Why the name ‘Satanic Verses’ offends Muslims – Times of India

The murderous attack on Salman Rushdie at a literary event in New York recently has initiated fresh debate on the Mumbai-born author’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. The fact that 24-year-old Hadi Matar attacked Rushdie, 75, with an intention to kill shows the book still rankles many Muslims more than 30 years after its publication. Though it is not clear if Iran’s then leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa of death (1989)
against Rushdie influenced Matar, it is important to understand why the book’s very title – leaving aside its many characters resembling revered Muslim figures – disturbs the community.
Story Of The Quran
Quran – the book containing God’s revelations to Prophet Muhammad – was revealed through the archangel Gabriel over 23 years. Muhammad himself didn’t write the verses as he didn’t know how to read and write. According to tradition, his companions memorised the verses as he recited, and wrote them on different materials like cloth, bone fragments and leather. The Quran was compiled into a book during the time of the first caliph, Abu Bakr. Under the third caliph, Uthman, a committee of scribes compiled it in the Qurysh dialect of Arabic for uniformity in recitation. After verification, this became the standard version, and older copies of the text were destroyed to avoid future conflicts.
Origin Of Satanic Verses
The row over the ‘satanic verses’ is not new, nor is Rushdie its originator. Orientalist Sir William Muir (1819-1905) in his book Life of Mahomet (1858) first used the term ‘satanic verses’ on the basis of his readings of some earlier scholars of Islam who had mentioned a certain episode in the life of Muhammad. So, the satanic verses are part of an Islamic memory handed down the centuries by historians, biographers and scholars. Historians such as Ibn Ishaq, Al-Tabari and Ibn Saad, on the basis of a chain of stories that got transmitted to them, mention the alleged episode that continues to be a source of discomfiture for the ummah (community).
Mention Of Goddesses
Lat, Uzza and Manat were revered ancient goddesses of pre-Islamic Arabia. Scholars such as Al-Tabari and Ibn Saad mention that Muhammad, under the inspiration of Satan (chief of devils), added two verses praising Lat, Uzza and Manat, in the course of reciting the Quran. The Qurysh of Mecca, who had not converted to Islam and were at the Kaaba precinct where, as they claimed, Muhammad praised their deities through two verses, saw it as endorsement of their reverence to the deities. According to some accounts, Muhammad fi rst recit
ed this verse: “Have you really considered al-Lat and al-Uzza, and the third one, Manat? (53:19, 20). ” And then he allegedly added the line: “These are beautiful and lofty birds and there is hope of intercession from them. ” The Prophet allegedly won instant admiration from the idolaters since he “praised” their deities. However, according to this narration, archangel Gabriel came to the Prophet the same evening and told him that he had recited something that God never sent and that Satan had whispered these words to him. Subsequently, some ‘admonishing verses’ (17:73-75) were revealed. When Muhammad got very worried, Gabriel brought him a ‘consoling verse’: “Whenever we sent any messenger or prophet before you, and he recitedanything (of our revelation), Satan tampered with it. But God abrogates Satan’s interjections and then he firmly reaffirms his revelations. God is all-knowing and allwise (22:52). ”
Scholars Reject Episode
The ‘satanic verses’, which praise Lat, Uzza and Manat, are neither in the Quran nor in the Hadiths (sayings of Muhammad). Contemporary Muslim scholars vehemently reject the story claiming that the fi nite and infallible Prophet could have done no wrong. “The whole idea of the Prophet praising these deities fl ies in the face of monotheistic Islam. Writers like Al-Tarabi recorded stories which didn’t reach them from primary sources,” says Indo-Islamic scholar and writer Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi.
Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali maintains the local Meccan tribes were estranged from Muhammad and they spread the rumour that he praised their deities as part of a reconciliation process when they heard him mention their goddesses. Islamic scholar Farida Khanum is translating an Urdu book of her father, noted Islamic scholar late Maulana Wahiduddin Khan.
The book carries a chapter on the ‘satanic verses’ episode, where Khan writes that Muhammad never praised the deities. He says the mushraqeen (idolators), who were also present at the meeting in Mecca, added this sentence to the Quranic verses when they heard the names of their deities from Muhammad. “No Muslim school of thought or sect accepts that the Prophet ever committed such a mistake. But the enemies of Islam keep resurrecting it for their ulterior motives,” says All India Ulema Council’s Maulana Mahmood Daryabadi. “Rushdie is one of them. ”

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