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The Satanic Verses

In the historical writings related to Islam, The Satanic Verses refer to a short passage purported to have existed in the early recitings of the Qur'an. Islamic scholars today disagree as to whether these verses ever actually existed, or if their history is a fable. The verses were perhaps first named "satanic verses" by Sir William Muir.

Translated from Arabic, the satanic verses are "these are exalted females whose intercession is to be desired" in the 53rd sura of the Koran, Surat-An-Najm ("The Star"). Said to have been between verses 19-20, the females referred to were the goddesses Lat, Manat, and Uzza, who were popular deities in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Muslim scholars have repudiated the incident as a fabrication created by the unbelievers of Mecca, in the early days of Islam, so they could remain in polytheism. Never taken seriously by the Muslims, it later caught the attention of western Orientalists.

According to a legend, Muhammad originally accepted these verses as part of the Koran. While the angel Jabril customarily told Muhammad to recite the sura revealed to him, Jabril then told him that the verses were actually a deception planted in his head from Satan, and they were therefore not the authentic word of Allah. The verses were later withdrawn and denounced as "satanic."

The historicity of the incident is disputed by some of the early Muslim historians, and is only preserved as a quotation from al-Tabari, in Guillaume's translation of Ibn Ishaq's writings. One of the only sources traces back to `Abd Allah Ibn `Abbas as eye-witness, who was born some five years after the alleged event was said to have taken place. Apart from this, all the persons in the Isnad (narration) have names who are considered weak, unreliable or are unknown in hadith tradition.

Many arguments have been made with the verse. The Qur'an states that neither Satan nor anyone else could interfere in the process of revelation.

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In a completely separate definition, The Satanic Verses is a novel by Salman Rushdie, inspired thematically in part by legendary and historical incidents that Muhammad experienced. It caused much controversy upon publication in 1989, as many Muslims considered it to contain blasphemous references.

Shortly after, a fatwa was placed on the author by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini promising his execution. Rushdie was condemned not for insulting Islam per se, but rather for committing apostasy, or attempting to leave the faith, as Rushdie communicates in the novel that he now believes Islam is a sham. Committing apostasy is usually recognised as being a crime that carries the death sentence under Islamic law.

The book, like many others of Rushdie's, concerns Indians living in England, and Indians imbued with English culture returning to India. It opens with a terrorist attack by supporters of a Sikh homeland on an aeroplane above the English Channel (based upon real events). The two protagonists miraculously survive the fall about the explosion; indeed, feel they are reborn: Gibreel Farishta grows angelic wings and Saladin Chamcha later, to his dismay finds himself growing horns on his head.

The controversy arose over Rushdie's portrayal of Prophet Muhammad as a fallible human character and more so, the interpretation of the Satanic Verses as evidence that the Qur'an was not infallibly divine. ISBN 0312270828

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