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Sympathy for the devil


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Sympathy for the devil a character analysis of Gibreel Farishta in Salman Rushdie's The satanic verses
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Lafuente, Catherine Mary
University of South Florida
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Dissertations, Academic -- Religious Studies -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
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ABSTRACT: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses created a major controversy when published in 1988, much like the controversy that Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ caused in 1951. Kazantzakis's work upset many Christians due to the controversial characterization of Jesus, who in the novel engages in sexual activities and other behaviors that many Christians find offensive. The Satanic Verses caused a similar uproar in the Umma, or Muslim community, resulting in book burnings, death threats, and even a murder. Most of the controversy focused on some the problematic characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad and his wives, such as using their names for a pimp and twelve prostitutes living in a brothel. Another offense was that Ibrahim was called "bastard" for abandoning Hagar and Ismail (Ishmael), in the desert. In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie pulls on the historical threads of Pre-Islamic Arabia and uses them to insinuate that Islam, rather than being a total breach from the Pre-Islamic traditions, was not an immediate break from the past but a slow process of change from the former belief system. By re-imagining these historical threads, Rushdie suggests that there is a plurality of possibilities that canonical Islam does not accept. The plurality that Rushdie suggests is anathema to the normative view of Islam, which is a monolithic Islam. These possibilities cast doubt on the purity of the Prophet, which some fear can cause ordinary Muslims to doubt the truth claims of Islam. These doubts can damage the faith of the believers and the unity of the Umma. These and other Islamic themes in the novel remain unexplored in contemporary scholarship of the novel, particularly the theme of struggle between good and evil. Gibreel Farishta, the co-protagonist in the novel, will be the center of this inquiry. I will explore the notion that the plight of Gibreel Farishta in The Satanic Verses is similar to the suffering of Iblis in Sufi Islam.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Catherine Mary Lafuente.
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Sympathy for the devil :
b a character analysis of Gibreel Farishta in Salman Rushdie's The satanic verses
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by Catherine Mary Lafuente.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 87 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
3 520
ABSTRACT: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses created a major controversy when published in 1988, much like the controversy that Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ caused in 1951. Kazantzakis's work upset many Christians due to the controversial characterization of Jesus, who in the novel engages in sexual activities and other behaviors that many Christians find offensive. The Satanic Verses caused a similar uproar in the Umma, or Muslim community, resulting in book burnings, death threats, and even a murder. Most of the controversy focused on some the problematic characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad and his wives, such as using their names for a pimp and twelve prostitutes living in a brothel. Another offense was that Ibrahim was called "bastard" for abandoning Hagar and Ismail (Ishmael), in the desert. In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie pulls on the historical threads of Pre-Islamic Arabia and uses them to insinuate that Islam, rather than being a total breach from the Pre-Islamic traditions, was not an immediate break from the past but a slow process of change from the former belief system. By re-imagining these historical threads, Rushdie suggests that there is a plurality of possibilities that canonical Islam does not accept. The plurality that Rushdie suggests is anathema to the normative view of Islam, which is a monolithic Islam. These possibilities cast doubt on the purity of the Prophet, which some fear can cause ordinary Muslims to doubt the truth claims of Islam. These doubts can damage the faith of the believers and the unity of the Umma. These and other Islamic themes in the novel remain unexplored in contemporary scholarship of the novel, particularly the theme of struggle between good and evil. Gibreel Farishta, the co-protagonist in the novel, will be the center of this inquiry. I will explore the notion that the plight of Gibreel Farishta in The Satanic Verses is similar to the suffering of Iblis in Sufi Islam.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Kathleen Malone O'Connor, Ph.D.
Dissertations, Academic
x Religious Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Sympathy for the Devil: A Character Analysis of Gibree l Farishta in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses by Catherine Mary Lafuente A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Religious Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Kathleen Malone O’Connor, Ph.D. Paul Schneider, Ph.D Thomas Williams, Ph.D. Date of Approval: June 26, 2009 Key Words: Iblis, Shaitan, Islam, Angel, Adam Copyright 2009, Catherine Mary Lafuente


Dedication This thesis is dedicated to my father, Juan Mendez Lafuent e, 06/27/40 – 09/11/01. Never forget September 11th, 2001, and never let it happen agai n. “If in God’s opinion, both good and evil were of equal value in the test, then Iblis would possess the same countenance as the moon-faced Gabriel ” – Rumi “To be born again…first you have to die.” – Gibreel Fari shta, in Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses “How does newness come into the world? How is it born ? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made? How does it survive, extreme and dangerous as it is? What compromises, what deals, what betrayals of its secret nature must it make to sta ve off the wrecking crew, the exterminating angel, the guillotine?” – Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses


Acknowledgements I thank my adviser, Kathleen Malone O’Connor, for her w isdom, insight, and staggering breadth of knowledge. Without her, this thesis simply wo uld not exist. Her dedication to my work brought out the best in me. I thank Paul Schneide r and Thomas Williams for their support and candor. Under their tutelage, I have bec ome a better student and a better person. I thank Chris Feldman for being a second set of eyes. The time he spent proofreading this work is invaluable. I thank my family, my first and final link to the world. I thank my friends for being amazing and unique in so many ways. I thank my beloved husband, James B. Cathey, for his end less love and tireless support. He taught me that nothing is impossible. Finally, I thank m y mother, Colette M. Lafuente, for being my role model and never failing to believe in me.


i Table of Contents Abstract ii Introduction 1 Chapter 1: The Satanic Verses 6 Chapter 2: Gibreel Farishta: Can Men Fly? 10 Chapter 3: Faithfulness, Food, Fornication, and Farishta’s F all from Grace 27 Chapter 4: Gibreel and the Devil, Dreaming: It Was Me Both Times, Baba! 35 Chapter 5: Devil Talk: The Ambiguous Nature of Iblis 46 Chapter 6: First, You Have to Die: The End of Gibreel F arishta 64 Conclusion 75 Afterward 79 Bibliography 82


ii Sympathy for the Devil: A Character Analysis of Gibree l Farishta in Salman Rushdies’s The Satanic Verses Catherine Mary Lafuente ABSTRACT Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses created a major controversy when published in 1988, much like the controversy that Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel The Last Temptation of Christ caused in 1951. Kazantzakis’s work upset many Christians due to the controversial characterization of Jesus, who in the novel engages in sexual activities and other behaviors that many Christians find offensive. The Satanic Verses caused a similar uproar in the Umma, or Muslim community, resulting in book burnings, death threat s, and even a murder. Most of the controversy focused on some the pr oblematic characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad and his wives, such as using their name s for a pimp and twelve prostitutes living in a brothel. Another offense was that Ibrahim was called “bastard” for abandoning Hagar and Ismail (Ishmael), in the desert. In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie pulls on the historical threads of Pre-Islamic Arabia and uses them to insinuate that Islam, rather than being a total breach from the Pre-Islamic traditions, was not an immediate break from the past but a slow process of change from th e former belief system. By reimagining these historical threads, Rushdie suggests that t here is a plurality of possibilities that canonical Islam does not accept. The p lurality that Rushdie suggests is anathema to the normative view of Islam, which is a mon olithic Islam. These possibilities


iii cast doubt on the purity of the Prophet, which some fear can cause ordinary Muslims to doubt the truth claims of Islam. These doubts can damage the faith of the believers and the unity of the Umma These and other Islamic themes in the novel remain unexplored in contemporary scholarship of the novel, particularly the theme of struggle between good and evil. Gibreel Farishta, the co-protagonist in the novel, wil l be the center of this inquiry. I will explore the notion that the plight of Gibreel Farishta in The Satanic Verses is similar to the suffering of Iblis in Sufi Islam.


1 Introduction Salman Rushdie’s 1 The Satanic Verses created a major controversy when published in 1988, much like the controversy that Nikos Kazant zakis’s novel The Last Temptation of Christ caused in 1951. Kazantzakis’s work upset many Christians due to the controversial characterization of Jesus, who in the novel engages in sexual activities and other behaviors that many Christians find offensive. The Satanic Verses caused a similar uproar in the Umma, or Muslim community, resulting in book burnings, death threats, and even a murder. 2 Most of the controversy focused on some the problemat ic characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad and his wives, s uch as using their names for a pimp and twelve prostitutes living in a brothel. Anothe r offense was that Ibrahim was called “bastard” for abandoning Hagar and Isma’il 3 (Ishmael), in the desert. 4 In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie pulls on the historical threads of Pre-Islamic Arabia and uses them to insinuate that Islam, rather tha n being a total breach from the Pre-Islamic traditions, was not an immediate break f rom the past but a slow process of 1 Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist, born in Mumb ai (Bombay), India in 1947. 2 The translators of the novel as well as the author were targeted for murder. Only one of them was successful. Hitoshi Igrashi, who translated the book into Japanese, was stabbed to death on July 11, 1991. 3 In Islam, it is Isma’il (Ishmael) and not Isaac that I brahim (Abraham) was told to sacrifice. The traditiona l spelling of the name in Islam is Isma’il, known as Ishm ael in the Hebrew Bible. The spelling of Gibreel Farishta’s birth name in the novel is “Ismail Najmuddin. ” “Najmuddin” is translated as “the star of faith,” alluding to the sura concerning the satanic verses is named The Star. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (Middlesex, England: Viking Penguin Inc, 1989), 17. 4 M. J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition (Madison, Wisconsin, United States: The University of Wi sconsin Press, 1990), 405. For more information about these and the other major controversies, see th e Postscriptural Paregons chapter of that work.


2 change from the former belief system. By re-imagining these historical threads, Rushdie suggests that there is a plurality of possibilities that canonical Islam does not accept. The plurality that Rushdie suggests is anathema to the norma tive view of Islam, which is a monolithic Islam. These possibilities cast doubt on the purity of the Prophe t, which some fear can cause ordinary Muslims to doubt the truth claim s of Islam. These doubts can damage the faith of the believers and the unity of the Umma These and other Islamic themes in the novel remain unexplored in contemporar y scholarship of the novel, 5 particularly the theme of struggle between good and evil. Gibreel Farishta, the coprotagonist in the novel, will be the center of this in quiry. 6 I will explore the notion that the plight of Gibreel Farishta in The Satanic Verses is similar to the suffering of Iblis in Sufi Islam. There are many sources that I will consult to explore the parallels between Gibreel Farishta and Iblis. The primary literary source is Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses. I will also consult scholarly sources about the novel such as M.J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi’s book Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition. As for religious texts, I will consult the formativ e religious narratives of Islam: The Qur’an, which is the unmediated word of God as reveale d to Muhammad via the Angel Gibra’il; 7 the Hadith which contains the oral record of words and deeds of the 5 Much of the scholarship focuses on the major theme of po st-colonial and ethnic identity. This is one of the main threads of The Satanic Verses. This paper will of course consider the multitude of work tha t unpacks this theme, but will attempt to focus more on the t hemes of religion and religious identity. 6 Although there is a co-protagonist in the novel, Saladin Chamcha, space does not permit a simultaneous inquiry. He also experiences a transmutation that has simi larities to Gibreel Farishta. In M. J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi’s book Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition, they assert that Chamcha is cast as the Adam of the novel. 7 I use this spelling to indicate the angel in an Islamic c ontext, as Gabriel often has a distinctly Christian connotation. Gibra’il (Gabriel) is not named in the Qur ’an as the angel that Allah revealed the Qur’an


3 Prophet; the Sira Nabawiyya, the hagiography or sacred biography of the Prophet; and Tafsir which is Qur’anic exegesis. The Hadith Sira and tafsir are all threads that weave together to form the ground of meaning in Islam. The major ity of the tafsir that I will consult is the medieval Islamic discussion of Iblis i n Sufi Islam. My approach to the novel is literary analysis and criticism in light of major Islamic themes, which the novel addresses and which have been avoided by other literary cri tics of the novel. My methodological orientation within the thesis is phenom enology of Islam, comparing and paralleling Gibreel Farishta with Iblis. 8 When Gibreel Farishta, the co-protagonist of The Satanic Verses is sleeping, he has painful dreams that he is the Angel Gibra’il (Gabrie l), 9 the angel who revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad. Dreaming in Islam is one of the functi ons of prophesy during which wahy divine inspiration, can occur. In the novel, Farishta claims that his dream identity is the same as his waking identity, which causes the people around him to question his sanity. -and the fatal flaw, namely, Gibreel Farishta’s immi nent realization – or, if you will, insane idea, that he truly was nothing less than an archangel in human form, and not just any archangel, but th e Angel of the Recitation, the most exalted (now that Shaitan had fal len) of them all. 10 through to Muhammad. This is found in Hadith in multiple locations, such as in al-Bukhari’s Sahih, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 4. ce/searchhadith.html is the source used in this paper for all Hadith citations. 8 There are few phenomenologists of Islam. Henry Corbin is the most notable. 9 Gibreel is a colloquial spelling of Gibra’il, or Gabr iel. 10 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 315. Rushdie’s style of writing often includes unconven tional punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and word construction. This is a deliberate effort on behalf of the author to enhance the aural nature of the text. All quotations from the n ovel are transcribed directly with no alteration.


4 This change in state, as it plays out in the apparent psy chological deterioration of Farishta, calls into question the nature of good and evil a s moral categories in Islam. The ambiguity of Farishta’s identity leaves the reader wonde ring if in fact Gibreel Farishta was the entity who revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad hundr eds of years ago. Throughout the history of Islamic thought, particularly S ufi thought, there has been a rich discourse regarding the source of good and evil and how these moral categories relate to the nature of God. Iblis is the devi l in Islam, who was cast out of heaven for disobeying God’s command. Because of his disobedie nce, he is accused of infidelity to God. These accusations of infidelity are si milar to the infidelities with which jurists accused Sufis. However, Sufi interpretations of I blis claim that his obedience to God’s first command, worshipping only Him, represents paradoxi cally his fidelity in spite of his arrogant disobedience. 11 Sufis relate to Iblis because their self-perception of extreme fidelity despite belief and practices that juri sts often do not accept. 12 Iblis refused God’s command to bow to Adam by remaining faithful to God’s first command, which is to worship only Him. Bowing, or sujud, is the ultimate form of worshipful submission and prayer. 13 In Islam, sujud is the apex of salat, or prayer. Because Iblis refused to 11 Peter J. Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis in Sufi Psychology. (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1983), 127. 12 Sufis have been executed for statements such as the one uttered by al-Hallaj (d. 922), “ Ana al-Haqa ,” trans. “I am God!” or “I am the Truth!” These statemen ts, although intended to reflect the mood of the seeker in the moment of ecstatic union with the divine can be taken as heretical when context is not carefully examined. F. Rahman, “Baka wa-Fana” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition ed. H.A.R. Gibb et al (Leiden: EJ Brill, 1960), Volume 1, 951. 13 Sujud is not the same as “bowing” as it is understood in the English language. In English, to bow is to bend at the waist in respectful greeting, “an inclination of the head or a bending of the body in reverence.” Bowing as sujud is better described as prostration, “bowin g down” to someone or something, “reclining with the face on the ground in humble admiration.” Robe rto Tottoli. “Bowing and Prostration” in The Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, ed. Jane D. McAuliffe (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2001-2006), Volume I, 254.


5 prostrate before Adam, he was cast out of heaven and ou t of God’s presence. 14 The “orthodox” interpretation of this event is that Iblis was too proud to bow down to Adam because he was made of fire and Adam was made of clay, w hich is inferior to fire. However, the Sufis believe that Iblis refused to bow, n ot because of his pride, but because of his extreme fidelity to God. Iblis was only doing what he had been created to do. The devil in Sufi Islam is not a purely evil figure, because good a nd evil were both created by God. The ambiguity of good and evil is that they have no i ndependent existence as moral categories. Sufis understand this struggle as the greater jihad of Iblis. 15 The ambiguity of the Sufi characterization of Iblis suggests questions about the nature of good and evil in Islamic thought. Is evil an inherent quality of the divine nature? How do humans, as microcosms of God, relate to the divine nature? Is the pl ight of Iblis fair, and therefore is God just? Salman Rushdie’s character, Gibreel Farisht a Bollywood superstar turned angelic messenger of God, struggles with these questions. Fa rishta finally kills himself because he cannot fulfill his greater jihad 14 Q. 2:34; 7:11; 15:31; 17:61; 18:50; 20:116 and 38:74. All Qur’anic citati ons will be from the translation by Ahmed Ali unless otherwise indicated by the footnotes. 15 It is commonly accepted in contemporary Islam that the re are two types of jihad : the greater jihad and the lesser jihad although these linguistic distinctions are not specifi ed in the Qur’an. Verses such as Q. 29:6, 69; Q. 9:41; Q. 22:78 and 61:11 are all cited by scholars a s verses that concern the greater jihad. ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, the twelfth century founder of t he Sufi Brotherhood of the Qadiriyya, defines the greater jihad as "the jihad of the soul, the passion, th e nature, and Satan. It involves repentance from rebelliousness and errors, being steadfast about it, a nd abandoning the forbidden involves cutting the forbidden customs of the soul, and exiling th em, so as to have as one’s example the Divine commands and to cease from what it forbids." Essentia lly, the greater jihad is a believer’s personal struggle against inner weakness, doubt, various temptations, and dis tractions from their religious duties in the service of God. For more on jihad, see David Cook, Understanding Jihad (California: University of California Press, 2005.)


6 Chapter 1: The Satanic Verses The motif of the satanic verses as referenced in Rush die’s novel finds its origins in the religious traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia and the period of revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad during the earliest days of the new religion o f Islam. In the center of the city of Mecca, the city of the Prophet Muhammad’s birt h, there is a large, cube-shaped structure called the ka’aba Before Islam became the sole religion in Mecca, t he ka’aba was a place of pilgrimage for the various Arab tribes who worshipped a variety of local gods, goddesses, and astral deities whose images were house d inside the ka’aba Three goddesses were among the most popular, often referred to a s the “daughters of God” in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Their names were al-Lat which means “the Goddess” in Arabic, al‘Uzza which means “the mighty one,” and Manat 16 Many people in Pre-Islamic Arabia venerated these deities as high goddesses. Islam came to overturn the worship of anything/anyone other than the one God, Allah. To allow t hese goddesses to be worshipped would violate tawhid, the oneness of God. The passage from the Qur’an below addresses this issue of the Triple Goddess: Have you considered Lat and ‘Uzza, And Manat, the other third (of the pagan deities)? Are there sons for you, and daughters for Him? This is certainly an unjust apportioning. 16 Gerald Hawting, “Pre-Islamic Arabia” in EQ Volume IV, 259.


7 There are only names which you and your fathers have invented. No authority was sent down by God for the m. They only follow conjecture and wish-fulfillment, even though guidance had come to them already from their Lord. Q 53:19-23 Islam understands these verses to be abrogating 17 the infamous “satanic verse,” that are now missing, reference to which is found only in the Sira literature. 18 The abrogated verses discussed in the Sira suggest that the Prophet considered adulterating the princip le of tawhid to the extent of allowing the pre-Islamic tribes to wo rship the Triple Goddesses. The notion of accepting these verses is impos sible for normative Islam as it violates not only tawhid but also the Prophet’s sinlessness. The abrogated verse s are found the Sira : Have you thought of al-Lat and ‘Uzza and Manat the third, the other? These are the exalted Gharaniq, 19 whose intercession is approved. 20 These verses would allow people to ask the triple goddess fo r intercession. However, gods and goddesses of Pre-Islamic Arabia were deemed heretic al after the rise of Islam(cited above in Q. 53: 19-23, as indicated in the nov el. 17 In Islam, the verses that have been abrogated are ca lled mansukh and the verses that abrogate are called naskh The mansukh (in bold above) above were abrogated in the Qur’an. 18 These early sources on the Prophet’s life, such as th e Sira Nabawiyya, suggest that Muhammad recited these verses because Satan tricked him into doing so, casti ng the verses into his mouth. The angel Gibreel later told Muhammad that he had been tricked into reciting t he words of Iblis. Muhammad immediately recanted the verses and replaced them as instructed by the angel Gibreel. For more information see Shahab Ahmed, “Satanic Verses” in EQ Volume IV, 532 This motif of reputed dual goddess and god worship in early Islam parallels the biblical/archaeological evide nce of Ashura worshipped simultaneously with YHWH in the ancient Israelite context. cf. Biblical r efs. “The Goddess and Asherah” in Raphael Patar, The Hebrew Goddess, Detroit: Wayne St. VP, 1990 (1967). Judith M. Hadley, “From G oddess to Literary Construct: The Transformation of Asherah to Hakhmah” in A Feminist Companion to the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies. Eds. A. Brenner/C Fontain. England: Routledge, 2001. 19 Gharaniq can be translated roughly as “ ‘Numidian crane s’ which fly at a great height.” 20 A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), 165-166.


8 With [Satan’s] daughters as his fiendish backing group, yes, the three of them, Lat Manat Uzza, motherless girls laughing with t heir Abba… 21 Instead of being the daughters of God, they are now the daugh ters of Iblis. In the novel, Gibreel physically slays al-Lat in one of his prophetic dreams, 22 symbolizing the defeat of the Goddess by the God of Islam. The study of the “satanic verses” is one of the more controversial areas of Islamic scholarship. The potential for a Muslim writer, author, or scholar to be accused of takfir or being declared as an unbeliever, is great given the sensit ive issues this scholarship inevitably raises. 23 By suggesting that Iblis could trick Muhammad into recitin g false verses calls into question the purity and judgment of the Prophet and the Qur’an as a whole. This controversial issue is what Rushdie highlights in his novel with the plight of Gibreel Farishta. When Farishta dreams, he is convinced that he is the actual Angel Gibra’il, revealing the word of God to a human being. T he more he dreams, the more he changes, and the more he changes the more insane he fea rs he is becoming. This suggests that the angel through which God communicated the Qur’an to the Prophet was actually a potentially delusional Bollywood superstar, a symbol of a ll that is secular and illusory, the center of a corrupt industry that produces degraded ente rtainment, an association that is extremely offensive to Muslims. The actual satanic verses are referenced numerous times throughout the novel. One of these examples is found in Rushdie’s account of the deliverance in the novel of 21 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 91. 22 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 215. 23 Ahmed, Shahab, “Satanic Verses,” 531.


9 the actual verses as found in the Sira Mahound, 24 the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, delivers them on pages 114-115 to the applause of the preIslamic and triple-goddess worshipping audience. He abrogates them on page 124 after he exclaims that “Shaitan” was the entity that cast those verses onto his tongue. The revelation of these verses occurs in perfect synchronization with Gib reel Farishta’s dreams, suggesting that it was Gibreel Farishta who was revealing the ve rses to the actual, historical Prophet Muhammad. At one point in the novel, Gibreel is heard mutt ering the satanic verses in his sleep. Gibreel…would still speak, at night, verses in Arabic, a language he did not know: tilk al-gharaniq al-‘ula wa inna shafa’ata-hunna la turtaja, for example, which turned out to mean (Allie, woken by his sleeptalk, wrote it down phonetically and went with he r scrap of paper to the Brickhall mosque, where her recitation made a mull ah’s hair stand on end under his turban): ‘These are the exalted f emales whose intercession is to be desired’…. 25 The Islamic meaning of dreaming will be addressed further in Chapter Four, and its connection to both prophesy and revelation. 24 Naming the Prophet “Mahound” is particularly offensive to Muslims. “Mahound was a medieval Christian term of abuse for the Prophet of Islam. Rushd ie adopts this name ‘to turn insults into strength’ ( p. 93), rather like the defiant wearing of yellow stars to re sist anti-Semites…It could be argued, moreover, that Rushdie’s use of the term Mahound is a dramaticall y effective tactic to draw Western attention to the way in which Western linguistic usages unthinkingly insult and degrade Muslims: after all, how many Westerners still refer to Islam as Muhammadanism, as in HAR Gibb’s early intro to Islam entitled Mohammadenism, a linguistic usage that in its implications is no better than “Mahound.” Fischer, Debating Muslims 414. More on the name “Mahound” is discussed in chapter f our. 25 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 340.


10 Chapter 2: Gibreel Farishta: Can Men Fly? Gibreel Farishta was the biggest superstar 26 in all of Bollywood, 27 perhaps the most famous star in all of Bollywood film history. Fari shta’s character in the novel is based on the Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan (b. 1942), a prolific actor and alltime enduring Bollywood presence. 28 Farishta worked on “eleven movies simultaneously…a true feature of Bollywood filmmaking.” 29 Unlike Bachchan, who was the well-educated son of an eminent poet, 30 Farishta’s life off of the set was that of a wealthy, philandering materialist and not someone who slowe d down to reflect. He was so busy with filmmaking and constantly assuming the ident ities of his many roles that he himself had become empty. The pace of his film career set the pace of his life, which was constant motion, much like an aptly named “motion” pict ure. 26 Rushdie plays linguistically with the two definitions o f star, one as the movie star and the other as the celestial object. This relates back to Farishta’s bir th name, Ismial (Isma’il) Najmuddin as noted in the introduction. 27 “’Bollywood’ – a tongue-in-cheek term created by the Englis h-language press in India in the late 1970s – has now become the dominant global term to refer to the prolific and box-office oriented Hindi language film industry located in Bombay (renamed Mumbai in 1995). The Bombay film industry is aesthetically and culturally distinct from Hollywood, but as prolific and ubiquitous in its production and circulation of narratives and images.” Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. (UK, US, and Canada: Routledge, 2004), 2. 28 “Bachchan was frequently referred to as the “One-Man In dustry” and the “Number One” star by the press and the film industry as he reigned supreme over the box office for two decades. When he suffered a near-fatal accident in 1982 while shooting for the film, Coolie, the press, radio, and television issued daily bulletins on his health. Close family friend Prime Minis ter Indira Gandhi even cut short her trip to the U.S. to return to India. His stardom provided the model for th e protagonist featured in Salman Rushdie’s novel, Satanic Verses. ” Ganti, Bollywood 121. These incidents in Bachchan’s life mirror incident s in the life of Gibreel Farishta. Farishta gets suddenly ill and is visi ted by the Prime Minister on his sickbed (pg. 28) as Bachchan was. There are physical resemblances as wel l. Farishta is described as having “low-slung eyelids” on page 17, comparable to Bachchan’s “heavy-lidded” eyes as described in Sumita S.Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema, 1947-1987. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 229. It is notable that Amitabh Bachchan is referenced in the mo vie Slumdog Millionaire. 29 Fischer, Debating Muslims, 422. 30 Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 231.


11 Gibreel’s superstardom began when he took on the roles of various Gods in movies based on religious myths. “Gibreel had spent the greater part of his unique career incarnating, with absolute conviction, the countless deiti es of the subcontinent in the popular genre of movies known as “theologicals.”’ 31 His big break occurred when he was willing to play Ganesha, 32 a role that required the actor to wear a giant elephant mask. This not only made him famous, but also “irresistibly attr active to women,” 33 who perhaps hoped for some of Ganesha’s blessings of money an d good fortune. His next role, Hanuman, 34 allowed him to take off the mask and simply wear a tail, exposing his face to the public. From that point on, he ascended to s uperstardom and starred in many films that sold his image for abundant profit. No matter what role he played, his fans always recognized him. He was the “Supreme” 35 among actors, the one who was always recognized no matter what incarnation he was in. Because of this recognition by millions of devotees, his huge visual presence on giant billboards an d movie screens, and the deity-roles that he so often played in films, he was des cribed as god-like. 36 His presence was so huge that that when he disappeared from the public e ye, Rushdie characterizes it as the death of God: 31 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 16. 32 Ganesha is “the elephant-headed god who sits at the thre shold of space and time and who blesses all beginnings…” Diana L. Eck, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 17. 33 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 24-25. The women who he slept with often asked him to “keep the mask on.” 34 Hanuman is a god who is defined as “the monkey servant of Lord Rama.” Eck, Darsan, 43. Hanuman is a particularly well-known God because of his major role in the epic Bollywood film Ramayana. Johan Manschot and Marijke De Vos, Behind the Scenes of Hindi Cinema: A Visual Journey Through the Heart of Bollywood. (Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2005), 75. 35 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 17. 36 “The love of film fans for their heroes has been com pared to love for Gods.” Manschot, Behind the Scenes of Hindi Cinema, 32. Bachchan, Farishta’s prototype, had a “career that h ad made of its star at once a historical and godlike phenomenon.” Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 230.


12 It was the death of God. Or something very like it; for had not that outsize face, suspended over its devotees in the artifici al cinematic night, shone like that of some supernal Entity that had its being at least halfway between the moral and the divine? 37 The reference to “moral” refers to humans, who in an Islamic context have to make moral choices because they know right from wrong. They have t he choice to obey or disobey God’s commands. To place Gibreel in the middle of these two concepts asserts that he is not quite human but not fully angelic. The context that Rushdie placed Farishta in as a star of theologicals, although God-like, is artifice. Both Farishta and the Hindu Gods that he plays are reduced to images in the “artificial cinemat ic night” that disappear when the film ends and the lights come up. Farishta’s actual, tan gible physical presence was unknown to and unnecessary for his fans. He was known to the public only through the films that he starred in and the giant billboards that projected his face like a celestial object floating in the night sky. 38 Both film (which is many pictures on a reel) and billboards are only images of real things, illusion rather than substance. Because of this, Farishta became an icon solely for visual consumption an image worshipped by millions of fans. His fans, ironically, were blind to his emptiness, reflecting their own lack of substance. Farishta did not receive anything in return for his visual presence from his fans that was meaningful. In Hinduism, darsan is a visual exchange between devotee and deity that is two sided. 39 “The central act of Hindu worship, from the point of view of the 37 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 16. 38 The practice of erecting huge images of Bollywood movie st ars as billboards is common in India. Fans express their devotion to the star by placing garlands of flowers on the giant images just as they do in worship of God images. Manschot, Behind the Scenes of Hindi Cinema, 32. 39 Eck, Darsan, 3. Italics added.


13 lay person, is to stand in the presence of the deity and behold the image with one’s own eyes, to see and be seen by the deity.” For Farishta in his guise as a Hindu film “god,” the visual exchange between himself and his devotees was art ificial. They were not in his gaze but rather the gaze of his empty image that never ac tually saw them. Farishta’s movies are filled with the symbols, myths, and Gods of other religions, particularly Hinduism, but have no real depth because of t heir artificial and illusory nature. Hinduism 40 then is portrayed essentially as a string of images, flashing lights that have no permanent substance. Icons in Hinduism, such as statues made in the image of a God, are empty until the deity is called into them through ritual practice. It is not simply the image or icon of the God that is powerful, but the God that inhabits the icon. Bidding the deity into the icon called avahana, and dismissal of the deity is called visarjana. 41 The icons used in ritual serve as a vessel for the God to occupy. Farishta is essentially an empty icon. For Muslims, this is simply idolatry, sinful delusion. Although Farishta was never a devoutly religious man, h e does self-identify as a Muslim, 42 ergo Hinduism is essentially meaningless for him. In I slam, moral purity is synonymous with oneness. Sura or chapter, 112 of the Qur’an entitled “ Al-Ikhlas ”, which refers to God’s oneness, states: Say: He is God the one the most unique, God the immanently indispensable. He has begotten no one, 40 Farishta does play Gautama in one of the theologicals a s mentioned on page 16 of the novel, but this role blends into the milieu of Hindu deities that he plays alo ng with “the blue-skinned...Krishna” and the other deities previously mentioned. Gautama is also a human, no t a God. Essentially, any religion that is not Islam is blended together as the polytheistic backgroun d of Bollywood. 41 Eck, Darsan, 49. 42 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 22, in which his religious faith is described as a “low-ke y thing”.


14 And is begotten by none. There is no one comparable to Him. (Q. 112: 1-4) The religious plurality of Bollywood does not resonate with Islam, and in fact violates the oneness of God, the most important aspect of Islam. The trope of Hinduism as illusory sets up the foil against which Gibreel will appear when he falls ill and calls on the God of Islam for help. He unconsciously moves from meaninglessne ss into meaning when he moves from Hinduism into Islam. This move will be disc ussed late in this chapter. Although Gibreel Farishta is “god-like” on the screen, i n person he displays opposite qualities of devilishness. His physical characteri stics, such as intense halitosis, belie his Godliness: Gibreel’s exhalations, those ochre clouds of sulphur [sic] and brimstone, had always given him – when taken together wit h his pronounced widow’s peak and crowblack hair – an air more sat urnine than haloed, in spite of his archangelic name. 43 The reference to sulfur and brimstone obviously alludes t o Shaitan /Satan when taken in context with the entire sentence, but there is anoth er layer of meaning in Rushdie’s description of Farishta’s breath. For Muslims, bad brea th is indicative of physical corruption, and physical corruption is essentially evil. Bodily substances and bad smells are ritually contaminating, such as sexual fluids, menses and the byproducts of digestion. Hygiene must be rigorously maintained in order to keep the b ody pure. According to a hadith narrated by Abu Said: I testify that Allah's Apostle said, "The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male Muslim who has attained the a ge of puberty 43 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 13.


15 and (also) the cleaning of his teeth with Siwak, and the using of perfume if it is available." 44 This and other bathing/purity rituals are compulsory for Musl ims, and have been in practice in Muslim countries for centuries. In Islam, e vil is defined as a lack of ritual purity. Before a Muslim prays, she or he has to ritually pur ify her or his body with water. This ritual is called wudu. Part of the complex wudu ritual is rinsing the mouth with water. 45 The Siwak mentioned in the above hadith is a toothbrush and is encouraged (sometimes required) in multiple ahadith for Muslims to use in order to purify the mouth. 46 Purifying the mouth and the rest of the body not only cle anses the physical, but has a deep spiritual significance based on the niyya the ritual intent, of the practitioner. 47 Gibreel’s foul-smelling mouth is a sign of both physical and spiritual impurity, and foreshadows the pork binge that is discussed in chapter thre e. By endowing Farishta with this characteristic, Rushdie highlights Gibreel Farisht a’s real corruption under the illusory god-like film personae. At the very beginning of the novel, Farishta plummets to t he earth after the hijacked plane he was on, the Bostan 420, 48 was blown up by hijackers. There is a contemporary Islamic association with plane hijacking, even in the pre-September 11 West. The iconic hijacker is a fanatical Muslim from the Middle East. Rushdie is cognizant of this association, deliberately using popular med ia imagery (both visual and 44 al-Bukhari, al-Sahih Volume 2, Book 13, Number 5. 45 Syed Ali Ashraf, “The Inner Meaning of the Islamic Rit es: Prayer, Pilgrimage, Fasting, Jihad” in Islamic Spirituality: Foundations. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ed. (Unites States: Routledge, 2007), 111 46 al-Bukhari, al-Sahih Volume 2, Book 13, Number 12 and Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Boo k 13, Number 13. 47 Ashraf, “The Inner Meaning of the Islamic Rites,” 111-112. 48 Botstan is the name of one of the four gardens of Paradis e according to Fischer and Abedi.


16 verbal) and playing with it. This trope is unpacked by Fische r and Abedi in relation to a real historical hijacking: Air India Flight 420 (reference to the film “Mr. 420”), a jumbo jet named “Bostan” (a name of one of the four gardens of Pa radise), is blown up by Sikh terrorists led by a Canadian-accented wom an (shades of the Air India flight blown up from Canada en route to England by Sikh terrorists in revenge for the Indian Government’s 1984 Bluestar invasion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and killing of se paratist Sikh leader ant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale). 49 As Gibreel Farishta falls from Bostan 420, he is cursed by an apparition named Rekha Merchant. 50 The reader later comes to understand that Merchant is F arishta’s jilted lover, who in despair threw herself and her children off of the roof of a building because he deserted her. The ghost of Rekha Merchant damns him to he ll, then mentions al-Lat the first Goddess of the famous pre-Islamic triple Goddesse s, al-Lat, al-‘Uzza and Manat From the very start, Gibreel Farishta is cast as the Iblis of the novel: 51 Now that I am dead I have forgotten how to forgive. I cur se you, my Gibreel, may your life be hell. Hell, because that’s w here you sent me, damn you, where you came from, devil, where you’re going, sucker, enjoy the bloody dip. Rekha’s curse; and after that, verses in a language he did not understand, all harshness and sibilance, in wh ich he thought he made out, but maybe not, the name of Al-Lat. 52 Rekha’s curse not only refers to Gibreel as the devil, but includes other allusions to Satan. The language that Gibreel cannot understand is Ara bic because the name al-Lat is mentioned, defined as one of the “daughters of Satan” men tioned above in chapter one. 49 Fischer, Debating Muslims 420. 50 It is notable that Rekha is the name of the Bollywood s tar who played opposite Amitabh Bachchan in nine hit films. Ganti, Bollywood 132-133. It is also notable that Bachchan and Rekha had a n off-screen romance. Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema, 201. 51 Fischer, Debating Muslims 406. They refer to his fall as Satan’s fall. 52 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 8.


17 Once she is mentioned, the other goddesses, al-‘Uzza and Manat are implicit. The use of the word “sibilance” is deliberate on Rushdie’s behalf. S ibilance, which is defined as “making or characterized by a hissing sound,” or “sounded with a hissing effect,” 53 alludes to the role of the devil in Islam. In several Qur’ anic verses, such as Q. 7:20, Satan whispers temptations to humans: Thereupon Satan whispered unto the two with a view to making them conscious of their nakedness, of which [hithe rto] they had been unaware; and he said: "Your Sustainer has but forb idden you this tree lest you two become [as] angels, or lest you l ive forever.” (Q.7:20) 54 Further sibilance is found in Sura 114 of the Qur’an entitled “ Nas ,” one of the “refuge taking” verses: 55 Say: I seek refuge with the Sustainer of men, The Sovereign of men, The God of men, from the evil of the whispering, elusive tempter who whispers in the hearts of men from all [temptation to evil by] invisible forces as well as men. (Q.114: 1-6) 56 The recited sound of the Arabic sura is as follows, showing the sibilance “naas” ending of each line: Qul a‘uudhu birabb-i-n-naas Malik-i-nnaas Leaah-I-nnaas Min sharr il-waswaas-il-khannaas Alladhii yuwaswisu fii suduur-I-nnaas 53 The definitions of “sibilance” are from www.askoxford. com, the online Oxford English Dictionary. 54 This verse is from the Asad translation of the Qur’an as the Ahmed Ali translation did not express the whispering aspect present in the Arabic 55 Sura 113 and 114 are described as the refuge-taking verses as t hey both begin with “I seek refuge with the Lord…” 56 This verse is the Asad translation of the Qur’an as th e Ahmed Ali translation did not express the whispering aspect present in the Arabic.


18 Min al-jinnati wa-n-naas (Q.114:1-6) 57 As the phonetic rendering makes plain, this sura has a di stinct sibilance at the end of each ayat or line. 58 The “naas…naas…naas…” endings sound like hissing and whispering. In this verse, God is telling the Prophet to tell people to t ake refuge from this evil, the “evil of the whisperer.” The idea that Satan whispers inside th e self is a common motif in Islam. 59 As Farishta fell from the exploded plane, he began to f lap his arms as if to fly, and surprisingly succeeded in doing so. His ability to fly is the first indicator of his newfound angelic nature. In Q: 35:1, the number of wings that an a ngel has is an indicator of an angel’s function. 60 Farishta, although wingless, is an angel nonetheless. A s he descended he broke into song, another indicator that he is angeli c according to Ibn Sina. In Islam, there are angels whose duty it is to sing praise to God as guardians of the throne. 61 Gibreel sings in language that he cannot understand, again al luding to Arabic, the language that God used to reveal the Qur’an. His flying and si nging save his life. “The more emphatically Gibreel flapped and sang, sang and flapped, the more pronounced the deceleration, until finally the two of them were floati ng down to the [English] Channel 57 Nnaas as the final rhyme in each line represents a long A vowel which in turn emphasizes the sibilant final S sound. 58 Sura 114 is composed in saj‘ rhymed prose. “Much of the Qur’an comprises rhymed prose ( saj‘) that consists of two or more short sections of the uttera nce being linked together by a rhyme and usually without metre.” Farid Esack. The Qur’an: A User’s Guide. (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2005),70. 59 Ashraf, “The Inner Meaning of the Islamic Rites,” 122. 60 Gisela Webb, “Angel” in EQ Volume I, 88. 61 Webb, “Angel” in EQ Volume I, 88.


19 like scraps of paper in a breeze.” 62 Shortly after he lands, he develops a “distinctly golden, glow” around his head. 63 Ficher and Abedi characterize this glow as a halo, b ut to make the leap from a “glow” to a “halo” may be an ass umption, although the glow is named as such later in the novel on page 448. There are n o “haloes” in Islam in the form of golden circles around the head as in Christian iconogr aphy. There are, however, images of both the Prophet and the Ahl al-Bayt, the People of the Prophet’s House, with tongues of fire and golden light around their head(s) in Is lamic iconography. In Islam, light is associated with God and the illumination that He provides: God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The semblance of his light is that of a niche in which a lamp, the flame within a glass, the glass a glittering star as it were, lit with oil of a blessed tree, the olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil appears to light up even though fire touches it not – light upon light. God guides to His light whom He will. So does God advance precepts of wisdom for men, for God has knowledge of every thing. (Q. 24:35) To manifest light around the head is to manifest an attrib ute of God. There are numerous works of art in which the Prophet, his companions, various imams Sufi saints, and other holy people/entities are surrounded by tongues of fire or h ave light around their head. 64 According to Sahl al-Tustari (d. 896 CE), a “pillar of li ght” is formed from the souls of 62 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 9. The “two” floating down from the plane are Gibre el Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Gibreel Farishta is the focus of this paper. Sala din Chamcha, the co-protagonist, will not be examined in depth given the constraints of space. Both men w ere aboard the Bostan 420, the hijacked plane that exploded in the sky over London. 63 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 133. 64 The “Mohammed Image Archive has compiled a number of the se works of art on the following website:


20 saintly individuals. 65 The luminosity represents the divine energy that the soul is infused with called baraka, spiritual power or blessing. 66 Baraka can manifest in people and objects, and can also be transferred or absorbed by others. 67 It is this quality that makes people long to be near prophets, saints, and other holy indi viduals; the more baraka a person has, the more attractive they are to others. Gi breel Farishta’s acquisition of a golden glow during his fall, as well as his inexplicable appea l to others made manifest during his fall, 68 demonstrates that he has acquired baraka during his fall from the plane. His halitosis also vanishes, indicating that he is now in a state of ritual purity. 69 It is at this moment when he physically becomes an angel who ha s “fallen,” in this case, quite literally, out of a plane. Because the fall from the plane results in the chang e from physically human to physically angelic, it can be characterized as a birth: Is birth always a fall? Do angels have wings? Can men fly? 70 The questions above, spoken by an omniscient narrator, ref er to Farishta’s fall/birth. “To be born again,” Farishta says, “first you have to die. ” 71 This idea is reflected in several rituals in Islam. The first is the ritual of hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca. This 65 Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 56. 66 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 82. 67 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 102. 68 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 133-134. 69 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 133. 70 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 8. 71 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 31.


21 pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, 72 which means that it is the duty of every Muslim if they are physically and financially able. Part o f the hajj ritual involves a ritual/psychological death: When a person puts on a pilgrim’s garb ( ihram) leaves his house, and proceeds toward the ka’bah, he must behave as if he is a dead man having no control over his life and worldly activities. 73 Ihram stands metaphorically as a burial shroud and thus allows for rebirth into a state of extreme ritual purity. The idea of death being a birth also resonates with the Sufi concept of fana fi Allah which is the annihilation of the self in God. Fana fi Allah is an impermanent experience in this life, often described as a momentary flash of union with the divine. It is not permanent until death. Fana fi Allah is the ultimate step on a journey best described as a pendulum that swings from stages of maqam/at effort, to states of hal/ah-wal, grace. This is a sort of spiritual alchemy that requires experiences of effort, exertion, fear, reliance, etc. in order to attain gra ce. 74 Because of the shift from unity with God to the normal state, this process is not always ple asurable. Obedience, as the Sufis understood it, is complete surre nder – acceptance of the will of the beloved whether it manife sts itself in kindness or in wrath. Love neither diminishes by cruelty nor increases by kindness; and the lover has to remain at the door of the beloved even if driven away – he has “to make his soul a broom at his door. 75 72 The other pillars of Islam are as follows: Shahada, the statement of belief in one God; Salat, which is the five times daily prayer; Zakat which is the giving of alms; and Saum, which is fasting during the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan 73 Ashraf, “The Inner Meaning of the Islamic Rites,” 120. The hajj pilgrim must also wear a special garment, and cannot engage in sexual intercourse, kill insect s, or remove body hair in order to remain pure. 74 Rahman, F. Baka wa-Fana in EI, 951. 75 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 135.


22 Essentially, the ultimate pleasure or union with God is on the same continuum as pain; they are one and the same. The death in God is the annih ilation of the ego. To be born, alGhazali (d. 1111 CE) says the seeker has to die. If you would say “Die!” I would die in full obedience, and would say “Welcome to him who calls me to death.” 76 For Farishta, it is during his fall from the plane tha t his human self “dies” and his angelic self is “born.” Like Iblis, he is a fallen angel. 77 This is further supported when Saladin Chamcha, his co-protagonist, exclaims “maybe that’s what’ s happening to you, loudmouth, your old self is dying and that dream-angel of your s is trying to be born into your flesh.” 78 Gibreel Farishta “is gigantic, wingless, standing w ith his feet upon the horizon and his arms around the sun.” 79 The trope of fall/falling in Rushdie’s novel is a multi valent concept in which physical falling, moral falling, and theological falling fl irt with one another. The concept of fall from grace has two contexts in Rushdie’s nove l in the characterization of Gibreel Farishta. One is the fall of the angel who becomes I blis. The other is the fall, or original disobedience, of Adam. 80 Gibreel unites the fall of the angel with the fall o f Adam. He is both human and the devil. Unlike Christianity, Islam has n o concept of a primal fall from 76 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam ,135. 77 Angels will be further addressed in chapters four and five 78 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 85. 79 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 91. cf. rabbinic parallels to the idea of the primor dial Adam, Adam Qadmon, “whose primordial body was luminous and gigantic spanning the earth (Talmud, Hagigah 12a, Sanhedrin 38b, Baba bathra 58a; “Bereshit rabba” 8.1 and 14.8; Mishnah aboth 3.15; “Pesikta de Rabbi Eliezer,” 1970, p.79; “Tanna debe Eliyyahu rabba” in “Tanna debe Eliyyahu,” 1981, p.3; “Pesikta de Rab Kahana,” 1975, 4.4 and 12.1). Kathleen Malone O’Connor, The Alchemical Creation of Life (Takwin) and Other Concepts of Genesis in Medieval Islam ( Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 1994), 276. 80 Fischer and Abedi note that Farishta ‘s fall from th e plane is akin to Iblis’ fall and Chamcha’s fall is akin to Adam’s fall.


23 grace, which Christianity calls “original sin.” In Islam to sin is to deviate from the “straight path” mentioned in Q. 1: 4-7. 81 The straight path is a metaphor for living your life in accordance with the sharia 82 Falling off the straight path mean “going astray” from the divinely revealed guidelines of the sharia Such a fall from the straight path can result in a physical and spiritual corruption. Gibreel’ s physical fall from the exploded 747 is not his moral fall. He has already “fallen” off o f the straight path and become kafir unbelieving, signaled by eating forbidden flesh, pork. Kufr doubt or unbelief, is defined in Islam as the rejection of God and the messengerhood of the Prophet Muhammad. Gibreel became kafir as he lay on the brink of death in a hospital bed. Farishta lived in the religiously pluralistic world of B ollywood until he was suddenly struck by a severe illness. Until he fell ill, he lived in a context of constant motion devoid of personal meaning. The illness caused him to step outside of the Hindu narrative and into the Islamic narrative, from polythe ism into monotheism, and from illusion into reality. Because Farishta was a Muslim, the Hindu narrative never had spiritual meaning for him, but the Muslim narrative did. He called on the Islamic God the second he got sick, mobilized by trauma into the meaningful act ion of prayer. In his lucid moments he prays feverishly for recovery, but he experi ences a rude awakening when his prayers are unanswered: 81 You alone we worship, and to You alone turn for help. Gui de us (O Lord) to the path that is straight, the path of those You have blessed, Not of those who have ear ned Your anger, Nor those who have gone astray. (Q. 1: 4-7) 82 Sharia is the legal code of Islam that is derived from the Qur’ an and the Hadith


24 During his illness he had spent every minute of conscio usness calling upon God, every second of every minute. Ya 83 Allah whose servant lies bleeding do not abandon me now after watching over me for so long. Ya Allah show me some sign, some small mark of your f avour, that I may find in myself the strength to cure my ills. Oh God mo st beneficient most merciful, 84 be with me in this my time of need, my most grievous need. Then it occurred to him that he was being punished, and for a time he got angry. Enough, God, his uns poken words demanded, why must I die when I have not killed, are you vengeance or are you love? The anger with God carried him t hrough another day, but then it faded and in its place there cam e a terrible emptiness, an isolation, as he realized he was talking to thin air that there was nobody there at all, and he began to plead i nto the emptiness, ya Allah, just be there, damn it, just be. But he felt nothing, nothing nothing, and then one day he found that he no longer needed t here to be anything to feel. On that day of metamorphosis the il lness changed and his recovery began. 85 Gibreel prays to God not for healing but for the strength to heal himself. God did not give him this strength, nor did Farishta feel that God was wit h him in his moment of extreme need. It is only when he lets go of his faith in God that he becomes strong enough to cure himself. His faith made him unable to cure himself, unable t o access his own strength. Rushdie’s subtext about believing in the post-modern worl d, perhaps, is that like Farishta, believers put their strength into their faith and not in to themselves, something that Rushdie says must be abandoned by the end of the novel. F arishta put his strength into his faith rather than into himself. Thus his faith was an illness unto itself. The second that he lets go of his religious faith, he is no longer relia nt on anything but himself for strength. Until he fell ill, he had never questioned his fai th as it had never truly been tested. He was a casual believer, a “cultural Muslim,” but was seldom preoccupied with 83 “Ya” is the equivalent of “oh” in the English language, an Arabic particle of respectful address. W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language. (Beruit: Librarie Du Libah, 1074),Volume 1, Part III, Sec tion D, Number 368. 84 “In the name of Allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful” is part of the “bismala,” which is the opening line of the Qur’an. 85 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 29-30.


25 religious concerns. However, the experience on the si ckbed made him kafir unbelieving. God states (to Iblis): “Verily, thou shalt have no power over My creaturesunless it be such as are [already] lost in grievous error and follow thee [of their own will.”](Q. 15:42) 86 This ayat limits Iblis’ pool of potential “followers.” Farishta had to be “lost in grievous error” before Iblis could attract him. As soon a s Farishta became kafir Iblis could proceed to beguile Farishta “with the pleasures of the world and lead [him] astray” (Q. 15:39). There are specific activities during which human s are particularly susceptible to the influence of Iblis. One of these activities is pr ayer. Iblis puts distracting thoughts into the mind of the believer in order to break the link be tween the believer and God. 87 Iblis is a vigilant and tireless creature who is always looking for any opportunity to corrupt the souls of humans. …Iblis is always there, patiently awaiting one careles s move by his victim. It is at that moment that he strikes, dragging his prey to perdition and the everlasting fires. 88 Farishta’s moment of weakness, his denial of God ( kufr ), opened him up to the influence of Iblis. The disillusionment and despair that followed hi s unanswered prayer were enough to break his faith altogether. In his isolation, he decided that God did not exist. From a believing Muslim point of view, Farishta’s illness could better be seen as a challenge sent by God and his recovery effected by God’s will, but Farishta does not see this. Farishta, now faithless, emerged from his illness determined to prove the non86 Asad Translation. The Asad conveys the point in English better than the Ali translation in this instance. 87 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 51. 88 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 71. In this passage, Awn is elucidating on a verse writ ten by Rumi.


26 existence of God. Farishta went on a perverted da’wa, 89 a mission to prove to himself that God does not exist, by testing Islam’s most deeply held prohi bitions: the barriers between halal and haram the permitted and the forbidden. 89 A da’wa is an invitation, most often an invitation to “heed th e qur’anic message.” See Q. 7:29, Q. 21:25, Q. 9:33. A.H. Mathias Zahniser, “Invitation” in EQ, Volume II, 557. Farishta is on a sort of antida’wa, in that he seeks to undo his belief in God rather than follow the message of the Qur’an.


27 Chapter Three: Faithfulness, Food, and Fornication: Faris hta’s Fall from Grace The rules of halal, the permitted, and haram, the forbidden, form the moral guidelines for Muslim believers and define what is proper an d improper behavior. Diet is one of the most basic parameters in which halal and haram apply. The first thing that Gibreel Farishta does to prove that God does not exist is feast on every kind of pork: He got out of the limousine at the Taj hotel and witho ut looking left or right went directly into the great dining-room with its buffet table groaning under the weight of forbidden foods, and he loaded his p late with all of it, the pork sausages from Wiltshire and the cured York hams and the rashers of bacon from godknowswhere; with the gammon steaks of his unbelief and the pig’s trotters of seculari sm; and then, standing there in the middle of the hall, while photographe rs popped up from nowhere, he began to eat as fast as possible, stuf fing the dead pigs into his face so rapidly that bacon rashers hung out fr om the sides of his mouth…. And to prove the non-existence of God, he now s tood in the dining-hall of the city’s most famous hotel with pigs fall ing out of his face. 90 These acts of pork consumption are intimate and profoun d forms of self-pollution and rejection of Islamic laws of purity. The Qur’an require s abstinence from pork 91 because it is both corrupted and corrupting. 92 The origin of the Islamic pork prohibition lies in Jewish Kashrut (kosher). The meaning of this pork trope to both religions links physical corruption to ritual impurity. Judaism and Islam offer expl anations for the pork 90 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 29-30. 91 Q. 2:173; 5:3; 6:145 and 16:115. 92 “The meaning of food in the life and identity of a peopl e is more than nutrition, more than economics, it contributes to the boundaries of social and political a ffinity and alliance, cementing communitas and friendship at the banquet table, underlying separation and danger by projections of “uncleanness” and ritual 'impurity.'” Kathleen Malone O’Connor, “African-Americ an Muslim Foodways: Nutritional Healing and the Construction of Identity” in Anthropology and Theology: God, Icons, and God-talk Walter Randolph Adams and Frank A. Salamone, ed. (Maryland: University Press of America, 2000), 273.


28 prohibition: from traditional tests of obedience to God’s commands to health concerns including pork contamination by trichinosis, and the meat of the pig being corrupted by its own diet as a carrion eater. It is not just pork that contaminates the body. Accor ding to Sufi theorists such as al-Makki (d. 996 CE) and al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE), eating in gener al is an activity that attracts the attention of Iblis. 93 The Sufi interpretation of the hadith : “truly Satan flows in man’s very bloodstream, make narrow his pathways through hun ger and thirst” 94 advises a believer to practice asceticism in order to preven t Satan from permeating the body through “worldly pleasures.” 95 Fasting is set up as the opposite of gluttony. Filling th e stomach in a gluttonous fashion corrupts one’s morals with greed and makes a perso n sluggish (especially in hot climate), distracting him or her from prayer. 96 In order to keep Iblis at bay, a Muslim must not only be careful not to overeat but also fast on regular occasions in addition to obligatory month of fast during Ramadan: The choice between gluttony and fasting is…raised to a plane of momentous spiritual significance, for to choose glutton y is to allow Satan to become flesh of one’s flesh and blood of one’s blood. Man’s only shield is fasting, which starves the evil one an d renders him feeble. 97 The notion that Satan can become a part of one’s fles h through food places great importance on what and how much one eats. The successfu l temptation of Adam and Eve 93 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 61. 94 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 61, quoting Al-Makki. 95 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 61. 96 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 89. 97 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 61, referring to Al-Ghazali.


29 by Iblis is the archetype of food prohibition. Iblis tric ks them into eating from the forbidden tree (Q 7:20), and thus they are expelled from par adise. “The food prohibitions to Adam’s descendents are offered in the same spirit. ‘M en, eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth and do not walk in Satan’s footste ps, for he is your inveterate foe.’(Q.2:168; cf. 6:142).” 98 To eat forbidden food is to invite the devil directly in to the body. Farishta not only eats pork, but he stuffs himself wi th it. The glut of haram food then literally becomes part of his body, making the body itself both corrupted and corrupting to others. When Farishta was a child, he worked alongside his father as a lunch runner in Mumbai (Bombay). At one point, his mother chastised him for mixing up food that he was delivering to Hindus and Muslims, each of whom have diffe rent restrictions on eating. 99 He recalls the incident in a dream: Gibreel when he submits to the inevitable, when he sl ides heavy-lidded towards visions of his angeling, passes his loving mother who has a different name for him, Shaitan, 100 she calls him, just like Shaitan, same to same, because he has been fooling around with the t iffins 101 to be carried into the city for the office workers’ lunch, m ischievous imp, she slices the air with her hand, rascal has been putting Mus lim meat 98 David Waines, “Food and Drink” in EQ, Volume II, 219. 99 Proper food conduct in Islam is different from proper food conduct in Hinduism. Food consumption in Hinduism does not have universal rules like halal and haram The Code of Manu is where food rules are found. Depending on a person’s means, region, status and s ocietal role, their eating guidelines will differ. For more information on food conduct in Hinduism, see HannsPeter Schmidt, Melanges D’Indianisme in Publications De L’Institut De Civilisation Indienne, Serie IN-8, Fascicule 28. (Paris: Editions E. De Boccard, 1968). 100 “Shaitan” is a common nickname that Muslim mothers will giv e to their young boys when they exhibit mischievous or impish behavior. 101 A tiffin is a tea break container.


30 compartments into Hindu non-veg 102 tiffin carriers, customers are up in arms. 103 This incident connects his violation of halal rules to the actions of Shaitan (Satan). For Farishta, there is no more intimate transgression tha n consuming the haram food in abundance. The lack of punishing consequence following his gusta tory disobedience proves, at least to him, that God does not exist. He expr esses this upon meeting his love interest, Alleluia Cone, 104 for the first time: He looked up from his plate to find a woman watching him Her hair was so fair that it was almost white, and her skin po ssessed the colour and translucency of mountain ice. She laughed at him and tu rned away. ‘Don’t you get it?’ he shouted after her, spewing sausage fragments from the corners of his mouth. ‘No thunderbolt. That’s the point.’ 105 Alleluia Cone was a non-Muslim British woman with whi te skin, blonde hair, and light blue eyes. Pairing with non-Muslim women, the fairer the better, is a huge theme in postcolonial society and in fiction, such as The Satanic Verses Having a white woman on one’s arm and in one’s bed is a method of gaining status. H owever, copulating with her is another kind of haram behavior. Food and sex are connected concepts, as is evident by the Qur’anic verses that discuss Adam and Eve in the garden. 106 It was the act of eating from the forbidden tree 102 Contrary to popular belief, not all Hindus are vegetarian s. Although vegetarianism may be based on the principle of ahimsa, non-injury to living beings, one can still eat meat and not harm the animal it came from, ie. If the animal dies of natural causes. Schmid t, Melanges D’Indianisme 1-2. Hinduism is not like Islam, which has very specific and set rules regarding foo d and food consumption. 103 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 91. 104 Alleluia Cone is the fair-skinned “ice queen” with whom Gibreel Farishta falls in love with after a threeday affair following his pork binge. He later follows her b ack to London. Her role in Farishta’s life will be further discussed later in this paper. 105 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 30.


31 that revealed their anatomical differences to one anothe r, 107 subsequently defining their gender differences. In Islam, men are associated with reason and intellect, whereas women are associated with matter and corporeality. This is evident linguistically with the words aql (intellect) and nafs (breaths/soul); the former is masculine and the latte r is feminine. 108 It is further evident in the Sufi thought of Mahmud Shabistar i (d. 1320), who equates the right side with spirit and the left side, th e side from which Eve was born, with matter. 109 Therefore, all material substances, such as food, are feminine in character. Food is not only a material substance in and of itsel f; it becomes a part of the body after it is consumed. The body therefore is food. This idea aligns with the function of women’s bodies as providers of progeny and nourishment with their fe rtile, fruit-producing wombs and breast milk. In the Qur’an, women are literally the proverbial fields that men sow: Women are like fields for you; so seed them as you intend, but plan the future in advance. (Q. 2:223) Like fields that are farmed, women are fertile soil f or men’s seed; the ground produces fruit just as the womb does. The process of growing food from the earth has visible changes. Farmland, such as land near rivers that flood annua lly, is part of a cyclic process. When the soil has been nourished by the flood, it becomes moist and changes color, indicating that the ground has become fertile. Th e female body also shows visible changes that are related to sex and fertility, such as menstruation. When a woman begins 106 I am assuming that the reader has knowledge of the story of Adam and Eve in the Judaic-ChristianIslamic tradition. 107 See Q.2:35-36, Q.2:222, Q.7:19-20, and Q.20:120-121. 108 Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam: A sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), 155. 109 Murata, The Tao of Islam 166.


32 to menstruate, she is ready to be tilled just as the la nd is. This tilling, so to speak, results in another visible change: pregnancy. Like the womb, which produces progeny often called fruit, the belly is a part of the body associated with both eating and reproduction. Clearly, the belly of a woman is the location of the womb and other organs of reproduction, but through a common cultural logic, t he womb is also connected to organs of nutrition. Thus the womb becomes just one site in a network of connected organs and function s through which women are closely associated with nourishment and susten ance. The anatomical ambiguity of “the belly” represents this netw ork rather than any specific organ. 110 The belly of a woman is both the space that food fil ls and the area of the body that swells during pregnancy. 111 The swelling in both cases is the result of an action that produces pleasure, be it from food or sex. In a sense, then, the belly is the link between food and sex, making it a distinctly feminine area. 112 The belly, as well as the rest of the female body, is dangerous. According to Mary Douglas: The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to f orce one another into good citizenship. Thus we find that certain moral value s are upheld and certain social rules defined by beliefs in dangerous c ontagion…” 113 There are specific rules of conduct that believers (in this case, men) must follow in order to maintain purity, which apply to both women and food. Both f ood and the female body 110 Scott Kugle, Sufis & Saints’ Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, & Sacred Power i n Islam. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2007 ) 82-83. 111 Kugle, Sufis & Saints’ Bodies, 82. 112 Kugle, Sufis & Saints’ Bodies 94. 113 Mary Douglas “Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts o f Pollution and Taboo” in Theory and Method in the Study of Religion: A Selection of Critical Readings. Carl Olson, ed. (California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), 307.


33 evoke strong desire in men, making them easily addictive and/or abused, such as the case is with lust and gluttony. “…Where there is impurity, one finds ash-Shaytan,” 114 stressing that Shaitan is directly connected to what is forbidden, therefore r equiring vigilance in order to stay pure. When a woman is pregnant, her capacity for corruption is greater given that she is swelling with fluids, like breast mil k and uterine lining. Whether or not breast milk is contaminating is ambiguous. It nourishes chil dren and makes them grow, but also is associated with menses: The association between womb blood and breast milk ma y not be obvious to contemporary readers. However, it was persisten t in Hellenic culture and continued into Arab and Islamic anatomical and medical theories. The female body was imagined as an o rgan that fused blood and milk, both fluids that flowed beyond the boundaries of her body to sustain and nourish others. 115 Sexual intercourse, the act that makes women pregnant, h as the potential to attract evil into a person and subsequently contaminate them. Altho ugh lawful sex is encouraged in Islam both for pleasure and procreation, 116 it makes a person ritually impure because of the fluid contact. 117 Purification with water must be performed after sex, before engaging in prayer or entering sacred space, touching the Qur’an, or in some cases even mentioning the name of God. Water not only cleanses the bo dy, but also regenerates the 114 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 52. 115 Kugle, Sufis & Saints’ Bodies, 93. 116 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Natural Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet. (Pennsylvania: Pearl Publishing House, 1993), 197-198. 117 Douglas, Purity and Danger, 307.


34 spirit. 118 Thus the woman’s body is a temptation that has the pow er to condemn a man to hell. Farishta’s attraction and subsequent affair with Allelu ia also contaminates his body in the same manner that his pork binge does. Sex w ith his white girlfriend is the consumption of another kind of white meat: pork. The tr ope of white flesh as pork is found in African-American Muslim discourse. The domesticated pig is primarily visualized as the whi te pig whose pinky white skin, rheumy pale eyes, and huge overfed body is likened iconographically in African American Muslim discourse to th e appearance, habits and character of White people and the demo nic civilization they engender. The projection of a serie s of negative stereotypes onto the pig and onto its anthropological repre sentative, the “Caveman” or “Paleman,” includes physical greed (being “ piggy,” “piggish”), rampant sexual lust (“rutting”), covetous meanness (“swinishness”), physical foulness/disease which is bot h infected (with worms) and infectious (trichinosis), violent/savage/i rrational/brutish (police as “pigs” and the prison system as the “beast”), and finally selfdestructive in its habits/devouring its own young (self-pois oning via drug trafficking and polluting the land and their own food sour ces out of commercial interests. 119 Farishta also noted the impure nature of white individuals. “ I sometimes look at these pink people and instead of skin, Spoono, what I see is rotti ng meat; I smell their putrefaction here…in my nose.” 120 Farishta therefore is doubly contaminated because of his consumption of haram food and non-marital sex with an impure woman. Although he felt that he was engaging in these behaviors without con sequence, the “thunderbolt” was on its way in the form of inescapable nightmares. 118 Annemarie Schimmel, Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1994), 96. 119 O’Connor, “African-American Muslim Foodways,” 277. 120 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 437.


35 Chapter Four: Gibreel Farishta and the Devil, Dreaming: I t Was Me Both Times, Baba! The role of dreams in Islam and how they tormented Gib reel Farishta are crucial to understanding the development of the protagonist and his st ruggle with good and evil and his eventual descent into madness and death. The prophet ic tradition classifies dreams into three types: dreams sent by God as true ins piration, dreams from a person’s imagination, soul, or body which are merely fantasy, an d dreams sent by Iblis to tempt and mislead. 121 Some early manuals of dream interpretation ( ta‘bir al-ruya ) state that God must use an angel as an intermediary to send dreams t o humans. Anyone can receive a prophetic dream regardless of profession, gender, or age. 122 True dreams are sent by God, or wahy divine inspiration. “Dreams are…the primary mode through whi ch God will communicate with his community following Muhammad’s dea th and the cessation of Koranic revelation.” 123 It is in a dream that God commands Ibrahim (Abraham) t o kill his son, Isma’il (Ishmael), 124 providing the archetypal myth of sacrifice that is comm emorated annually at the end of hajj as Eid al-Adha the Feast of Sacrifice. This event is visualized in Islamic iconography worldwide. 125 121 John C. Lamoreaux, The Early Muslim Tradition of Dream Interpretation. (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002), 20. If the Prophet appears in a dre am, however, it cannot be Satan according to the Hadith. 122 Lamoreaux, Dream Interpretation, 82-83. 123 Lamoreaux, Dream Interpretation, 84. 124 In Islam, it is Ishmael rather than Isaac that God co mmands Abraham to sacrifice. 125 Some iconography includes hajj murals, murals that Musli ms paint on their houses when they embark on the pillar of hajj, the journey to the ka’aba in Mecca. The murals commemo rate the pilgrim’s journey as well as protect the home while the pilgrim is away. Jean Eduardo Campo, The Other Side of Paradise:


36 When he was old enough to go about with him, he said: “O my son, I dreamt that I was sacrificin g you. Consider, what you think?” He replied: “Father, do as you are commanded. If God pleases you will find me firm. (Q. 37:102-105) Qur’anic commentary ( tafsir ) contextualizes Ibrahim’s dream as lasting for three consecutive nights. After the first night, he questioned whether his dream was a true vision, ru’ya 126 concerned that Iblis was sending him a false vision, hulm “This differentiation also appears in the hadith literature, expressed in the saying ‘ ru’ya is from God and hulm is from Satan.’” 127 The dream also could have been from Ibrahim’s own mind. The ability of the mind to conjure fantasy is called wahm, imagination. It took having the dream for a second night for Ibraham to accept t he dream as wahy divine inspiration 128 Farishta’s nightmares can be construed as a blending of f alse visions from Iblis, hulm, and Farishta’s own delusional imagination, wahm The dreams also fit the category of adghath ahlam (Q. 12:44), “frightful nightmares, deceptive dreams, or dreams with a meaning that cannot be interpreted.” 129 In the Hadith and the Sira literature, the Angel Gibra’il is credited with bringi ng God’s message verbatim to the Prophet. According to some traditions, Muhammad received his first revelations from Gibra’il while he w as asleep and dreaming, wa-ana Explorations into the Religious Meanings of Domestic Space in Islam (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1991). 126 Leah Kinberg, “Dreams and Sleep” in EQ, Volume I, 547. Kinsburg cites: al-Razi, Tafsir xxvi,153; Baghawi, Ma’alim, iv, 569; Qurtubi, Jami’, xv, 101-2; and Suyuit, Durr v, 308. 127 Kinberg, “Dreams and Sleep,” 552. 128 Kinberg, “Dreams and Sleep,” 548, citing al-Razi, Tafsir, xxvi, 153. 129 Kinberg, “Dreams and Sleep,” 552.


37 na’im 130 Sura 97 of the Qur’an, entitled surat al-Qadr the “Night of Power,” supports the assertion in Hadith that an angel brought the reve lation to Muhammad. We have indeed revealed this is the Night of Power; and what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the spirit by God’s permission, on every errand; Peace! This until the rise of morn! (Q. 97) 131 The Night of Power, laylat al-qadr is celebrated during the month of Ramadan 132 commemorating the first reception of revelation by Muham mad. “This night is described as a night better than a thousand months…in which angels and the spirit [of God, ruh ] descend by leave of their lord from every command….” 133 The first moment of revelation directs the Prophet to repeat this revelation by comman ding him to “recite!” (Q. 96, surat al ‘Alaq) As mentioned at the end of chapter three, Gibreel Fari shta has been throughout the novel tormented by nightmarish visions in which he bec ame the Angel Gibra’il. He started having these terror-filled dreams after his glutton ous pork binge: “…after he ate the pigs the retribution began, a nocturnal retribution a punishment of dreams.” 134 The dreams began as nightmares, but eventually overtook even his waking moments, as the barrier between his dream self and waking self dissolved. 135 Farishta’s dream experiences, which Rushdie satirizes heavily, are nearly identical to Hadith narratives of 130 Lamoreaux, Dream Interpretation, 204. 131 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, trans. 132 Lamoreaux, Dream Interpretation, 118. 133 Roxanne D. Marcotte, “Night of Power” in EQ, Volume III, 337. 134 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 32. 135 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 304.


38 the first revelation of the Qur’an as witnessed in the Sira 136 Gibreel’s waking visions/nightmares are satirical renderings of the Prophet ic narratives. Through dreaming, Gibreel Farishta in his guise as the angel Gibra’il re vealed the Qur’an to a human male. …Gibreel had spoken to nobody about what had happened after he ate the unclean pigs. The dreams had begun that very night. In t hese visions he was always present, not as himself but as his namesake, and I don’t mean interpreting a role, Spoono, 137 I am him, he is me, I am the bloody archangel, Gibreel himself, large as bloody life 138 Farishta was terrified of his dreams. They were so rea listic that he wondered if the dreams were the reality and his waking life was actually the dream. He had no control over the dreams and could not experience deep, dreamless sl eep. The dreams were consecutive, always starting up where the last one left off, increasing his torment. Farishta feared that he was going insane. 139 He found the dreams so powerfully real and extremely overwhelming, as no doubt the historical Prophet did when he received the revelations as accounted in the Sira 140 The Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him) said, I had been standing, but I fell to my knees; then I crept away, my sh oulders quaking; then I entered Khadijah’s chamber and said, Cover m e (zammiluni), cover me, until the terror left me. 141 This account of the Prophet taking refuge in the arms of hi s first wife, Khadijah, due to the intensity and overwhelming power of receiving the rev elation bears strong 136 “The most striking thing about the nightmare chapters on a first superficial reading is their lack of inventiveness: they stick too close to Islamic tradit ion for comfort.” Fischer, Debating Muslims 404. 137 “Spoono” is one of the nicknames that Gibreel gave to Chamcha, playing on his name as it translates into Urdu. 138 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 83. 139 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 83. 140 Fischer, Debating Muslims 431. This references the Sira of Ibn Ishaq. 141 M. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca. ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 40.


39 resemblance to Rudolf Otto’s theory of experiencing the sacred or holy as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans 142 To experience God in such a personal and immediate fashi on renders the human being one the one hand awestruck and at tracted/desiring and on the other, frightened or terrified. 143 Farishta found these dreams so scary that he would try not to sleep in order to not have them. At one point, he avoided sleep for so long tha t he collapsed into a sleep that lasted for four days straight. When he woke up, he was so shaken by his dreams that he did not speak for two days. 144 Gibreel’s wakefulness resonates with the Sufi practice of voluntary wakefulness in which mystics on the ascetic path sleep as little as possible. 145 They feel that by staying awake, they can ward off Iblis because his influence over humans is more powerful when their consciousness is vul nerable in sleep. 146 This is because humans are in a morally weakened state when th ey are asleep. 147 The avoidance of sleep is a form of zuhd, self-discipline, 148 which is one of the “stations on the [Sufi] Path” to God. 149 Zuhd is a maqam 150 a station of effort and striving on behalf of the mystic, complimented by hal, the grace of God. For Sufis, sleep is dangerous because it 142 This experience can be compared to the “fear of God” com mon to the monotheistic religions. Bible: Genesis 20:11; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 25:18; 2 Samuel 23:3; 2 Chro nicles 20:29; Psalm 36:1; Psalm 55:19; Romans 3:18. Qur’an 2:2; 4:131; 7:56; 67:12; 98:8. 143 Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (England: Oxford University Press, 1958). 144 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 82. 145 Zuhd is also translated as asceticism. John Renard, Historical Dictionary of Sufism. (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2005), 38. 146 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 72. 147 Annemiek Spronk, “God’s Good Plan and Evil Forces in t he World: The Place of the Devil in Traditional Islam” in Probing The Depths of Evil and Good: Multireligious Views and Case Studi es. ( Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), 253. 148 Zuhd is multi-tiered in its meaning. It connotes “…(a) renunci ation of the world, (b) renunciation of the happy feeling of having achieved renunciation and (c) the stage in which the ascetic regards the world as so unimportant that he no longer looks at it.” Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 1975, 37. It is juxtaposed to hirs, greed. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 1975, 111. 149 Renard, Historical Dictionary of Sufism 38. 150 Maqam is discussed in chapter two in the section about fana fi Allah.


40 is a condition in which a person has no control over t hemselves. Through fantasy Iblis can overtake a person’s will while they are asleep and dr eaming. 151 Although he struggled, Farishta was not successful in his attempts to st ay awake. The more Farishta resisted sleep, the more exhausted he became until psych osis made fantasy bleed into reality, leading him ultimately to madness, despair, and s uicide. The source of Gibreel Farishta’s dreams was ambiguous. It is possible that God sent him the dreams. On the surface, the dreams that he had could fit the category of a a “glad tiding from God.” (Q. 10:62-4) 152 The dreams had a prophetic character and resonated with dream categories in Islamic theology. It is also possible that his subconscious was punishing him with the dreams. A further poss ibility suggested by Peter Awn is that “wily Iblis” 153 is sending the dreams to him. Man’s confrontation with Satan’s disguised form attains its fullest intensity not in a man’s everyday conscious life, but i n the semiconscious realm of dream and sleep. The power of the s pirit world is felt with far greater force there than in the waking s tate because Satan can avail himself of the most frightening of nightmarish f orms. 154 151 Iblis is a multi-dimensional character and will be explored more in the next two chapters. He is not always a negative and evil character. 152 “Several definitions of ‘good tidings’ ( busra) are adduced in the commentary on this verse, among which ‘dream’ (ru’ya) is one. Dreams are the good tidings in the present world…” Kinberg, “Dreams and Sleep,” 550. 153 The “wily Iblis” refers to one of the several char acterizations of Iblis by Sufis. “Occasionally, [Ibli s] is given a different name or title that focuses on one or more of his characteristics.” Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 57. Other characterizations include “Iblis: the OneEyed,” the “Prideful Iblis,” the “Worthless one,” “The One Who Flatters with Ruses,” th e “One Who Slinks Away,” “Satan the Stoned,” and others. Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 57, 59, 75, and 90. 154 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 49. He also holds superiority over all other angels. 154 Husain Kassim, “Nothing can be Known or Done without the Invo lvement of Angels: Angels and Angelology in Islam and Islamic Literature” in Angels; The Concept of Celestial Beings; Origins, Development and Reception ,” 2007, 648.


41 It can be argued that the source of Gibreel Farishta’s dreams is Iblis. Because Iblis is an opportunistic trickster, the one who whispers in human hearts as in surat al-Nas (Q. 114), it makes sense that he would adopt the personae of one o f the most celestial beings in order to mislead Farishta. What better form to confuse Farishta and lead him off of the straight path than the Angel Gibra’il? Gibra’il, whose role as vehicle of revelation is recounted in Hadith, is highly revered in Islam as one of the most trusted o f God’s agents. 155 Iblis sent the dream where Farishta became Angel Gibra’ il, when in reality, Farishta was the devil. Iblis’ role as a trickster is o ne way that Rushdie uses symbolic inversion of the meaning of the Prophet and revelation in Islam. However, this inversion is part of a longstanding trend in Islamic literature of satirizing sacred tropes with selfmockery. Humor and satire used to be a common practice in Islamic literature. Islam has become more sensitive in post-colonial discourse to such previously accepted and tolerated literary devices. 156 In the case of The Satanic Verses, Rushdie not only satirized Islam but also invoked tropes outside of the tradition th at denigrated Islam such as the medieval era term for Muhammad, Mahound. 157 Rushdie’s novel reverts to the old, disparaging Western name of ‘Mahound’ for Muhammad and uses motifs drawn from the e arly European Middle Ages, adding some fictions of his own whic h proved to be as offensive as those of Voltaire. It is not much consolation to observe that the author relates these as the fantasies of the schizophrenic hero of the novel…The name Mahound or somet imes Mahoun, Mahun, Mahomet, in French Mahon, in German Machmet, which was synonymous with demon, devil, idol, was invented by the writers of Christian play cycles and romances of 12 th century Europe. 155 Gibra’il is revered as such because he brought the reve lation to the Prophets. Kassim, Husain. “Nothing can be Known or Done without the Involvement of Angels ,” 648. 156 Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Structures of Avarice: The Bukhala’ in Medieval Arabic Literature (The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1985), 120 – 137. 157 The use of the term “Mahound” by Muslims is an act of reclamation in a similar fashion to women using the word “c*nt” or “b*tch”, or African-Americans using the word “n*gger.”


42 In these writings Muhammad does not appear as a prophet or even an anti-prophet, but as a heathen idol worshipped by the Arab s.” 158 The name of the character Mahound is not the only way i n which Rushdie implies that the Prophet is diabolical. Rushdie also inverts the Hadith narrative of Muhammad’s first encounter with the Angel Gibra’il. In the Hadith narrative from Bukhari’s Sahih the Prophet describes his revelatory experience with the Angel Gibra’il. The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard t hat I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again as ked me to read and I replied, “I do not know how to read.” Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I repl ied, “I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?” Thereupon h e caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, “Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exis ts) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. (Q.96.1, 96.2, 96.3) Then Allah's Apostle returned with the Inspiratio n and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid and said, "Cover me! Cover me!" They covered him till his fe ar was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, "I fear that something may happen to me." Khadija replied, "Never By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you…” 159 Another account of the Prophet’s encounter with the An gel Gibra’il is found in the Sira of al-Zuhri, also known as Ibn Shihab. Then [Angel Gibra’il] said, “Recite.” I said, “I cannot recite” (or “What shall I recite”). He [Muhammad] said, Then he took me a nd squeezed me vehemently three times until exhaustion overcame me; then he said ‘Recite in the name of thy Lord who created.’ And I rec ited…And I came to Khadijah and said, “I am filled with anxiety for myself;” and I told her my experience. She said, “Rejoice; by God, neve r will God bring you to confusion…” 160 158 Minou Reeves, Muhammad in Europe (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 6, 87. 159 al-Bukhari, al-Sahih Book 1, Volume 1, Number 3. 160 Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, 40.


43 Farishta in his dreams does not have power over Mahound as the Angel Gibra’il has over Muhammad in the Hadith and the Sira In the novel, Rushdie inverts the narratives from both the Hadith and the Sira In a cave five hundred feet below the summit of Mount Cone 161 Mahound wrestles the archangel, hurling him from side to s ide, and let me tell you he’s getting in everywhere, his tongue in my ear his fist around my balls, there was never a person with such a ra ge in him, he has to has to know he has to K N O W and I have nothing to tell him, he’s twice as physically fit as I am and four times as knowledgeable, minimum, we may both have taught ourselves by listening a l ot but as is plaintosee he’s even a better listener than me; so we roll kick scratch, he’s getting cut up quite a bit but of course my skin stays smooth as a baby, you can’t snag an angel on a bloody thorn-bush, you can’t bruise him on a rock. And they have an audience, there are djinns and afreets and all sorts of spooks sitting on the boulders to watch th e fight, and in the sky are those three winged creatures, looking like hero ns or swans or just women depending on their tricks of light. . Mahou nd finishes it. He throws the fight…After they had wrestled for ho urs or even weeks Mahound was pinned down beneath the angel, it’s what he wanted, it was his will filling me up and giving me the strength to hold him down, because archangels can’t lose such fights, it wo uldn’t be right, it’s only devils who get beaten in such circs, so the moment I got on top of him he started weeping for joy and then he did hi s old trick, forcing my mouth open and making the voice, the Voice, pour out of me once again, made it pour all over him, like sick. 162 In Rushdie’s account, the two characters are inverted an d become their other. The Prophet of the Hadith above becomes the bringer of revelation and the angel becomes the Devil who is trying to subvert the Prophet and the angel. I n the novel, Mahound becomes the revelator rather than the receiver and Gibreel bec omes the Devil rather than an angel. At the end of his wrestling match with the Archangel Gib reel, the Prophet Mahound falls into his customary, exhausted, postrevelatory sleep, but on this occasion he revives more quickly that us ual. When he comes to his senses in that high wilderness there is n obody to be seen, 161 Mount Cone deliberately shares a name with Farishta’s lover, Alleluia Cone. The implication is that the mountain, like Alleluia, needed to be climbed and perhaps conq uered. 162 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 122-123.


44 no winged creatures crouch on rocks, and he jumps to his f eet, filled with the urgency of the news. ‘It was the Devil,’ he s ays aloud to the empty air, making it true by giving it voice. ‘The last ti me, it was Shaitan.’ This is what he has heard in his listening, that he has been tricked, that the Devil came to him in the guise of the a rchangel, so that the verses he memorized, the ones he recited in the poetry tent, were not the real thing but its diabolic opposite, not godly, but satanic. He returns to the city as quickly as he can, to expunge the foul verses that reek of brimstone and sulphur, to strike them from the record for ever and ever, so that they will survive in just one or two unreliable collections of old traditions and orthodox interpreters will try and unwrite their story… 163 The verses that “poured out…like sick” were the abrogatio n of the “satanic verses” discussed in chapter one, in other words the true verses in the Qur’an (Q.53: 19-23) as we have it today. In the above passage, Mahound had just recei ved the revelation that the verses he previously stated were wrong. He set off to corre ct his mistake, convinced that Shaitan had disguised himself as the Angel Gibra’il and gave him false revelation. However, Mahound only made this true by stating it out loud. The distinction he made between angel and devil was an arbitrary human constructi on, perhaps even false. The reality of these verses in the novel is that there is no difference between who delivered the naskh, the abrogating or true verses, and who delivered the mansukh, or abrogated, false verses. Gibreel, hovering watching from his highest camera angle knows just one small detail, just one tiny thing that’s a bit of a problem here, namely that it was me both times, baba, me first and second also me. From my mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, ver ses and converses, universes and reverses, the whole thing, an d we all know how my mouth got worked. 164 163 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 123. 164 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 123.


45 Gibreel Farishta was the entity that delivered both se ts of verses, both of them under the duress and will of Mahound. This turns the Islamic account of events completely on its head. This episode in the novel insinuates that God can be manipulated by the will of an angel/human being, which is absolutely heretical in Islam The only reason that Gibreel won the battle is because Mahound threw the fight and forced Gibreel to pin him down. If “only devils…get beaten in such circs,” then Gibreel Far ishta must be the devil, as Mahound had the power to throw the fight.


46 Chapter Five: Devil Talk: The Ambiguous Nature of Iblis In this chapter, I will discuss several ambiguities regar ding Iblis. This subject has been thoroughly examined in the Master’s Thesis of Chris topher Sickels Hayes, 165 whose work draws on the tafsir of many Muslim exegetes. I will be applying his insights as well as others to this work in the exploration of some of th e issues concerning Iblis’ nature as it is embodied in Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses The first ambiguity of Iblis’ character in Islam concer ns his original status as an angel. Angels act as intermediaries between God and hu manity, which gives them a role superior to humans. However, angels must also be submissi ve to humanity as per God’s command to bow to Adam (Q. 2:34, 7:11, 15:31, 17:61, 18:50, 38:74) putting t hem in a role inferior to humans. To complicate matters further, humans are flawed despite their role as viceregent of God on earth and angels are not flaw ed. Iblis’ struggle with God results from precisely this flawed nature of Adam and God’ s paradoxical command to the angels to bow to his imperfect creation. The second am biguity concerns the difference in the character of Iblis/Shaitan in Islam and Christiani ty. In Islam, Iblis is disobedient, but he does not fall from grace in the way that he does in Christianity. The third ambiguity concerns whether Iblis is an angel or jinn After examining the ambiguities, I suggest that the plight of Iblis is his greater jihad 165 Christopher Sickles Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. (Texas: The University of Texas at Austin, 2003).


47 According to the Qur’an, the angels questioned God’s motiv es when He created Adam and appointed him khalifa Allah God’s vicegerent or deputy on earth. Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a v icegerent ( khalifa ) on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?whilst we do celebrat e Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what y e know not.” (Q. 2:30) 166 The word khalifa is mentioned in the Qur’an nine times both in the singula r and in the plural form, khala’if. 167 The term can be understood in several different ways such as “successor, substitute, replacement, deputy.” It also can mean “inhabitant, settler on earth” and the “one who exercises authority .” 168 All of these definitions apply to Adam’s role as God’s vicegerent on earth. The title was also bestowed upon King David (Q. 38:26). However, there “is little in the qur’anic occurrenc es of the term that prepares it for its politically and theologically charged meaning. 169 The word khalifa was also used to denote leadership. The official title of the head of s tate following Muhammad’s death was khalifa Allah 170 Initially, there was no link between the Qur’anic use of the term and the political application of the word. The meaning of th e two terms slowly began to merge together in the middle of the eighth century CE. To be khalifa Allah then, is to be God’s representative on earth. God made Adam khalifa Allah giving him dominion over all things. With this dominion came responsibility both ov er the earth and all things on 166 Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur’an. 167 Wadad Kadi, “Caliph” in EQ Volume I, 277. 168 Kadi, “Caliph,” 277. 169 Kadi, “Caliph,” 277. 170 Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Isl am. (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Oriental Publications, 1986), 11,16.


48 the earth. 171 Environmental stewardship is an implicit part of this re sponsibility. In Q. 2:31 God gave Adam the power of naming, which in turn gave him do minion over the things that he named. “In the Islamic interpretation, it meant the names of the Angels, all the species of animals, the sky, the earth, ocean and t he seas, and their characteristics and what they do and their usefulness to humanity in religio us and secular pursuits.” 172 This includes angels, who cannot name. In Q. 2:31-Q.2:33, God instruct ed Adam to tell the angels their names and natures. This amplified the dominio n that Adam had over the angels, as angels do not have the power to name. The power to name gave Adam knowledge over hidden things (God’s province), al-ghaib, “the unseen.” After Adam had displayed the knowledge which Allah had grant ed him, the angels were ordered to prostrate themselves bef ore him. This they did. The prostration of the angels to the first hu man illustrates the dignity which humankind possesses, even though they corrupt earth and shed blood. Humankind was granted a position above the a ngels, and was given the secret of knowledge and an independent w ill which permits them to chose their own way. The duality of our nature – the ability to pave our own way together with the duty of vice regency – is the reason for our dignity. 173 Not all of the angels accepted Adam’s exalted status. In Q 2:35, Iblis refused to bow down to Adam. The function of an angel is always a form of servitude ranging from praising God and singing to acting as God’s messenger. Angels “are mes sengers, punishers, couriers, helpers: they act only in accordance with God’s will, an d function as His instruments.” 174 171 Mawil Y. Izzi Dien, “Islamic Ethics and the Environme nt” in Islam and Ecology, Fazlun Khalid and Joanne O’Brien, Eds. (London: Cassell Publishers Limited 1992), 28. 172 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 20. 173 Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, “Islam and Ecology” in Islam and Ecology, 20. 174 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 27.


49 When Iblis chose not to bow, according to traditional mains tream exegesis, he violated his role as a servant of God. The basic Sunni interpretation of the expulsion of Iblis is that when God ordered the angels to bow down in worship ( sujud ) 175 before Adam, Iblis refused to prostrate because of his pride. 176 This refusal reflects the socio-cultural context in which the Qur’an was revealed. “The Qur’an attests t hat prostration met with strong opposition among Arabs (Q. 25:60; cf. 68:42-3) and that pride (q.v. ) was the cause of this opposition (Q. 7:206; 16:49; 32:15).” 177 Proud Iblis, like the Jahiliyya Arabs, refused to prostrate, and because of his haughtiness, he was expell ed. Verily We created you and gave you form and shape, and ordered the angels to bow before Adam in homage; and they all owed but Iblis who was not among those who bowed. “What prevented you” (said God), “from bowing (before Adam) at My bidding?” “I am better than him,” said he. You created me from fire, and him from clay.” So God said: “Descend. You have no right to be insolent here. Go, and away; you are one of the damned.” “Grant me respite,” said he, “till the raising of the dead.” And God said “You have the respite.” “Since You led me into error,” said Iblis, “I shall lie in wait for them along Your straight path. And I shall come upon them from the front and behind, right and left; and You would not find among them many who would give thanks.” “Begone,” said (God), “contemptible and rejected! As for those who follow you, I will fill up Hell with all of you.” (Q.7.11-18) 175 As mentioned in the introduction, bowing, or sujud, is the ultimate form of worshipful submission and prayer. 176 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 91. 177 Tottoli, “Bowing and Prostration,” 254.


50 Iblis was thrown off God’s straight path for his disobe dience, and therefore is no longer one who submits to God, the definition of a “Muslim.” T he straight path referenced in the verse resonates with Islamic motifs concerning the Day of Resurrection. There is a bridge over hell that people must cross in order to get to para dise. 178 The Unrighteous will be unable to cross the bridge, and will fall off and into hel l just as Iblis did. The bridge over hell is the last part of the straight path that leads to God. The traditional Sunni reading of the expulsion of Iblis is that he refused t o bow because he was created from fire, a refined and superior substance considered superior to Adam who was made of gross clay (Q. 7:11-13). 179 The less material something is, the “higher” it is; the clay-formed body is the lower part of a person’s dual mind/body nature. The spirit that God blew into human beings when He cre ated them is higher than the matter it animates. 180 Fire also has other associations. In Q 20:10-12, God mani fests as a burning bush before the prophet Musa (Moses). In both instan ces, fire is a powerful element that can manifest the divine will, be it for com munication or for torment (hellfire). Fire “signifies both danger and security.” 181 Rushdie explores the relationship between human and angelic natures through his character G ibreel Farishta. The human condition, but what of the angelic? Halfway be tween Allahgod and homosap, did they ever doubt? They did: challenging God’s will one day they hid muttering beneath the Thron e, daring to ask forbidden things: antiquestions. Is it right that. Could it not be argued. Freedom, the old antiquest. He calmed them down, na turally, employing management skills a la god. Flattered them: You wi ll be the instruments of my will on earth, the salvationdamnat ion of man, all the 178 Jane I. Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (United States: State University of New York Press, 1981), 9. 179 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 27. 180 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 27. 181 Netton, “Nature as Signs,” 529.


51 usual etcetera. And hey presto, end of protest, on with the halos, 182 back to work. Angels are easily pacified; turn them into i nstruments and they’ll play your harpy tune. Human beings are tougher nuts, can doubt anything, even the evidence of their own eyes. Of behind-theirown eyes. Of what, as they sink heavy-lidded, transpire s behind their closed peepers…angels, they don’t have much in the way of a will. To will is to disagree; not to submit; to dissent. 183 Humans have the ability to make moral choices, which ren ders them superior to angels who do not have the ability to make moral choices. Accor ding to al-Baydawi (d. 1291 CE), a renowned Sunni Qur’anic commentator, angels are simply unable to rebel or disobey. 184 Angels can question God without the risk of falling into unbe lief due to their lack of a will. Humans, however, risk falling into doubt and becoming kafir if they question God. Here, Farishta’s interpretation of the an gelic and human natures is similar to that of al-Baydawi. This view is reinforced by Q. 66:6, w hich states plainly that angels never disobey God’s command. The superiority of humanity over angels infuriated Gibreel Farishta, much like it did Iblis. Gibreel Fari shta explores this sense of superiority during one of his psychotic-angelic episode. How astonishing, then, that of all the drivers streaming a long the embankment – it was, after all, rush-hour – No one shoul d so much as look in his direction, or acknowledge him! This was in trut h a people who had forgotten how to see. And because the relations hip between men and angels is an ambiguous one – in which the angels, or mala’ikah, are both the controllers of nature 185 and the intermediaries between the Deity and the human race; but at the same time, as the Quran clearly states, we said unto the angels, be submissive unto Adam 182 Harps and halos are characteristic of angels in Christiani ty, but not of angels in Islam. 183 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 92-93. 184 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 27. There is an extensive amount of Sunni tafsir of the nature of angels, much of which has been explored in Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan, 15-20. 185 Rushdie is conflating angels and jinn in this passage. Jinn are elemental spirits. According to Q. 38:36 and Q. 45:13, human beings have power over nature. King Solom on was given a mastery of material power through the jinn by God. Ibn al-Arabi. The Bezels of Wisdom. Austin, R.W.J., trans. (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 195.


52 the point being to symbolize man’s ability to master, through knowledge, the forces of nature which the angels represente d – there really wasn’t much that the ignored and infuriated ma lak Gibreel could do about it. Archangels could only speak when men chose to l isten. What a bunch! Hadn’t he warned the Over-Entity at t he very beginning about this crew of criminals and evildoers? ‘Wilt thou place in the earth such as make mischief in it and shed blood?’ he had asked, and the Being, as usual, replied only that he knew better. Well, there they were, the masters of the earth, canned like tuna on whee ls and blind as bats, their heads full of mischief and their newspapers of blood. 186 Gibreel not only reflected on the seeming unfairness of the superiority of humans over angels, but also pointed out the complexity of the role of angels. They are instructed to be submissive to Adam, the viceregent of God on earth, but also must act as intermediaries between God and humans. In one role, they are higher th an humanity, and in another role, they are lowlier. These roles can be in conflict wit h one another. Rushdie refers to Farishta as a malak the Arabic word for angel. 187 Clearly, then, Farishta was an angel, but as previously discussed, angels by nature are capable of ques tioning but incapable of disobedience, whereas humans can do both. Farishta style d as an angel should be incapable of such disobedience. However, like Iblis, he w as in contradiction with himself. His angelic side was incapable of disobedience, but his human side was consciously disobedient. He is similar to Iblis, who was of an an gelic nature until he doubted God’s will. Both Iblis and Farishta straddle these two natures The following passage borrows Christian theological co nstructs of the fall of Adam and Eve. Some of the language resonates with the I slamic concepts of submission and association. Rushdie uses two approaches that are int erwoven. 186 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 336. 187 Kassim, “Nothing can be Known or Done without the Invo lvement of Angels,” 646.


53 The fall of angels, Gibreel reflected, was not the sam e kettle as the Tumble of Woman and Man. In the case of human persons, the issue had been morality. Of the fruit of the tree of the kn owledge of good and evil they shouldst not eat, and ate. Woman first, and at her suggestion man, acquired the verboten ethical standards, tastily appleflavored: the serpent brought them a value system. 188 Enabling them, among other things, to judge the Deity itself, making possible in good time all the awkward inquiries: why evil? Why suffering? Why death? – So out they went. It didn’t want Its pretty creatures gettin g above their station. . Whereas the angels’ crash was a simple matter of power: a straightforward piece of celestial police work, punishmen t for rebellion, good and tough ‘pour encourager les autres’ 189 – Then how unconfident of Itself this Deity was, Who didn’t want Its finest c reations to know right from wrong; and who reigned by terror, insisting upon the unqualified submission of even Its closest associates, 190 packing off all dissidents to Its blazing Siberias, the gulag-infernos of Hell…he checked himself. These were satanic thoughts, put into hi s head by Iblis-Beelzebub-Shaitan. 191 The passage from Farishta’s waking delirium implies that when humans question God, they come to judge God. However, while angels can question God, they have neither the option nor the ability to judge God. This entire episode i s a parallel to that of the reception and subsequent abrogation of the satanic verses as discussed in chapter one. Farishta caught himself having thoughts that were brought to hi m by Shaitan. In the satanic verses episode in the Sira the Prophet had the same realization after he announced to the Bedouin tribes that they could continue to a sk the triple goddess for 188 The Qur’an does not specify that Eve took of the fruit first, nor does Islamic tradition However, given the context of the passage, Rushdie is likely elaboratin g upon Christian sources rather than Islamic sources on these motifs. 189 Translated from the French, this means “for the enco uragement of others,” i.e., to encourage others to avoid the same fate. 190 The notion that God could have “associates” plays on the Islamic idea of shirk, or associating God with anything else. An example of this would be asking the triple -goddess for intercession. 191 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 332.


54 intercession. After Muhammad made the announcement, he re alized that he had been tricked by Shaitan, who had cast the satanic verses into his mouth. 192 Farishta doubted the will of God; he found God’s will incom prehensible and unfair. Farishta blatantly questioned whether or not God w as justified in tossing Iblis out of heaven for refusing to prostrate before Adam. Was Ibl is’ expulsion from paradise the result of disobedience? How can the nature of Iblis b e reconciled in the paradox if he is an angel and yet has disobeyed God? In the Qur’an, there is one verse in which Iblis is not referred to as an angel, but rather as a jinn, 193 a lesser kind of ethereal spirit. Jinn are different from and inferior to angels, although there can be some overlap in their func tion and abilities, particularly their interaction and mediation in the human realm. When We said to the angels: “Bow before Adam in adoration,” they all bowed but Iblis. He was one of the jinns and rebelled against his Lord’s command. (Q. 18:50) Iblis’ ambivalent nature has been explored in great detai l by al-Tabarsi, a twelfth century Shi‘i exegete of the Qur’an. 194 Al-Tabarsi provided four points of proof that Iblis is of the jinn and four counterpoints that Iblis is an angel. For exa mple, Iblis is made of fire as jinn are, but angels are made of light or wind. 195 However, al-Tabarsi undercut 192 Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, 165. 193 “ Jinn : A category of created beings believed to possess powers f or evil and good. Although their existence is never doubted, the jinn (Eng. ‘genie’) are pre sented in the Qur’an as figures whose effective role has been considerably curtailed in comparison to that accorded to them by various forms of pre-Islamic religion.” Jacqueline Chabbi, “Jinn” in EQ, Volume III, 43 194 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 8. 195 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 28.


55 such distinctions by bridging the categories of fire and lig ht. 196 Hayes’ work also deals extensively with angel/ jinn issue. 197 What are the consequences of categorizing Iblis not as a fallen angel but as a jinn ? Rushdie provided one answer, as pondered by Gibreel Farishta. This Shaitan was no fallen angel. Forget those son-ofthe-morning fictions; this was no good boy gone bad, but pure evil. Tr uth was, he wasn’t an angel at all! ‘He was of the djinn, so he tran sgressed.’ Quran 18:50, there it was as plain as the day. How much more straightforward this version was! How much more practica l, down-toearth, comprehensible! Iblis/Shaitan standing for all the darkness, Gibreel for the light. Out, out with these sentimenta lities: joining, locking together, love. Seek and destroy; that was all. 198 Gibreel Farishta could not understand why God would create an angel who would violate his own nature only to be condemned for disobedience. Why wou ld God create such an angel in the first place? Farishta found it much easier to reconcile the nature of God if Iblis was of the jinn How right he’d been, for instance, to banish those Sat anico-Biblical doubts of his, those concerning God’s unwillingness to permit dissent among his lieutenants, for as Iblis/Shaitan was no ange l, so there had been no angelic dissidents for the Divinity to repress; and those concerning forbidden fruit, and God’s supposed denial of moral choice to his creations; for nowhere in the entire Recitati on was that Tree called (as the bible had it) the root of the knowledge of good and evil. It was simply a different Tree! Shaitan, tempting the Edenic couple, called it only ‘the Tree of Immortality’ – and as he was a liar, so the truth (discovered by inversion) was that the banned fruit ( apples were not specified) hung upon the Death-Tree, no less, the sl ayer of men’s souls. 199 196 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 29. 197 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 103. 198 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 353. 199 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 354.


56 If Iblis is a jinn then there are no “angelic dissidents.” God did not cre ate an angel, an entity without free will, with the foreknowledge that he would be banished. Farishta wrestled with Iblis’ identity at the end of the novel. What appears to be his conclusion, that Iblis is of the jinn is not shared by any branch of the larger Islamic tradi tion. In Islam, there is yet another way to reconcile the nature of Iblis. His paradoxical situation could be understood as his unique form of greater jihad The greater jihad demands that all Muslims, regardless of their age, gender or condition, meet life’s internal challenges of performing the good and avoiding evil. T his begs the question: Is Iblis a Muslim? What, then, might be Iblis’ greater jihad ? What are his internal struggles to perform the good and avoid evil? Iblis is challenged with the struggle to obey God’s commands, to submit to God’s commands, which may be the simplest definition of what it is to be a Muslim. Submission to God requires a Muslim to accept suffering, deprivation, burdens, and helplessness while simultaneously understanding the value of these experiences. Iblis struggles to endure the pain of his separation from Go d. The Sufi tafsir on the paradoxical struggle of Iblis centers on his appare nt disobedience to God’s second command (to bow before Adam ), in order to remain faithful to God’s first command to bow to ( sujud ) or worship only God. According to alHallaj (d. 922 CE), a famous Baghdad mystic, 200 Iblis is a martyr for God. 200 Al-Hallaj was put to death by the caliph for the apparent heresy of making theopathic statements which are the result of the aforementioned unitive experience. Statements such as “I am the Truth!” by al-Hallaj and “Glory be to Me!” by Abu Yazid al-Bistami, while res ulting from the Sufi’s ecstatic union with God, appear heretical to jurists, falling into hulaliyya or incarnationism. Such theopathic claims of human divinity contravene Islam’s absolute divine unity, or tawhid. Sufis as perceived by jurists parallel the experience of Iblis in that extreme fidelity appeared to be i nfidelity. For more on this topic, see Carl W. Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (New York: State University of New York Press, 1985). For Shi‘i Islam, the unitive experience of the Imams was labeled as infidelity by jurists.


57 He was told, ‘Do you not bow, O despicable creature?’ H e replied, ‘You say “despicable creature” but I read in a book of evide nt truths what will come to pass for me, O Powerful, Steadfast O ne! How could I humble myself before him? You created me from fire a nd You created him from clay; they are opposites that will nev er accord. I am older in service, more advanced in virtue, more skilled in k nowledge, and more perfect in the way I lead my life.’ God said to him, ‘The choice is Mine, not yours.’ He replied, ‘All choices, mine included, belong to You! You have already chosen for me, O Creator 201 If you have prevented my bowing to him, You are Preventer. If I ha ve sinned in speech, You do not forsake me, for You are the All-He aring. If You willed that I bow to him, I would have been the obedient one. I know of no one among the Gnostics who knows You better than me !’ 202 Ahmad al-Ghazali 203 also believed that Iblis was a martyr for God. “Ahmad a l-Ghazali had great sympathy for Iblis because he believed Iblis’ ma rtyrdom was a martyrdom of love; but his martyrdom will only last a while because, f or Ahmad al-Ghazali, Iblis is holy.” 204 Is Iblis’ jihad between obedience and disobedience to God’s command? Or, is it his jihad to accept the will of God without resentment and accept t he opprobrium of others without resentment who do not understand his true o bedience? In neither case is Iblis evil; he is one of God’s creatures doing God’s work. God created Iblis knowing that he would disobey his command to bow to Adam, and it is the job of Iblis to endure God’s absence. 205 If all choices belong to God as the above quote by al-H allaj suggests, than it is impossible for Iblis to disobey God’s will. Was it fa ir then for God to throw Iblis out of 201 God predetermines all things, but left human free will i ntact. Free will is not synonymous with freedom per se, but this does not eliminate the human moral respon sibility of choice-making. Here, Iblis participates in this process just as humans do. His choice is predet ermined by God even though Iblis also made the choice not to bow. 202 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption 127, quoting from al-Hallaj, Tawasin, 52-53 #27-28. 203 Hayes notes that Ahmad al-Ghazali is “the brother of the renowned and pre-eminent Muslim scholar, theologian, jurist, and mystic, Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghaz ali.” Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 163. 204 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 163. 205 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan. 173.


58 heaven for his apparent disobedience? In order to answer t hat question, it is important to understand why Iblis did not bow. There is the traditiona l reading, which was previously discussed: Iblis felt that he was created from a superior substance. However, a deeper probe into the plight of Iblis in Sufi Islam reveals dee per issues with regard to why Iblis did what he did. Some readings focus on the fact that Ibli s did not bow to Adam because God’s command to do so contradicted His will. Awn summari zes Sufi thought on the subject of irada (God’s will) and amr (Allah’s command) and the chasm between the two: There is no denying that in the case of Iblis there se ems to be a conflict between God’s Will (irada) and His actual, concrete co mmand (amr). What is debatable, however, is the course of action on e should pursue in the face of such a paradox. Iblis chose irada and incurred the fatal consequences….But how does one obey a command that contradi cts the will of God? 206 Iblis thus found himself in a seemingly impossible situatio n when he was told to bow to Adam. Rather than Iblis’ disobedience being an issue of pride or ego, it is an issue of monotheism. One of the central myths of Islam is the story of wh y Satan was thrown out of heaven: Satan refused to bow to Adam because he sty led himself a strict monotheist. He was thrown out of hea ven for his pride and his fanatical literalism. Muslims like to point out t hat human beings are superior to angels because angels have no passion, so there is no moral struggle to overcome desire, and because angels being pure reason possess little doubt, so again no moral struggle nor achievement is possible. 207 206 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 102. 207 Fischer, Debating Muslims 430.


59 Moral struggle for Iblis is to submit to blame and separat ion in order to serve God and obey His will. Iblis must do God’s work and test humanity without hatred or resentment. Iblis suffers from being denied intimacy with God. For Sufi s, the absence of God is the most painful thing that can be experienced. Devotio n to God is paramount, and to be denied His presence is pure suffering. However, sufferi ng is not always a negative experience for Sufis. Rather, it is a vital part of the struggle to cultivate intimacy with God. As mentioned in chapter two, suffering is part of a s pecific process of attaining unity with God, moving from stations of maqam (effort) to states of hal (grace). These alternating emotional pathways to God swing like a pendulum moving back and forth from “ sukr (intoxication) and sahw (sobriety), djam’ or wahda (unity) to tafrika or kathra (separation, plurality), and nafy (negation) to ithbat (affirmation).” 208 The pendulum can also be understood as moving from fana (absorption/annihilation into God) into baqa (remaining in the self). When one is in the profoundest me ditative state, the mystic realizes that nothing is separate from God. Sufi thinker Ibn al-Arabi’s concept of wahdat al-wujud (the Oneness of Being) states that “all distinction, difference, and conflict are but apparent facets of a single and unique reality, the ‘s eamless garment’ of Being, whose reality underlies all derivative being and its experienc e.” 209 Baqa then is simply the illusory perception of God’s absence. When one falls out of awareness and oneness with God, God is absent from your mind and heart. In the case o f Iblis, his expulsion puts him in a state of baqa, which means he has the potential to swing back into fana. His apparent 208 Rahman, F. Baka wa-Fana 951. 209 Ibn al-Arabi. The Bezels of Wisdom 25


60 infidelity is simply the suffering part of his religio us experience that was brought about by his extreme obedience. In this regard, the plight of I blis evokes sympathy. Even if one admits culpability on his part for now obe ying the command of God, one cannot help but see him also as a tra gic victim of noble stature, whose downfall does not blot out complet ely the strength of his character. 210 Traditional Sunni theologian al-‘Ashari’s concept of bila kayf, or “closing the gates of reasoning,” states that because humans cannot co mprehend God’s will, they should not try to do so. 211 However, there is a lively discussion in Sufi and eve n Shi‘i Islam that tries to understand why God would condemn Iblis to a life of suffering and pain. In Sufi Islam, suffering is not perceived as unfair o r cruel. Rather, suffering is a sign of God’s love. Tribulations and afflictions are a sign that God is near… The more He loves person, the more He will test him, taking away f rom him every trace of earthly consolation so that the lover has only Him to rely upon. It is small wonder that a hadith about this suffering was ver y common among the Sufis: “The most afflicted people are the proph ets, then the saints, and then so forth.” 212 As it is in Sufi Islam, suffering is an honorable part of the religious experience in Shi’i Islam. God afflicts people with suffering according to th e strength of their faith; the more loyal to God someone is, the greater their suffering will be. 213 “For the people of God, this world is a world of suffering and sorrow; it is indee d the House of Sorrows.” 214 210 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 103. 211 Bila Kayf, literally translates to “closing the gates of ijtihad (reasoning),” which is accepting that we as humans cannot understand God’s will and should therefore not question it. 212 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam 136. 213 The Book of Job is an example of this as well. 214 Mahmoud Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering in Islam (The Netherlands: Morton Publishers, 1978), 25.


61 Suffering allows for redemption, serving as a mark of God’s chosen people. This is most visible in the veneration of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the seal of the martyrs, and his family. He was chose n by God to be a redemptive martyr for the faith, and remains one of the most honored figure s in Shi‘i Islam. 215 To remain faithful to God unto death is an honored sacrifice. Like H usayn, Iblis is a servant of God, and is a guide for Muslims to the pathway of redemptive suf fering. Iblis guides Muslims by making clear the path of avoiding evil. Iblis is a tragic hero in Sufi Islam. His plight is one that evokes sympathy given that his destiny is to endure God’s absence and be reviled by o thers. Rather than question God’s benevolence, will, or authority, Sufi Islam rec ognizes Iblis as God’s most loyal devotee. It is easy to understand based on the above passa ges why the suffering of Iblis was of such interest to Sufis. Rather than questioning Go d’s fairness or ignoring the question altogether, Sufis reconciled Iblis’ plight based on their understanding of God’s nature. This understanding collapses the dichotomy of good and evil as moral categories altogether. All suffering, violence, pain, and chaos in t he world are part of the divine plan and part of God Himself; there is no difference betwee n the good and evil of Iblis because God created both. Good and evil are inseparable for Farishta in his human, ange lic, and satanic guises. In The Satanic Verses a textual example of this ambiguity is presented by Rushdie in the first few pages. As Farishta and his compa nion, Mr. Saladin Chamcha, fall out of the Bostan 747 Rushdie writes the following: 215 Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering in Islam, 27.


62 …but for whatever reason, the two men, Gibreelsaladin Farishtachamcha, condemned to this endless but also angelicde velish fall, did not become aware of the moment at which the processes of their transmutation began. 216 The linguistic implications of the statement, when re ad in context with the rest of the novel, are clear. Here, Rushdie has taken his two protag onists who simultaneously represent “angelic” and “devilish” traits and fused them to gether by conjoining their names as they plummet to earth. It should be noted t hat both characters’ attributes are ambiguous in this passage. What is clear is that good and evi l are on a continuum, even as they represent two seemingly opposite things. This ali gns with the theory of the great Sufi theologian, Ibn al-‘Arabi. For Ibn al-‘Arabi, good and evil are relative. What appe ars to be evil to us may actually be good; and what is good according to one standard or situation may be evil in another. Ibn al-’Arabi, like a l-Hallaj, believed that all actions are done in accordance with the Divine Decree, although some actions contradict God’s commands. 217 216 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 5. 217 Hayes, An Ontological Study of Iblis al-Shaytan, 159.


63 Like suffering and joy, both good and evil are a part of G od’s creation. 218 Good and evil for Iblis as for Gibreel Farishta manifest the inabili ty of God’s creation to disentangle God’s will or decree from His command. 218 In contemporary, “orthodox” Islam, evil is God’s creati on just as everything else is. Iblis is a part of God’s plan just as evil is. Evil cannot be a principle i n opposition to God because it is God’s creation. The same is true for Iblis; the worst that Iblis can be i s ambivalent. This conclusion is the result of the Mu’tazilite debate over the createdness of the Qur’an. The Mu’tazilites argued that the Qur’an, God’s speech, is one of God’s creations and therefore not ete rnal. The “orthodoxy” disagreed, favoring instead the idea that the Qur’an was eternal and co-existent with God. For the Mu’tazilites, the idea that anything is coexistent with God is shirk. The implications of the “orthodox” perspective are that all things are predestined and that humans have no free will in decision making. God predetermines all things. The Mu’tazilites, as they were dubbed by the “orthodoxy,” favo red the idea that human beings have free will and that the intellect was given to humans by God in order to understand God’s will. For more on the Mihna the great persecution of the so-called Mu’tazilites, s ee J.R. Peters, God’s Created Speech: A study in the speculative theology of the Mu’tazili Qadi l-Qadat Abu l-H asan ’Abd al-Jabbar bn Ahmad alHamadani. (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J Brill, 1976).


64 Chapter Six: First, You Have to Die: The End of Gibreel Farishta Like Iblis, Gibreel Farishta constantly suffered. Unli ke Iblis, he was unable to properly sustain his role. Whereas Iblis could withstand h is greater jihad Farishta was destroyed by it. Farishta’s inability to understand God’s wil l and subsequently accept his fate became more apparent as he further detached from re ality. The breaking point for Gibreel’s sanity mentioned in the previous chapter occurre d in a moment of jealous rage. The reason he got onto the Bostan 747 the plane that exploded en route to London from Mumbai, was to find his love interest, Alleluia Cone. He met her in the lobby of the Taj Motel as he stuffed his face full of pork and had a three day tryst with her following his meal. By the time he arrived in London, he had been having his re velatory dreams for several months. The dreams had been triggered by his pork bin ge shortly before he got on the plane. He had been avoiding sleep for months, leading him into a psychotic state. Sleep deprivation can often lead to insanity. Farishta, n ow in England, set out looking for his lover. Before he could, however, she found him. He was in a dire state of health when she found him “at her feet, unconscious in the snow, takin g her breath away with the impossibility of his being there at all….” 219 They had a passionate reunion, but things soured when it became apparent that Gibreel was an extr emely jealous lover. His sleepdeprived paranoia caused him to believe that Alleluia had ot her lovers or admirers. One night, they fought so badly that Alleluia told him to leav e her house. It was at this 219 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 301.


65 moment that Farishta had what can be characterized as a delusional episode/divine visitation. ‘Don’t think I’m coming back,’ he yelled, knowing that h is rage was more than sufficient to get him out of the door, waiting for her to begin to calm down, to speak softly, to give him a way of stay ing. But she shrugged and walked away, and it was then, at that precise m oment of his greatest wrath, that the boundaries of the earth bro ke, he heard a noise like the bursting of a dam, and as the spirits of t he world of dreams flooded through the breach into the universe of the quotidian, Gibreel Farishta saw God. 220 This theophany manifested as a dandruff-ridden, middle-aged bald ing man with glasses, seated on the bed upon which Gibreel and Alleluia made lov e. The apparition identified himself to Gibreel as “The Fellow Upstairs.” 221 Gibreel immediately challenged the apparition, asking him if he was not “the Guy from Under neath.” 222 The apparition did not answer right away, but responded with a display of “divine rage,” 223 materializing a storm outside the house. 224 ‘We’re losing patience with you, Gibreel Farishta. 225 You’ve doubted Us just about long enough.’ Gibreel hung his head, blas ted by the wrath of God. ‘We are not obliged to explain Our nature to you,’ t he dressingdown continued. ‘Whether We be multiform, plural, represe nting the union-by-hybridization of such opposites as Oopar and Neechay 226 or whether We be pure, stark, extreme, will not be resolv ed here.’ The disarranged bed upon which his Visitor had rested Its posteri or 227 (which, Gibreel now observed, was glowing faintly, 228 like the rest of 220 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 318. 221 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 318. 222 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 318. 223 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 319. 224 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 319. 225 In the Qur’an, God often speaks in the “We” of divine ma jesty, and the Bible uses the plural Elohim for the same purpose. This speech from the apparition reflects the linguistic character of the divine personae in the Qur’an. 226 In Hindi, this refers to “up” and “down.” 227 This is a reference to the encounter between Moses an d God in the book of Exodus. Moses sees God, but he only sees the back of Him. 228 The glow here is the same as the glow noted in chapter two.


66 the Person) was granted a highly disapproving glance. ‘T he point is, there will be no more dilly-dallying. You wanted clear s igns of Our existence? We sent Revelation to fill your dreams: in which not only Our nature, but yours also, was clarified. But you fought a gainst it, struggling against the very sleep in which We were awaken ing you. Your fear of the truth has finally obliged Us to expose O urself, at some personal inconvenience, in this woman’s residence at a n advanced hour of the night. It is time, now, to shape up. Did We pluck y ou from the skies so that you could boff and spat with some (no doubt rem arkable) flatfoot blonde? There’s work to be done!’ 229 Gibreel, in response to the apparition’s call for “work to be done” said, “I am ready.” 230 At this point, he was “certain…of his archangelic status .” 231 However, Farishta’s lover heard him speaking to what appeared to her a s thin air, which convinced her that he was delusional. He left Alleluia’s home i n spite of her protests and began to wander the streets of London performing da’wa his mission to bring the God’s message as he understands it to others. 232 Gibreel neither ate nor slept for days at a time, neglecting his body and health and focusing only on his spi ritual work. His experience parallels a Sufi ascetic, who deprives him/herself of fo od and sleep in order to serve God. Everywhere he went he saw Shaitan and was convinced that his da’wa was to eradicate Shaitan’s presence from the world. The more he wandered, however, the more sympathetic to Shaitan he became because humans continued to ignore his angeli c mission and went on defying God’s will. Farishta’s consciousness was permanently transforme d from his encounter with the balding visitor from “upstairs.” After Farishta took to the streets, he acquired a new 229 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 319. The use of single quotations to indicate direct speech as opposed to double quotations reflects British quotation conventions. CF CMS 11.33. 230 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 319. 231 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 320. 232 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 320.


67 set of memories and experiences that he attributed to his angelic nature. 233 As he wandered, he was visited by the ghost of Rekha Merchant f or a second time, the woman who threw herself out of a window with her children whe n he left her. The return of her ghost is a reminder of Farishta’s failed humanity. Rekha ’s ghost rejects the notion that he was an angel on a divine mission. ‘Archangel my foot. Gibreel janab, you’re off your head, ta ke it from me. You played too many winged types for your own good. I wo uldn’t trust that deity of yours either, if I were you,’ she added in a more conspiratorial tone, though Gibreel suspected that her int entions remained satirical. ‘He hinted as much himself, fudging t he answer to your Oopar-Neechay question like he did. The notion of separ ation of functions, light verses dark, evil verses good, may be st raightforward enough in Islam – O, children of Adam, let not the Devil seduce you, as he expelled your parents from the garden, pulling off from them their clothing that he might show them their shame [Q.7:27] – but go back a bit and you see that it’s a pretty recent fabrication Amos, eighth century BC, asks: “Shall there be evil in a city and t he Lord hath not done it?” 234 Also Jahweh, quoted by the Deutero-Isaiah two hundred years later, remarks: “I form the light, and create dark ness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.” 235 It isn’t until the Book of Chronicles, merely forth century BC, that the word shaitan is used to mean a being, 236 and not only an attribute of God.’ 237 Rekha points out that the apparition that visited Farish ta may not be a benevolent God with good intentions. Rather, she highlights the unity of good and evil in the apparition as in the Hebrew Bible. She then points out that Satan has not always been a part of the monotheistic sacred texts. The divine presence has not alwa ys been clearly distinguished 233 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 321. 234 This is from the Book of Amos. Amos of Tekio was an Isr aelite prophet during the mid 8 th century BCE who was active in the northern kingdom although he was a Judahite. 235 This scripture dates ca. 6 th century BCE. 236 In 1 Chronicles 21:1, David made a census of the people. G od said to count the people but not for the purposes of taxation or for the draft. David took the cens us but disobeyed God’s command regarding taxes and a draft. Shaitan (Satan) was created in order to expla in why David acted in the manner that he did. This text was written after the Babylonian exile which puts i t into the Persian period and therefore implies the possibility of Zoroastrian influence. 237 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 323.


68 from the demonic. Rekha implied that it is only more re cently that evil has been personified as Shaitan Thus evil in the Judaic-Christian-Islamic tradition is a part of God rather than something separately embodied. Understanding e vil in this unified way supports the idea that Iblis is not purely evil, but simply the agent whose greater jihad of tempting humanity was appointed by God. According to the Sufi martyr, ‘Ain al-Qudat al-Hamadhani (d. 1131 C.E.), Iblis has a unique duty: to test human beings in order to find out who is worthy of being in the divine presence and who is not. Iblis was retained to watch over the door to the pres ence of the Almighty and was told, ‘You are My lover. Be jealous abo ut My threshold and keep strangers out of My presence. And continue to proclaim this: “The Beloved said to me, ‘Sit at My door, do not allow inside anyone who is not in accord with Me. To him who desires Me, say, “Be enraptured!” This state is not suitable for any man unless I find it suitable.’ ” ’ 238 The da’wa of Iblis as articulated by al-Hamadhani above is striki ngly similar to the da’wa of Gibreel Farishta, who wanders ceaselessly, attempte d to distinguish the moral from immoral, etc. In a daze, Farishta purchased a trumpet, 239 and wandered through the streets: as if through a dream, because after days of wandering th e city without eating or sleeping, with the trumpet named Azraeel 240 tucked safely in a 238 Awn, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption, 136, citing al-Qudat, Tamhidat, p. 228-229, #296. 239 The sound of the trumpet is the herald of the Final Judgm ent. The angel Israfil will “sound the horn signaling the arrival of the Hour and will read from t he guarded tablet that which is written concerning the lives of all who will then be brought to judgment.” Smith, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection 71. There are several verses in the Qur’an that menti on the trumpet: Q. 6:73, 23:101, 39:68, 69:13, and 74:8. 240 The name of the trumpet is significant. Azraeel is a colloquial spelling of Izra’il, the angel of death in Islam. Izra’il is not mentioned in the Qur’an by name, but simply as Malak al-Maut, Angel of Death. Izra’il


69 pocket of his greatcoat, he no longer recognizes the dist inction between the waking and dreaming states…Gibreel …walks down the str eets of London, trying to understand the will of God. Is he to be the agent of God’s wrath? 241 Or of his love? Is he vengeance or forgiveness? Shoul d the fatal trumpet remain in his pocket, or should he take it out and blow?” 242 Farishta, whose angelic personae shifted as he wandered the streets, assumed the role of Malak al-Maut, Angel of Death, on a mission to purge evil from the wor ld. 243 Gibreel Farishta believed that if he blew the trumpet at people w ho were transgressing that they would experience God’s wrath. The above passage must be understood within the context of the eschatological Islamic narrative of the Last Judgment. The Last Judgment refers specifically to “God’s final assessment of humankind.” 244 God will essentially destroy all of creation: “The trumpet (al-sur) will blow and all cr eatures including the angels will die except whom god wills. Then, it shall be blown again.” 245 The narrative of the events of the Last Judgment that has been constructed based on the Qur’an by scholars and theologians has several sections: 1. the signs of the Hour [ sa’a ] and events heralding the imminent end of the world; 2. the soundings of the trumpet, the resurrection [ qiyama ], and the gathering together of all living beings [ hashr] ; 3. the reckoning [ hisab ]; is mentioned by name in tafsir by al-Qazwini Kassim, “Nothing can be Known or Done wit hout the Involvement of Angels,” 650. Islamic angelology is elab orated through Hadith, Sira, Qisas al-Ambiyas, and Tafsir literature. 241 The prospect of being the agent of God’s wrath is daunti ng. To be an agent of death and destruction would certainly be challenging for a human being such as G ibreel to accept, even in his angelic fugue state. 242 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 457. 243 Rushdie is also giving a nod here to Amitabh Bachchan. In 1997, Bachchan starred in his “comeback” film, Mrityudaata (Angel of Death) in 1997. Ganti, Bollywood, 121. The film, like Farishta’s da’wa was a failure. 244 Isaac Hasson, “Last Judgment,” EQ Volume III, 136. 245 Hasson, “Last Judgment,” 139.


70 4. the crossing of the bridge [sirat], the possibility of intercession [ shafa’a ], and preparation for the final consignment. 246 The second part of the narrative, the sounding of the t rumpet, is where Farishta’s perceived angelic duty occurred. Like Iblis, Farishta understoo d his duty to help God separate the wicked from the righteous at Judgment Day. Unli ke Iblis, however, Farishta did not in the end have the strength to fulfill his assi gned role. The role of the exterminating angel is not an easy role to assume. He continued to mentally deteriorate until the personae of the Angel of Death consumed him a nd finally he killed himself, his lover, and a friend in a fit of madness and jealousy. In his delusional guise as the exterminating angel, he thought he was fulfilling God’s wil l. The novel comes full circle to its own and Rushdie’s return to the satanic verses. Here they refer to doggerel rhymes that Farishta’s co-pr otagonist, Saladin Chamcha, anonymously recited to Farishta over the telephone. Cha mcha was a close friend of Farishta, and Farishta often confided in Chamcha intima te details concerning his relationship with Alleluia. With this information, Chamc ha knew exactly how to torment the jealousy-prone Farishta. Chamcha’s motivations wer e ambiguous, but annoyance at Farishta, revenge, and perhaps an attraction to Alleluia were all contributing factors. Farishta was unaware that Chamcha was the individual m aking all of the calls. The “Man of Thousand Voices,” 247 taunted Farishta in a series of obscene crank calls about Alleluia Cone. 246 Smith, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection 65. 247 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 443.


71 Roses are red, violets are blue, Sugar never tasted as sweet as you Pass it on…. When she’s down at Waterloo 248 She don’t wear no yes she do When she’s up at Leicester Square She don’t wear no underwear…. Violets are blue, roses are red, I’ve got her right here in my bed. 249 Rushdie’s novelistic rendition of the satanic verses in the form of ugly little obscenities parallels the historical episode of the satanic verses. That the Prophet could make such a mistake as he did in the Sura narrative of the satanic verses is a terrible breach of trust between the Umma and its chief guide. If he revealed false verses, then h e has gone astray from the straight path (Q 1:7) and neither his judg ment nor his example can be trusted. The relationship between Alleluia and Gibreel is also destroyed by a lack of trust. Both breaches result in disillusionment in the most in timate/profound of human relationships relationship. Farishta in his paranoid psychosis became convinced of the truth of these taunting statements. The crank calls resulted in Gibreel comple tely mistrusting his lover; he did not know how the crank caller(s) seemed to know about Al leluia. Alleluia, frustrated by Gibreel’s unending and mad jealousy, broke off the relationshi p between them permanently. They do not see one another again until they are brought together by a mutual friend, S.S. Sisodia, a film producer. 248 It is of note that here, prostitutes walk the bridge t rolling for customers. 249 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 445-446.


72 Farishta’s death is charged with symbolism. In a delusio nal state of jealous rage, Farishta murdered Sisodia by shooting him through the heart and Alleluia by forcing her off of the top of a skyscraper. He fled the scene of t he murders, later showing up at Saladin Chamcha’s home. Chamcha found Farishta in his s tudy, clad in dirty clothes and holding a lamp in his hands. ‘You look awful,’ Salahuddin 250 ventured, eliciting from the other man a distant, cynical, unfamiliar smile. ‘Sit down and s hut up Spoono,’ 251 Gibreel Farishta said. ‘I’m here to tell you a story .’ It was you, then, Salahuddin understood. You really did it: you murdered them both. But Gibreel had closed his eyes, put his fingertips together and embarked upon his story…. 252 Farishta here invoked the role of the storyteller as h e prepared to tell Chamcha his recollection of events concerning the double murder. The f ashion in which the scene is set-up invokes the imagery of Alf Layla wa-Layla (1001 Arabian Nights), given the presence of the lamp, the promise of a narrative, and the implicit threat of death. 253 He told Chamcha his tale from his delusional perspective. Sisodia lecher from somewhere I knew what they w ere up to laughing at me in my own home something like that I like butter I like toast Verses Spoono who do you think makes such damn things up So I called down the wrath of God I pointed my finger I shot him in the heart 254 250 “Saladin” is the Western spelling of “Salahuddin.” Saladin Chamcha’s birth name is in fact Salahuddin Chamchawalla, but he westernized his name until the end o f the novel when he “returned to his Indian roots” at the end of the novel. 251 To repeat, Spoono is one of Chamcha’s nicknames. It is a play on his name, which can also mean “spoon” in Urdu. 252 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 543. 253 Shaharazad had to tell the narratives every night in o rder to live to the next. 254 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 544-545. The author spaced the words in such a way as to in dicate Gibreel’s delusional state.


73 His “finger” was in fact a gun, the same gun he used to for ce Alleluia to the roof of his skyscraper. He murdered Alleluia, claiming that the ghost of Rekha Merchant had made him do it. Alleluia, like Rekha, fell to her death, but clearly by Farishta’s hand. As Farishta told Chamcha about his plight, the police, who had been notified by Chamcha’s house staff, arrived to take him away. Before they could, h owever, Farishta opened the lamp and withdrew a gun from inside of it. Again, the imager y is evocative of Alf Layla wa-Layla 255 He’s hidden a gun inside, Salahuddin realized. ‘Watch out,’ he shouted. ‘There’s an armed man in here.’ The knocking sto pped, and now Gibreel rubbed his hand along the side of the magic lamp: once, twice, thrice. The revolver jumped up, into his other hand. A fearsome jinnee of monstrous stature appeared, Salahuddin remembered. ‘What is your wish? I am the slave of he who holds the lamp.’ What a limiting thing is a weapon, Salahuddin thought….how few the choices were, now that Gibreel was the armed man and he, the unarmed ; how the universe had shrunk! The true djinns of old 256 had the power to open the gates of the Infinite, to make all things possible, to render all wonders capable of being attained; how ba nal, in comparison, was this modern spook, this degraded descendant of mighty ancestors, this feeble slave of a twentieth-cent ury lamp. 257 The above passage is a comment about modernity. Rather than a jinn the lamp yields a gun to its beholder as the most powerful agent of change Much like the relationship between a jinn and the human who rubs his lamp, the power dynamic betwee n the gun and its wielder is ambiguous. With a jinn, the holder of the lamp has infinite power. 255 The well-known story “Alaeddin; Or, The Wonderful Lamp ” from Alf Layla wa-Layla is evoked here. Alaeddin finds a lamp that, when rubbed, produces a jinn who is the “Slave to whoso holdeth the Lamp” and grants wishes. Richard F. Burton, The Arabian Nights Entertainments or The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night: A Selection of the Most Famous and Representativ e of these Tales from the Plain and Literal Translation (United States: Random House, 1959), 669. 256 “Although their existence is never doubted, the jinn (En g. ‘genie’) are presented in the Qur’an as figures whose effective role has been considerably curtailed in c omparison to that accorded to them by various forms of pre-Islamic religion.” Jacqueline Chabbi, “Jinn ” in EQ, Volume III, 43 257 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 546.


74 Without the jinn, the holder of the lamp is powerless. The holder of the lamp is just as much a slave to the jinn as the jinn is to the holder. The same holds true for the modern equivalent. With a gun, the modern human is all-powerfu l. Without a gun, the modern human is defenseless. Magic in modernity, then, is litt le more than a gun. The latter is “banal in comparison” for sure. Gibreel at this point was a broken man. He had no caree r, no lover, was wanted for a double murder, and was still tormented by dreams that were like a sickness he could never escape. Despair led him to his final act of unbelief. ‘I told you a long time back,’ Gibreel Farishta quietly said, ‘that if I thought the sickness would never leave me, that it would a lways return, I would not be able to bear up to it.’ Then, very quickly before Salahuddin could move a finger, Gibreel put the barrel of the gun into his own mouth; and pulled the trigger; and was free. 258 There are many similarities between Gibreel Farishta and Iblis, but it is here that the similarities end. Gibreel took his life, unable to “bear up” to his greater jihad, driven insane by the task God gave him. Having abandoned God, he had no one to call on for aid or strength. Iblis, however, remained alert and attentive always ready to tempt humanity off of the straight path, always ready to separate the moral from the immoral, always submitting to and serving God. 258 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 546.


75 Conclusion Salman Rushdie employs the novel’s central theme of the satanic ver ses in multiple and overlapping ways throughout the novel. The oc casion of the greatest Islamic resonance is, of course, the one recounted by the Sira of Ibn Ishaq/Ibn Hisham (written 150 years after the Prophet’s death) where Muhammad is cr edited with accepting worship of the triple goddess along with Islam’s one God as true revelation, a serious breach of Islam’s absolute monotheistic requirement of believer s. Because the novel suggests that the Prophet Muhammad may not be sinless due to this one tem porary dilution of Tawhid with the goddesses, it is subversive in its character. Fo r the Sunni community, the Prophet serves as a guide to believers with regard to how t o live their lives. This is clear in the hadith : “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, only [orders people] to complete that in which there was obed ience to Allah and to abandon that in which there was disobedience to Allah.” 259 The Prophet’s example, then, is always in obedience with God’s will. His ‘Isma or sinlessness, was codified long after his death in order to explain the trustworthiness of character, judgment, and example. Rushdie runs with the possibility that the Prophet made a huge mistake: the incident of the satanic verses. Drawing upon this incident, Rushdie constructs a textual reality in which the Prophet Muhammad is a false Prophet. Gibreel Farishta, whom Rushdie casts as this false Prophet, is the key charact er in the landscape of the novel. He is likeable but self-centered and devoid of true substance. H e fancies himself to be 259 Malik, al-Muwatta, Book 22, Number 22.4.6.


76 divinely inspired, but everyone around him thinks he is insane, as did Muhammad’s peers in Mecca He is a god among humans because of his cinematic popularity and ubiquitous presence, but the cinema is itself illusory. Gibreel is cast as an angel from the start of the novel, but is never fully angelic because of his physical and mental contamination. Just as Rushdie inverts the Prophet, Sufi Islam inverts Ibl is. The “traditional” understanding of Iblis is that he is evil, but this is not th e Sufi understanding of Iblis. Iblis is decidedly ambiguous in his nature. Iblis’ status rests at the heart of a heated debate within Islam about the nature of good and evil, the source o f evil, and the justice of God. If God created all things, then God created Iblis. If Ibli s disobeyed, it is because God willed it. Iblis obeyed God’s command to worship only Him by disobeying God’s command to bow to Adam, thereby fulfilling God’s will. This renders Iblis neither disobedient nor evil, but God’s most loyal servant. The “traditional” idea of Iblis as wholly evil is turned on its head. Although he whispers tem ptations to human beings and tries to lure them off of the straight path, he is onl y doing what God willed. Sufi Islam explored this idea in the same way that Rushdie explored the idea of the Prophet’s sinlessness. Hence Iblis and Gibreel Farishta have many things in common. The suicide of Gibreel Farishta, however, is more tragic than th e fate of Sufi Islam’s tragic hero, Iblis. Iblis fulfills his greater jihad whereas Farishta failed. The novel comes to a close very shortly after Gibree l Farishta kills himself. In the last few paragraphs, Rushdie as novelist and his fictional voices come together. Coprotagonist Saladin Chamcha reflects on the question of f aith in the post-modern world.


77 He stood at the window of his childhood and looked out at the Arabian Sea. The moon was almost full; moonlight, stretching fro m the rocks at Scandal Point out to the far horizon, created the illus ion of a silver pathway, like a parting in the water’s shining hair, li ke a road to miraculous lands. He shook his head. He could no longer bel ieve in fairy-tales. Childhood was over, and the view from this window was no more than an old and sentimental echo. To the devil with it Let the bulldozers come. If the old refused to die, the new could n ot be born. 260 This passage which is the next to the last paragraph of the novel allows Rushdie to come from behind his character. Rushdie speaks here as a post-co lonial and post-modern Muslim. The view of the Arabian Sea separating yet linki ng the Indian Subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula that Chamcha sees from the “window of his childhood” looks out toward Mecca, the Ka’aba at its heart. Mecca is the axis mundi of Islam, the literal axis linking heaven and earth for Muslims. The “silver pathway” is resonant with the straight path (Q 1:7) of Islam. The illusory nature of the “silve r pathway” indicates that the straight path is no longer real for the post-modern, po st-colonial person, and no longer commands belief or compliance: “he could no longer bel ieve in fairy tales.” The “road to miraculous lands” can be read as a metaphor for the tho usand years old path of the pilgrim doing Hajj to Mecca. This is a journey that Rushdie as a post-colonial and pos tmodern thinker can no longer make. For him, the “road to miraculous lands” that the “silver pathway” leads to is no longer a real or viable go al for the post-modern present or future. Religious faith and the trust that it engenders a re possible only in childhood, and “childhood was over.” This passage reflects the post-moder n perspective that Islam, like all religions, is simply a fairy tale, which from Ru shdie’s vantage point “from this window” was “no more than an old and sentimental echo, ” a legacy from the past which 260 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 546-547.


78 cannot survive into the future. Through his character, Chamc ha, the author rejects Islam: “To the devil with it!” In the last line of the novel, Saladin Chamcha “turned away from the view,” 261 leaving Islam behind forever. Rushdie aggressively discards I slam and its traditional culture and worldview for post-modern secular ity and plurality. “Let the bulldozers come. If the old refused to die, the new coul d not be born.” After all, as Gibreel Farishta said at the opening of The Satanic Verses “to be born again…first you have to die.” 262 261 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 547. 262 Rushdie, The Satanic Verses 3.


79 Afterward The majority of the scholarship about Salman Rushdie’ s The Satanic Verses has not dealt with the more theologically subtle aspects of the novel. Much of the novel was overshadowed by the controversy it caused when it was fi rst published in the late 1980s. The obvious offenses of the novel, such as the blatan t characterization of the Prophet and his wives as a pimp and prostitutes, have been at the ce nter of scholarship. These sections of the novel, rather than the nuanced experiences of Gi breel Farishta and his dreams, were reprinted, distributed, and discussed all over the wor ld. The rest of the scholarship has been apologia defending the literary and intellectual merit of the novel and its author. This paper has deeply explored the more neglected passages of the novel, revealing perhaps a greater and subtler inversion of Islam by Rushdie. A more informed approach to the novel shows that Rushdie’s exegesis of Islamic themes in The Satanic Verses more profoundly reflects the complex engagement that post-co lonial Muslim cultures have with Islam and Islamic civilization in the post-modern world. For “cultural” Muslims, the novel is an accurate portrayal of their relationship w ith religion: a mythic past relating to cultural and personal “childhood” with no relevance to mode rn life. For Muslims, the novel strikes at the heart of personal identity and co mmunity cohesion of the umma by questioning cherished certainties regarding the probity and purit y of the Prophet, the exclusively divine origin of the Qur’an, and the unassaila ble reputation of the People of the House. This is because of the ambivalence of the Pr ophet’s character as shown by the satanic verses episode. Rushdie also undercuts the certit ude and authority of the Qur’an and the Hadith Perhaps the chasm in perspective between “cultural” Mu slims and


80 devoutly practicing Muslims is why Rushdie did not anticipat e the raging controversy that the novel caused. The three central methodologies I used in writing this thesis include phenomenology, literary analysis, and the exploration of religion in popular culture. Phenomenology is a method of studying religion that see ks to describe and understand religion and religious phenomena in a deductive fashion, t hereby creating a platform from which to do comparative analysis. Of phenomenolog ists of Islam, Henry Corbin is the most notable, writing extensively about Sufi and Shi‘i m ysticism. This paper has been in part inspired by Corbin’s example, describing many themes and manifestations of the religious life of Islam from theological texts (Qur’a n and Hadith ), ritual ( salat, hajj, etc.), and community (the Umma ). The intersection of literature and religion focuses on religious themes in prose, poetry, and fiction. Many religions center around texts, such as the Torah in Judaism or the Qur’an in Islam. These texts can be approached as l iterature just as a contemporary work of fiction is. One might view The Satanic Verses as the hagiography of Gibreel Farishta, compiling his religious experiences from the m oment of his awakening, through his transmutation, and up to his death. Secondarily, the lite rary analysis of the novel provides social and political as well as religious insigh t into the author’s context as a post-colonial, post-modern, and perhaps even post-religious human being.


81 “The analysis of popular culture…can provide insights about how religions change and are changed by the cultures that surround them.” 263 The Satanic Verses is a contemporary work of fiction, part of the milieu of po pular culture that includes books, television, film, the internet, and various forms of c ommunity performance. Within the field of popular culture studies in the Muslim world, this no vel is important given its notoriety. It is one of the few pieces of popular cul ture that transcends borders and is known by Muslims all over the world. My analysis of this novel contributes to the field of religion and popular culture by working with such a perv asive work of fiction in an Islamic frame of reference. The novel’s impact on popul ar culture is also noteworthy; the controversy surrounding the novel was discussed on televis ion, in newspapers, and in books. The hagiography of Gibreel Farishta is similar to the plight of Iblis in Sufi Islam. This thesis opens up a discourse about the novel and attem pts to expand on the critical issues that it raises. Further scholarship about The Satanic Verses can continue the conversation started here, and ultimately provide a greate r understanding of the novel, Islam, and other Abrahamic religions. There is a wea lth of material to work with given Rushdie’s literary style. It is my hope that the disc ourse can serve as an educational tool for scholars and critics alike. 263 Bruce David Forbes and Jeffrey H. Mahan, eds. Religion and Popular Culture in America (California: University of California Press, 2005), 2.


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