Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" is filled with references to the Islamic faith founded by Mohammed.
Moslems revere Mohammed as the prophet who brought Allah's revelations in the Koran, the holy book of Islam.Three main characters in the book are Mahound, the prophet of a city of sand called Jahilia and recipient of a revelation in which satanic verses mingle with divine; an Indian movie star, Gibreel Farishta; and Saladin Chamcha.
As the book opens, Farishta and Chamcha are passengers on a hijacked jetliner. The plane blows up. They fall clinging to each other singing rival songs. Gibreel becomes the archangel Gabriel, although Rushdie continues to call him Gibreel, and Chamcha the devil.
Locked into conflict, their identities blur.
In one passage Gibreel sees God:
"Gibreel's vision of the Supreme Being was not abstract in the least. He saw, sitting on the bed, a man of about the same age as himself, of medium height, fairly heavily built, with salt-and-pepper beard cropped close to the line of the jaw. What struck him most was that the apparition was balding, seemed to suffer from dandruff and wore glasses. This was not the Almighty he had expected. `Who are you?' he asked with interest . . .
" `Ooparvala,' the apparition answered. `The Fellow Upstairs.'
" `How do I know you're not the other One,' Gibreel asked craftily, `Neechayvala, the Guy from Underneath?' "
Another passage is set in a brothel called The Curtain where prostitutes adopt the names of some of Mohammed's 12 wives.
"It was during one of these playful sessions at the end of a working day, when the girls were alone with their eunuchs and their wine, that Baal heard the youngest talking about her client, the grocer, Musa. `That one,' she said. `He's got a bee in his bonnet about the Prophet's wives. He's so annoyed about them that he gets excited just by mentioning their names. He tells me that I personally am the spitting image of Ayesha herself, and she's His Nib's favorite, as all are aware. So there' . . .
"When the news got around Jahilia that the whores of The Curtain had each assumed the identity of one of Mahound's wives, the clandestine excitement of the city's males was intense."
Charles Eaton, a British scholar and convert to Islam, told The Guardian newspaper this is one of the most offensive passages - the "equivalent offense to presenting the Virgin Mary as a whore."
"Salman Rushdie, who was brought up in Islam, knows exactly where to put the needle in," said Eaton, also known as Hasan Abdul-Hakim. "Western readers very often don't see this."
Another passage tells of the Persian scribe, Salman, who takes dictation from the prophet, and begins to add his own inventions:
"Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all-knowing, I would write, all knowing, all-wise. Here's the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God's own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry? Look, I swear, I was shaken to my soul."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Salman Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses," published last year, has sparked worldwide controversy, from violent protests to calls by Islamic leaders for the author's death. Today, on this page, we have four related stories about Rushdie and his book:
- A profile of Salman Rushdie.
- A brief history of book-burning.
- Excerpts from "The Satanic Verses."
- A look at reaction in the publishing industry.