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The Satanic Verses (novel)

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The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, first published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. The title refers to the Satanic Verses, an attempted interpolation in the Qur'an described by Ibn Ishaq in his biography of Muhammad (the oldest surviving text).

Many Muslims find Ibn Ishaq's story deeply disturbing and reject it as false, and many Muslim scholars also reject the story as historically improbable and weakly attested. The novel caused much controversy upon publication in 1988, as many Muslims considered that it contained blasphemous references. India was the first country to ban the book. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who was also a Shi'a Muslim scholar, then issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie and claimed that it was the duty of every Muslim to obey. On February 14, 1989, the Ayatollah broadcast the following message on Iranian radio: "I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Qur'an, and all those involved in its publication who are aware of its content are sentenced to death" 1. As a result, Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in July 1991, Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month, and William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993. On February 14, 2006, the Iranian state news agency reported that the fatwa will remain in place permanently. [1]

In the UK, however, the book garnered great critical acclaim. It was a 1988 Booker Prize Finalist, eventually losing to Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda.

Plot summary

The novel 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 specializes in playing Hindu deities. Chamcha is an emigrant who has broken with his past Indian identity and works as a voiceover specialist in England.

At the beginning of the novel, both are trapped in a hijacked plane during a voyage from India to Britain. The plane explodes over the English coast, but the two are magically saved and land on English soil unharmed. In a miraculous transformation, Farishta takes on the personality of the archangel Gibreel, and Chamcha that of a satyr, which evolves thunderously into a devil. Farishta's transformation can be read on a realistic level as the delusional symptom of the protagonist's developing schizophrenia.

Both characters struggle to piece their broken 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, now bears a revengeful hatred towards Farishta for having forsaken him after their common fall. He takes revenge on him by destroying his relationship with Allie, through fostering Farishta's pathological jealousy. In another moment of crisis, Farishta realizes what Chamcha has done, but forgives him and even saves his life.

Both later return to India. Farishta, still suffering from his illness, kills Allie 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.

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

One of these sequences 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. They all drown in the attempt to walk across the Arabian Sea at Ayesha's bidding.

The second sequence is the one that contains most of the elements that have been criticised as offensive to Muslims. It is a thinly transformed re-narration of the life of the prophet Muhammad (called "The Messenger" in the novel) in Mecca ("Jahilia" in the novel). At its centre is the episode of the "Satanic Verses", where the "Messenger" first pronounces a revelation in favour of the polytheistic deities of pre-Islamic Mecca, in order to placate and win over the population, but later renounces these as an error induced by Satan. The narrative also presents two fictional opponents of the "Messenger": the demonic heathen priestess Hind and the irreverent skeptic and satirical poet Baal. When the "Messenger" returns to the city in triumph, Baal organizes an underground brothel in which the prostitutes take on the identities of the "Messenger"'s wives. Also, one of "Messenger"'s companions claims that he, doubting the "Messenger"'s authenticity, had subtly altered portions of the Qur'an as "Messenger" narrated it to him.

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

See also


  • 100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature', Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald & Dawn B. Sova, Checkmark Books, New York, 1999. ISBN 0-8160-4059-1

External links