim family originally from Kashmir.

Rushdie’s family and early life steeped him in Islamic culture and teachings. As a boy, Rushdie attended the Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay, where he studied Islamic history among other subjects.

He later went to the Rugby School in England. In his memoir Joseph Anton, Rushdie writes about reciting Quranic verses as a child and being taught the traditions of Islam.

However, Rushdie never fully embraced the religion. In Joseph Anton, he writes:

“As a child, Salman Rushdie was a believing Muslim. He has written that, when he was nine or ten years old, a mullah came to his family’s house to instruct him in Quranic recitation and Muslim belief. But Rushdie’s ‘belief faded rapidly,’ in his words, and he became an atheist.”

So while Rushdie came from a Muslim background and upbringing, he renounced Islam as a child and became an atheist. This break from his familial religion foreshadowed Rushdie’s future critical writings about religion.

Did the Controversy Over The Satanic Verses Cause Rushdie to Rethink His Religion?

Rushdie’s most famous book, The Satanic Verses, directly criticized and satirized Islam. This led Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989. But despite the threats on his life, Rushdie did not re-embrace his Islamic roots.

Some thought the fatwa would push Rushdie to repent and return to Islam. But Rushdie rejected any such notion. In an interview with PBS in 2012, Rushdie said:

“I’m not a Muslim. You know, I’m not religious at all. I was brought up in — you know, my family, — I went to a kind of Anglican Cathedral boys’ school. So I was brought up in a tiny sliver of the Christian community in Karachi, Pakistan.”

Rather than bring him back to religion, the controversy solidified Rushdie’s stance as an outspoken atheist and critic of religious dogma. He declined to meet with Muslim leaders who said they could broker a lifting of the fatwa if Rushdie re-accepted Islam. Rushdie responded that he “did not like the idea that a compromise could be reached which involved him making some kind of statement reaffirming his adherence to the Muslim faith.”

What Does Rushdie Believe In Now Regarding Religion and God?

In the decades since the original fatwa, Rushdie has become an advocate for freedom from religious tyranny. He sees modern life as a secular, humanist experience – not defined by historic organized religions and dogmas.

In a 2015 interview, Rushdie described his views:

“Well, I’m an atheist. And I feel very sympathetic to the generalized critique of religious dogma, which I think has done terrible harm to human civilization for a very long time. I wish we could live in a more secular age. But, you know, I don’t think I would ever deny Muslim faith to Muslims. If people choose to believe, that’s their right.”

Rushdie believes Islamic teachings have harmed civilization historically. But his views allow for individual spirituality and freedom of belief. So while Rushdie is an atheist who rejects religious institutions, he supports the right of private faith.

Rushdie elaborated on this perspective in an interview with Point of Inquiry:

“It seems to me clear that in the course of human history, religious faith has often been an extremely positive force. Liberation theology, for instance, played a large role in resisting oppression in Latin America.

On the other hand, it’s equally clear that the warring camps in Northern Ireland actually share the same view of God. Religious conviction is a great motivator of altruism, but it’s also been the motivator of tremendous cruelty.”

This nuanced take shows Rushdie doesn’t see religion in black-and-white terms. He can allow that faith drives both good and evil actions in people. This balanced view informs his belief that society should embrace secular humanism while permitting private religious devotion.

What Religious Tradition Do Rushdie’s Children Follow?

Rushdie has been married four times and has two sons, Zafar and Milan. Rushdie did not raise his children to be religious. In an interview with Metro he said:

“I did not bring my children up as Muslims simply because I lived in a part of the world where my survival depended on appearing to be what I wasn’t, what I couldn’t be.”

But his son Zafar has tweeted that he considers himself to be culturally Muslim. Zafar has defended his father from critics and death threats linked to The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie’s younger son Milan was born in 1999. In an interview last year, Milan said his father raised him without religion but gave him an open mind:

“My dad brought me up culturally Muslim, but he’s not religious in any way. He gave me the access to discover it on my own terms.”

Therefore, while not devout, Rushdie’s sons appear to have a loose cultural Muslim affiliation, even as their father firmly rejects Islamic faith and doctrine.


In summary, Salman Rushdie was born into a Muslim family but renounced religion at a young age. His controversial writings frequently criticize and satirize Islam. The threats on his life after The Satanic Verses did not cause Rushdie to re-embrace religion.

He identifies as an atheist who supports secular humanism and freedom from religious institutions. Rushdie advocates an open society where faith is an individual choice, not a cultural imperative.

This worldview influenced how he raised his sons without a strong religious identity. More than 30 years after the original fatwa, Rushdie remains an outspoken atheist advocate.

FAQ about Salman Rushdie’s Religion

What was Salman Rushdie’s religious upbringing as a child?

Rushdie was raised in a Muslim family in India. He attended mosque and Quranic classes as a boy. However, Rushdie renounced Islam around age 10 and became an atheist.

Why did Islamic leaders issue a fatwa against Rushdie?

In 1988 Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, a novel that contains satirical portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims considered blasphemous. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.

Did the fatwa cause Rushdie to re-embrace Islam?

No, Rushdie further solidified his stance as an atheist critical of religion in the aftermath of the controversy over The Satanic Verses. He continues to identify as non-religious.

What religion do Rushdie’s sons follow?

Rushdie raised his sons Zafar and Milan without any religious affiliation. However, they have both said they loosely identify with Islamic cultural traditions.

Is Salman Rushdie an outspoken atheist?

Yes, Rushdie is an advocate for secular humanism over religious dogma. He sees faith as a private matter of individual conscience, not cultural imperative. Rushdie frequently speaks against Islamic doctrine.

How did Rushdie view religion in his memoir Joseph Anton?

In his 2012 memoir, Rushdie is critical of Islamic teachings but says he supports the right of Muslims to believe if they choose. He advocates freedom from tyrannical religious institutions.

Does Rushdie believe religion has historically harmed civilization?

Rushdie thinks Islamic doctrine in particular has negatively impacted society over time. However, he allows religion can also be a force for good, citing liberation theology as a positive example.

Does Rushdie think society should be more secular?

Yes, Rushdie has said he wishes society could live in a more secular age not dominated by religious factions and agendas. He thinks faith should be private.

Did Rushdie raise his children as atheists like himself?

Rushdie did not bring up his sons as religious. However, they have both said they loosely identify as cultural Muslims, while not being devout.

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