Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

Chapter II: Mahound


Plot outline for Chapter II

Gibreel falls asleep and “dreams” the beginning of the other main plot of the novel, the story of Mahound, more or less closely based on the traditions surrounding Muhammad and the founding of Islam in the seventh century. It is this plot that resulted in the attacks on Rushdie by Muslim critics. We see Mahound surveying the city of Jahilia and are introduced to various significant locales. The period corresponds historically to the early days of Muhammad’s preaching in Mecca, where he was not widely accepted, and the Ka’ba was still filled with pagan idols, including those of the three goddesses who are the focus of the “satanic verses.” Mahound’s preaching has earned the hatred of the ruler of Jahilia, Abu Simbel, whose fortune is derived from worshippers at their temples. Abu Simbel, aware that Baal is his wife Hind’s lover, blackmails the poet Baal to satirize the Mahound and his companions.

But then he tries a more effective alternative to render the prophet harmless by offering him toleration if he in turn will acknowledge the three goddesses whose temples he and his wife receive their income from. Mahound horrifies his followers by seeming to be willing to deviate from his message of strict monotheism. He consults with the Angel Gibreel, who has up to this point been dictating holy scripture to him, and becomes convinced that the “satanic verses” quoted at the bottom of p. 114 [top of p. 117], acknowledging the three goddesses, should be proclaimed as inspired, though the narrator hints on p. 112 [114] that they have been inspired not by God, but by the devil.

Mahound’s decision produces an orgy of celebration which results in death for some, and he himself wakes up in Hind’s bedroom. Mahound realizes the “satanic verses” are indeed satanic, and goes to the Ka’ba to repudiate them. A fierce persecution of Mahound’s followers is unleashed, and he has to flee to Yathrib. Gibreel dreams that he is being attacked by the goddesses, for in his dream-role as the archangel/devil he has been responsible both for suggesting the verses and repudiating them.

Note on the “Satanic Verses”

by Joel Kuortti

One of the most controversial topics in the Satanic Verses “affair” is the question of the “satanic verses” themselves. The title of the novel refers to an incident which is on the disputed terrain between fiction and fact. The “satanic verses” are, in transliteration from Arabic, tilk al-gharaniq al-’ula wa inna shafa’ata-hunna la-turtaja, and translate into English as “these are exalted females whose intercession is to be desired” (Satanic Verses p. 340). (Note on the translation of these verses.) The verses comprising this sentence are said to have been added to the 53rd sura of the Qur’an entitled Surat-annajm, The Star (53:19ff)in order to acknowledge the validity of the goddesses Lat, Manat, and ‘Uzza. The tradition goes on to say that the verses were later withdrawn and denounced as “satanic.”

But the historicity of the incident is disputed by some of the early Muslim historians, especially (Muhammad ben Yasar) Ibn Ishaq (d. 768 CE), (Muhammad Abu ‘Abdullah Ibn Umar) al-Waqidi (747-822 CE), (Muhammad Ibn Muslim Ibn Shihab) al-Zuhri (d.741 CE), Muhammad Ibn Sa’d (d. 845 CE), al-Tabari (c. 839-923 CE), Ibrahi. Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq’s editor, omits the passage, but it is preserved as a quotation from al-Tabari, in Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq (Ishaq 165-166. See Muir, pp.lxxix-lxxx).

Some Islamic and most non-Muslim Western commentators on the Qur’an have accepted this story of Muhammad’s momentary acceptance of the verses; others have repudiated it. But the prevailing Muslim view of what is called the “Gharaniq” incident is that it is a fabrication created by the unbelievers of Mecca in the early days of Islam, and, Haykal comments, afterwards the “story arrested the attention of the western Orientalists who took it as true and repeated it ad nauseam.” (Haykal 105) The main argument against the authenticity of the two verses in Haykal and elsewhere is that “its incoherence is evident upon the least scrutiny. It contradicts the infallibility of every prophet in conveying the message of His Lord.” (Haykal 107) In other words, since Muslims believe Muhammad to have faithfully reported God’s word, it is surprising that Muslim scholars have accepted such a discreditable story, and not at all surprising that it might have been invented by Islam’s enemies. In his analysis of the passage, Haykal comes to the conclusion that “this story of the goddesses is a fabrication and a forgery, authored by the enemies of Islam after the first century of Hijrah” (Haykal 144). Zakaria Bashier shares this view, though he further argues that even if the verses were to be regarded as being genuine, they would not impugn the Prophet’s infallibility because they were in fact uttered by Satan. (Bashier 175). He also refers to similar observations by al-Suhayili (see Bashier 173).

The argument that W.M. Watt, for his part, provides for the inarguable authenticity of the verses is that “it is inconceivable that any Muslim would invent such a story, and it is inconceivable that a Muslim scholar would accept such a story from a non-Muslim.” (Watt xxxiv). Similarly, in his highly controversial book Twenty-Three Years, the Iranian ‘Ali Dashti concludes that “the evidence given in well-attested reports and in the interpretations of certain commentators makes it likely that the incident occured.” (Dashti 32). As evidence for the possibility of such a recitation and its subsequent withdrawal, the following passage from the Qur’an is often cited: “And We did not send before you any apostle or prophet, but when he desired, the Shaitan made a suggestion respecting his desire; but Allah annuls that which is cast” (22:52). As the suras of the Qur’an are traditionally not presented in chronological order (and just what that order might be is generally under dispute), it could be possible that this passage is referring to such a withdrawal.

The verses were perhaps first named “satanic verses’ by Sir William Muir, as Ahsan notes (Ahsan 139, footnote 2). Later the term was widely adopted, for example by Watt in his book Muhammad at Mecca. Daniel Pipes explains that as the term “satanic verses” does not occur anywhere else than in Western Orientalists’ works, and states that Rushdie “unwittingly adopted a part of the orientalist tradition.” (Pipes 116) Rushdie maintains that the term “comes from al-Tabari, one of the canonical Islamic sources.” (Rushdie: “Choice between Light and Dark“ 11)


A list of references to the “satanic verses” in the novel.

Page 24
the incident of the Satanic verses in the early career of the Prophet

Page 114
The Star ... At this point, without any trace of hesitation or doubt, he recites two further verses.

Have you thought upon Lat and Uzza, and Manat, the third, the other?’ . . . ‘They are the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed.’

Page 123 the three winged creatures, looking like herons or swans or just women

‘It was the Devil . . .’

Page 124
He stands in front of the statues . . .

After the repudiation of the Satanic verses . . .

Page 340
he would still speak, at nights, verses in Arabic . . .

Page 366
What finally finished Salman with Mahound: the question of the women; and of the Satanic verses.

Page 368
I went on with my devilement, changing verses . . .

Page 373
Have you heard of Lat, and Manat, and Uzza . . .

There are allusions in the London plot from time to time which connect the verses to Gibreel:

Page 285
it proved impossible to identify the verses

Page 445
the return of the little, satanic verses that made him mad

Page 459
What does a poet write? Verses. What jingle-jangles in Gibreel’s brain? Verses. What broke his heart? Verses and again verses

Page 544
But I heard verses/You get me Spoono/V e r s e s


Note:

The transliteration is given without diacritical marks. The translation in The Satanic Verses here is closest to the one in William Muir, The Life of Mohammad from Original Sources 81). Another translation can be found in M. M. Ahsan: “These are the high-soaring ones (deities) whose intercession is to be hoped for!” (Ahsan 132). Arabic variants appear on pp.132 & 141 of the same source, and there are variant transliterations in Muhammad Husayn Haykal, p.111.


Rushdie’s own most extended discussion of this issue appears in his Critical Quarterly interview, pp. 59-62.


Karen Armstrong, in her Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, speculates about what truth might lurk behind this tale without necessarily alleging that Muhammad recognized the three goddesses as in any way comparable to God himself:

The gharaniq were probably Numidian cranes which were thought to fly higher than any other bird. Muhammad, who may have believed in the existence of the banat al-Llah as he believed in the existence of angels and jinn, was giving the “goddesses” a delicate compliment, without compromising his message. The gharaniq were not on the same level as al-Llah—not that anybody had suggested that they were—but, hovering as it were between heaven and earth, they could be valid intermediaries between God and man, like the angels, whose intercession is approved in the very next section of Sura 53. The Quraysh spread the good news throughout the city: “Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he recited that they are the exalted gharaniq whose intercession is approved.

 


Notes for Chapter II

Page 91

[93]

How is “falling asleep” made literal in this opening paragraph?

lote-tree of the uttermost end that stands beneath the Throne.
In Sura 53, verses 14-16 of the
Qur’an,entitled “The Star,” It is said that a lote tree stands at the boundary of the garden of paradise. According to W. M. Thackston, “This tree, said to stand in the seventh heaven on the right hand of the Throne of God, is called al-muntaha, ‘of the limit,’ because it is the boundary beyond which even the angels do not pass” (al-Kisa’i 347; see also Haykal 141-142). It is the passage just following this into which the “satanic” verses are said to have been inserted and then withdrawn.

[94]

revealing the spring of Zamzam to Hagar the Egyptian
Refers to a famous story according to which Muslims believe that Hagar (Arabic Hajar), mother of all future Arabs, finds water in a well miraculously provided by Gibreel (Cornwell 195). Her quest is ritually reenacted by all those who go on the Hejira to Mecca, where the well is now enclosed by the
Haram, the grand mosque. Her son Ismail (Ishmael) is considered the ancestor of all Arabs. See above, p. 17. Discussion of Muslim beliefs including this episode. Information about Zamzam. (Side note: There is an Iranian brand of soda pop called “Zamzam.”)

the Jurhum filled up Zamzam with mud and golden gazelles
The Jurhum, a tribe of Arabs, a daughter of which had married Ismail (Ishmael), filled the well of Zamzam in when they left Mecca. They had come to Mecca from the Yaman, and settled there before Hajar and Ismail arrived. They became the rulers of the temples and judges in Mecca. But it is said that they became “high-handed and made lawful what was taboo;” and other tribes rose against them and cast them out of the city, sending them into exile. Before they left, one of the Jurhum brought out two carved gazelles of the Ka’ba and the corner-stone, threw them into Zamzam, and covered the well over. Generations later, the tribe of the Quraysh gained control of the Ka’ba, and it was to one of them, ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib b. Hashim, who had responsibility for watering and feeding the pilgrims, that the vision came ordering him to dig up Zamzam. He was the grandfather of Muhammad. Speaking symbolically, the filling in of the well stands as part of the slide into ignorance (Jahiliya) and polytheism by the Meccans; along with the introduction of idols into the Ka’ba. (David Windsor). See Haykal, pp. 33 & 38.


Page 92

Muttalib of the scarlet tents
Muhammad’s grandfather’s name Abdul Muttalib. He like his father, was a merchant.. What is the reference to the scarlet tents? and the silver hair? Muhammad’s family tree.

I’ve had my bloody chips
British slang for to be finished, done for.

Cone Mountain
Note the pun on Alleluia Cone’s name. Plays a role in the novel similar to to Mount Hira where Muhammad received his first revelation (Netton: Text 27). For more on Mount Hira, see Haykal, pp. 70, 406.

Allahgod
The word for God in Arabic is “Allah.”

homosap
Homo sapiens (“wise human”) considered as a “sap” (fool).

Freedom, the old antiquest.
Pun on “Anti-Christ;” suggests that religion opposes freedom.

[95]

harpy
Vicious winged creatures in Greek mythology, implements of vengeance, most unangelic; but here the pun is on “harp,” the instrument traditionally played by angels.

What is said about the will versus submission in the last paragraph on this page?


Page 93

The businessman
Muhammed. The description that follows resembles the description of The Prophet in Haykal, p. 63.

opobalsam trees
These trees produce myrrh. Latin name Myroxylon samum.

Jahilia
A term used by Muslims to refer to the period of history preceding the revelation of the
Qur’anto Muhammad, meaning “ignorance,” or “barbarism.” Commonly used as a term of contempt today meaning “unislamic” (Easterman 34). Rushdie uses it as a name for Mecca or Makkah.

Mahomet
A common misspelling of Muhammad’s name in Europe from the Middle Ages through the 19th century.

farangis
Foreigners, Europeans (Hindi).

whigs, tories, Blacks
Each of these is a term originally used by its enemies to denigrate the designated group, but later adopted with pride by that very group. Compare
Yankee, originally a British term of contempt for Americans.

Mahound
See note on Mahound, above, in Introduction.

What is your reaction to Rushdie’s explanation for choosing this name for his prophetic character?

Hijaz
The area in which Mecca is located.


Page 94

[97]

Zamzam
See note above, on p. 91 [94].

House of the Black Stone
The Kaaba, the temple enclosing the
al-hadjar al-aswad,
the mysterious rock said to have fallen from heaven, the center of Muslim worship in Mecca, a focus of religious observances from before Islamic times. Pictures of the Kaaba.

Given the fact that most Middle-Eastern cities introduce pools and fountains wherever they can, what do you think is the significance of the symbolism of a city made of sand which abhors water?


Page 95

Khalid Khalid ibn al-Walid (d. 642) was converted to Islam in the year before Muhammad conquered Mecca and became early Islam’s most famous military leader apart from the Prophet himself. He is referred to again on p. 381 [385] as “General Khalid.”

Shark
See note in Introduction. Rushdie is stressing the appropriateness of the name for a tribe of businessmen.

Ismail
The Qur’anic spelling for character called Ishmael in the Bible. Gibreel was partly named after him. See note on “Ismail,” above, p. 17.

He moves in mysterious ways.
Alluding to the first lines of the
Olney Hymn no. 35, “Light Shining Out of Darkness“ by William Cowper (1731-1800): “God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform.”

first Safa then Marwah
Two mounds between which pilgrims to Mecca still run in imitation of Hagar.

Arabia Odorifera
Latin for “fragrant Arabia.” The region was associated with spices in ancient and medieval times and it was said that one could smell them in the air. See, for instance, Rabanus Maurus’s
De rerum naturis, Book 19: on aromatic herbs and trees in the Middle East (842-846).

balsam, cassia, cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh
Fragrant substances; it is probably not a coincidence that the last two were often described as being given to the Christ child by the Magi.


Page 96 [98]

Monophysite
The belief that Christ had only one nature. More on Monophysites.

Nabataean
An ancient Arabian people; but the term is used in Arabic to label Syrian and Iraqi Aramaeans.

Basra
In southeastern Iraq. Information on Basra.

hashish
See above, note on p. 76 [78].

afeem
Opium.


Page 98

[100]

Anatolian slaves
Anatolia (modern Turkey) was a source of slaves from ancient times. Anatolia Throughout the Ages.

[99]

a series of rough circles
According to Rushdie, this feature of Jahilia is modelled on Delhi (“In Good Faith“ 409).


Page 97

onager
A wild ass (
Equus hemionus) of southwestern Asia. More about Onagers.

[100]

the satirist
Muhammad was much troubled by satirical poets who attacked him and had one, named Ka’b, assassinated (Armstrong 185).

Baal.
Originally the name of a Middle Eastern sky-god worshipped by the original inhabitants of Israel, much denounced but occasionally worshipped by Jews. In the Bible his worship is fiercely denounced, and his name eventually became synonymous with “Devil.” He is also often referred to as “Baalzebul” (“Lord of Lords”), although these were evidently originally separate gods. More on Baalzebub.

Why do you think Rushdie has chosen this as the name of his satirist?


Page 99

[101]

Hubal . . . Kain
The Arabic spellings of “Abel” and “Cain.”

Amalekites
A Semitic people who figure as enemies of the Israelites in the Bible, and whose descent are traced from Esau. See Exodus 17:8-16, I Samuel 15:1-33. Arabic scholars identify them with the ancient Arab tribe of Abulfeda, ruling for a long period over Mecca. More information on the Amalekites.

Uzza . . . Manat . . . Al-Lat . . .
Not only were these three pre-Islamic goddesses worshipped in Mecca, but at temples of their own in, respectively Taif, Qudayd, and Naklah. More information about the goddesses and their worship.


Page 101

[103]

Bilal
Bilal b. Rabah, was a freed Abyssinian slave and appointed by Muhammad as his first muezzin (Netton: Text, p. 28). See note on “Bilal X”, below, p. 207 [213].

some sort of bum from Persia by the outlandish name of Salman
Salman al-Farisi was an early Persian convert to Islam, but this is also a sly reference to the author’s first name (Netton: Text, p. 28). David Windsor adds, “he was one of the actual companions of the Prophet (though not one of the scribes of the Recitation, as he is in the novel) and is credited with the idea of digging the trench (in the battle that gets it name from it) which defeated the Meccan cavalry. (See Haykal 303 and Armstrong 203).

Why does Abu Simbel oppose Mahound so fiercely?


Page 102

[104]

They stretched him out in the fairground with a boulder on his chest.
See note above on p. 43.

What does Abu Simbel mean by his answer to the question, “What kind of idea am I?”

manticore
See “manticorps,” below, p. 361 [373].


Page 103

[105]

Zafar
A city in Yemen, founded in the 13th century. Rushdie undoubtedly mentioned this city partly because its name is also that of his son by his first wife, and to whom
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is dedicated.

Sheba
The kingdom also known as Saba, in southern Arabia, considered by many scholars to be the Biblical Sheba.

Yathrib
The original name of Medina before Muhammad moved there in 622, the second most sacred city of Islam, object of the Hejira or Hijrah.

Midian
The area bordering the Gulf of Aqaba opposite the Sinai Peninsula.

Aqabah
Or Aqaba, the port city at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Petra
Ancient city in southwest Jordan, capital of the Nabataeans.

Palmyra
Ancient city in Central Syria, northeast of Damascus. Legend says it was built by Solomon. Although the Bible does not indicate that Solomon and Sheba were lovers, legend linked them romantically. Information about Palmyra. Photos of Palmyra.

[106]

gangs of young Sharks
The Tribe of Mahound (see above, Introduction) but very likely also a reference to the Puerto Rican gang called “The Sharks” in Leonard Bernstein’s
West Side Story, which, like this novel, has a theme of interracial strife. More information on West Side Story.


Page 104

[106]

Ablutions
Muslims must ceremoniously wash certain parts of their body before prayers.

[107]

Hamza
The name of the uncle of the historical Muhammad. (See Netton: Dictionaryp. 95.)


Page 105

[107]

When you come down from Coney there’s a brightness on you.
Compare with the Biblical tradition that when Moses descended from Mount Ararat after receiving the Law from God, his face shone (Exodus 34:35).

[108]

There is no god but God.
The central statement of faith of Islam, the
qalmah: “La ilaha ilallah! La ilaha!” A fuller translation is: “There is no God but God, the God”.


Page 108

[110]

pee oh vee
POV: point of view.

steadicam
A camera on an ingenious mechanical mounting that allows it to compensate for the movements of the person carrying it, so that a hand-held shot looks steady.

bazooms
Old-fashioned slang for “bosoms.”

[111]

travelling mat
A special effect in film which allows the insertion of a person into a scene where he/she has actually never been.


Page 109

bhaenchud
Literally means “one who sleeps with his sister;” but used very commonly as a very insulting expletive like “fucking” (Hindi, Urdu).


Page 110

[112]

flew me to Jerusalem
Refers to a miraculous journey taken by Muhammad, the ‘isra (“Night Flight”). See Armstrong pp. 138-142. More information on the ‘isra.


Page 111

[113]

Allah Ishvar God
Listing in order Muslim, Hindu and Christian terms for the deity.

What do you think the repeated refrain “What kind of an idea are you/am I” is meant to indicate? Keep track of the various uses to which this phrase is put throuhgout the novel.


Page 112

[114]

epileptic fit
In some early Western commentaries on Islam, Mumhammad’s visions were ascribed to epileptic fits (Kuortti).


Page 113

[116]

that famous Grecian profile . . .
Compare with the description of Ayesha below, p. 206 [212].

kahin
Muhammad was accused of being a seer or
kahin (Arabic) by the inhabitants of Mecca early in his career, one of several accusations against him made previous to his recognition as the Prophet (Götje. 9, Bader 69). When the angel Gibreel first ordered Muhammad to recite, he protested that he could not, that he was not a kahin (Armstrong 46).


Page 114

The Star
Each sura, or chapter in the Qur’an has a title, in this case “The Star” (Sura 53). The added verses are, of course, the “Satanic” verses of the title, and there is indeed a rather obscure Muslim tradition which tells how these verses were at first included, then rejected. Detailed discussion of the “satanic verses”. See also above, p. 24, and below, p. 123 [125-126]. See also Haykal, pp. 105-114.

Note the seeming results of Mahound’s new “revelation” on the following pages and discuss them.


Page 115

[117]

Allahu Akbar
“God is Great,” part of the traditional Islamic call to prayer (Arabic). More about Islamic prayer.


Page 117

[119]

gryphons
Monsters combining the forequarters of eagles and the hindquarters of lions. Also spelled “Griffins.” More about gryphons.

salamanders
Because salamanders were often found basking in the still-warm ashes of extinct fires they were thought to be able to live in flames and were attributed all sorts of miraculous properties.

rocs
The roc was the gigantic bird that carried off Sinbad in
The Thousand and One Nights.

amphisbaenae
Two-headed serpents of Greek myth.

Assyrian Sphinx
The Assyrian figures of winged bulls with bearded human heads have sometimes been called by this name by analogy with the Egyptian sphinx, which has the body of a lion and head of a man. Pictures of Assyrian bulls.

Djinns
See note above, on p. 22.

houris
Beautiful, virginal maidens provided for the pleasure of the saved (men) in the Muslim paradise (Arabic). See Introduction.


Page 118

[121]

Isa . . . Maryam
Jesus and Mary. Jesus is a miraculously born prophet of God in Islam, but not God’s son.


Page 120

[122]

simurgh
In Persian mythology, a gigantic bird. Rushdie called his first novel
Grimus, a near-anagram of “simurgh.”

hippogriffs
Mythical monster combining the forequarters of a griffin and the hindquarters of a horse. See above, note on “gryphon,” on p. 117 [119].

[123]

He knows I take lovers
According to tradition, Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan (after whom Abu Simbel is patterned), had many lovers (Haykal 319).


Page 123

[125]

wrestling match with the Archangel Gibreel
Refers to Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel (or God himself, depending on how you read Genesis 32:24-32). An article on this story.

[126]

Why does the narrator say “it was me both times”? What is the significance of this statement?


Page 124

[127]

These are but names you have dreamed of, you and your fathers. Allah vests no authority in them.’
Verses from the chapter called “The Star“ in the Qur’an.


Page 125

Submission
“Islam” literally means “submission.”

Yathrib
See note above, on p. 103 [127].

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