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Satanic Verses is an expression coined by the historian Sir William Muir in reference to the inclusion in the Qur'an of a small number of apparently pagan verses said to have been uttered by Muhammad. Some Muslims refer to the utterance of the two verses as the Gharaniq incident. Narratives involving these verses can be read in, among other places, the biographies of Muhammad by al-Wāqidī, Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabarī, and Ibn Ishaq (the latter as reconstructed by Alfred Guillaume).

Basic narrative

There are numerous accounts reporting the incident, which differ in the construction and detail of the narrative, but they may be broadly collated to produce a basic account. In its essential form, the story reports that Muhammad longed to convert his kinsmen and neighbors of Meccamarker to Islam. As he was reciting Sūra an-Najm, considered a revelation by the angel Gabriel, Satan tempted him to utter the following lines after verses 19 and 20

("Have you considered Allāt and al-'Uzzā / and Manāt, the other third?" These are the exalted gharāniq, whose intercession is hoped for.)

Allāt, al-'Uzzā and Manāt were three goddesses worshipped by the Meccans. Discerning the meaning of "gharāniq" is difficult as it is a word found only in one place. Commentators wrote that it meant the Numidian cranes, which fly at great heights . The Arabic word does generally mean a "crane" - appearing in the singular as ghirnīq, ghurnūq, ghirnawq and ghurnayq, and the word has cousin forms in other words for birds, including "raven, crow" and "eagle".

The subtext to the event is that Muhammad was backing away from his otherwise uncompromising monotheism by saying that these goddesses were real and their intercession effective. The Meccans were overjoyed to hear this and joined Muhammad in ritual prostration at the end of the sūrah. The Muslim refugees who had fled to Abyssiniamarker heard of the end of persecution and started to return home. Islamic tradition holds that Gabriel chastised Muhammad for adulterating the revelation, at which point is revealed to comfort him,
We have sent no messenger or apostle before you
with whose recitations Satan did not tamper.
Yet God abrogates what Satan interpolates;
then He confirms His revelations,
for God is all-knowing and all-wise.
Muhammad took back his words and the persecution by the Meccans resumed. Verses were given, in which the goddesses are belittled. The passage in question reads:
Have you thought of Allāt and al-'Uzzā
and Manāt, the other third?
Are there sons for you, and daughters for Him?
This is certainly an unjust apportioning.
These are only names which you and your fathers have invented. No authority was sent down by God for them. They only follow conjecture and wish-fulfillment, even though guidance had come to them already from their Lord.


In early Islam

The Satanic Verses incident is reported in the tafsir and the sira-maghazi literature dating from the first two centuries of Islam, and is reported in the respective tafsīr corpuses transmitted from almost every Qur'anic commentator of note in the first two centuries of the hijra. It seems to have constituted a standard element in the memory of the early Muslim community about the life of Muhammad. The earliest biography of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq (761-767) is lost but his collection of traditions survives mainly in two sources: Ibn Hisham (833) and al-Tabari (915). The story appears in al-Tabari, who includes Ibn Ishaq in the chain of transmission, but not in Ibn Hisham. Ibn Sa'd and Al-Waqidi, two other early biographers of Muhammad relate the story. Scholars such as Uri Rubin and Shahab Ahmed and Guillaume hold that the report was in Ibn Ishaq, while Alford T. Welch holds the report has not been presumably present in the Ibn Ishaq.

Transmission of the narrative

The tradition of the Satanic Verses never made it into any of the canonical hadith compilations (though see below for possible truncated versions of the incident that did). The supposed temporary control taken by Satan over Muhammad made such traditions unacceptable to the compilers. This is a unique case in which a group of traditions are rejected only after being subject to Qur'anic models, and as a direct result of this adjustment. The reference and exegesis about the Verses appear in early histories. In addition to appearing in Tabarī's Tafsīr, it is used in the tafsīrs of Muqātil, ‘Abdu r-Razzāq and Ibn Kathir as well as the naskh of Abu Ja‘far an-Nahhās, the asbāb collection of Wāhidī and even the late-medieval as-Suyūtī's compilation al-Durr al-Manthūr fil-Tafsīr bil-Mathūr.

Objections to the incident were raised as early as the fourth Islamic century, such as in the work of an-Nahhās and continued to be raised throughout later generations by scholars such as Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1157), Fakhr ad-Din Razi (1220) as well as al-Qurtubi (1285). The most comprehensive argument presented against the factuality of the incident came in Qadi Iyad's ash-Shifa‘. The incident was discounted on two main bases. The first was that the incident contradicted the doctrine of isma‘, divine protection of Muhammad from mistakes. The second was that the descriptions of the chain of transmission extant since that period are not complete and sound (sahih). Ibn Kathir points out in his commentary that the various isnads available to him by which the story was transmitted were almost all mursal, or without a companion of Muhammad in their chain. Uri Rubin asserts that there exists a complete version of the isnad continuing to ibn ‘Abbās, but this only survives in a few sources. He claims that the name of ibn ‘Abbās was part of the original isnad, and was removed so that the incident could be deprived of its sahih isnad and discredited.

Those scholars who acknowledged the historicity of the incident apparently had a different method for the assessment of reports than that which has become standard Islamic methodology. For example, Ibn Taymiyya took the position that since tafsir and sira-maghazi reports were commonly transmitted by incomplete isnads, these reports should not be assessed according to the completeness of the chains but rather on the basis of recurrent transmission of common meaning between reports.

‘Urtubī (al-Jāmi' li ahkām al-Qur'ān) dismisses all these variants in favor of the explanation that once Sūra al-Najm was safely revealed the basic events of the incident (or rumors of them) "were now permitted to occur to identify those of his followers who would accept Muhammad's explanation of the blasphemous imposture" (JSS 15, pp. 254-255).

By the time of Qurtubī (d. 1272), a series of ever more elaborate exculpations had accrued to the basic narrative. These variously claimed that:
  • The entire incident is nothing more than a rumor started by Meccans.
  • Muhammad uttered the Satanic Verses unaware.
  • Satan deceived Muhammad into reciting the verses by delivering them in the guise of the angel Gabriel; this would cast all other revelations from Gabriel in doubt.
  • Satan, while invisible, projected his voice so that the verses seemed to emanate from Muhammad.
  • Some enemy of Muhammad (either satanic or human) recited the verses in Muhammad's voice to discredit him.


Views

The verses are seen as problematic to many Muslims as they are "profoundly heretical because, by allowing for the intercession of the three pagan female deities, they eroded the authority and omnipotence of Allah. But they also hold... damaging implications in regard to the revelation as a whole, for Muhammad’s revelation appears to have been based on his desire to soften the threat to the deities of the people." Different responses have developed concerning the account.

Non-Muslim scholars' views

Since William Muir the historicity of this episode has been largely accepted by non-Muslim scholars of Islam. William Montgomery Watt and Alfred Guillaume argued for its authenticity based upon the implausibility of Muslims fabricating a story so unflattering to their prophet: "Muhammad must have publicly recited the satanic verses as part of the Qur'ān; it is unthinkable that the story could have been invented by Muslims, or foisted upon them by non-Muslims."

Regarding the argument of implausibility of Muslims fabricating this story, Shahab Ahmed in the Encyclopedia of the Qur'an states that "the widespread acceptance of the incident by early Muslims suggests, however, that they did not view the incident as inauspicious and that they would presumably not have, on this basis at least, been adverse to inventing it." Alford T. Welch, in the Encyclopedia of Islam, also agrees that this reason alone would be insufficient to assert its authenticity. He says that the story in its present form is certainly a later, exegetical fabrication although there could be some historical basis for the story. Welch states that the story falsely claims that the chapter 53:1-20 and the end of the chapter are a unity; Furthermore the date for the verse 22:52 is later than 53:21-7, and almost certainly belongs to the Medinan period. Further several details in the setting of the story such as the mosque, the sad̲j̲da do not belong to the Meccan phase of Muhammad's career. Welch also thinks that the story is more likely to have not been mentioned in the Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad. He says that the above analysis does not rule out "the possibility of some historical kernel behind the story." One such possibility, Welch says, is that the story is of a historical telescoping nature: "that a situation that was known by Muhammad's contemporaries to have lasted for a long period of time later came to be encapsulated in a story that restricts his acceptance of intercession through these goddesses to a brief period of time and places the responsibility for this departure from a strict monotheism on Satan."

John Burton argued for its fictitiousness based upon a demonstration of its actual utility to certain elements of the Muslim community – namely, those legal exegetes seeking an "occasion of revelation" for eradicative modes of abrogation. Burton supports his theory by the fact that Tabari does not discuss the story in his exegesis of the verse 53:20, but rather in 22:52. Burton further notes that different versions of the story are all tracable to one single narrator Muhammad b. Ka'b, two generations removed from Ibn Ishaq, but not contemporary with the event. Burton's solution to the problem has not been widely accepted. G.R. Hawting writes that this is partly due to the complexity of his argument, but mainly to the fact that the satanic verses incident does not serve to justify or exemplify a theory that God reveals something and later replaces it himself with another true revelation. Burton, in his rejection of the authenticity of the story, sided with L. Caetani, who wrote that the story was to be rejected not only on the basis of isnad, but because of the fact that "had these hadiths even a degree of historical basis, Muhammad's reported conduct on this occasion would have given the lie to the whole of his previous prophetic activity."

Maxime Rodinson finds that it may reasonably be accepted as true "because the makers of Muslim tradition would never have invented a story with such damaging implications for the revelation as a whole." He writes the following on the genesis of the verses: "Obviously (Tabari's account as good as says so in fairly clear words) Muhammad's unconscious had suggested to him a formula which provided a practical road to unanimity." Rodinson writes that this concession, however, diminished the threat of the Last Judgment by enabling the daughters of Allah to intercede for sinners and save them from eternal damnation. Further, it diminished Muhammad's own authority by giving the priests of Uzza, Manat, and Allat the ability to pronounce oracles contradicting his message. Disparagement from Christians and Jews who pointed out that he was reverting to his pagan beginnings and rebelliousness and indignation from among his own followers influenced him to go back on his revelation. However, in doing so he denounced the gods of Mecca as lesser spirits or mere names, cast off everything related to the traditional religion as the work of pagans and unbelievers, and consigned the Meccan's pious ancestors and relatives to Hell. This was the final break with the Quraysh.

Since John Wansbrough's contributions to the field in the early 1970s, though, scholars have become much more attentive to the emergent nature of early Islam, and less willing to accept back-projected claims of continuity:

To those who see the tradition as constantly evolving and supplying answers to question that it itself has raised, the argument that there would be no reason to develop and transmit material which seems derogatory of the Prophet or of Islam is too simple. For one thing, ideas about what is derogatory may change over time. We know that the doctrine of the Prophet's infallibility and impeccability (the doctrine regarding his 'isma) emerged only slowly. For another, material which we now find in the biography of the Prophet originated in various circumstances to meet various needs and one has to understand why material exists before one can make a judgment about its basis in fact...
G. R. Hawting, The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History, pp. 134-135


In Rubin's recent contribution to the debate, questions of historicity are completely eschewed in favor of an examination of internal textual dynamics and what they reveal about early medieval Islam. Rubin locates the genesis of many prophetic traditions in the early Muslim desire to prove to other scriptuaries "that Muhammad did indeed belong to the same exclusive predestined chain of prophets in whom the Jews and the Christians believed. In order to do so, the Muslims had to establish the story of Muhammad's life on the same literary patterns as were used in the vitae of the other prophets". The incident of the Satanic Verses, according to him, conforms to the common theme of persecution followed by isolation of the prophet-figure.

As the story was adapted to include Qur'ānic material (Q.22:50, Q.53, Q.17:73-74) the idea of satanic temptation was added, heightening its inherent drama as well as incorporating additional biblical motifs (cf. the Temptation of Christ). Rubin gives his attention to the narratological exigencies which may have shaped early sīra material as opposed to the more commonly considered ones of dogma, sect, or political/dynastic faction. Given the consensus that "the most archaic layer of the biography, [is] that of the stories of the kussāsmarker [i.e. popular story-tellers]" (Sīra, EI²), this may prove a fruitful line of inquiry.

Although there could be some historical basis for the story, in its present form it is certainly a later, exegetical fabrication. Sūra LIII, 1-20 and the end of the sūra are not a unity, as is claimed by the story; XXII, 52, is later than LIII, 21-7, and is almost certainly Medinanmarker (see Bell, Trans., 316, 322); and several details of the story- the mosque, the sajda, and others not mentioned in the short summary above- do not belong to a Meccan setting.
Kur'ān, Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI)²


Modern Muslim scholars' views

Almost all modern Muslim scholars have rejected the story. Proposed arguments against the historicity of the incident can be found in Muhammad Abduh's article “Masʾalat al-gharānīq wa-tafsīr al-āyāt”, Muhammad Husayn Haykal's "Hayat Muhammad", Sayyid Qutb's "Fi Zilal al-Quran", Abul Ala Maududi's "Tafhim al-Quran" and Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani's "Nasb al-majānīq li-nasf al-gharānīq". Haykal points out the many forms and versions of the story and their inconsistencies and argues that "the contextual flow of Surah 'al Najm' does not allow at all the inclusion of such verses as the story claims". Haykal quotes Muhammad Abduh who pointed out that the "Arabs have nowhere described their gods in such terms as 'al gharaniq'. Neither in their poetry nor in their speeches or traditions do we find their gods or goddesses described in such terms. Rather, the word 'al ghurnuq' or 'al gharniq' was the name of a black or white water bird, sometimes given figuratively to the handsome blond youth." Lastly, Haykal argues that the story is inconsistent with Muhammad's personal life and is completely against the spirit of the Islamic message.

Some Muslims argue that even if the story is to be accepted as authentic, it does not pose theological problems as the concept of ismah (Prophetic infallibility) does not imply that Muhammad could never make a mistake, only that no mistake made by Muhammad would be left uncorrected by God. Other Muslims reject this excuse because it allows for an element of time between when the Prophet utters a false utterance, and when God corrects it. Fazlur Rahman has 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 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, made headline news. The novel contains some fictionalized allusions to Islamic history, which provoked both controversy and outrage. Muslims around the world protested the book's publishing, and Iranmarker's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death, saying that the book blasphemed Muhammad and his wives.

Tabarī's account

An extensive account of the incident is found in al-Tabāri's history, the Ta'rīkh (Vol. I):

However in the introduction of his book he states:

See also



Notes

References



External links

Islamic commentators





Non-Islamic commentators




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