• brewtoch

The Satanic Verses

Just recently, I ran across an interview with Salman Rushdie. He is still around writing novels and doing interviews. If you remember, Rushdie, a British citizen, wrote a book entitled The Satanic Verses in 1988. Since then, he has written eight other novels for a total of twelve, but that's beside the point. In 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie and his publishers to death for writing and publishing the book. Rushdie and his cohorts went into protective hiding, but over the years, Iranian hardliners have pushed the bounty on Rushdie's head up to $4 million (as of 2016). Rushdie's crime was writing a book that mocks the Prophet Muhammad for an incident where he mistook "satanic suggestion" for divine revelation. So what was the real story about the Satanic Verses? While this episode in the Qur'an has numerous variations and many reasons to dispute its historical accuracy and relevance, the primary elements of the account are the same:

The storyline is something like this: Muhammad still lives in Mecca but has received verses from the real God through the angel Gabriel. Mecca is polytheistic, meaning there are many gods to worship; some sources say there are over 360 idols representing gods and goddesses in the Kaaba. At that time, residents of Mecca worship Allah as the High God, but they also worshiped subordinate deities. At first, Muhammad rejected these other deities', insisting that Allah alone is worthy of worship. The people of Mecca became upset. To gain favor with the Meccans, Muhammad endorsed the worship of three local gods, al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, whom the Meccans worshiped as daughters of Allah.

If true, these implications have potent repercussions for Islam. They indicate that Muhammad was bending to local polytheist pressure and that, therefore, perhaps not all of Muhammad's revelations were divine. Muslims are insistent that Allah has no offspring, not al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, and certainly not Jesus, who they consider a mortal Prophet. Perhaps Muhammad was trying to curry favor with the tribal elders who controlled Mecca and the shrine of the Kaaba at the time.

Later, Muhammad admitted he had fallen prey to the whispering of Satan. The verses in question are still in the Qur'an (53:19-22), but the angel Gabriel gave Muhammad new words such that the passage could be revised to reflect Allah's words. As for Satan's influence, Muhammad claimed that Satan tests all prophets, just as he tested Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). If the story were not true, why would Muhammad even mention the goddesses' names in such a holy book? Still, skeptics wonder if there are more Satan-inspired passages in the Qur'an. In any case, it would appear the Prophet yielded to temptation. In my opinion, this makes the Prophet more human and as such, more believable, as humans have weaknesses, and we are all tempted by Satan to do things that we should not do.

Picture credit: the Pre-Islamic Arabian Goddesses al-Uzza, al-Lat and Manat. Permission to use granted from Djahuti through Wikimedia Commons.

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