In The Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The Satanic Verses

Preface

NOTE: It is customary for Muslims to place the pious expression ‘Peace be Upon Him’ (PBUH) after every mention of the name Muhammad (PBUH), especially in devotional contexts.

Some words in the Islamic Context.

Allah - Refer to God in Islam.

Qur’an - The holy book of Islam.

Hijra - Migration from Mecca to Medina.

Some characters which might need some introduction.

Mahound - the name given by Rushdie that is strikingly similar to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Abu Simbel - The ruler of the city Jahillia in the novel.

Hind - Wife of Abu Simbel.

Salman Farsi - The Persian convert to Islam, a devoted Muslim.

Lat, Uzza, and Manat - The three goddesses of the Idol worshippers.

Baal - A poet in the novel created by Salman Rushdie

Essay begins..

The Satanic Verses, the controversial book by Salman Rushdie is overly insulting and offensive to the Muslims of the world and to the sacred religion of Islam. One must stand up to the wrong in order to preserve the truth and Rushdie’s book which portrays a fictional character strikingly similar to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, (PBUH) is replete with fantasies that undoubtedly aims to poke fun and insult a sacred religion. The author claims the book to be fiction but, to Muslims, the book is not a work of fiction, as it portrays Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH) as an evil man, a liar, and one, who is sexual in nature, which is absolutely false. This book is so derogatory that Muslims around the world are against both Rushdie and his book. The status of Rushdie will never be the same as it was before this book was published, because of the way he portrayed the Prophet and the way he attacked Islam. Rushdie says, "Even more important is the recognition of Muslim scholars that the book is not a deliberate insult. Had they felt otherwise, I might well have thought again. As it is, I believe the book must continue to be available, so that it can gradually be seen for what it is."1 If Rushdie really did not intend to insult the Muslims, then why did he indirectly mention that this book would be controversial, and many people, mainly Muslims, would be against it? The passages in this book are so offensive to a devout Muslim that they make it exceedingly difficult for a follower of Islam to appreciate any value that might be found in this book. I will examine this book, which contains innumerable derogatory remarks that distort the real life of the Prophet as indicated in qualified historical books as well as in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. This novel contains many remarks which offend the religion Islam and the Qur’an. As a Muslim, the Prophet is one of the most sacred and most respected men, and when Rushdie implements his own beliefs about the Prophet, it becomes very devious and contemptuous to the Muslims at large. In this essay, the controversies in the book will be examined to establish the scope of how much an affect this book has had on the people.

The Qur’an is a book which is widely read. This book is not an ordinary book; rather, it is one which Muslims cherish and respect. The respect Muslims show towards the Qur’an is similar to the way Christians respect the Bible. The Bible is the most widely read book in translation and a multi-authored work. The Qur’an is in a class by itself as a book which is recited by millions of believers, five times a day, in the very language in which it was first written.

There were quite a few incidents in the book where Rushdie criticizes the Qur’an. His blasphemy does not lie in his saying that the Qur’an is the work of Muhammad (PBUH); rather, it lies more in Rushdie’s suggestion that it is the work of the Devil. By the term "Satanic Verses", he refers to more than an alleged incident in the history of Islamic revelation. Rushdie suggests that Muhammad (PBUH) is incapable of distinguishing work from an angel and inspiration from a devil. The name itself, ‘Mahound’ is a name which Rushdie describes as "the Devil’s synonym."

Rushdie suggests that Muhammad (PBUH) could not distinguish between what was revealed to him and what the secretary had written. The Persian scribe in Rushdie’s book tells us how he first changed little things in what the Prophet had dictated to see if Muhammad (PBUH) would notice.

Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all-knowing, I would write, all knowing, all wise. Here’s the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations…. So, the next time I change a bigger thing. He said Christian, I wrote down Jew. He’d notice that, surely: how could he not? But when I read him the chapter he nodded and thanked me politely and I went out of the tent with tears in my eyes….2

This alone is quite offensive, since the Prophet was a man with immense and divine knowledge. If someone did change the words around, the Prophet would notice it. In addition, what Rushdie describes here is insulting. It is insulting to the Prophet, the Qur’an and the Persian scribe, Salman Farsi. Salman Farsi was an individual who was treated by the Prophet with utmost respect. In turn, Farsi was a devoted Muslim who respected the Prophet and participated in all wars until he passed away. Farsi was not the Persian scribe described by Rushdie; rather his character and personality was completely the opposite than that described in the novel. In the end, the scribe carried it too far, and Mahound’s suspicion was aroused. But, Rushdie had already performed his detriment by creating doubts about the authenticity of the Qur’an even as Muhammad’s own work, let alone as the word of God.

Mazrui contrasts the Qur’an as the ultimate constitution of the community of the believer with the Constitution of the United States as to how the citizens are expected to "Uphold, protect and defend the Constitution."3 Just like the citizens are expected to protect the Constitution, Muslims expect all believers to defend the Qur’an as their own ultimate fundamental law. However, Rushdie does not believe in this ideology and casts doubts on the authenticity of the source of that fundamental law by satirizing its rules and attributes by "fictitious dicta to it."4

…. 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…sodomy and the missionary position were approved of by the archangel, whereas the forbidden postures included all those in which the female was on top…5

Mazrui brings up an excellent comparison such as how Americans consider stepping deliberately or purposefully urinating on a flag as sacrilege. Each verse of the Qur’an is a like a flag to a Muslim. Rushdie has deliberately urinated on the holy book. He has defiantly defecated on the equivalent of a thousand star-spangled banners. In one incident in the book, Rushdie uses the Qur’an and on top of that, he added some touches of his own.

Have you thought upon Lat and Uzza,
And Manat, the third, the other? 6

The above was Rushdie’s version of the translation of the verse Muhammad (PBUH) recited. In fact, the actual Qur’anic translation is:

Have you then considered the Lat, and the Uzza,
And Manat, the third, the Last? 7

Rushdie changes the Last to the other. By doing this, he makes the Prophet accept the three goddesses of the idol worshippers, Lat, Uzza, and Manat. This act of changing the words of the Qur’an is quite offensive and insulting at the same time. The Prophet was a man who was treated with utmost respect even before he started his preaching of Islam. Muhammad (PBUH) was a man chosen by God to be a Prophet and when Rushdie makes the Prophet look like a fool and compromise with the idol worshippers, he has insulted the religion of Islam and its followers.

It is a disgrace that Rushdie commits this act of casting doubts on the authenticity of the Qur’an. Even the non-orthodox Muslims believe in the authenticity of the Qur’an. Harry Gaylord Dorman says:

It (Qur’an) is a literal revelation of God, dictated to Muhammad by Gabriel, perfect in every letter. It is an ever-present miracle witnessing to itself and to Muhammad, the Prophet of God. Its miraculous quality resides partly in its style, so perfect and lofty that neither men nor jinn could produce a single chapter to compare with its briefest chapter, and partly in its content of teachings, prophecies about the future, and amazingly accurate information such as the illiterate Muhammad could have gathered of his own accord. 8

The above statement is enough proof that the Qur’an is a book which contains immense information and helps people in their daily lives. A sincere Muslim would never consider replicating Rushdie’s abhorrent acts. It is unbelievable that a man like Rushdie who says "…I am Muslim" 9 would perform this act of destroying the authenticity of the Qur’an when many non-Muslims believe and respect the Qur’an as the word of God. Nobody will be successful in changing the Qur’an as many have memorized it and cherished the lessons and ample amounts of information which the Qur’an gives.

The way Rushdie treats the Prophet is staggering and quite surprising for a man who claims to be a Muslim. The non-Muslims show greater respect to the Prophet than a man such as Rushdie, who claims to be a Muslim. Instead, he stigmatizes his own religion. The Prophet, according to the majority of books, was a man with dignity and immense knowledge who was respected and adored by many people, including non-Muslims. Stanley Lane Poole, an enemy of Islam could not help but to admire the Great Man Muhammad (PBUH). He says:

He was the most faithful protector of those he protected, the sweetest and most agreeable in conversation. Those who saw him were suddenly filled with reverence; those who came near him loved him; they who described him would say, ‘I have never seen his like either before or after.’ He was of great taciturnity, but when he spoke it was with emphasis and deliberation, and no one could forget what he said. 10

It can be seen that the Prophet was a lovable figure who was loved and respected by everyone until today just as Jesus Christ is respected by Christians. In most history books, before the Prophet started preaching Islam, he was given the title ‘The Trustworthy’. Many people left their belongings with him in complete trust. In essence, he was the bank who took care of their treasured belongings. Rushdie describes the Prophet in a negative way and portrays the Prophet as a man with abnormal sexual desires, a man who made rules so it would suit him and a man who was a liar. Imagine, had Rushdie or any other writer portrayed Jesus Christ in this manner, how would Christians feel? All these accusations are false. Rushdie, in the book, has written his own history of the life of the Prophet, which is completely corrupt and untrue. The absolute negativity that Rushdie says only goes to discredit himself and his work.

The main reason that Muslims are against this book is that Rushdie has attempted to rewrite history and to criticize the noble Muslims such as the Prophet and his followers. The Prophet was on a mission from God to preach Islam and make the Arab people of that time period more civilized. One of the customary traditions the Arabs had was to bury their daughters alive, since women in that time period were treated like slaves and chattel. The Prophet changed that by loving and caring for his daughter and raising her to be the best and most pious lady of Islam, and the Arabs looked at the example set by the Prophet and adopted it. Unfortunately, a person who has never studied or heard the history of Islam would be turned away had they read this controversial novel. The way Rushdie describes the Prophet is completely iniquitous. As shown earlier, the non-Muslims and devoted Muslims share the same view when it comes to discussing the Prophet’s personality. This is a sign in itself that the truth can not be changed nor corrupted, as was attempted in this novel via the use of fiction.

Rushdie changes the way the Prophet delivered Islam to the unbelievers. In the novel, there was an incident where Rushdie makes the Prophet contemplate whether to accept the three goddesses of the idol worshippers. He makes the Prophet accept them and at the same time, he makes changes to the Qur’an. It is true that the idol worshippers approached the Prophet and asked him to either accept their gods or stop preaching Islam. In turn, they would give him wealth, money, and power. The Prophet rejected this and he said:

… By Allah, even if they were to place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand so that I abandon my mission, I will never do that until Allah makes it prevail or I perish in carrying that out… 11

The Prophet never once considered accepting the three goddesses of the idol worshippers. There would be no purpose preaching Islam if Rushdie thinks that the Prophet should have accepted the three gods of the idol worshippers! God forbid, had the Prophet done it, there would be no purpose of the faith since the message of Islam is to believe in one and only one God, Allah. The way Rushdie criticizes the Prophet and his message of Islam is inconceivable. When Rushdie reprimands the Prophet, he is also reprimanding the religion of Islam. In the novel, he makes the religion of Islam look abhorrent and shows that there are very few followers. In addition, Rushdie claims that the first converts, the sincere Muslims, were hypocrites. This is false information as the people who converted to Islam at the beginning were sincere Muslims. It is true, however, that some people who converted later when Islam was a fast growing religion in the Arab lands were hypocrites, and converted for political reasons.

There were innumerable incidents in the book where Rushdie has sent cantankerous remarks to the Prophet in many ways. In one incident, the Prophet was in Hind’s bed, naked. This is completely disgraceful and unacceptable. The religion of Islam is a religion which protects ones dignity. In Islam, one cannot have sexual contact with the opposite sex unless in wed lock. Here, Rushdie puts the Prophet in Hind’s bed, naked, and at the end the Prophet thanks Hind. When a non-Muslim reads this, they will get the wrong perception of Islam. The message they will get is that it is all right to have sexual contact with anybody you feel like; this is simply not true. There were many more issues whereby Rushdie creates rules and laws about Islam which are contrary to the real laws and all this shows that his real usurpation in writing this book.

Rushdie’s obsession with the lifestyle of the Prophet relating to his wives can be traced in nearly every chapter of this novel. He not only portrays them as prostitutes, but dwells upon their unfaithfulness among his relatives. "My last lover was the boy Baal. But he doesn’t matter. Neither he or Abu Simbel is your equal. But I am."12

Polygamy existed long before the arrival of the Prophet and Rushdie appears oblivious of its continued social role. Dr. Westermack talks about polygamy and says:

There has been much loose talk and irresponsible criticism of polygamy in Islam. The critics dub polygamy as evil. They say that this "immoral" and "obnoxious" practice causes much distress in family life. It is also alleged that polygamy is prompted by the lower self of man; it is resorted to by men who are devoid of refined sentiments and who have no regard for the demands of even elementary justice. That is how they pave the way for attacking Islam and its Prophet. 13

Normally Islam recognizes only the union of one man and one woman as a desirable form of marriage. However under special circumstances it allows the man to have a maximum of four wives. Since polygamy was to serve a great social purpose of human society, the following Qur’anic verse clearly points to an important function of polygamy. The verse says:

And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you many not deviate from the right course. 14

From this verse, it is clear that Islam allows a maximum of four wives only for special reasons. Rushdie portrays the Prophet as a licentious man because he married so many wives. This is absolutely false and without foundation. The Prophet’s marriages were all marriages that in a sense were forced upon him, or marriages of protection of the females whose husbands had died in the cause of God and whom he took into his household or, lastly, marriages specially contracted to cement the bonds of love with those who could by their position and influence be of service to Islam.

Rushdie says that the Prophet had 12 wives. This is not true; rather he had 10 wives. However, he did not have 10 wives at one time. The limitation of the number of wives was fixed at the end of the eight-year after Hijra, migration to Medina from Mecca. The Prophet had married all his wives before that period. Rushdie uses this as a decoy to portray the Prophet as a licentious man who made his own rules for himself. The wives of the Prophet were very sincere and supported the Prophet’s message of Islam. As well as supporting the Prophet, they assisted him in spreading the message. As mentioned earlier, the status of a woman at that time was very vile and they were treated as slaves, whereas the Prophet’s wives assisted him to preach and change the views of society. Many Arabs took this as an example and implemented it.

Rushdie has an incredible talent for writing. However, he has misused that talent and disgraced the religion of Islam. One could argue that the absurdity of The Satanic Verses has in fact complemented Islam as it has increased the attention people have for understanding why there is so much controversy. The Qur’an is a sacred book which will undoubtedly never be changed. Rushdie not only attempted to change it, he also insulted it as best described by the title of the novel, "Satanic Verses." Not only was the sacred book insulted, but also the most revered personality to step foot on this earth, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was insulted in an abhorrent way. Whether it was Rushdie’s intention to write this book or not, which would seem to insult his own religion, Islam, the result was the same. He let his religion and his followers down by writing a false account of history about Islam and its sacred Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH).

By: Shahid Juma

Endnotes

1. Salman Rushdie, "Why I Have Embraced Islam," in Imaginary Homelands. (New York: Viking, 1991), p.430

2. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. (New York: Viking, 1988), p.368

3. Ali A. Mazrui, The Satanic Verses or A Satanic Novel? The Moral Dilemmas of the Rushdie Affair. (New York: The Community of Muslim Scholars in North America, 1989), p. 10

4. Ibid., p. 10

5. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. (New York: Viking, 1988), p.363-364

6. Ibid., p.114

7. The Qur’an., Translated by M.H. Shakir., Sura Najm (53), verse 19-20

8. Muhammad Mustapha, An Islamic Overview of The Satanic Verses by Western Authors. (Trinidad and Tobago: T.K. Industries Ltd., 1989), p. 49

9. Salman Rushdie, "Why I have Embraced Islam," in Imaginary Homelands. (New York: Viking, 1991), p.430

10. Muhammad Mustapha, An Islamic Overview of The Satanic Verses by Western Authors. (Trinidad and Tobago: T.K. Industries Ltd., 1989), p. 86

11. Al-Balagh Foundation, Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (Part 1 & 2). (Tehran: Al-Balagh Foundation, 1992), p. 40

12. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. (New York: Viking, 1988), p.121

13. Muhammad Mustapha, An Islamic Overview of The Satanic Verses by Western Authors. (Trinidad and Tobago: T.K. Industries Ltd., 1989), p. 39

14. The Qur’an., Translated by M.H. Shakir., Sura Nisa (4), verse 3

 

References

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands. New York: Viking, 1991.

Mustapha, Muhammad. An Islamic Overview of The Satanic Verses by Western Authors. Trinidad and Tobago: T.K. Industries Ltd., 1989.

Akhtar, Shabbir. Be Careful With Muhammad! The Salman Rushdie Affair. Great Britain: Bellew Publishing Company Ltd., 1989.

Pipes, Daniel. The Rushdie Affair. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York: Viking, 1989.

Al-Balagh Foundation. Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (Part 1 & 2). Tehran: Al-Balagh Foundation, 1992.

Al-Balagh Foundation. Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (Part 3). Tehran: Al-Balagh Foundation, 1992.

Mazrui, Ali A. The Satanic Verses or A Satanic Novel? The Moral Dilemmas of the Rushdie Affair. New York: The Community of Muslim Scholars in North America, 1989.

The Qur’an. Translated by M. H. Shakir.

Brians, Paul. "Notes on Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988) [http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/anglophone/satanic_verses/index.html].

Deedat, Ahmed. How Rushdie Fooled the West.


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