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SATANIC VERSES & THE MUSLIM ARGUMENT

Background

Al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd and some other Muslim writers have mentioned
(though they vary considerably in the matters of detail) that Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH)
, under Satanic inspiration added two verses to Surah an-Najm [53], which
are as follows:-

These are the high-flying ones, whose intercession is to be hoped


for!

(PBUH)
The Prophet , it is alleged, recited these along with other verses of
Surah an-Najm in the prayer. The idolaters of Makkah who were present in the
Ka'bah at that time joined him in the prayer because he praised their deities and
thus won their hearts. The story afterwards reached Abyssinia where the
Muslims, persecuted by the Makkan infidels, had earlier migrated and many of
them returned to Makkah under the impression that the disbelievers no longer
opposed the Prophet (PBUH) and the Islamic movement. The story also says that
the angel Gabriel came to the Prophet (PBUH) the same evening and told him about
the mistake he had committed by reciting verses which were never revealed to
(PBUH)
him. This naturally worried the Prophet and made him apprehensive.
'Admonishing' the Prophet (PBUH), God revealed the following verses of Surah al-
Isra' which read:

And their purpose was to tempt thee away from that which We had
revealed unto thee, to substitute in our name something quite
different; (in that case), behold! they would certainly have made thee
(their) friend! And had We not given thee strength, thou wouldst
nearly have inclined to them a little. In that case We should have
made thee taste an equal portion (of punishment) in this life, and an
equal portion in death: and moreover thou wouldst have found none
to help thee against Us! [Qur'an 17:73-75]
This made the Prophet(PBUH) feel very guilty until God revealed the
following consoling verse of Surah al-Hajj:

Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when


he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but
Allah will cancel anything (vain) that Satan throws in, and Allah will
confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of Knowledge and
Wisdom. [Qur'an 22:52]

This is the gist of the story mentioned by al-Tabari and some other writers
that has been used by the Christian missionaries. The story would, among other
things, imply that the Prophet(PBUH) and his Companions(R) took the 'Satanic'
verses as a true revelation from God, otherwise nobody would have accepted
them.

Analysis

Let us now examine the story and its contents in the light of internal and
external evidence and evaluate it on the basis of criteria of historical criticism. In
doing so, first of all one has to find out the chronological sequence in the story
and establish whether or not all its details relate to one period and are
interconnected. Special attention should be devoted to determining the periods of
revelation of the three verses mentioned in the report, which will validate or falsify
the episode.

It can easily be gleaned from the story that the incident of reciting the
'Satanic' verses and the consequent prostration of the disbelievers in the Ka'bah
happened after the first batch of Muslims had migrated to Abyssinia. This
migration, according to all the reliable sources, occurred in the month of Rajab of
the fifth year of the Prophetic call or about eight years before the Hijrah to
Madinah. Therefore, the incident must have happened close to this date and not
long after the migration to Abyssinia.
The verses of Surah al-Isra' (17:73-5) which were revealed, according to
the story, to 'admonish' the Prophet(PBUH) for allegedly reciting the 'Satanic'
verses, in fact were not revealed until after the event of the Mi'raj. The Mi'raj or
the Ascent of the Prophet(PBUH), according to historical sources, occurred in the
tenth or eleventh year of the Prophetic call, i.e., two or three years before the
Hijrah to Madinah. If this is so, then it implies that the 'Satanic' verses were not
detected or for some reason no mention was made about the alleged
interpolation of the verses for five or six years and only afterwards was the
Prophet(PBUH) admonished for it. Can any sensible person believe that the
interpolation occurs today, while the admonition takes place six years later
and the abrogation of the interpolated verses is publicly announced after
nine years. The relevant verse of Surah al-Hajj (22:52) according to the
commentators of the Qur'an was revealed in the first year of Hijrah, i.e.,
about eight to nine years after the incident and about two and a half years
after the so-called admonition of the Prophet (PBUH) (17:73-5). Can anybody
who knows about the Qur'an, its history and revelation, understand and
explain how the incident of interpolation was allowed to be tolerated for six
years and also why the offensive 'verses' were not abrogated until after
nine years?

The implication of this argument is that since the abrogating verses were
revealed nine years after the original event, that would mean that for nine years
Muslims had been asking Lat, Manat and Uzza for intercession! In other words
outright idolatry resulting from compromised monotheistic beliefs. It is therefore
quite pretentious to suggest any historicity in the notion that Muslims had been
asking Lat, Manat and Uzza for intercession over the span of almost a decade.

Watt's theory is that

... the earliest versions do not specify how long afterwards this
(abrogation) happened; the probability is that it was weeks or even
months.
is nothing but a hypothesis. Had he investigated the chronology of the three
revelations relative to the story, he could not possibly have missed the facts
related above.

Let us now turn to some internal evidence. It has been said in the story
that the 'Satanic' interpolation occurred in Surah an-Najm (53:19) which delighted
the idolaters present in the Ka'bah and as a gesture of friendship and good-will,
they all bowed down with the Prophet (PBUH). In order to comment on the story it
would seem necessary to read the verses in the Qur'an, adding the alleged
'Satanic' verses, and find out what is actually meant to be conveyed here. It
would read as follows.

Have ye seen Lat and 'Uzza, And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
[These are the high-flying ones, whose intercession is to be hoped
for!] What! for you the male sex, and for Him, the female? Behold, such
would be indeed a division most unfair! these are nothing but names
which ye have devised,- ye and your fathers,- for which Allah has sent
down no authority (whatever). They follow nothing but conjecture and what
their own souls desire!- Even though there has already come to them
Guidance from their Lord! [Qur'an 53:19-23]

If one reads the bold part of the alleged Satanic verses quoted above, one
fails to understand how God on the one hand is praising the deities and on the
other hand discrediting them by using the subsequent phrases quoted above. It
is also difficult to see how the Quraysh leaders drew the conclusion from this
chapter that Muhammad (PBUH) as making a conciliatory move and was adopting a
policy of give and take.

Drawing the conclusions from various reports connected with the story,
Watt suggests that

... at one time Muhammad must have publicly recited the Satanic verses
as part of the Qur'an; it is unthinkable that the story could have been
invented later by Muslims or foisted upon them by non-Muslims. Secondly,
at some later time Muhammad announced that these verses were not
really part of the Qur'an and should be replaced by others of a vastly
different import.

Watt's suggestion that Muhammad (PBUH) replaced the 'Satanic' verses with
some others of a vastly different import is pure speculation. If one takes the
'Satanic' verses to be true, it would imply that the verses to be found in 53:19
onwards, were not revealed in the same period. Watt's suggestion also implies
that Muhammad(PBUH) and his followers read the 'Satanic' verses in place of or in
addition to the verses found in the Qur'an for 'weeks and even months' and that
when Muhammad(PBUH) later realized that these verses could not be correct, then
the true version and continuation of the passage was revealed to him. This
supposition is again pure speculation and is not based on any historical data.
The story which we have summarized in the beginning suggests that
Muhammad(PBUH) did not realize his fault until God admonished him six years
later and that the matter was rectified perhaps another two and a half years
after. In the meantime the Muslims were supposedly asking Allat, Manat and
Uzza for intercession! Had the genuine state of affairs truly been this ridiculous, it
(PBUH)
would have been impossible for Muhammad to have maintained such a
loyal following.

It is obvious that Watt and other Orientalists accept part of the story and
reject the related parts along with their destructive implications, apparently
because they are unable to find any link or sequence. Had there been any
element of truth in the story, it could have caused a great scandal against Islam
and the Prophet(PBUH) and every detail of this scandal must have found its place in
the Hadith literature. Why is the authentic Hadith collection conspicuously silent
about the scandalous part of the story? Does it not lead to the conclusion,
contrary to the established fact, that Hadith literature itself is very defective as it
(PBUH)
failed to record such an important event which led the Prophet and his
Companions(R) to read 'Satanic' verses for weeks, months or perhaps even years
without realizing the error, all the while asking for the intercession of Lat, Manat
and Uzza? In fact, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i and Ahmad b. Hanbal
all record the story, but only to the extent that was true. They all mention that the
Prophet(PBUH) did recite Surah an-Najm and that, at the end when he prostrated,
the idolaters present were so overawed that they also joined him in prostration.
These leading Muhaddithun do not mention the blasphemous story which other
sources have recorded.

Conclusions

It is quite clear that the nature of the story is absurd and it cannot stand
the external and internal criticism. It is even clearer from the Qur'an that it is not
possible for the Prophet (PBUH) to accept anything in the Qur'an from any external
source. If this is so, then how can one take seriously, let alone believe in the so-
called story of the 'Satanic' revelation? This is why the leading traditionalists and
the exegetes in Islam have regarded this story as malicious and without
foundation.

It is unfortunate that an eminent historian like al-Tabari mentioned this


story in his Tarikh al-Umam wal-Muluk and did not make any comment on its
authenticity except to mention that he had faithfully transmitted whatever he
received. Although there is great advantage in such a methodology (See
reference 2 above) there are also risks. Unscrupulous people, i.e., the Christian
missionaries, may take advantage of this and try to concoct something as they
indeed did in the fabrication of the malicious story of the 'Satanic' verses.

The fact that al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd and others have recorded this story in
their works does not prove that the story itself is true. The missionary entertains a
challenge to the Muslims:

Muslims today who simply dismiss the account of these writers as


fabricated and unhistorical must at least answer the question why such reputable
persons would fabricate it. The question is not new. But, it seems, a serious
Muslim response is hard to find.

What the fellow is desperately pleading for is the source of the story. We
have already witnessed that neither al-Tabari nor Ibn Sa'd is responsible for
producing these stories. While the missionary himself conveniently attributes the
accounts of al-Tabari and Ibn Sa'd with historical legitimacy, at least with regards
to this particular incident, he is directing a sort of challenge to the Muslims who
reject the historicity of the account. Thus, if the Muslims, not to mention
Orientalists, dismiss the story as having no historical basis, then the missionary
demands to know where the story came from, i.e. who is the individual
responsible for concocting such an outlandish story. Somehow, he feels as
though this is an uncomfortable question. However, an answer to this silly
challenge is, what does it matter what the source is of such an absurd rumour?
Rumours with even the most powerful effects of credulity have rarely seen their
source discovered. Yet, we are not aware of any Muslims that actually believe
the aforementioned story, and this position is cogently justified on the grounds of
rigorous historical criticism. However, episodes of fabulous rumors followed by a
credulous following are quite common outside the history of Islam. For example,
(PBUH)
it was rumoured that Jesus traveled to India. It was rumoured that St.
Matthew actually wrote the Gospel According to St. Matthew. It was rumoured
that Islamic fundamentalists were responsible for the Oklahoma bombing. It was
rumoured that UFOs visited Roswell, New Mexico. However, just because we do
not know the individuals responsible for these rumours, does this mean that the
rumours are true? Is the absence of an identified source of these rumours
supposed to be construed as some sort of threat? The naïve implications of this
method of inquiry should bring shame upon anybody who entertains them.

Finally, in light of the above, it can quite effortlessly be concluded that the
Christian missionaries' attempt to answer to the inimitability of the Qur'an, by
building upon the poor scholarship of a fellow missionary, is thus nothing other
than a product of gross ignorance and sheer tomfoolery.
And Allah knows best!