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 allow
intercessory prayers to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses:
Allāt, Uzza, and Manāt. The part of the story that deals with the
"satanic verses" was based on accounts from the historians al-Waqidi
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.
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
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 such as translator
Hitoshi Igarashi (leading, in
Igarashi's case, to death).
The book was banned in
India as hate speech directed towards a
specific religious group.
1.1 Dream sequences
2 Literary criticism and analysis
3.2 Violence, assassinations and attempts to harm
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
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
Hindu deities. (The character is partly based on Indian film
Amitabh Bachchan and N. T. Rama Rao.) 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
India to Britain. 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 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.
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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
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 the city 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
Harold Bloom named The
Satanic Verses "Rushdie's largest
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."
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.
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." Ally said that the book reveals the author
ultimately as "the victim of nineteenth-century British
colonialism." 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." He
has also said "It's a novel which happened to contain a castigation of
Western materialism. The tone is comic."
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."
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."
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,
J. G. Ballard
J. G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs. 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".
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.
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".
Main article: The
Satanic Verses controversy
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. As the controversy spread, the
importing of the book was banned in India and it was burned in
demonstrations in the United Kingdom.
Commission for Racial Equality
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
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
In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran
Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa calling for the death of
Rushdie and his publishers, 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".
Christopher Hitchens staunchly defended Rushdie and urged
critics to condemn the violence of the fatwa instead of blaming the
novel or the author. Hitchens understood the fatwa to be the opening
shot in a cultural war on freedom.
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.
Violence, assassinations and attempts to harm
With police protection, Rushdie escaped direct physical harm, but
others associated with his book have suffered violent attacks. Hitoshi
Igarashi, his Japanese translator, was stabbed to death on 11 July
1991. Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured
in a stabbing in
Milan on 3 July 1991. William Nygaard, the
publisher in Norway, was shot three times in an attempted
assassination in Oslo in October 1993, but survived. Aziz Nesin, the
Turkish translator, was possibly the intended target in the events
that led to the
Sivas massacre on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, which
resulted in 37 deaths.
In September 2012, Rushdie expressed doubt that The Satanic Verses
would be published today because of a climate of "fear and
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. 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.
Censorship in India
Censorship in Iran
Censorship in South Asia
Richard Webster (British author)
^ a b John D. Erickson (1998). Islam and Postcolonial Narrative.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
^ a b c d e f Ian Richard Netton (1996). Text and Trauma: An East-West
Primer. Richmond, UK: Routledge Curzon.
^ Manoj Mitta (25 January 2012). "Reading 'Satanic Verses' legal". The
Times Of India. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
^ Suroor, Hasan (3 March 2012). "You can't read this book". The Hindu.
Retrieved 7 August 2013.
^ "Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses". Retrieved 5 August
^ 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.
Harold Bloom (2003). Introduction to Bloom's Modern Critical Views:
Salman Rushdie. Chelsea House Publishers.
^ a b c d M. D. Fletcher (1994). Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the
Fiction of Salman Rushdie. Rodopi B.V, Amsterdam.
^ Weatherby, W. J. Salman Rushdie: Sentenced to Death. New York:
Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc., 1990, p. 126.
^ Carter, Angela, in Appignanesi, Lisa and Maitland, Sara (eds). The
Rushdie File. London: Fourth Estate, 1989, p. 11.
^ Abdolkarim Soroush's speech in the USA, November 2002, Farsi Text,
has been published in Aftab monthly magazine in April 2003
^ "Reading 'Satanic Verses' legal". The Times of India. 25 January
^ McSmith 2011, page 16
Ayatollah sentences author to death". BBC. 14 February 1989.
Retrieved 29 December 2008.
^ No Such Thing as Society, Andy McSmith, Constable 2011, page 96
^ Christopher Hitchens. Assassins of the Mind. Vanity Fair, February
^ "Iran says Rushdie fatwa still stands". Iran Focus. 14 February
2006. Retrieved 22 January 2007.
^ Helm, Leslie (13 July 1991). "Translator of 'Satanic Verses' Slain".
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
^ Freedom of Expression after the “Cartoon Wars” By Arch
Puddington, Freedom House, 2006
^ "Salman Rushdie:
Satanic Verses 'would not be published today'". BBC
News. BBC. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
^ PEN condemns increased fatwa bounty on Salman Rushdie, The Guardian,
2 March 2016
^ Nobel panel slams Rushdie death threats, The Local, 24 March 2016
Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald & Dawn B. Sova (1999). 100
Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature. New York:
Checkmark Books. ISBN 0-8160-4059-1.
Pipes, Daniel (2003). The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah,
and the West (1990). Transaction Publishers.
Elst, Koenraad (June 1998). "The Rushdie Rules". Middle East
Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Satanic Verses
Satanic Verses PDF at archive.org.
Looking back at Salman Rushdie's The
Satanic Verses at theguardian.com
Notes on Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses
The Rusdhie Affair's Legacy by Koenraad Elst
Salman Rushdie Reads from "The Satanic Verses" on YouTube
Swords to sell a god by Ram Swarup
Works by Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children (1981)
Satanic Verses (1988)
The Moor's Last Sigh
The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
The Ground Beneath Her Feet
The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
Shalimar the Clown
Shalimar the Clown (2005)
The Enchantress of Florence
The Enchantress of Florence (2008)
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015)
The Golden House (2017)
East, West (1994)
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991 (1992)
Homeless by Choice (1992)
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992–2002 (2002)
Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (with Tim Supple and David Tushingham)
Midnight's Children (with Tim Supple and Simon Reade)
Midnight's Children (film) (with Deepa Mehta)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
Luka and the Fire of Life (2010)
The Vintage Book of Indian Writing (co-editor)