The Satanic Verses

From Academic Kids

"The Satanic Verses" is also a novel by Salman Rushdie; see: The Satanic Verses (novel)

The term Satanic Verses was coined by the historian Sir William Muir to refer to several verses alleged to have been part of an early version of the Qur'an and later expunged. The story of the verses can be read in al-Waqidi and al-Tabari's recension of Ibn Ishaq's biography of Prophet Muhammad, the Sirat Rasul Allah, which is believed to have been written 120-130 years after Muhammad's death.

Ibn Ishaq reports that Muhammad was anxious to attract the people of Mecca (who were, after all, his tribesmen and neighbors) to Islam. As he was reciting to himself this verse of the Qur'an, as revealed to him by the angel Gabriel:

Have you thought of al-Lat and al-'Uzza and Manat the third, the other
(Sura 53, 19-20)

Satan tempted him to add the following line:

These are the exalted Gharaniq, whose intercession is approved.

al-Lat, al-'Uzza and Manat were three goddesses worshipped by the Meccans. Gharaniq is a hapax legomenon, a word found only in this one place; commentators say that it means Numidian cranes, which fly at a great height. The subtext to this allegation is that Muhammad was backing away from his otherwise uncompromising monotheism by saying that these goddesses were real and their intercession effective.

The story goes that Meccans were overjoyed to hear this and ceased to persecute Muhammad and his flock. The Muslims who had migrated to Ethiopia started returning to Mecca. The angel Gabriel came to Muhammad later and scolded him for adding his erroneous invention to the divine scripture. Muhammed took back his words and the persecution resumed.

Almost all Muslim scholars have rejected the story as historically improbable (it would have taken a long time for news to travel to Ethiopia and for the refugees to return) and inconsistent with Muhammad's staunch monotheism. They argue that this story must have been a fabrication by the Meccans and other enemies of Muhammad, and that Ibn Ishaq, al-Tabari, and al-Waqidi only reported the fabrication they heard from others. Some Western scholars, such as John Burton, also doubt the authenticity of the story (J. Burton, Those Are The High-Flying Cranes, Journal Of Semitic Studies, 1970, Volume 15, No. 2, pp. 246-265).

Critics have stated that Muslims reject the story only because it is so disturbing to their faith. As Muslims, they cannot bring themselves to believe that Muhammad would tamper with the words of the Qur'an, even temporarily.

A number of Muslim scholars, notably Fazlur Rahman, have argued that if we are to trust Ibn Ishaq on other matters, we must trust him on this one.

This entire matter was a mere footnote to the back-and-forth of religious debate, and was rekindled only when Salman Rushdie's 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses, made headline news. Even though Rushdie's novel does not deal with the issue of the Satanic Verses per se, it does contain some unflattering allusions to Islamic history. Muslims around the world demonstrated against the book, and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's death, saying that the book blasphemed Muhammad and his wives. See The Satanic Verses (novel).


  • Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes in the Qur'an, Biblioteca Islamica, 1994. ISBN 0882970518

External links

Islamic commentators:

eo:La satanaj versoj fr:Les Versets sataniques


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