A NEW attempt by the novelist Salman Rushdie to persuade the authorities in Iran to lift the fatwa (death sentence) imposed on him by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appears to have failed. This is despite Mr. Rushdie's conversion to Islam this week and determined attempts by distinguished Muslim figures, including Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, to help the author.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's religious leader, said yesterday that the fatwa must stand, despite the author's repentance. ``As the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said, the Islamic decree about the author of The Satanic Verses remains unchanged even if he repents and becomes the most pious man of his time,'' he said.
The reactions of radical Muslims in Britain were just as unyielding. Mohammed Siddique, leader of the Muslim Youth Movement of Great Britain, said the author could never be forgiven. Another British Muslim leader, Sher Azam, president of the Council for Mosques in the northern city of Bradford, said the Rushdie statement was ``only a beginning.''
Rushdie, in a formal statement Dec. 24, said he had decided there was no God but Allah and that Muhammed was his last prophet. ``I declare that I do not agree with any statement in my novel The Satanic Verses uttered by any of the characters who insult the Prophet Muhammed or who cast aspersions on Islam or the authenticity of the Holy Koran,'' he said.
Plans to publish a paperback edition of the novel had been canceled, he added. Rushdie was born to Muslim parents but had previously described himself as a lapsed Muslim.
The harsh reactions to the Rushdie statement dismayed Dr. Heshem el-Essawy, chairman of the British-based Islamic Society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance, whose attempts to help the novelist are believed to have been continuing for several months. ``Mr. Rushdie has now embraced the Islamic faith for the first time. Under Islamic law that means that the slate must be wiped clean and his past sins forgiven.''