Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 53, “The Star”

satanic_verses.jpg
Rushdie didn’t make them up

Most people associate “the Satanic verses” with the notorious novel by Salman Rushdie. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie for writing this book “” and this death sentence has been perpetually reaffirmed by Iranian leaders, though no assassin has yet carried it out.

But Rushdie did not invent the “Satanic verses.” The term actually refers to an incident, recorded in Islamic tradition and referred to in Sura 53, in which Satan, not Allah, spoke through Muhammad’s mouth. The verses that the devil gave to the Prophet of Islam have been known thereafter as “the Satanic verses.”
According to Muhammad’s biographer Ibn Ishaq, in a section of his biography preserved by Tabari, “the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people” — the pagan Quraysh — and “longed for a way to attract them.” However, ultimately it was the leaders of the Quraysh who came to him with an offer. They would give him wives and money, and even make him their king — if he would in turn accept their condition. “This is what we will give you, Muhammad, so desist from reviling our gods and do not speak evilly of them. If you will not do so, we offer you one means which will be to your advantage and to ours.”

“What is it?” asked Muhammad.

“You will worship our gods, al-Lat and al-“˜Uzza, for a year, and we shall worship your god for a year.”

After initially rejecting the offer, Muhammad received a revelation saying that it was legitimate for Muslims to pray to al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat, the three goddesses favored by the pagan Quraysh, as intercessors before Allah. The Quraysh were elated, and prostrated themselves before Allah along with Muhammad and the Muslims after Muhammad finished reciting the new revelation. Ibn Ishaq recounts:

Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, “Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved.”

The Gharaniq were high-flying cranes. Muhammad meant that they were near Allah’s throne, and that it was legitimate for Muslims to pray to al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat as intercessors before Allah.

Word traveled quickly among the Muslims: “the Quraysh have accepted Islam.” Since peace seemed to be at hand, some of the Muslims who had earlier fled to Abyssinia for their safety began to return. But one principal player in the drama was not at all pleased: the angel Gabriel, the one whose appearance to Muhammad had given birth to Islam. He came to Muhammad and said: “What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you.”

Muhammad began to realize just how severely he had compromised his monotheistic message: “I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken.” He “was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear” of Allah for having allowed his message to be adulterated by Satan. But Allah reassured him: “Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some vanity into his desire: but Allah will cancel anything vain that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm and establish His Signs” (Qur’an 22:52). Allah, says Ibn Ishaq, thereby “relieved his prophet’s grief, and made him feel safe from his fears.” He also sent down a new revelation to replace Satan’s words about al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat in sura 53, repeating the scorn that the Qur’an has elsewhere for the idea that Allah would have daughters while earthly men have sons (vv. 19-23).

Not surprisingly, Muhammad’s about-face only enflamed tensions with the Quraysh all the more. Ibn Ishaq recalls that the polytheists began to use this episode against him:

When the annulment of what Satan had put upon the Prophet’s tongue came from God, Quraysh said: “Muhammad has repented of what he said about the position of your gods with Allah, altered it and brought some­thing else.” Now those two words which Satan had put upon the apostle’s tongue were in the mouth of every polytheist and they became more violently hostile to the Muslims and the apostle’s followers.

The Satanic verses incident has naturally caused Muslims acute embarrassment for centuries. Indeed, it casts a shadow over the veracity of Muhammad’s entire claim to be a prophet. After all, if Satan could put words into Muhammad’s mouth once, and make him think they were revelations from Allah, who is to say that Satan did not use Muhammad as his mouthpiece on other occasions? Thus Islamic scholars, apologists, and historians have attacked the Satanic verses with particular ferocity. Muhammad Husayn Haykal argues in his Life of Muhammad that the incident never happened at all, and indeed could not have happened, for after all, Muhammad is a prophet:

This story arrested the attention of the western Orientalists who took it as true and repeated it ad nauseam”¦. It is a story whose incoherence is evident upon the least scrutiny. It contradicts the infallibility of every prophet in conveying the message of his Lord.

He marvels that even some Muslim scholars take it to be true. And its roots in the traditional sources are firm. It is hard to see how and why such a story would have been fabricated and accepted as authentic by such pious Muslims as Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa”˜d, and Tabari, as well as by the later Qur’anic commentator Zamakhshari (1074-1143), who is unlikely to have recounted it if he did not trust the sources, if it were not authentic. Here, as in many other areas, the witness of the early Islamic sources is compelling. Those who would wish away the Satanic verses cannot get around the fact that these elements of Muhammad’s life were not the inventions of his enemies, but were passed along by men who believed he was indeed the Prophet of Allah.

Besides this oblique reference to the Satanic verses incident, the Meccan sura 53 contains an account of two of Muhammad’s visions of the angel Gabriel, along with a challenge to the unbelievers to disprove the authenticity of those visions (vv. 1-18). Then after the denial of the three goddesses (vv. 19-23), Allah explains that unbelievers give the angels female names (v. 28) and that Muhammad should shun them (vv. 29-30).

Then follows a discourse on the differing outcomes of belief and unbelief. Allah will forgive those who avoid major sins (v. 32), but the one who turns back after embracing Islam (vv. 33-34) ignores what was told to Moses (v. 36) and Abraham (v. 37) — that no one will intercede for anyone else on the Day of Judgment (v. 38) and everyone will receive their just deserts (v. 39). Allah controls everything (vv. 43-49) and destroyed earlier populations of unbelievers (vv. 50-54). People then should heed Muhammad’s warning, for the Judgment is coming soon (vv. 55-62).

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)

Blogging the Qur'an: Suras 58, "The Pleading Woman," and 59, "Exile"
Blogging the Qur'an: Sura 46, "The Dunes"
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Comments

  1. says

    RS writes:

    “You will worship our gods, al-Lat and al-“Uzza, for a year, and we shall worship your god for a year.”

    What about Manat? Was she less important? Also, do any Muslims, at that time or modern, draw parallels between the 3 goddesses and the Trinity?

    Thanks again for continuing the series.

  2. says

    What about Manat? –dentalque

    Yeah, what about Manat?

    “Indeed, it casts a shadow over the veracity of Muhammad’s entire claim to be a prophet.”

    Which is completely spurious. Hello. Thank You, Satanic Verses! Best Wishes, Darcy.

  3. says

    I’ve read sources (no, I can’t cite them–there’s too much junk knowledge in my head, crowding out useful knowledge) who claim that Al-Lat was, according to her worshipers, Allah’s consort (wife, mate, better half, pick one).

    Supposedly, Al-Uzza and Manat were their daughters.

    Has anyone else heard this?

  4. says

    By the way, if you haven’t read The Satanic Verses, you might want to.

    It’s a quirky, amusing tale, which has less to do with the Verses, than with spinning a good yarn. The Ayatollahs are just pissed off about the title, and the snippets which relate to the Satanic Verses.

    There is no humor in Islam.

  5. says

    RS,

    Thanks for the post. Do these verses have any ralationship to the verses where Allah says something along the lines of “you will never worship what I worship and I will never worship what you worship to you your religion and to me my religion there is no compulsion in religion?” This quote is from memory, so likely innaccurate but from one of the latter suras. Might this verse against compulsion toward religion have been a verse to tidy up the mess the satanic verses had made.

    When these monsters (and they are monsters) half whine, half snarl that Americans are intolerant because some of us don’t recognize our desire to live and their desire to kill or enslave us as a mere difference of opinion, I want you to know that I appreciate that not every American runs groveling at their feet claiming America will tolerate any form of evil in the name of tolerance and diversity. Thanks again.

  6. says

    In the real world, Mohammad was just trying to make a fast buck…he realized he made a bum deal,
    not Prophetable, and tried to do damage control…Muslims are still trying to repair the damage…Such is business…

  7. says

    Greetings. I, nabified, clued in, (pbum), etc., wish to point out that the existence of the daughters of allah in the pre mohametan mythology shows:

    1) that allah was a preexisting qureshi deity.
    2) that allah was part of a polytheistic pantheon before mohamet

    and

    3) the claim that allah was in fact the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, is false.

    I don’t remember where the God of Abraham had any divine offspring. Perhaps a mohametan troll can set me straight on this point.

    No wonder they are so touchy about this stuff.

    nabi ZK (pbumaamb)

  8. says

    There’s an interesting alternative interpretation of the Satanic Verses which is somewhat more embarrasing for Muhammad. Quoting Al-Tabari VI, page 107:

    “Muhammad, come and let us worship that which you worship and you worship that which we worship, and we shall make you a partner in all of our undertakings. If what you brought [new gods, probably Ar-Rahman and Al-Rahim] is better than what we already have [the gods of the Kaaba: Allah, Al-Lat, al-Uzza, Manat etc. etc.], we will be partners with you in it and take our share of it, and if what we have is better than what you have, you shall be partner with us in what we have, and you shall take your share of it.”

    Point is, the Arabs had worshipped Allah for centuries. That has interesting implications when one quotes the Quran (sura 109) for this:

    Say: O Disbelievers! I worship not that which you worship; nor do you worship that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you your religion, and to me my religion.

    My take is that the 8-year conflict between Muhammad and the Quraysh was due to Muhammad bringing an alternative god, and that he was scorning all the pagan Arab gods, including Allah. That was potentially damaging to their business, which was to profit from the Hajj and Umra pilgrimages.

    This is corrobated by the curious fact that the earliest suras (sortof – the ording is messy) do not mention Allah (they use ‘Lord’), and the following ones (like sura 55) name the ‘Lord’ ‘Ar-Rahman’ – not ‘Allah’!

    I believe the Satanic Verses represent Muhammad’s first acceptance of Allah as a god, his loyalty purchased by money, women and power. Which of course would be embarrasing. But then, most of the Sirat is vastly embarrasing anyway.

    Wild speculation? Let me know…

  9. says

    Word traveled quickly among the Muslims

    Or possibly more time passed inbetween the two events than Muslims like to admit. I believe the chronology is somewhat like this:

    At the time of the ‘Satanic Verses’ deal, Muhammad married Aisha (at the age of 6), and another wife.

    When the deal went sour and Muhammad was beaten out of Mecca (well, he put in his adopted son to take the actual beating), Aisha was 9. (Here comes also the pedophilia thing, but that’s another matter).

    Could it be that the deal with the Quraysh actually lasted 3 years, but the editors of the Sirat found it too embarrasing to include? But not brave enough to completely forge a new story, thus leaving us with details to establish that something is missing.

    Just pondering possibilities…

  10. says

    Yeah, what ever happened to Ar-Rahman, a Yemeni god, I read somewhere. ‘Lord’ was probably a little too Christian or Jewish…I don’t know why Mohammd dropped Ar-Rahman for Allah…I kind of like Ar-Rahman…reminds me of instant noodle soup.

    Allah was a rock in the Ka’aba among over 300 other rock gods….I read where the moon rock Allah, was broken in seven pieces by centuries of mishandling, and was held together with string. It was said to have been cemented into one of the Ka’aba corner pillars…it’s probably still there, covered by the cube and curtain.

    Supposedly there is nothing in the cube, but I don’t trust that. If there were any rock remains of the ka’aba when the cube was constructed, they would not have moved these ‘holy’ relics. They would have been enshrined on the spot.

    It’s not the ‘black rock’ that ensures Islam, it is the ‘moon rock’ cemented in one of the ka’aba pillars which is the heart of Islam. It’s name is Allah…

  11. says

    Daniel Pipes goes into the origin of the term “Satanic Verses” and the Muslim reaction to the title in some detail in “The Rushdie Affair”.

    Pages 113-120 (1990 edition) for those with the time.

  12. says

    I don’t know why Mohammd dropped Ar-Rahman for Allah.

    The offer of women, money and power can be a trial for even the best of prophets. Muhammad, who I would not rank with the best (simple reason: He didn’t give any prophecies), and sold his loyalty to paganism.

    But then, he didn’t completely discard Ar-Rahman, who was still mentioned in the opening of each sura, until the 9th. There is one more place where the mention of Ar-Rahman (and Al-Rahim) is thrown away, which is recorded in Al-Tabari VIII 85-86: The Quraysh refused to begin the treaty text with references to Ar-Rahman and Al-Rahim, for they did not recognize those [as gods]. Further, they refused to mention Muhammad as the Messenger of Allah, for if they had accepted that, they would have no reason to wage war against him.

    Oops…

    Looks like Muhammad was polytheist until AH 6. And that the Quraysh respected Allah as their god. That’s not very good, for it effectively changes the war between Muhammad and the Quraysh to a civil war, not a religious one.

    Islamic scripture is self-incriminating.

  13. says

    dentalque:

    What about Manat? Was she less important?

    Yes, but obviously she was important enough for Muhammad to mention here in sura 53.

    Also, do any Muslims, at that time or modern, draw parallels between the 3 goddesses and the Trinity?

    Not that I can recall offhand although it wouldn’t surprise me if some had, given the common practice among Muslims of equating the Trinity with polytheism.

    Cordially
    Robert Spencer

  14. says

    Cunamara:

    Thanks for the post. Do these verses have any ralationship to the verses where Allah says something along the lines of “you will never worship what I worship and I will never worship what you worship to you your religion and to me my religion there is no compulsion in religion?” This quote is from memory, so likely innaccurate but from one of the latter suras. Might this verse against compulsion toward religion have been a verse to tidy up the mess the satanic verses had made.

    You are thinking of sura 109 (“You will not worship what I worship” and 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion.”)

    The connection they have is that 109 was addressed to the same people. 2:256 is a very different story.

    Cordially
    Robert Spencer

  15. says

    Previewing your Comment
    Darcy,

    I mixed verses from other suras. It was 109 that I was primarily thinking of, but sura 2’s verse mentioned compulsion.

    I have been thinking of this Islamic concept of abrogation. Do these verses really NEED to be abrogated? If a Muslim is to closely follow the example of Muhammad and lives in a non-Islamic society, then he finds himself in a similar situation to that of Muhammad early in his “prophetic” career. These verses frowning on compulsion might be useful to advance Islam in such a society.

    I suppose once the Islamic community became strong enough they could then set aside these verses as one might say Muhammad did. I say “as one might say” because I have found that thinking in terms of principle is a concept alien to Islamic discourse. I interpret the verses in sura 2 as well as 109 as defending Muslims from “compulsion” non-muslims might whisper toward them. I don’t think Muslims interpret them to apply to the principle of not ruling through force. I see no evidence of such a principle in the real world as Islam is practiced.

  16. says

    Thank you, Robert–I have read quite a number of accounts of “the Satanic Verses” over the years, but this is the clearest and most cogent I can remember.

    It does seem that Mohammed got himself into a bit of a jam here in his dealings with the Quraysh, and he needed something a bit heavier than simple abrogation to get out of it. But “the Satanic Verses” solution certainly was an imperfect one, which led to all sorts of inconvenient repercussions for Muslims over the centuries. No wonder any reference to it sends so many Muslims into crazed, death-fatwa issuing rages.

    from above:

    But Allah reassured him: “Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some vanity into his desire
    …………………………

    Interesting to contrast this with the Christian tradition, where Satan offers Jesus worldly power–or, if you want to credit the rather poignant take on this in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, a simple, warm earthly family life–and he rejects Satan’s temptations, even though he knows this means accepting his terrible sacrifice for mankind.

    duh_swami wrote:

    Yeah, what ever happened to Ar-Rahman, a Yemeni god, I read somewhere. ‘Lord’ was probably a little too Christian or Jewish…I don’t know why Mohammd dropped Ar-Rahman for Allah…
    …………………………..

    Swami, my understanding is that Ar-Rahman was originally a pagan god, and was worshipped as such by the locals. Mohammed gradually subsumed the idea of Ar-Rahman into an *aspect* of Allah rather than a separate entitity–whenever Muslims talk about Allah as “the merciful”, that is a reference to Ar-Rahman.

  17. says

    Gravenimage, a bit of nitpicking: ‘Adjective’ is probably more accurate than ‘Aspect’.

    I fully understand why this mess is called Satanic. It is.

  18. says

    ‘Prophetable’ plan?

    Well, we simply do not know how the deal worked out in practice. The sources are mum.

    Given that the editors (like Ibn Hisham) removed the most incriminating parts of his material, we can logical deduce that the details of it may be more embarrasing than anything else known about Mo.

    That’s pretty bad, I’d say.

  19. says

    By the way, if you haven’t read The Satanic Verses, you might want to.
    -Abscedere

    I read it when it first came out and found it almost incomprehensible. Maybe now that I have a better understanding of Islam it will make more sense.
    Ayatollah Khomeini was the first one to show us what a danger Islam was to the civilized world and we (at least most of our leaders) still don’t get it. Anyone who still thinks withdrawing support for Israel would be enough needs to have his head examined.
    The British government had to protect Rushdie for years after that book came out. How is it that they are now Islamizing Britain? Do they think it will be freer?

  20. says

    Darcy,

    Thanks for the link and the clarification. I wonder what ol’ Allah’s wife was called…

    Posted by: Abscedere at October 5, 2008 2:27 PM

    She’s the sun goddess. If she actually has a name, I’m sure RS can provide it.

  21. says

    Thank you again for going into detail. I wish teachers would use this method: using The Qur’an as a measuring stick is futile as it’s only constant is its hatred of infidels (the non-innocent).

    I wonder if Muslims know what is in the Kaaba when they circle round it. Up until they initiated football crowd control (4years ago?) many people were crushed to death; why doesn’t any Muslim consider the rules for the temple was strictly a one way, linear system of entry/exit to avoid death – funny that the Creator of life would forget a simple thing like that.

  22. says

    Abscedere, I had never heard that. I think they’re all Allah’s daughters. I’m of course to scholar of ancient Arabian pagan theology, though. It says here that “[i]t is an undeniable fact of history that before Muhammed was born, the moon god “al-Ilah” (Allah) had three daughters named al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. The first two were even named after their father. Each daughter had a separate shrine near Mecca, where Allah’s shrine was located.”

    That site could be wrong, though. They also say that Muhammad could read because he would have had to when he worked for Khadiya, but they don’t take into account that he (a) probably didn’t have to do a darn thing for his sugar mama, which was obviously why that parasite stayed with her, that (b) record-keeping was not an Arabian strong suit and they likely lacked paper and probably kept count of things with beans or raisins or soemthing, and that (c) there is zero historical evidence of any trade of any kind ever taking place in Mecca in the late 6th/early 7th century and Mecca was likely chosen as a place to set the Koran because the Muslims wanted it, just like they invented a crazy-ass ahadith to justify stealing Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. That was a long sentence even for me, like Dannunzio long.

    My take is that the 8-year conflict between Muhammad and the Quraysh was due to Muhammad bringing an alternative god, and that he was scorning all the pagan Arab gods, including Allah.

    Yes and no. Allah was an Arabian moon-god, one of the 360 gods they already worshipped. He remained obsessed with the number 360, I guess to pander to the non-Muslim Qurayshi, and he went so far as to claim that the human body has 360 joints to prove Allah’s divinity (it has 340). I would imagine that he decided upon monotheism either because he sought an angle from which to forge a ‘religion,’ or because he had some conversation with a Christian or a Jew which probably went something like this:

    “If there are 360 gods, don’t you think that one has to be the one in charge? Doesn’t one have to be the head honcho?”

    “Huh. Probably.”

    Hence his ardent insistence on monotheism, to the extent that Christians suddenly were polytheists because they believe in the Trinity, which he of course understood so well that he thought that Miriam (who Muslims confuse with Mary) was part of it.

  23. says

    l can now understand why the muslim clerics and muslims in general went nuts over the title “satanic verses” for if it is stated that mohummad was fooled by satan, whose to say he was not fooled more than once, and as you can see how islam has turned out, l can tell you he was fooled all the of the time!

  24. says

    Jdamn, to be more precise, I guess that Mo on his travels (possibly to Yemen) encountered worship of Ar-Rahman, Al-Rahim and other non-Meccan gods.

    Then tried in vain through 8 years to sell these unknown gods to the Meccan, who scorned him for his stupid religion.

    Then got bribed into accepting Allah and the whole Meccan pantheon, in which he participated for 3 years, but still kept his Yemenite gods. A few more or less, what does it matter?

    Then, having done such stupid and evil things that the Sirat editors didn’t want to record it, he was kicked out to Medina.

    From where he vengefully started plundering the Meccan caravans for a living, and because he was mad as Hell about having been kicked out of his ‘birthright’, a share of the Kaaba profits.

    Finally, when opportunity arose, he aimed at getting control of Mecca. That he had to discard his old friends Ar-Rahman and Al-Rahim was small change compared to the position he gained.

    Incriminating for Muhammad and Islam?

    Sure. I understand they fight so ardently against polytheists. They are of the same strain, but need to disprove it.

  25. says

    I don’t think Mohammad ever did one thing without a prophet/profit motivation of some kind.

    Mohammads motto was: On my honor, I will do my best, to take my share and steal the rest.
    Allah willing …and he always is…

  26. says

    It’s also worth noting just how unceremoniously Khadija, Mo’s first wife, is dumped out of history at this point. She was the one who got the idea that he was a prophet (not posessed), she supported him when the Meccans mocked him, and she was the one he’d praise in front of his later wife for being much better than them.

    This religion turns the word ‘holy’ upside down.

  27. says

    If criticizing people who declare outright that they want to kill me is racist then I am bloody well proud to be a racist and will wear that banner proudly for my sworn enemies are surely racists, too.

  28. says

    Robert

    Should surah 109 be read as a prolog to this surah 53? I’ve seen Mohammedan apologists use surah 109 as proof of the tolerance of Islam, when as we all know, it was actually a statement of mutual exclusion of worship. Not inherently intolerant, but far from what these taquiyya artists are trying to sell them as.

  29. says

    Hello jdamn

    This is from Bukhari, seems Mohammed was illiterate:

    Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3:
    Narrated ‘Aisha:

    …..The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, “I do not know how to read.

    and yes, later on in this book Khadijah calls his god Allah, and Mohammed’s not even told her his name yet, so he was one of the 360 pre-existing gods.

    And to Zonie Kuffir here’s the quote you’re looking for Proverbs 30:4-6

    Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?
    Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
    Who has bound the waters in a garment?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
    What is His name, and what is His Son’s name,
    If you know?
    Every word of God is flawless;
    He is a shiled to those who put their trust n Him.
    Do not add tho His words,
    Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.