The Satanic Verses

Last updated

The Satanic Verses
1988 Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses.jpg
Cover of the first edition, showing a detail from Rustam Killing the White Demon from a Clive Album in the Victoria and Albert Museum
Author Salman Rushdie
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre Magic realism
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages546 (first edition)
ISBN 0-670-82537-9
OCLC 18558869
LC Class PR6068.U757 S27 1988
Preceded by Shame  
Followed by Haroun and the Sea of Stories  
Salman Rushdie, 2008 Rushdie2008.jpg
Salman Rushdie, 2008

The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, first published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters. The title refers to the satanic verses, a group of Quranic verses that refer to three pagan Meccan goddesses: Allāt, Uzza, and Manāt. [1] The part of the story that deals with the "satanic verses" was based on accounts from the historians al-Waqidi and al-Tabari. [1]


In the United Kingdom, The Satanic Verses received positive reviews, was a 1988 Booker Prize finalist (losing to Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda ) and won the 1988 Whitbread Award for novel of the year. [2] However, major controversy ensued as Muslims accused it of blasphemy and mocking their faith. The outrage among Muslims resulted in a fatwā calling for Rushdie's death issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. The result was several failed assassination attempts on Rushdie, who was placed under police protection by the UK government, and attacks on several connected individuals, including the murder of translator Hitoshi Igarashi.

The book was banned in India as hate speech directed toward a specific religious group. [3] [4]


The Satanic Verses consists of a frame narrative, using elements of magical realism, interlaced with a series of sub-plots that are narrated as dream visions experienced by one of the protagonists. The frame narrative, like many other stories by Rushdie, involves Indian expatriates in contemporary England. The two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are both actors of Indian Muslim background. Farishta is a Bollywood superstar who specialises in playing Hindu deities. (The character is partly based on Indian film stars Amitabh Bachchan and N. T. Rama Rao.) [5] Chamcha is an emigrant who has broken with his Indian identity and works as a voiceover artist in England.

At the beginning of the novel, both are trapped in a hijacked plane flying from India to Britain. [6] The plane explodes over the English Channel, but the two are magically saved. In a miraculous transformation, Farishta takes on the personality of the archangel Gabriel and Chamcha that of a devil. Chamcha is arrested and passes through an ordeal of police abuse as a suspected illegal immigrant. Farishta's transformation can partly be read on a realistic level as the symptom of the protagonist's developing schizophrenia.

Both characters struggle to piece their lives back together. Farishta seeks and finds his lost love, the English mountaineer Allie Cone, but their relationship is overshadowed by his mental illness. Chamcha, having miraculously regained his human shape, wants to take revenge on Farishta for having forsaken him after their common fall from the hijacked plane. He does so by fostering Farishta's pathological jealousy and thus destroying his relationship with Allie. In another moment of crisis, Farishta realises what Chamcha has done, but forgives him and even saves his life.

Both return to India. Farishta throws Allie off a high rise in another outbreak of jealousy and then commits suicide. Chamcha, who has found not only forgiveness from Farishta but also reconciliation with his estranged father and his own Indian identity, decides to remain in India.

Dream sequences

Embedded in this story is a series of half-magic dream vision narratives, ascribed to the mind of Farishta. They are linked together by many thematic details as well as by the common motifs of divine revelation, religious faith and fanaticism, and doubt.

One of these sequences contains most of the elements that have been criticised as offensive to Muslims. It is a transformed re-narration of the life of Muhammad (called "Mahound" or "the Messenger" in the novel) in Mecca ("Jahiliyyah"). At its centre is the episode of the so-called satanic verses, in which the prophet first proclaims a revelation in favour of the old polytheistic deities, but later renounces this as an error induced by the Devil. There are also two opponents of the "Messenger": a demonic heathen priestess, Hind bint Utbah, and an irreverent skeptic and satirical poet, Baal. When the prophet returns to Mecca in triumph, Baal goes into hiding in an underground brothel, where the prostitutes assume the identities of the prophet's wives. Also, one of the prophet's companions claims that he, doubting the authenticity of the "Messenger," has subtly altered portions of the Quran as they were dictated to him.

The second sequence tells the story of Ayesha, an Indian peasant girl who claims to be receiving revelations from the Archangel Gibreel. She entices all her village community to embark on a foot pilgrimage to Mecca, claiming that they will be able to walk across the Arabian Sea. The pilgrimage ends in a catastrophic climax as the believers all walk into the water and disappear, amid disturbingly conflicting testimonies from observers about whether they just drowned or were in fact miraculously able to cross the sea.

A third dream sequence presents the figure of a fanatic expatriate religious leader, the "Imam", in a late-20th-century setting. This figure is a transparent allusion to the life of Ruhollah Khomeini in his Parisian exile, but it is also linked through various recurrent narrative motifs to the figure of the "Messenger".

Literary criticism and analysis

Overall, the book received favourable reviews from literary critics. In a 2003 volume of criticism of Rushdie's career, the influential critic Harold Bloom named The Satanic Verses "Rushdie's largest aesthetic achievement". [7]

Timothy Brennan called the work "the most ambitious novel yet published to deal with the immigrant experience in Britain" that captures the immigrants' dream-like disorientation and their process of "union-by-hybridization". The book is seen as "fundamentally a study in alienation." [2]

Muhammd Mashuq ibn Ally wrote that "The Satanic Verses is about identity, alienation, rootlessness, brutality, compromise, and conformity. These concepts confront all migrants, disillusioned with both cultures: the one they are in and the one they join. Yet knowing they cannot live a life of anonymity, they mediate between them both. The Satanic Verses is a reflection of the author’s dilemmas." The work is an "albeit surreal, record of its own author's continuing identity crisis." [2] Ally said that the book reveals the author ultimately as "the victim of nineteenth-century British colonialism." [2] Rushdie himself spoke confirming this interpretation of his book, saying that it was not about Islam, "but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay." [2] He has also said "It's a novel which happened to contain a castigation of Western materialism. The tone is comic." [2]

After the Satanic Verses controversy developed, some scholars familiar with the book and the whole of Rushdie's work, like M. D. Fletcher, saw the reaction as ironic. Fletcher wrote "It is perhaps a relevant irony that some of the major expressions of hostility toward Rushdie came from those about whom and (in some sense) for whom he wrote." [8] He said the manifestations of the controversy in Britain "embodied an anger arising in part from the frustrations of the migrant experience and generally reflected failures of multicultural integration, both significant Rushdie themes. Clearly, Rushdie's interests centrally include explorations of how migration heightens one's awareness that perceptions of reality are relative and fragile, and of the nature of religious faith and revelation, not to mention the political manipulation of religion. Rushdie's own assumptions about the importance of literature parallel in the literal value accorded the written word in Islamic tradition to some degree. But Rushdie seems to have assumed that diverse communities and cultures share some degree of common moral ground on the basis of which dialogue can be pieced together, and it is perhaps for this reason that he underestimated the implacable nature of the hostility evoked by The Satanic Verses, even though a major theme of that novel is the dangerous nature of closed, absolutist belief systems." [8]

Rushdie's influences have long been a point of interest to scholars examining his work. According to W. J. Weatherby, influences on The Satanic Verses were listed as James Joyce, Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Frank Herbert, Thomas Pynchon, Mervyn Peake, Gabriel García Márquez, Jean-Luc Godard, J. G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs. [9] Angela Carter writes that the novel contains "inventions such as the city of Jahilia, 'built entirely of sand,' that gives a nod to Calvino and a wink to Frank Herbert". [10]

Srinivas Aravamudan's analysis of The Satanic Verses stressed the satiric nature of the work and held that while it and Midnight's Children may appear to be more "comic epic", "clearly those works are highly satirical" in a similar vein of postmodern satire pioneered by Joseph Heller in Catch-22 . [8]

The Satanic Verses continued to exhibit Rushdie's penchant for organising his work in terms of parallel stories. Within the book "there are major parallel stories, alternating dream and reality sequences, tied together by the recurring names of the characters in each; this provides intertexts within each novel which comment on the other stories." The Satanic Verses also exhibits Rushdie's common practice of using allusions to invoke connotative links. Within the book he referenced everything from mythology to "one-liners invoking recent popular culture". [8]


The novel provoked great controversy in the Muslim community for what some Muslims believed were blasphemous references. They accused him of misusing freedom of speech. [11] Pakistan banned the book in November 1988. On 12 February 1989, a 10,000-strong protest against Rushdie and the book took place in Islamabad, Pakistan. Six protesters were killed in an attack on the American Cultural Center, and an American Express office was ransacked. As the controversy spread, the importing of the book was banned in India [12] and it was burned in demonstrations in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Commission for Racial Equality and a liberal think tank, the Policy Studies Institute, held seminars on the Rushdie affair. They did not invite the author Fay Weldon, who spoke out against burning books, but did invite Shabbir Akhtar, a Cambridge philosophy graduate who called for "a negotiated compromise" which "would protect Muslim sensibilities against gratuitous provocation". The journalist and author Andy McSmith wrote at the time "We are witnessing, I fear, the birth of a new and dangerously illiberal "liberal" orthodoxy designed to accommodate Dr Akhtar and his fundamentalist friends." [13]


In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi'a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie and his publishers, [14] and called for Muslims to point him out to those who can kill him if they cannot themselves. Although the British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher gave Rushdie round-the-clock police protection, many politicians on both sides were hostile to the author. British Labour MP Keith Vaz led a march through Leicester shortly after he was elected in 1989 calling for the book to be banned, while the Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, the party's former chairman, called Rushdie an "outstanding villain" whose "public life has been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality". [15]

Journalist Christopher Hitchens staunchly defended Rushdie and urged critics to condemn the violence of the fatwa instead of blaming the novel or the author. Hitchens considered the fatwa to be the opening shot in a cultural war on freedom. [16]

Despite a conciliatory statement by Iran in 1998, and Rushdie's declaration that he would stop living in hiding, the Iranian state news agency reported in 2006 that the fatwa would remain in place permanently since fatwas can only be rescinded by the person who first issued them, and Khomeini had since died. [17]

Violence, assassinations and attempted murders

With police protection Rushdie has thus far escaped direct physical harm, but others associated with his book have not been so lucky. Hitoshi Igarashi, his Japanese translator, was found stabbed to death by a cleaning lady 13 July 1991 on the college campus where he taught near Tokyo. Ten days prior to Igarashi's killing Rushdie's Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was seriously injured by an attacker at his home in Milan by being stabbed multiple times on 3 July 1991. [18] William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of "The Satanic Verses", was critically injured by being shot three times in the back by an assassination on October 11, 1993 in Oslo. Nygaard survived but spent months in hospital recovering. The book's Turkish translator Aziz Nesin was the intended target of a mob of arsonists who set fire to the Madimak Hotel after Friday prayers on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, killing 37 people. Nesin escaped death when the fundamentalist mob failed to recognize him early in the attack. Known as the Sivas massacre, it is remembered by Turks who gather in Sivas annually and hold silent marches, commemorations and vigils for the slain. [19]

In September 2012, Rushdie expressed doubt that The Satanic Verses would be published today because of a climate of "fear and nervousness". [20]

In March 2016, PEN America reported that the bounty for the Rushdie fatwa was raised by $600,000 (£430,000). Top Iranian media contributed this sum, adding to the existing $2.8m already offered. [21] In response, the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prize for literature, denounced the death sentence and called it "a serious violation of free speech". This was the first time they had commented on the issue since publication. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ruhollah Khomeini 1st Supreme Leader of Iran

Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, also known in the Western world as Ayatollah Khomeini, was an Iranian revolutionary, politician, and cleric. He was the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the end of the 2,500 year old Persian monarchy. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country's supreme leader, a position created in the constitution of the Islamic Republic as the highest-ranking political and religious authority of the nation, which he held until his death. He was succeeded by Ali Khamenei on 4 June 1989.

Salman Rushdie British Indian writer

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was deemed to be "the best novel of all winners" on two separate occasions, marking the 25th and the 40th anniversary of the prize. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He combines magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations.

Mohammad Fazel Lankarani 20th-century Iranian grand ayatollah

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel Lankarani was an Iranian Twelver Shia Marja'. He was student of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi. He was a child of a Persian mother and an Azerbaijani father.

Sir Iqbal Abdul Karim Mussa Sacranie, OBE served as Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) until June 2006. He arrived in the UK in 1969. He was founding Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, and served four further years as Secretary General from 2002 to 2004 and 2004 to 2006. He was honoured with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1999, and was Knighted by the Queen in 2005.

Hitoshi Igarashi Japanese writer

Hitoshi Igarashi was a Japanese scholar of Arabic and Persian literature and history and the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. He was murdered in the wake of fatwas issued by Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for the death of the book's author and "those involved in its publication."

William Nygaard Norwegian publisher

William Nygaard is the retired head of the Norwegian publishing company Aschehoug. He is chairman of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. He has two children.

Marianne Wiggins is an American author. The characters and storylines in her novels have been described as unusual. According to The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, Wiggins writes with "a bold intelligence and an ear for hidden comedy." She has won a Whiting Award, an National Endowment for the Arts award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2004 for her novel Evidence of Things Unseen

The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, also called the Governance of the Jurist, is a post-Occultation theory in Shia Islam which holds that Islam gives a faqīh custodianship over people. Ulama supporting the theory disagree over how encompassing custodianship should be. One interpretation – Limited Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist – holds that guardianship should be limited to non-litigious matters including religious endowments (Waqf) judicial matters and the property for which no specific person is responsible. Another – Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist – maintains that Guardianship should include all issues for which ruler in the absence of Imams have responsibility, including governance of the country. The idea of guardianship as rule was advanced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a series of lectures in 1970 and now forms the basis of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The constitution of Iran calls for a faqih, or Vali-ye faqih, to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government. In the context of Iran, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist is often referred to as "rule by the jurisprudent", or "rule of the Islamic jurist".

Iran is a constitutional, Islamic theocracy. Its official religion is the doctrine of the Twelver Jaafari School. Iran's law against blasphemy derives from Sharia. Blasphemers are usually charged with "spreading corruption on earth", or mofsed-e-filarz, which can also be applied to criminal or political crimes. The law against blasphemy complements laws against criticizing the Islamic regime, insulting Islam, and publishing materials that deviate from Islamic standards. The regime uses these laws to persecute religious minorities such as the Sunni, Bahai, Sufi, and Christians and to persecute dissidents and journalists. Persecuted individuals are subject to surveillance by the "religious police," harassment, prolonged detention, mistreatment, torture, and execution. The courts have acquitted vigilantes who killed in the belief that their victims were engaged in un-Islamic activities.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is an academic and political activist. He was born in Delhi, India, migrated to Pakistan in late 1947 and moved to the UK in 1964.

<i>The Satanic Verses</i> controversy Reaction of Muslims to a 1988 novel

The Satanic Verses controversy, also known as the Rushdie Affair, was the heated and frequently violent reaction of Muslims to the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses, which was first published in the United Kingdom in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. Many Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy or unbelief and in 1989 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. Numerous killings, attempted killings, and bombings resulted in response to the novel.

Political thought and legacy of Ruhollah Khomeini

Khomeinism is the founding ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Impact of the religious and political ideas of the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini include replacing Iran's millennia-old monarchy with theocracy. Khomeini declared Islamic jurists the true holders of not only religious authority but political authority, who must be obeyed as "an expression of obedience to God", and whose rule has "precedence over all secondary ordinances [in Islam] such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage."

Knighthood of Salman Rushdie

In mid-June 2007 Salman Rushdie, the British Indian novelist and author of the controversial novel The Satanic Verses, was created a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II. This action brought much controversy around the world in many countries with Muslim majority populations. Soon after the news of the knighthood was released protests against the honour were held in Malaysia and in Pakistan where effigies of the writer were publicly burnt. On 19 June 2007, governments in both Pakistan and Iran summoned their British ambassadors to officially protest against the award. While many groups and individuals have renewed the call to execute Rushdie, the author "is not commenting on the latest threats to his life. It is understood he is anxious not to inflame the situation". When asked by the Associated Press if his silence was at the request of the British government, Rushdie replied by e-mail stating "The British authorities have not asked me to do or not do anything. I have simply chosen to remain out of this storm for the moment. And nobody is turning anything down." The media noted in July 2007 that Rushdie "has not been seen in public since the 16 June announcement of his knighthood." However, he was photographed receiving his knighthood formally the next year at a ceremony which, breaking with tradition, did not announce in advance his attendance.

Following Ayatollah Khomeini's 14 February 1989 death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, after the publication of Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses, Yusuf Islam, previously known as Cat Stevens, made statements that were interpreted as endorsing the killing of Rushdie. His statements generated criticism from commentators in the West.

Mehdi Haeri Yazdi was a prominent Shia Islamic cleric in Iran and the first son of Sheikh Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi, the founder of Qom Seminary and teacher of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became the leader of the Iranian Revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

<i>Joseph Anton: A Memoir</i> book by Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton: A Memoir is an autobiographical book by the British Indian writer, Salman Rushdie. It was published in September 2012 by Random House.

Abdullah bin Muhammad al-Ahdal, a native of Saudi Arabia, was the great Imam of Belgium. He died in 1989 in Brussels.

<i>The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West</i> book by Daniel Pipes

The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West is a book written by historian Daniel Pipes, published in 1990. It focuses on events surrounding The Satanic Verses. The afterword was written by Koenraad Elst.

Satanic verses may refer to:


  1. 1 2 John D. Erickson (1998). Islam and Postcolonial Narrative. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ian Richard Netton (1996). Text and Trauma: An East-West Primer. Richmond, UK: Routledge Curzon.
  3. Manoj Mitta (25 January 2012). "Reading 'Satanic Verses' legal". The Times of India . Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  4. Suroor, Hasan (3 March 2012). "You can't read this book". The Hindu . Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  5. "Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses". Archived from the original on 20 November 2000. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  6. Patrascu, Ecaterina (2013). "Voices of the "Dream-Vilayet" – The Image of London in The Satanic Verses". Between categories, beyond boundaries: Arte, ciudad e identidad. Granada: Libargo. pp. 100–111. ISBN   978-84-938812-9-0.
  7. Harold Bloom (2003). Introduction to Bloom's Modern Critical Views: Salman Rushdie. Chelsea House Publishers.
  8. 1 2 3 4 M. D. Fletcher (1994). Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie. Rodopi B.V, Amsterdam.
  9. Weatherby, W. J. Salman Rushdie: Sentenced to Death. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc., 1990, p. 126.
  10. Carter, Angela, in Appignanesi, Lisa and Maitland, Sara (eds). The Rushdie File. London: Fourth Estate, 1989, p. 11.
  11. Abdolkarim Soroush's speech in the USA, November 2002, Farsi Text, has been published in Aftab monthly magazine in April 2003
  12. "Reading 'Satanic Verses' legal". The Times of India. 25 January 2012.
  13. McSmith 2011, page 16
  14. "Ayatollah sentences author to death". BBC. 14 February 1989. Retrieved 29 December 2008.
  15. No Such Thing as Society, Andy McSmith, Constable 2011, page 96 ISBN   978-1-84901-979-8
  16. Christopher Hitchens. Assassins of the Mind. Vanity Fair, February 2009.
  17. "Iran says Rushdie fatwa still stands". Iran Focus. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 22 January 2007.
  18. Helm, Leslie (13 July 1991). "Translator of 'Satanic Verses' Slain". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  19. Freedom of Expression after the “Cartoon Wars” By Arch Puddington, Freedom House, 2006
  20. "Salman Rushdie: Satanic Verses 'would not be published today'". BBC News. BBC. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  21. "PEN condemns increased fatwa bounty on Salman Rushdie", The Guardian , 2 March 2016.
  22. "Nobel panel slams Rushdie death threats", The Local , 24 March 2016.

Further reading