The Satanic Verses has a unique distinction of being the most Bought-But-Not-Read novel.

If you want to get born again . . .
. . . first you have to die.

There are people who do not consider the novel worth the attention it got due to controversy surrounding it, and there are those that'll tell you it's the most delightful book they have ever read.

From the first chapter the novel grips me and makes me want to read each page twice, for the sheer joy of Rushdie's words. His imagination works overtime in describing the histories of his two main characters, and the reader is taken on a ride most unbelievable.

The novel, however, is not for the cynical to read. Nor for someone looking for serious discussion on whole Satanic Verses (read W/Us below) controversy. It is for the one with love for literature.

I would like to highlight a few things about this smartly written book, in Rushdie's own words.

About Title of Book

"You call us devils?", it seems to ask. "Very well, then, here is the devil's version of the world, of your world, the version written from the experience of those who have been demonized by virtue of their otherness. Just as the Asian kids in the novel wear toy devil-horns proudly, as an assertion of pride in identity, so the novel proudly wears its demonic title. The purpose is not to suggest that the Quran is written by the devil; it is to attempt the sort of act of affirmation that, in the United States, transformed the word black from the standard term of racist abuse into a 'beautiful' expression of cultural pride."

from Rushdie, Salman. "In Good Faith," in Imaginary Homelands (London: Granta): Originally published 1990.

What is Satanic Verses About?

If The Satanic Verses is anything, it is a migrant's-eye view of the world. It is written from the very experience of uprooting, disjuncture and metamorphosis (slow or rapid, painful or pleasurable) that is the migrant condition, and from which, I believe, can be derived a metaphor for all humanity.

Standing at the centre of the novel is a group of characters most of whom are British Muslims, or not particularly religious persons of Muslim background, struggling with just the sort of great problems that have arisen to surround the book, problems of hybridization and ghettoization, of reconciling the old and the new. Those who oppose the novel most vociferously today are of the opinion that intermingling with a different culture will inevitably weaken and ruin their own. I am of the opposite opinion. The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it. The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love-song to our mongrel selves.

from Rushdie, Salman. "In Good Faith," in Imaginary Homelands (London: Granta): Originally published 1990.

On his use of words unfamiliar to many of his readers

. . . I use them as flavoring. I mean, I can read books from America and I don't always get the slang. American writers always assume that the whole world speaks American, but actually the whole world does not speak American. And American Jewish writers put lots of Yiddish in their books and sometimes I don't know what they're saying. I've read books by writers like Philip Roth with people getting hit in the kishkes and I think, "What?!''

It's fun to read things when you don't know all the words. Even children love it. One of the things any great children's writer will tell you is that children like it if in books designed for their age group there is a vocabulary just slightly bigger than theirs. So they come up against weird words, and the weird words excite them. If you describe a small girl in a story as "loquacious," it works so much better than "talkative." And then some little girl will read the book and her sister will be shooting her mouth off and she will say to her sister, "Don't be so loquacious." It is a whole new weapon in her arsenal.

from The SALON Interview: Salman Rushdie
Complete Interview:

On his characters - Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha
...the character of Gibreel himself is a mixture of two or three types of Indian movie star. There was in the forties a Muslim actor, a very big star at the time, who did somehow get away with playing major Hindu divinities and because he was so popular it was not a problem. And it was interesting to me that mega-stardom allowed you to cross those otherwise quite fraught religious frontiers. So there was a bit of that in Gibreel. And then there was an element of the big South Indian movie stars, a bit of Rama Rao. And finally there was a large bit of the biggest movie star in India for the last fifteen or twenty years, Amitabh Bachchan.

A 'chamcha' is a very humble, everyday object. It is, in fact, a spoon. The word is Urdu; and it also has a second meaning. Colloquially a chamcha is a person who sucks up to the powerful people, a yes-man, a sycophant. The British Empire would not have lasted a week without such collaborators among its colonized peoples. You could say that the Raj grew fat by being spoon-fed.

from one of Rushdie's interviews.
Note: The name "Gibreel Farishta" means "Gabriel Angel" in Urdu and Persian.

The actual "satanic" verses (since no one has mentioned them yet) were not written by Salman Rushdie. In fact they are, according to some sources, from Surah 53:21,22:

19: Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-`Uzza
20: And Manat, the third, the other?
21: Are yours the males and his the females?
22: That indeed be an unfair division!
23: They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which Allah hath revealed no warrant. They follow but a guess and that which (they) themselves desire. And now the guidance from their Lord hath come unto them

Source: Marmaduke Pickthall: "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation"

The "Satanic verses" replace 21 and 22 with the following:

21: These are the exalted cranes (intermediaries)
22: Whose intercession is to be hoped for

Where the cranes represent pagan deities of the pre-Islamic Arabs, namely the three goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat, daughters of Allah in the old pagan religion. This would be a concession to idolatry which the same accounts report Muhammad as having made to promote better relations between the early Muslims and the rest of the community who were suspicious of abandoning all their deities in favour of Allah as the only god. Surah 53 is an early one, from before the hijrah and when Muslims were still a minor sect in Makkah. This incident is itself a matter of debate; the majority of Muslim scholars denounce it as a fabrication and many early Islamic writers deny it or don't mention it. Other texts attribute it to Ibn Jarir al-Tabari. On the other hand, there is conjecture stemming from Surah 22:52 that Shaitan had his hand in the revelation of false verses which were later repudiated. 9th century CE scholar Sahih Bukhari is cited as the the source of many controversial reports, though it's not certain where he got the information, and several early (but not contemporary) biographers of Muhammad are also quoted as making references to abrogated verses.

Further, there is at least one account claiming that the Muslims and the pagans prayed together after this revelation. The idea of there either being other gods or of Allah having divine daughters (or, as a matter of fact, Muslims worshipping together with pagans) is unacceptable. 21 and 22 declare it improper for men to believe they have the sons (the prized) and Allah to have only daughters (Islam leaves little room for a dubious concept such as the Christian Trinity that would allow God to be somehow subdivided and compartmentalised). The "satanic" verses are in direct contrast with the Quranic ones. And yes, they conflict with verse 23 which makes them all the more suspect.

Those are the verses deemed heretic and that led to the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa declaring the book blasphemous. Though they are not part of the Qu'ran there is a historical record of their existence outside the Qu'ran and they were not invented by a 20th century author bent on offending Muslims.

Addendum (the day after): I'm fully aware that the presentation of this viewpoint (which I myself neither condemn nor condone) may strike some of my Muslim friends as deepest, darkest heresy. Of course I don't quote the entire Surah for context, that's what hardlinks are for... but I added more contextual verses anyway. The English translation at this point is adequate for the explanation (and approved of by prominent scholars of its time); I do not think that this part requires the absolute accuracy of the Arabic text to gain understanding of the point under scrutiny. Please note that this writeup has been elaborated upon and substantially changed from its original form to reflect some valid points made by rk2001. In doing so, I admit that its original form was in need of clarification but also don't care for a confrontational debate.

The book itself is not bad... a decent read but really undeserving of all the attention. Both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Nikos Kazantzakis did it better.

This writeup is in response to Apatrix's original wu (which has since been revised) -

I will try to contain my emotions since I am quite vexed. I've had it up to here *hand gesture to the head*, with people creating misconceptions about Islam by misrepresenting the actual facts through a distinct lack of knowledge, or quoting surah's out of context, along with a pile of unfounded, unreferenced fabrication...

Firstly it is important to note that the Quran is the sacred book of Islam which has remained unchanged in its original arabic script since it was first collated and compiled approximately 1400 years ago. The fact that you can buy two copies of the Quran from different corners of the earth and verify for yourself that the arabic IS exactly the same word for word, is testimony to this.

OK Here it is -

According to Islamic belief the Ka'bah was originally built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, for the worship of God (Incidentally the arabic and aramaic translation of God is Allah).

Quran Surah 2:125
And (remember) when We made the House (the Ka'bah at Mecca) a place of resort for mankind and a place of safety. And take you (people) the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham) as a place of prayer (for some of your prayers, e.g. two Rak'at after the Tawaf of the Ka'bah at Mecca), and we commanded Ibrahim and Isma'il (Ishmael) that they should purify My House (the Ka'bah at Mecca) for those that are circumambulating it, or staying (I'tikaf) or bowing or prostrating themselves there in prayer.

Quran Surah 2:127
And (remember) when Ibrahim and Isma'il were raising the foundations of the Ka'bah (saying), "Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us. Verily! You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knower"

However, this holy ritual became corrupt over time and it is said that the pagan arabs in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance, circumambulated the Ka'bah in a naked state.

This inference is made by the revelation in - Quran Surah 7:26-32

These pagan arabs also turned to Idolatery. They created statues of God and and other statues besides. These other statues they called the daughters of God, namely Al-Lat, Al-Uzza and Manat. This is ironic since the pagan arabs themselves wanted only sons and considered having daughters a bad-omen. It was therefore common practice amongst them at the time to bury alive young or baby girls.

Hence the revelation that Apatrix speaks of -

Quran 53:19-22
19. Have you then considered Al-Lat and Al-Uzza
20. And Manat, the other third?
21. Is it for you the the males and for him the females?
22. That indeed is a division most unfair!

But had the very next verse have been quoted then it would leave no room for conjecture -

Quran 53:23
They are but names which you have named - you and your fathers for which Allah has sent down no authority. They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire, whereas there has surely come to them a guidance from their Lord!

No REAL Islamic scholar would even dream of translating these verses in any other light.
Originally Apatrix had attributed the root of his source to be early Islamic Scholars, but now that he has removed that statement I feel I need to justify the sentence above.

As far as accounts of concession being made by Muhammad (pbuh) to make better relations between the early muslims and the rest of the community etc. - what utter Rubbish!

There are NO such accounts! If there are then they have been manufactured by those who are threatened by Islam, and had the so called "sources" been referenced, it would be easy to prove that they were fabrications. Infact there is an authentic account related within hadith that states:
When the Quraysh tried to bribe Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from leaving his message by offering him wealth and position etc. he said "If they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I would never give up this call, either it will prevail, or I will perish"

So finally my questions remain:
  • Who are these mysterious scholars?
  • What is the full report of accounts?
  • Who/What are the sources?

    King Fahd Complex - English translation of the original Quran has been quoted in this writeup
  • I was asked originally by a muslim to write a response to Apatrix's wu, but I am quite glad that rk2001 beat me to it however, as he demonstrated quite astutely the distortions that occur when someone hasn't a complete knowledge of the background or ethos of Islam.

    Islam, believe it or not, isn't primarily dogmatic. It is much more principled, and the principles are lent a huge amount of authority from the most reliably transmitted book in the world, the Quran. What people object to when they speak of the Satanic verses, isn't the author's freedom of speech, nor his personal opinions against Islam, but the false notes struck by someone who has only a rudimentary grasp of underlying Islamic Philosophy. From a purely analytical point of view, forgetting the authority of the Quran (which is pretty well beyond dispute, in regards to historical authenticity the Quran is everything the Bible isn't, ie complete, unaltered, and untranslated, and singular. The Quran represents the epitome of the purity of that Salman spoke about and which he vehemently opposes.)

    The book is dogged by pollution of the soul and weakness in the face of daily life. It rings true in many western cultures, which are even now trying to rediscover themselves (England, Spain, Poland), but it has nothing to teach Muslims.

    It is sheer arrogance, a quality that you can spot in him time and again from his original works, through his interviews, and even in his most recent appearance in the media in Bridget Jones Diary. The man has little intellectual capital and seeks to attention to his mediocre style of writing by courting controversy. One only needs to compare this work, as mentioned before, with another by an author in the same field: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Of Love and Other Demons" to realize just how inadequate Salman's grasp of literary style really is.

    I don't think this book is worth any more of my time. Though I would recommend that everyone read "Of love and other demons" because it is quite good.

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