Satanic Verses (Gharaniq Incident)

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The goddess al-Uzza at the Temple of Winged Lions in Petra.

The Satanic Verses (also the حديثة الغرانيق Gharaniq incident) was an incident where Prophet Muhammad acknowledged Allat, Manat, and al-Uzza, the goddesses of the Pagan Meccans in a Qur'anic revelation, only to later recant and claim they were the words of the Devil.

Theological status in Islam

Shahab Ahmed (d. 2015)

Shahab Ahmed was an Islamic studies scholar at Harvard University until he passed away, aged 48, in 2015.

The facticity and historicity of the Satanic verses incident are today (with a few maverick exceptions) universally rejected by Muslims of all sects and interpretative movements—Sunnī, Twelver Shī‘ī, Ismā‘īlī Shī‘ī, Aḥmadī, Ibāḍī, Ḥanafī, Shāfi‘ī, Mālikī, Ḥanbalī, Wahhābī, Salafī, Deobandī, Barelvī, and so forth—routinely on pain of heresy (kufr)—that is, on pain of being deemed not a Muslim. The Satanic verses incident is understood as calling into question the integrity of the process of Divine Communication to Muḥammad—and thus the integrity of the Text of the Qur’ān. The universal rejection of the Satanic verses incident constitutes an instance of contemporary Islamic orthodoxy—that is to say, it is the only truth that a Muslim qua Muslim may legitimately hold on the matter. For the last two hundred years, to be a Muslim, one should believe that the Satanic verses incident did not take place—that is, the contemporary Muslim should not believe that the Prophet Muḥammad recited verses of Satanic suggestion as Divine inspiration. In other words, for modern Muslims, the Satanic verses incident is something entirely unthinkable.
The reason for my writing this book is that, as a straightforward matter of historical fact, this Islamic orthodoxy of the rejection of the facticity of the Satanic verses incident has not always obtained. The fundamental finding of the present volume is that in the first two centuries of Islam, Muslim attitudes to the Satanic verses incident were effectively the direct opposite of what they are today. This volume studies no less than fifty historical reports that narrate the Satanic verses incident and that were transmitted by the first generations of Muslims. This study of the Satanic verses incident in the historical memory of the early Muslim community will demonstrate in detail that the incident constituted an absolutely standard element in the memory of early Muslims of the life of their Prophet. In other words, the early Muslim community believed almost universally that the Satanic verses incident was a true historical fact. As far as the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community in the first two hundred years was concerned, the Messenger of God did indeed, on at least one occasion, mistake words of Satanic suggestion as being of Divine inspiration. For the early Muslims, the Satanic verses incident was something entirely thinkable.


The Satanic Verses incident is reported in the tafsir and the sira-maghazi literature dating from the first two centuries of Islam, and is reported in the respective tafsīr corpuses transmitted from almost every Qur'anic commentator of note in the first two centuries of the hijra. It seems to have constituted a standard element in the memory of the early Muslim community about the life of Muhammad.[1]

It has also been recorded in four early major biographies of Muhammad; al-Waqidi,[2] Ibn Saad,[3] al-Tabari,[4] and Ibn Ishaq,[5] and is indirectly and in part referred to in al-Tirmidhi and Sahih Bukhari, where it is recorded that Muhammad performed a prostration when he finished reciting Surat-an-Najm, and all the Muslims and pagans prostrated along with him.[6] Since in today's Qur'an, the pagan goddesses are attacked in that particular Surah, pagans and Muslims prostrating represents a remarkable memory of Muhammad holding a totally heterodox view to contemporary and historical Islam.


The following text is taken from Sir William Muir's "The Life of Mahomet", which summarizes the Satanic Verses incident.

On a certain day the chief men of Mecca, assembled in a group beside the Kaaba, discussed, as was their custom, the affairs of the city. Mahomet appeared and, seating himself by them in a friendly manner, began to recite in their hearing Sura LIII. The chapter opens with a description of the first visit of Gabriel to Mahomet (already known to the reader);[7] and then unfolds a second vision of that angel, at which certain heavenly mysteries were revealed. The passage is as follows:--

He also saw him (Gabriel) at another descent,

By the Lote-tree[8] at the furthest boundary,

Near to which is the Paradise of rest.

When the Lote-tree covered that which it covered,

His sight turned not aside, neither did it wander.

And verily he beheld some of the greatest Signs of his Lord.

And see ye not Lat and Ozza,

And Manat the third besides?--

When he had reached this verse, the devil suggested to Mahomet an expression of thoughts which had long possessed his soul; and put into his mouth words of reconciliation and compromise such as he had been yearning that God might send unto his people, namely:--

These are exalted Females,

And verily their intercession is to be hoped for.

The Coreish were astonished and delighted with this acknowledgment of their deities; and as Mahomet wound up the Sura with these closing words,

Wherefore bow down before God, and serve Him,

the whole assembly prostrated themselves with one accord on the ground and worshipped. Walid alone, unable from the infirmities of age to bow down, took a handful of earth and worshipped, pressing it to his forehead.

Thus all the people were pleased at that which Mahomet had spoken, and they began to say: Now we know that it is the Lord alone that giveth life and taketh it away, that createth and supporteth. And as for these our goddesses, they make intercession with Him for us; wherefore, as thou hast conceded unto them a portion, we are content to follow thee. But their words disquieted Mahomet, and he retired to his house. In the evening Gabriel visited him; and the Prophet (as was his wont) recited the Sura unto him. And Gabriel said: What is this that thou hast done? thou hast repeated before the people words that I never gave unto thee. So Mahomet grieved sore, and feared the Lord greatly; and he said, I have spoken of God that which He hath not said. But the Lord comforted his Prophet, and restored his confidence,[9] and cancelled the verse, and revealed the true reading thereof (as it now stands), namely--

And see ye not Lat and Ozza,

And Manat the third beside?

What! shall there be male progeny unto you, and female unto Him?

That were indeed an unjust partition!

They are naught but names, which ye and your fathers have invented...

Now when the Coreish heard this, they spoke among themselves, saying: Mahomet hath repented his favourable mention of the rank of our goddesses with the Lord. He hath changed the same, and brought other words instead. So the two Satanic verses were in the mouth of every one of the unbelievers, and they increased their malice, and stirred them up to persecute the faithful with still greater severity.

Pious Mussulmans of after days, scandalised at the lapse of their Prophet into so flagrant a concession, would reject the whole story. But the authorities are too strong to be impugned. It is hardly possible to conceive how the tale, if not in some shape or other founded in truth, could ever have been invented. The stubborn fact remains, and is by all admitted, that the first refugees did return about this time from Abyssinia; and that they returned in consequence of a rumour that Mecca was converted. To this fact the narratives of Wackidi and Tabari afford the only intelligible clue. At the same time it is by no means necessary that we should literally adopt the exculpatory version of Mahometan tradition; or seek, in a supernatural interposition, the explanation of actions to be equally accounted for by the natural workings of the Prophet's mind.[10]

See also

External links


  1. Ahmed, Shahab (2008), "Satanic Verses", in Dammen McAuliffe, Jane, Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, Georgetown University, Washington DC: Brill (published 14 August 2008)
  2. Rubin, Uri (14 August 2008), "Muhammad", in Dammen McAuliffe, Jane, Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, Georgetown University, Washington DC: Brill
  3. Ibn Sa'd's "Kitab al Tabaqat al Kabir" (Book of the Major Classes), Volume 1, parts 1 and 2, pp. 236 - 239, translated by S. Moinul Haq, published by the Pakistan Historical Society.
  4. Al-Tabari (838? – 923 A.D.), The History of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk), Vol. VI: Muhammad at Mecca, pp. 107-112. Translated by W. M. Watt and M.V. McDonald, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1988, ISBN: 0-88706-707-7, pp. 107-112.
  5. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Translated by A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, (Re-issued in Karachi, Pakistan, 1967, 13th impression, 1998) 1955, p. 146-148.
  6. "Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet performed a prostration when he finished reciting Surat-an-Najm, and all the Muslims and pagans and Jinns and human beings prostrated along with him." - Sahih Bukhari 6:60:385
  7. See ante, p. 47: also p. 78
  8. The Lote is the wild plum tree, rendered in India by the Ber.
  9. Tradition tells us that Mahomet was consolled by the following passage in Sura XXII., which, however (from the reference to former apostles and prophets), must have been revealed at a somewhat later period: And We have not sent before thee any Apostle, nor any Prophet, but when he longed, Satan cast suggestions into his longing. But God shall cancel that which Satan suggesteth. Then shall God establish His revelations (and God is knowing and wise);--that He may make what Satan hath suggested a trial unto those whose hearts are diseased and hardened...
  10. Muir, Sir William. (1878). The Life of Mahomet. (pp. 86-88). London: Smith, Elder & Co