Once again Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel has become the hot topic of discussion across the nation. It all started when the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, an Islamic school in India, issued a demand that Rushdie be denied a visa for his scheduled appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The vice-chancellor claimed that Salman has played with the sentiments of millions of Indian muslims through his blasphemous novel, Satanic Verses. Finally, Rushdie decided not to attend the festival due to fear of his possible assassination attempts. Such controversies are not new for Salman Rushdie. Way back in 1989, when this novel was published, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the erstwhile supreme leader of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. Let’s see why muslims hate this novel?
If you carefully see the title, you may realize that the title itself is controversial. It indirectly compares verses of the Quran with Satanic verses. It also suggests that Quran is “the work of devil”. The novel deals with an ancient legend about the Prophet Muhammad, founder of the Islamic religion. Legend has it that Muhammad, who received the Word of God directly from the Archangel Gabriel, was one day tricked by the devil into including satanic verses in the holy book of the Quran. These “Satanic Verses” are therefore not found in the Qur’an, but are described by Ibn Ishaq in the first biography of Muhammad, and also appear in other biographies of the prophet’s life. The disputed verses permitted prayers of intercession to be made to three pre-Islamic Meccan goddesses: All?t, Uzza, and Manah- a violation of the Islamic principle of monotheism. The utterance and withdrawal of the so-called Satanic Verses forms an important subplot in the novel, which recounts several episodes in the life of Muhammad.
The phrase Arab historians and later Muslims used to describe the incident of the withdrawn verses, however, was not “Satanic verses”, but gharaniq (“birds”) verses. The phrase ‘Satanic verses’ was unknown to Muslims, and was coined by Western academics specializing in the study of Middle Eastern culture (most notably William Montgomery Watt in his book Muhammed, Prophet and Statesman, according to scholar Daniel Pipes).
Rushdie’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, and several other elements of the novel, are also considered highly controversial or outright blasphemous. According to Islamic Studies scholar Anthony McRoy, these include the use of the name Mahound, a derogatory term for Muhammad used during the Crusades; and the use of the term Jahilia, denoting the ‘time of ignorance’ before Islam, for the holy city of Mecca. In addition, in Rushdie’s novel a film star becomes the Angel Gibreel (Gabriel), while a character named Saladin, (named after the great Muslim hero of the Crusades) becomes a devil. Also, the character of a fanatical Indian girl who leads her village on a fatal pilgrimage is called Ayesha, which is also the name of the wife of Muhammad.
Perhaps most offensive to Muslims, in Rushdie’s novel the brothel of the city of Jahilia is staffed by prostitutes who take the names of Muhammad’s wives. Since Muslims believe that the wives of the Prophet are ‘the Mothers of all Believers’, they esteem them.
Other issues many Muslims have found offensive include:
- Abraham is called a “bastard” for casting Hagar and Ishmael in the desert.
- A character in the book named Salman the Persian who serves as one of the Prophet’s scribes, an apparent takeoff on the story found in a Tafsir (Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil) of a Meccan convert by the name of Ibn Abi Sarh, who left Islam after the Prophet failed to notice small changes he had made in the dictation of the Qur’an. Contemporary Muslims argue accounts of the story are unreliable, and in any case Ibn Abi Sarh later reconverted and became a good Muslim again after being captured and was spared the sword for his apostasy. Salman the Persian is also the name of one of the companions of the Prophet, another potential source of offense. In the dreams of one of the central characters (Gibreel Farishta) Salman is seen confiding to the poet Baal (one of the most vehement critics of Mohammed) that he has doubts about the veracity of the Prophet’s revelations. Salman’s suspicions gather momentum when he subtly changes some of the Prophets’ sayings while writing them down, but his acts go unnoticed. Salman is also angry and disappointed when he realises that the Prophets’ revelations have started taking on the form of increasingly oppressive rules and that he can sense opportunism in the timing of these revelations.
One observer (Daniel Pipes) identified other more general issues in the book likely to have angered pious Muslims:
- The complaint in the book by one of Mahound’s companions : “rules about every damn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one’s behind ….” This mixes up “Islamic law with its opposite and with the author’s whimsy.”
- As the prophet of Rushdie’s novel lies dying, he is visited by the Goddess al-Lat, indicating either that al-Lat exists or the prophet thought she did.
- The angel Gibreel’s vision of the Supreme Being is described as “not abstract in the least. He saw, sitting on the bed, a man of about the same age as himself”, balding, wearing glasses and “seeming to suffer from dandruff.”
- Regarding communalist violence in India, often religious in nature, a character in the book complains: “Fact is, religious faith, which encodes the highest aspirations of human race, is now, in our country, the servant of lowest instincts, and God is the creature of evil.”
The Satanic Verses – Summary
Chapter One: The Angel Gibreel
The Story begins with two of the main charactars, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, two Indian actors, who fall from the sky over the English Channel, after their hijacked plane explodes. They meet each other on the flight from Bombay to London which is hijacked by terrorists who held the occupants as hostages for 110 days, before they blew the plane apart. In this time Gibreel Farishta is trying to sleep as less as possible because he has weird religious dreams. Miraculously both of them survive the fall and get washed up at an British beach.
Chapter Two: Mahound
The second chapter describes the dream of Gibreel Farishta. In this dreams the prophet Mahound comes into the city Jahilia where he wants to spread his new religion. After a few confrontations with the Grandee of Jahilia and the poet Baal, leaves the prophet the City. This part of the story tells an episode of Muhammad’s life in mecca. It’s linked to the so called satanic verses in the qur´an which aloud praying to three female gods and which where later removed by Muhammad who said it was an failure which was caused bai Shaitan, the Islamic Devil.
Chapter Three: Ellowen Deoween
Rosa Diamond, an elder woman, finds Gibreel and Saladin at the beach and cures them. Saladin begins to transform and becomes the appearance of the devil, while Gibreel gets an halo. Saladin is caught by the police, who think he is an illegal immigrant. During his arrest the police beats Saladin up badly. After he is nursed by an physiotherapist Saladin escapes and goes home, where he finds his wife sleeping with a his friend Jumpy Joshi. At the same time Gibreel runs away from Rosa Diamond and starts searching his great love Allie Cone in London.
Chapter Four: Ayesha
In this chapter forces the Imam of Desh Gibreel Farishta to help him with the revolution in his homecountry and to end up his exile in London. This part of the story is very similar to the revolution in the Iran in the year 1979. In an other dream Gibreel sees Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves Ayesha and tells him that his wife has cancer. Ayesha, who claims to be an prophet tells the her whole village to go to mecca and that the Arabian Sea will split in front of them.
Chapter Five: A City Visible But Unseen
Saladin is taken by Jumpy Joshi to an Bed & Breakfast where he realises that he has lost everything, his wife is pregnant from Jumpy Joshi and he has lost his job. After he finds out that Gibreel is going to make movies out of his dreams he gets in rage and grows. He is take to the Hot Wax nightclub where he loses his demonic appearance and seeks for revenge on Gibreel. At the same time Gibreel starts to believe he is an archangel and runs away from Allie, after he isn’t able to declare the words of god he returns to Allie.
Chapter Six: Return to Jahilia
This part is again taking place in the dreams of Gibreel. It descreibes how Mahound brings the Islam to Jahilia. Salman the Persian who writes down the words of god for Mahound complains about Mahounds verses, which are against women and tells his critic to Baal. Mahound who has taken over Jahilia doesn’t kill his former enemies, only Baal who talks against him has to hide in an brothel. Before Mahound is able to kill Baal, Hind, the wife of the Grandee of Jahilia who pretended to that sh has converted, uses black magic to summon the demon Al-Lat who kills Mahound.
Chapter Seven: The Angel Azraeel
Saladin comes home and stays at his house, allthough the affair between his wife and Jumpy goes on. On a party Saladin and Gibreel meet again and Saladin gets his revenge by destroying the relationship of Gibreel and Allie. While riots break out in London because of the death of an innocent prisonor, Gibreel believes he is Azraeel the angel of destruction. Saladins wife and Jumpy die during an fire which was was caused by the riots, Saladin who wants to save an family breaks down in the fire and gets safed by Gibreel who noticed that Saladin destroyed his relationship but forgave him.
Chapter Eight: The Parting Of The Arabian Sea
In this Chapter Gibreel dreams again of Ayesha and the villagers, who ar now on their way to Mecca. Mirza Saeed is trying to make the people go home bur nearly all of them follow Ayesha in to the Arabian sea where they die. This part of the story is based on real event in the year 1982 when 38 muslim pilgrim walked into the Arabian Sea believing it would part in front of them.
Chapter Nine: A Wonderfull Lamp
In the last chapter Saladin flys home to his father who lies in deathbed with cancer. Saladin who had an argue with his father since he became an British citizen reconciles with his father and inherits the riches of his father. Meanwhile Gibreel is starting a comeback tour and trys to make films out of his dreams, also he trys to get Allie back but fails. So he throws her down Everest Villa and comes to the house of Saladins father and kills him self with a gun he gets out of an magic lamp Saladin inherited from his father.
Overall Summary of Satanic Verses
The novel begins rousingly as the two main characters (Gabreel and Saladin) are falling through the air, victims of the terrorist bombing of a jetliner. They miraculously survive. Gabreel, who had doubts about Islam, develops a halo, and begins to look like the angel Gabriel; Saladin grows horns, hooves, and a tail and looks like Satan. Much of the book tells of their adventures in these forms. Most of the controversy involves Gabreel’s dreams. He dreams of a false prophet called Mahound (historically a derogatory name for Muhammad) who establishes a false religion. He also dreams that prostitutes took on the names of Muhammad’s wives, in order to attract Muslims. In the end, Saladin returns happily to India, and Gabreel loses his faith and commits suicide.