An Orientalist Myth
Enough ink has been spilled in writing over the controversy of Salman Rushdie's fourth novel The Satanic Verses ( 1988) though it is still talked about .The controversy of the book revolves around the very Orientalist term 'Satanic Verses' coined by the Scottish Orientalist William Muir in the book 'Life of Mahomet'. Salman Rushdie and William Muir had not created the story they tend to substantiate the orientalist idea of 'Satanic Verses' by their means of falsification.
At the very outset of the novel, the two protagonists, the Gibreel Farishta, a famous Bollywood actor, and Saladin Chamcha, a voice actor, are trapped in a plane hijacked heading from India to Britain. The plane explodes over the English Channel but the two are magically survived. In the magical transmission, Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil and Gibreel Farishta who suffers from Schizophrenia takes the personality of Archangel Gabriel who starts dreaming a series of dreams. In the dreams, Gibreel Farishta becomes the narrator of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SM) called 'Mahound' and some contemporary events of Mecca mentioned as 'Jahillyyah' in the novel. In Islamic belief, the prophet had been, in fact, visited by Archangel Gabriel for 22 years and recited Allah's words to him. Muhammad (SM) repeated those words exactly to his followers. Those words were written down verbatim as conveyed by the archangel to Prophet Muhammad and in this how speech became verses and chapters of the Quran.
However, in the novel the idea of 'Satanic Verses' challenges the authenticity of the Quran sparking a question that 'a few verses were supposedly spoken by him as part of the Qur'an, and then withdrawn on the grounds that the devil had sent them to deceive Mohammad into thinking they came from God.' But the most authentic version is reported in Sahih Bukhari.
And an authentic Hadith says, that in the month of Ramadan (the month is not mentioned in Bukhari, but we learn this from Ibn Ishaq), in the 5th year of the dawah, the Prophet PBUH recited Surah al-Najm in its entirety. It's a very powerful and eloquent Sura.
The momentum and the excitement build up towards the end. The power of the Quran affected the entire congregation, Muslim and non-Muslim, such that when the Prophet PBUH recited the last verse, "Prostrate to Allah and worship Him," the Muslims fell into sajdah, and the Quraysh were so emotional that they too fell into sajdah. For the first time, Muslim and non-Muslim all united behind the Prophet PBUH. Except for al-Walid ibn al-Mughira (or in another version Umayyah ibn Khalaf) who put sand to his head and said, "This is good enough for me."
By the time this news reached the 15 sahabis in Abyssinia, the rumour had been exaggerated. This is the version narrated in Bukhari. The disputed version recorded by al-Tabari reported that Satan interjected some words in Surah al-Najm -- recognizing the powers of the pre-Islamic Arabian deities' al-Lat, al-Uzzah, and al-Manat - since non-Muslims also prostrated with Muhammad (SM).
According to the report, these "Satanic verses" were later withdrawn by the Prophet. This disputed version is not found in the famous books of hadith nor in the 6 Books or Musnad Imam Ahmad. Not even in Ibn Ishaq or Ibn Hisham. They are found usually in the more obscure works - books that collect everything, tertiary works, such as al-Tabari's tafsirs and al-Wahidi's Asbab al-Nuzul. Note, al-Tabari didn't write a tafsir for the masses. Rather he wanted to write an encyclopaedia for the scholars. He mentioned in the beginning of his famous book, "I will report absolutely everything I hear, authentic or not."
Al-Tabari is not Bukhari - Bukhari was a critical collector. And so the following reports that mentions a story that involves Iblis, shaytan, is found in these such books. And because it involves Iblis, a western researcher (Orientalist) by the name of Sir William Muir (d. 1905) said we'll call it the 'Satanic Verses'. There is no authentic version of the satanic incident. Every single narration is weak and none of them has an unbroken chain back to the Prophet PBUH.' So, William Muir's the idea of 'Satanic Verses' interjected into the Salman Rushdie's novel is, no doubt, an Orientalist or Eurocentric myth only substantiated by many means of falsification no doubt.
(N.B The quoted portion of this article has been extracted from an eminent Islamic scholar Dr. Yasir Qadhi's lecture 'The Incident of the Satanic Verses'.)
The writer is Lecturer, Department of English Pundra University of Science and Technology, Bogura