The Spurious Story Of The ‘Satanic Verses’

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Professor Muhammad Mohar Ali

I. Summary of the story

It has been mentioned above that most of the first batch of emigrants to Abyssinia temporarily returned to Makka on the basis of a rumour of a compromise between the Quraysh leaders and the Prophet. About the reason for this rumour Al-Tabari, Al-Waqidi and some others reproduce a report in more than a dozen varying versions through as many chains of narrators which say in effect that the Prophet, in view of the increasing enmity an opposition of the Quraysh leaders wished that it would be good if for the time being n further revelation came in denunciation of their gods and goddesses, or if some revelation came which would make the leaders soften down and cease their hostilities. In Such a state of mind he one day went to the Ka’ba where he recited to a gathering of believers and unbelievers Surat al-Najm (no. 53) which is said to have been revealed at that time. In the course of its recitation and when he uttered its ayahs 19-20:

‘Do you see al-Lat and al-Uzza, and the other third, Manat?’

Satan ‘threw’ in the recitation the couplet:

‘Those are the swans exalted; verily their intercession is to be expected.’

The Prophet then completed the recitation of the Surah and in accordance with the behest contained in its last ayah went into prostration and those present there, believers and unbelievers, also did so except an old Quraysh leader (Umayyah ibn Khalaf or Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah or Abu Umayyah) who raised a handful dust and touched it with his forehead, saying that would suffice for him. The Quraysh leaders are said to have given out as reason for their prostrating themselves by saying that now that the Prophet had recognized the position of the goddesses as intercessors with Allah there was in fact no point of quarrel with him. Afterwards, in the evening (some versions do not specify any time) the angel Jibril came to the Prophet and asked him to recite the Surah which he did, still reciting the ‘satanic verses’. Jibril protested, saying that those were not what had been revealed. At this the Prophet became very sand and apprehensive of Allah’s wrath. Thereupon two separate passages, 17:73-75 and 22:52 were revealed in reassuring the Prophet and the ‘satanic verses’ were repealed. The Quraysh leaders became angry and renewed their enmity and opposition with increased vehemence. Meanwhile the news of their prostration and of the incident reached Abyssinia in the form of a rumour of their compromise with the Prophet. The two passages said to have been revealed in reassuring the Prophet run as follows:

‘Indeed they were about to divert you from what We revealed to you, in order that you forge against Us something else, and in that case they would certainly have taken you as a friend. And had We not made your firm, you would almost have inclined towards them a little; and in that case we would have made you taste the double (punishment) in life and double (punishment) in death; and then you would not have found for you as against Us any helper.’ – Quran 17:72-75

‘Never Did we send a Messenger nor a Prophet before you but that when he formed an intention Satan threw something in his intention; but Allah cancels what Satan throws in and then makes His signs prevail. Allah is All-knowing, All-Wise.’ – Quran 22:52

Thus, according to the story, the Prophet was reassured. Meanwhile news of the incident reached Abyssinia in the form of a rumour of the Quraysh leaders’ acceptance of Islam and of the cessation of their hostility towards the Muslims.

II. THE QUR’ANIC EVIDENCE AGAINST THE STORY

The story is so manifestly absurd and untrue that it ought to have been rejected outright as such and not recorded by the chroniclers and traditionists. But since some of them have recorded it, this very fact, rather than the obviously discrediting features of the story itself, has often been cited as ground for its genuineness. As Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi correctly points out, though this story has been noted by some commentators, those who have critically looked at it have all rejected it as spurious on the grounds of its conflict with the clear testimony of the Qur’an, the rules governing the genuineness of traditions and the dictates of reason.

As regards the Qur’anic evidence against the genuiness of the story it is of three kinds. First, there are a number of statements in the Qur’an that show that neither Satan nor anyone else could interfere in the process of coming of the revelation, nor did the Prophet ever entertain any intention of making a compromise with the unbelieving leaders, nor did he ever interpolate anything in the text of the revelation. Secondly, the passages cited as having been revealed as a sequel to the incident and for reassuring the Prophet provide to the contrary, showing that he had not made even the slightest move towards making a compromise with the unbelieving leaders. Thirdly, the internal evidence of surat al-Najm (no.53), in connection with the revelation of which the story has been foisted, goes against its spirit and purport. The passages that directly belie the story are as follows:

(A) ’If he (the Messenger) were to invent any saying in our name, We should certainly have seized him by the right hand and We should then have surely cut off the artery of his heart.’ – Quran 60:44-46 [3]

(B) ’…Say: It is not for me, of my own accord, to change it (the revelation). I follow naught but what is revealed unto me.’ – Quran 10:15

(C) ’No falsehood can approach it from the front, nor from the rear (i.e., nether directly or indirectly). It is a sent-down from Allah the All-Wise, the All-Praiseworthy.’ – Quran 41:42

(D) ’We indeed have sent down the recital (the Qur’an) and We indeed are its Protectors (from any interference).’ – Quran 15:9

(E) ’…In that way (We revealed it), that We may make your heart firm thereby; and We dictated it in stages.’ Quran 25:32

Thus the Qur’an repeatedly says that Allah has protected it against any possibility of being tampered with directly or indirectly, that it is not for the Prophet to change it or add to it anything and that if he had done so Allah’s severe punishment would inevitably and irresistibly have befallen him. These clear and positive statements directly contradict the story which says that the Prophet of his own accord or being deceived by Satan introduced something into the text of revelation. Not only that.

The alleged interpolation violated the fundamental teaching of the Qur’an, i.e., monotheism (tawhid) and thus constituted the offence of shirk which Allah warns elsewhere in the Qur’an He shall under no circumstances forgive. The story is thus quite contrary to the specific statements of the Qur’an and also to the tenor and purport of its entire text. As such the story is totally unworthy of any credence. This is not simply from a Muslim’s point of view, but also from a true historian’s point of view. For, to any impartial historian, the Qur’an is the primary and the most contemporary source of information on the Prophet’s life and teachings. Hence any information or statement in any other source, including the reports (tradition) that come in conflict with the primary source must not be allowed to override or supersede it. Secondly, as regards the two passages, 17:73-74 and 22:53, that are said by the protagonists of the story to have been revealed as a sequel to the alleged incident and in reproving or consoling the Prophet, a little careful look at them would at once show that their texts, far from supporting the story, do in fact contradict it. The first passage shows that it was the unbelievers who attempted to induce the Prophet to making a compromise with them, not that he ever wanted it.

The passage further states that Allah made the Prophet’s heart firm against such attempts of the unbelievers and that had He not done so the Prophet would probably have been inclined towards the unbelievers’ proposals a little. The emphasis here is not on the Prophet’s supposed inclination towards making a compromise but on the intensity of the unbelievers attempts on the one hand and, on other, on Allah’s special favour upon him in making him immune against such efforts. This is further emphasized by the unmistakable statement that because of such special favour on him the Prophet had not inclined towards the unbelievers even a little. The passage concludes by pointing out that had the Prophet deviated even a little, Allah would have made him taste the punishment for such offence in this life as also in the life in the hereafter. The passage thus contradicts the story in all its essential aspects.

(a) The passage says that it was the unbelievers who made attempts at inducing the Prophet to making a compromise. The story says that the Prophet, in view of the unbelievers’ opposition, was eager for a compromise.

(b) The Passage says that Allah made the Prophet immune against such endeavours of the unbelievers so that he did not incline towards them even a little. The story would have us believe that the Prophet not only leaned towards them a little but even made a compromise with them by sacrificing and violating the very fundamental teaching of the Qur’an as a whole.

(c) The passage says that had the Prophet been guilty of slight inclination towards the unbelievers’ proposals he would have been doubly punished by Allah. The story says that the Prophet, though he committed the offence not only of slight inclination but of making a full compromise with the unbelievers, Allah nonetheless took kindly towards him, silently repealed the unjustified interpolation in the text of the revelation and affectionately consoled him for his supposed repentance for his alleged pitfall. This is also in conflict, as pointed out above, with the other statements in the Qur’an that Allah would inevitably and irresistibly have punished the Prophet if he had of his own accord added to or detracted anything from the text of the revelation.

The last statement of the passage 17:73-74 comes in conflict also with the interpretation given by the protagonists of the story to the other passage, 22:52, which they cite in support of the story. They do so by interpreting the expression tamanna in this passage as ‘he reads or recites’ and then by saying that never did a Prophet before Muhammad (p) recite Allah’s revelation except that Satan managed to ‘throw’ something of his own ideas or words in it. The interpretation is so preposterous and revoltingly subversive of the concept of divine revelation as such that it ought never have been suggested. The incorrectness and irrationality of putting this meaning on the term here will be shown presently. It may only be pointed out here that those who put that interpretation on the passage clearly fail to see that their interpretation glaringly contradicts the concluding statement of passage 17:73-74 as also the other statements of the Qur’an where Allah unmistakably and uncompromisingly threatens severe punishment for the offence of tampering with His revelation even in the slightest degree. Strangely enough, these protagonists of the story not simply fail to see this contradiction. They, in their eagerness to show Allah’s special affection for Prophet Muhammad (p) even after his alleged pitfall, do not hesitate to affix the blame of similar pitfall on the part of all previous Messengers and Prophets!

It is, however, not on this ground alone that the interpretation of tamanna here as ‘he reads or recites’ should be adjudged wrong. Those who put this peculiar interpretation generally cite a couplet attributed to Hassan ibn Thabit wherein the expression is said to bear the meaning of ‘reading’. It is further said that the expression ‘then He confirms His ayahs (or makes His ayahs prevail)’ indicates that the allusion is here to the ‘reading’ of the ayahs. But neither the one nor the other argument is decisive. Poems like those of Hassan that are found in abundance in the works of chroniclers are not really contemporary materials but are mostly made to measure by others on the orders of authors and by them inserted in their works as compositions of contemporary poets. Also the expression ‘then he confirms etc.’ may more appropriately be taken to mean that Allah makes His ‘signs’, i.e., word prevail.

The best guide to the meaning of the expression tamanna in 22:52 is the natural meaning of the same expression or words derived from the same root as used elsewhere in the Qur’an. There are at least 14 other places where they occur in the Qur’an. beginning with the very expression occurring in Surat al-Najm itself, the other instances of the use of the term in the Qur’an are as follows:

(1) ‘Or shall man have just what he fancies?’ – Quran 53:24

(2) ‘(Satan states) I shall certainly mislead them and shall raise (false) hopes in them’ – Quran 4:119

(3) ‘He makes them promises and creates (false) hopes in them; but what Satan promises is naught but deception’ – Quran 4:120

(4) ‘Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (would) do…’ – Quran 4:123

(5) ‘And those who had coveted his position the previous day started saying…’ – Quran 28:82

(6) ‘And you had wished for death before…’ – Quran 3:143

(7) ‘And do not covet what Allah favoured some of you with over the others…’ – Quran 4:32

(8 & 9) ‘…Then wish for death if you are truthful…’ – Quran 2:94 & 62:6

(10) ‘…But never do they desire it…’ – Quran 62:7

(11) ‘…But never will they wish for it…’ – Quran 2:95

(12) ‘And they say: None shall enter paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. Those are their fancies…’ – Quran 2:111

(13) ‘…You doubted; and the fancies deceived you…’ – Quran 57:14

(14) ‘And among them are ummies who do not know the book except whims; they do naught but conjecture’ – Quran 2:78

In all these instances the expressions tamanna, umniyyah, etc. are used in the sense of wish, desire, whim, fancy, intention, etc. In none of these places would the meaning of reading or reciting fit in with the text. Some commentators of course think that in the last mentioned instance (no.14) the word amaniyya may mean reading or reciting; but that assumption is not sustained by the ayah itself; for its concluding clause: ‘and they do naught but conjecture’ which immediately follows the expression, explains and elaborates it. In view of these uniform meanings of the expression everywhere in the Qur’an it would be wrong to put the meaning of reading or reciting on the term tamanna occurring in 22:52.

This is not to say that the same word may not be used in different senses at different places. What is peculiar in the present instance is that the expression under notice bears uniform senses in all the other places where it is used in the Qur’an. And so far as its use in 22:52 is concerned, the same is its natural meaning. To put the sense of reading or reciting on the expression here would, as already indicated, be a gross affront to both history and theology; for it would them mean that there was no previous Prophet or Messenger of Allah who was not misled by Satan to utter in the name of Allah what He actually did not reveal.

Neither does the history of previous Prophets bear such a highly generalized assertion, nor is it conceivable that Allah’s revelations were sent down in such unprotected and vulnerable manners that Satan had in respect of every prophet the chance of interfering with them. That interpretation would be in conflict with the very concept of revelation (wahy) as enunciated in the Qur’an which unequivocally states that Allah Himself protects His revelation from being interfered with directly or indirectly when it is being sent down. It is neither necessary nor justifiable to tarnish the records of all the previous Prophets and to undermine the very nature of Allah’s revelation simply to justify a manifestly untrue story and a supposed pitfall on the part of Prophet Muhammad (p). The plain implication of the ayah under discussion is what is an acknowledged fact of history.

It is well-known that in ever age and place, whenever God’s man, under his commission, planned to do good to mankind and embarked upon disseminating His message, Satan and his comrades intervened and attempted to obstruct, divert or frustrate the plan; but the truth and God’s plan always prevailed. This universal fact of history and theology is only emphasized in the ayah under reference.

That this is the natural and only meaning of the ayah is clear also from its context. The whole passage from ayah 49 to 52 of the Surah reads as follows:

‘Say (O Prophet): O men, I am for you a clear warner. Hence those of you who believe and do good deeds, for them is forgiveness and a generous sustenance. But those who strive against Our signs to frustrate them, they will be companions of the fire. Never did We send a messenger or Prophet before you but that whenever he intended (to disseminate the message) Satan threw (his efforts) in his (the Prophet’s or Messenger’s) intention. But Allah obliterates what Satan exerts and then He makes His signs prevail. Verily Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.’

The whole discussion here is on the Prophet’s role as warner, the devil’s role as opponent of the truth and the ultimate success of the truth. It is especially noteworthy that ayah 51, which immediately precedes the statement under discussion, declares the inevitable failure and perdition for the forces of evil; while the concluding part of ayah 52 emphasizes that Allah is All-Aware and All-Wise, i.e., He is so about the plans and efforts of Satan and his followers too. It would thus be quite contrary to the spirit and context of the passage as a whole to suggest that in spite of Allah’s being All-Aware and All-Wise, Satan nevertheless succeeds in interfering with His revelations to His Prophets and Messengers! To interpret tamanna in the passage as reading or reciting would be tantamount to such an absurd proposition.

Those who put the meaning of reading or recitation on the expression tamanna do in fact approach the ayah 22:52 either with a prejudice or with preconception. Some assume that the story of the ‘satanic verses’ is a fact without examining its merits and then, on the basis of this assumption, seek its support by putting the meaning of reading or recitation on the expression tamanna in 22:52; and finally they cite this very ayah as evidence of the genuineness of the story. This is clearly arguing in a circle and founding one hypothesis upon another. On the other hand there are some others who have their attention fixed primarily on the subject of naskh (abrogation or repeal) and approach the ayah from that point of view. They bring in the story of the ‘satanic verses’ not so much to examine its merits as really to illustrate the subject of naskh; and to relate the story to ayah 22:52 they put the meaning of reading or recitation on tamanna occurring in it, caring little to see the implications and consequences of such a forced interpretation of the expression.

The technicalities of the subject of naskh need not be discussed here; but it would suffice to point out that it is not at all necessary to have recourse to the story of the ‘satanic verses’ nor to twist the meaning of tamanna in order to explain or illustrate the subject of naskh.

Last but not least, those who relate the two Qur’anic passages, 17:73-75 and 22:52, to the story overlook the chronology of the events, particularly the dates of revelation of the two passages. It is an established fact that the migration of Abyssinia took place in the month of Rajab of the fifth year of the mission and the temporary return of the emigrants took place in Shawwal of the very year. If the story is to be connected with this latter event, then the incident narrated in the story must have taken place before the month of Shawwal, i.e. in Ramadan of that year. Now Surat al-Isra and Surat al-Hajj in which respectively the two passages occur, were revealed long afterwards – the first on the occasion of Isra and Mi’raj which, according to the most reliable accounts, took place in the 11th or 12th year of the mission; and Surat al-Hajj, as its internal evidence shows, was revealed at Madina, most probably in the first year of Hijrah. This would mean that the alleged disapproval of the Prophet’s alleged act was made some five years after its commission; while the notice of repeal of the alleged interpolation and a sort of consolation for him were given still two years subsequently. No rational being could accept such an absurd explanation. Alternatively, if it is assumed that the passages in question were each revealed separately from the rest of the two surahs and not very long after the incident, then also there remain several questions to be answered:

(a) Why were they not incorporated in Surat al-Najm or any other Surah or Surahs that were revealed immediately afterwards and prior to the revelation of Surat al-Isra and Surat al-Hajj? (b) How were they kept separately for so long a time without being incorporated in any other Surah or Surahs and (c) What were the reasons and occasions for their incorporation in Surat al-Isra and Surat al-Hajj? The fact is that the story-tellers have forcibly and unnaturally attempted to fit these passages in the story and that the true meaning and purport of the passages do not bear out the story.

Thirdly, the internal evidence of Surat al-Najm, in connection with the revelation of which the incident is said to have taken place, belies the story. It is noteworthy that the Surah starts by emphasizing that the Prophet did not err or mistake and then states unequivocally in its ayah 3-4:

‘He does not speak out of his desire. It is naught but wahy (revelation) communicated (yuha) to him.’

Now, it is simply unthinkable that after announcing at the very beginning of the Surah that the Prophet has not gone astray, nor erred, nor does he speak out of his own wish and whim, but that what he gives out is only ‘revelation’ communicated to him, he would immediately and in the process of receiving the same revelation set at naught this unequivocal declaration by introducing into it something extraneous and contradictory to it! Nothing could be a stronger proof of the baselessness of the allegation made in the story than these clear statements at the beginning of the Surah. Again, some versions of the story say that the alleged ‘satanic verses’ were inserted after the 20th ayah of the surah and that subsequently these were simply dropped. Other versions suggest, though not clearly state, that the ‘satanic verses’ were replaced by the existing ayas 21-23. All the versions agree in stating that the Prophet recited the whole surah on the occasion and prostrated himself at the end of it.

Indeed the last ayah of the surah is a command to prostrate. Now, we may consider the surah in two-way, i.e., by simply inserting the alleged ‘satanic verses’ after the 20th ayah but keeping the existing ayahs 21:23 in their place; or by replacing these latter with the ‘satanic verses’. In either case there will remain incongruities and difficulties showing the absurdity of the story. Thus, if we simply insert the ‘satanic verses’ without the ayahs 21-23, the passage will make an absurd and inconsistent statement and will read as follows:

‘Do you see Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, and other third, Manat? Those are swans exalted, whose intercession is to be expected. That then is a very unfair division. These are nothing but names that you have devised – you and your fathers – Allah has sent down no authority for it….’ Etc.

The passage in this form would contain appreciation as well as strong denunciation of the goddesses at the same time and the inconsistency and absurdity would be conspicuous.

On the other hand, if the ‘satanic verses’ are left as they are and the ayahs 21-23 are taken out, then also there would remain an equally strong denunciation of the goddesses and of the principle of intercession in the ayahs both preceding and following the ‘satanic verses’. To begin with, ayahs 20, ‘And Manat, the other third?’ is clearly a derogatory expression, for the adjective, al-ukhra, (the other) is used contemptuously and derisively. It would then he simply incongruous to state, after that humiliating description of the goddess, that she is a highly placed and interceding deity. But leaving aside these ayahs, if we proceed with the 24th ayah onwards we come across a number of other and uncompromising denunciation of the unbelievers of the unbelievers’ notion of intercession. Thus, first, the very 24th ayah denies. The efficacy of intercession in the form of an interrogation:

‘Is it for man to have what he wishes (for him)?’ i.e., it is a vain wish that intercession will be of any avail to him. The ayah is only an emphasis on what has been stated in the previous ayahs about the inefficacy of the goddesses. Similarly ayah 25 is a follow-on and reminder that ‘To Allah belongs the end as also the beginning (of every matter)’, i.e., man should look to Him Alone in all affairs and should not expect any kind of help or assistance from any other deity or entity. The same theme is continued and elucidated in ayah 26 which falsifies, on the one hand, the erroneous notion of the unbelievers that angels were Allah’s daughters and that the above mentioned goddesses were some forms of representations of those angels.

On the other hand it stresses that even those angels have no power to intercede except by Allah’s leave. Again, far from betraying an attitude of compromise, the unbelieving leaders’ attitude is denounced in ayah 29 and the Messenger of Allah is clearly instructed to shun and avoid them:

‘Therefore, shun those who turn away from Our revelation and desire for nothing but the life of this world’.

The theme is continued in the succeeding ayahs and ayah 31 again emphasizes the principle of individual responsibility. Finally, in ayahs 33-40 a very pointed allusion is made to the conduct of one of the unbelieving leaders, and many commentators take him to be Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah, saying:

‘Do you see the one who turns back and gives little and holds back’ etc.,

And ends with once again disapproving the notion of intercession and emphasizing the principle of individual responsibility thus:

‘That no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another; that man can have nothing but what he strives for; and that his acts will soon be looked into;’ etc.

Thus the whole text from ayahs 19 to 42, indeed to the end of the surah, has a unity and continuity in both them and sequence. There is no giving in on the question of the futility of intercession by anyone; no relaxation on the principle f individual and personal responsibility, no softening down of denunciation of the conduct of the unbelieving leaders and no accommotive-ness shown to their idiosyncracies and attitudes. The interpolation of the ‘satanic verses’ immediately after ayah 20, and the elimination of the ayahs 21-23 instead, though it will only disturb the sequence and be incongruous, will not destroy the force of the main theme. No reasonable person, after a careful perusal of the surah as a whole, can assume that any of the unbelieving Quraysh leaders, who were after all no idiots, would, after listening to the end of the surah, have an impression that the Prophet had accommodated their views and that therefore there remained no material point of disagreement between him and them. Whatever might have been the source and purpose of the story, the internal evidence of the Surah simply refuses to accept it. Any careful reader of the surah can see that the story has been unnaturally grafted on it.

III. THE REPORTS FAIL THE TESTS OF GENUINESS

The threefold Qur’anic evidence against the story is decisive. Apart from that, however, a little careful examination of the reports would at once expose the speciousness of the story. The story has come down in about a dozen varying versions, each version having again a couple or more of different chains of narrators (isnad). These isnads have been critically examined by a number of both classical and modern experts and all agree in holding that each version is technically mursal i.e., its isnad does not go up beyond the second generation (tabi’een) after the Prophet. Only one of these versions coming through Sa’id ib’ Jubayr is traced back to Abd’Allah ibn Abbas. But as Qadi Ayah points out, the main narrator in this version, Shu’ba, explicitly points out that he supposes that the report comes from Ibn Abass. It may be added in this connection that even Ibn Abbas could not have been an eye-witness to the alleged incident; for he was born only three years before the hijrah i.e., some five years after the alleged incident. Another narrator in this version is Ibn al-Kalbi who is acknowledgedly an unreliable reporter. Similarly in another form one of the narrators is Al-Muttalib ibn Abd’Allah who is equally unreliable. Even Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, who is otherwise inclined to attach some importance to that fact of the report’s having been transmitted through a number of channels, appears to regard this version mursal.

Thus, the story came into existence and got currency during the time of the second generation after the Prophet. None of the reporters is contemporary with him, not to speak of being an eye-witness of the incident. If anyone of them had heard it from any of the Companions, there is no reason why he should not have mentioned it. Apart from the report being mursal, all the versions suffer from having in their isnads persons who considered weak (da’if), or unreliable (not thiqah) or unknown (majhul). There are also breaks in the chains of narrators of several of the versions.

As regards the text of the report, each version differs from the other in essential and material respects. Leaving aside differences in matters of detail, there are grave differences and disagreements in all the four essential respects, namely, (a) the occasion of the incident, (b) nature of the Prophet’s alleged act, (c) the wording of the alleged ‘satanic verses’ and (d) their effect or sequel.

Thus, with regard to the occasion of the incident, some versions of the report say that the Prophet was praying at the Ka’ba along with a number of his companions and in the presence of many unbelievers and their leaders and the surat al-Najm was revealed in the course of prayer. Other versions say that he was talking to the unbelievers gathered at the Ka’ba compound when the surah was revealed; while some other versions say that the surah had already been revealed and that the unbelieving leaders, having heard that there was the mention of their goddesses in the surah, grew inquisitive about it and came to the Prophet to hear it. He then recited it before them and in the course of it uttered the ‘satanic verses’. Still other versions say that the unbelieving leaders, seeing that the Prophet was always surrounded by poor and unimportant converts, told him that if he made some concessions regarding the goddesses, the leaders of the community would sit with him and that thereby the visitors from outside who used to come to him to enquire about his mission would be impressed and would take him seriously. Therefore the Prophet recited the surah to the unbelieving leaders and uttered the ‘satanic verses’ after its 19th ayah.

As regards the nature of the alleged uttering of the ‘satanic verses’, some versions of the report say that Satan threw the alleged verses in the course of the revelation of the Surah and the Prophet took them to have been brought by Jibril. Other versions say that the Prophet uttered them in consequence of his wish to have some such revelation delivered to him as would soften the unbelieving leaders’ attitude towards him; while other versions say that he uttered them intentionally but with notes of interrogation signifying denial. Again, there are some versions which simply say that the Prophet uttered them, without giving any reason or mentioning the influence of Satan.

More significantly, some other versions say that it was not the Prophet, but Satan himself who, imitating the latter’s voice, uttered the verses and the audience mistook them to have been recited by the Prophet. Yet other versions state that it was neither the Prophet, nor Satan, but someone from among the unbelievers who uttered the alleged verses when the Prophet had just completed the recitation of ayah 19 of the surah.

More importantly, the wording of the allegedly interpolated verses differs in each version from that in the other. As Maududi points out, an analysis of the various versions yields as many as 15 different texts with notable differences in the wordings.

Finally, with regard to the immediate effect of or reaction to the alleged utterance of the verses, most of the versions say that the unbelievers were pleased and prostrated themselves along with the Prophet at the end of his recitation of the surah; but some mention Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah’s or Abu Uhayhah’s not having gone into prostration but having only raised a handful of dust (or stones) and them with his forehead. Other versions, however, do not refer at all to this otherwise noticeable performance on the part of those leaders. Significantly, as regards the Muslims’ reaction, some versions say that they, in consonance with their habit of following the Prophet, all prostrated themselves along with him. Still other reports say, more significantly, that while the unbelievers heard the alleged ‘satanic verses’, the believers did not at all hear them. Again, all the versions unanimously show that no objection or uneasiness was expressed by any of the believers at the Prophet’s alleged utterance of the verses, nor to his alleged dropping of them subsequently.

This negative aspect of the internal evidence of the reports deserves further emphasis. For, if such an unusual incident as the giving out of some compromising verses and their subsequent withdrawal had at all taken place, it would have been narrated by some of the Prophet’s Companions. And judging from the account of the subsequent incidents of ‘isra’ and mi’raj, which occasioned serious misgivings in some of the believers, it is unlikely that an incident like that of interpolation and subsequent withdrawal of the alleged ‘satanic verses’ would have passed off without any voice of protest or uneasiness having been expressed by any of the Muslims.

To sum up, the differences and divergences in the reports about the occasion of the incident, the nature of the Prophet’s alleged act, the wording of the alleged verses and their sequel and effect are only illustrative of the fact that none of them is a correct report of what actually transpired. These differences also show that the narrators have added their notions and imagination to the story in the course of its transmission. The report is not given, it may once again be emphasized, by any eye-witness of the alleged incident, nor by any companion of the Prophet. It originated with the second generation (tabi’een) after the Prophet.

Besides this mursal nature of the reports, their isnad or chains of narrators are not at all unimpeachable. On the other hand, in most cases, the isnad is positively ‘weak’ or ‘unreliable’ or ‘disconnected’. The fact of the multiplicity of channels (turaq) which is sometimes considered a strengthening factor, has also been examined by experts in this connection; and it has been held that this strengthening factor does not apply in the present instance in view of the inherent weaknesses of the isnads of the various channels. All these factors mark the story out to be only a later fabrication. This is in addition to its glaring conflicts with the Qur’anic evidence which, as pointed out above, is alone sufficient to discredit the story.

IV. THE ORIGEN AND CURRENCY OF THE STORY EXPLAINED

The discrepancies and differences in the various versions of the story suggest that it has been made up by the use of a good deal of imagination and fiction round a core of facts. The last ayah or surat of al-Najm is a
Command to prostrate for Allah; and it is a fact that the Prophet, when he recited the surah up to its end, prostrated himself and those with him also did so. This is attested by two eyewitness, Abd’Allah ibn Mas’ud and Abd al-Muttalib ibn Abi Wada’ah. The former states that surat al-Najm was the first surah which the Prophet recited in front of a gathering of believers and unbelievers at the Ka’ba compound and that when he finished it and went into prostration all present, believers and unbelievers, also prostrated themselves. Ibn Mas’ud further says that he noticed Umayyah ibn Khalaf’s not going into prostration but raising a handful of dust up to his forehead. Ibn Mas’ud’s information is confirmed by Ikrimah who though not an eye-witness, narrates the same story through Ibn Abbas. The other eye-witness Abd al-Muttalib, gives a similar account and adds that he himself did not join the others in prostrating. He was not a Muslim at the time and says that he made amends for that omission of his by having subsequently never failed to prostrate himself whenever he recited the surah.

What is specially noteworthy in these reports is that they do not make the slightest allusion to the Prophet’s having ever been eager for making a compromise with the unbelievers nor to his having allegedly interpolated the ‘satanic verses’ in the course of his recitation or the surah. They do, however, speak of the prostration of the unbelievers on the occasion. This raises the question: Why should they have prostrated themselves if no compromise was made with them?

To explain the unbelievers’ action it is not absolutely necessary, however, to assume that the Prophet made a compromise with them. The explanation lies in the circumstances of the time. It is an acknowledged fact that the Prophet and the Muslims could not publicly and in a body perform prayer or recite the Qur’an at the Ka’ba before Umar’s (r.a.) conversion, which took place, according to most of the accounts, after the migration of the first batch of Muslims to Abyssinia.

Some of the reports of course indicate that his conversion took place in the sixth year of the mission; but in view of the statements in other reports suggesting an earlier date and also in view of the fact that the temporary return of the emigrants in Shawwal of the 5th year took place as a sequel to the incident of the unbelievers’ prostration and the rumour arising out of it, we may safely assume that Umar’s conversion took place shortly after the migration to Abyssinia, most probably in the month Sha’ban or Ramadan of that year. His conversion was a great gain to Islam. Conversely it occasioned a corresponding disappointment among the unbelieving leaders, the more so as it came in the wake of a group of their kinsmen’s having left them and migrated to a foreign country. The Quraysh leaders must have also apprehended that the migration of the Muslims to Abyssinia would have an adverse effect on their (the Quraysh leaders) trade with that country. All these circumstances made them eager for making a compromise with the Prophet and for creating such a situation as would induce the emigrants to return to Makka. It is noteworthy that both the Qur’anic evidence and the reports show that it was the Quraysh leaders and not the Prophet, who were eager for making a compromise and took the initiatives in this regard.

It was at such a stage of the Quraysh leaders’ mentality that the Prophet and the Muslims, encouraged by Umar’s conversion, went to the Ka’ba compound and there recited surat al-Najm either in the course of prayer or independently of it.

A second fact which needs emphasizing in this connection is that the text of the so-called ‘satanic verses’ was no composition made on the occasion mentioned. It was an old couplet which the Quraysh pagans used to recite in praise of their goddesses while circumambulating the Ka’ba. It is also to be remembered that the unbelievers used to create noise and disturbances whenever the Prophet or the Muslims recited the Qur’an publicly.

Therefore it is very likely that when the Prophet recited the Surah and mentioned Al-Lat and Al-Uzza in the course of his recitation and in a denunciatory strain, some of the Quraysh unbelievers instantly interrupted and protested by shouting out the couplet. Significantly enough, some versions of the story clearly state that the ‘satanic verses’ were uttered not by the Prophet but by satan or some unbelievers at the time of the Prophet’s recitation of the Surah. Even the version said to have been transmitted by Urwah ibn al-Zubayr says first that it was ‘thrown in’ by satan without mentioning ‘on the tongue of the Prophet’, and later on specifically stating that ‘the Muslims did not hear what satan threw in on the tongues of the polytheists’. The same information is given in the version coming through Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri wherin it is stated:

‘The Muslims did not hear what the devil threw in the hearing of the unbelievers’.

Rightly, therefore, Ibn Taymiyyah categorically states that the alleged couplet was put by satan into the hearing of the unbelievers. The prostration by the unbelievers was thus a gesture of protest and an attempt to confuse the audience by prostrating themselves in the name of the goddesses. The act might also have been due to that stunning effect of the recitation of the Qur’an of which we get a glimpse in the well-known incident of Utbah ibn Rabi’ah’s having once been so moved on hearing the Prophet’s recitation of the Qur’an that the other Quraysh leaders supposed that his ‘spell’ had worked on Utbah.

It was indeed the same bewitching effect of the Qur’an for which the Quraysh leaders constantly dubbed the Prophet as a spell-monger (sahir) and the Qur’an as magic (sihr). It was for the same reason that they stipulated with Ibn al-Dughunnah that Abu Bakr could stay in Makka only if he performed his prayers at home and refrained from attracting their children and womenfolk by publicly and loudly reciting the Qur’an.

In any case, since the Quraysh leaders prostrated themselves or made a show of prostration they must have been pressed by their followers to explain the act. And the only explanation which, under the circumstances, could have suggested itself to them was to say that they did so because they heard Muhammad (p) utter felicitating words for the goddesses. They also used the occasion to bruit abroad a rumour, particularly in Abyssinia, to the effect that a compromise had been made between them and the Prophet, and thus to induce the emigrants to return to Makka. surely the rumour had been spread surreptitiously, or, as both Urwah ibn al-Zubayr’s and Ibn Shihab’s versions say:

‘It was given currency by Satan till it reached Abysinnia’.

If the Prophet had at all mistakenly himself uttered the couplet and then realized it and retracted, as the story says, or if he had inkling of the Quraysh leaders manoeuvre, he would surely have managed to send a word of warning about it to the emigrants in Abyssinia.

Thus the Prophet’s recitation of surat al-Najm at the Ka’ba, the prostration by the Muslims and unbelievers present there and the return of a number of emigrants on the basis of a rumour of compromise are facts. The statements that the Prophet had made a compromise with the unbelievers and had uttered the couplet are rumours spread by the unbelieving leaders. In Subsequent ages, particularly during the time of the second generation after the Prophet, the facts and the baseless rumours were mixed up and the story assumed the form or forms in which we find it recorded and transmitted by some narrators and commentators.

That a number of chroniclers and commentators thought it fit to notice and transmit the story was due partly to that tendency which endeavoured to record and transmit all that was available of facts and fiction relating to the Prophet’s life and activities, leaving it for the discerning readers to draw their own conclusions.
Mainly, however, those of the commentators and scholars who have recorded the story appear to have done so with a view to finding ‘proofs’ and illustration for the theme of naskh (abrogation, repeal, replacement?).
That is why they bring in the story not in connection with their explanation of surat al-Najm but in connection with that of 22:52 (surat al-Hajj).

For the same purpose some of them relate the story to 17:73 (Surat al-Isra). Whatever the merits of their expositions concerning the subject of naskh, it is obvious, as mentioned earlier, that their relating the story to these ayahs is anachronistic and the clear meaning and purport of these passages positively contradict the story of compromise by the Prophet and his alleged utterance of the ‘satanic verses’. [1]

Reference:

[1] Sirat Al-Nabi And The Orientalists by Professor Muhammad Mohar Ali, volume 1 B, page 683 – 702

 

 

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2 Responses »

  1. Thorough refutation of the myth of the Satanic Verses! Thanks!

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