The Fatwā and Literature Analysis

Rushdie’s Case

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

As many critics have noted, very little of The Satanic Verses is actually about religion. Most of the novel’s approximately 550 pages are devoted to the intertwined stories of Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, two Indian men who miraculously survive a plane crash. Inserted somewhat uneasily into this framework are two other tales: an extended dream sequence which recounts, to a certain extent, the life of Muhammad and the tale of a holywoman who leads her followers into the Arabian Sea. The religious sequences are, at best, a subplot in a masterful tale about the postcolonial condition and the issue of migrancy in the postmodern era.

While it is clear that Rushdie’s novel does not focus on Islam, and that the dream sequences do not necessarily espouse the author’s belief, it cannot be denied that the title of the novel itself suggests a religious controversy. By entitling his novel The Satanic Verses, Rushdie revived an ancient debate about the wording of the Koran. According to some contemporary biographers of Muhammad, the prophet made reference to three Meccan goddesses while he was inscribing the Koran, purportedly lauding their power. God, realizing that Satan had temporarily controlled Muhammad’s tongue, canceled the blasphemous lines (the satanic verses). Thus the Koran retains a reference to the goddesses, yet there is no recording of their power; the subsequent lines uphold the supremacy and omnipotence of the one, true, God. While the tale of these verses...

(The entire section is 616 words.)