Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 53, “The Star”

Rushdie didn’t make them up

Most people associate “the Satanic verses” with the notorious novel by Salman Rushdie. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie for writing this book “” and this death sentence has been perpetually reaffirmed by Iranian leaders, though no assassin has yet carried it out.

But Rushdie did not invent the “Satanic verses.” The term actually refers to an incident, recorded in Islamic tradition and referred to in Sura 53, in which Satan, not Allah, spoke through Muhammad’s mouth. The verses that the devil gave to the Prophet of Islam have been known thereafter as “the Satanic verses.”
According to Muhammad’s biographer Ibn Ishaq, in a section of his biography preserved by Tabari, “the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people” — the pagan Quraysh — and “longed for a way to attract them.” However, ultimately it was the leaders of the Quraysh who came to him with an offer. They would give him wives and money, and even make him their king — if he would in turn accept their condition. “This is what we will give you, Muhammad, so desist from reviling our gods and do not speak evilly of them. If you will not do so, we offer you one means which will be to your advantage and to ours.”

“What is it?” asked Muhammad.

“You will worship our gods, al-Lat and al-“˜Uzza, for a year, and we shall worship your god for a year.”

After initially rejecting the offer, Muhammad received a revelation saying that it was legitimate for Muslims to pray to al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat, the three goddesses favored by the pagan Quraysh, as intercessors before Allah. The Quraysh were elated, and prostrated themselves before Allah along with Muhammad and the Muslims after Muhammad finished reciting the new revelation. Ibn Ishaq recounts:

Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, “Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved.”

The Gharaniq were high-flying cranes. Muhammad meant that they were near Allah’s throne, and that it was legitimate for Muslims to pray to al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat as intercessors before Allah.

Word traveled quickly among the Muslims: “the Quraysh have accepted Islam.” Since peace seemed to be at hand, some of the Muslims who had earlier fled to Abyssinia for their safety began to return. But one principal player in the drama was not at all pleased: the angel Gabriel, the one whose appearance to Muhammad had given birth to Islam. He came to Muhammad and said: “What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you.”

Muhammad began to realize just how severely he had compromised his monotheistic message: “I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken.” He “was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear” of Allah for having allowed his message to be adulterated by Satan. But Allah reassured him: “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” (Qur’an 22:52). Allah, says Ibn Ishaq, thereby “relieved his prophet’s grief, and made him feel safe from his fears.” He also sent down a new revelation to replace Satan’s words about al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat in sura 53, repeating the scorn that the Qur’an has elsewhere for the idea that Allah would have daughters while earthly men have sons (vv. 19-23).

Not surprisingly, Muhammad’s about-face only enflamed tensions with the Quraysh all the more. Ibn Ishaq recalls that the polytheists began to use this episode against him:

When the annulment of what Satan had put upon the Prophet’s tongue came from God, Quraysh said: “Muhammad has repented of what he said about the position of your gods with Allah, altered it and brought some­thing else.” Now those two words which Satan had put upon the apostle’s tongue were in the mouth of every polytheist and they became more violently hostile to the Muslims and the apostle’s followers.

The Satanic verses incident has naturally caused Muslims acute embarrassment for centuries. Indeed, it casts a shadow over the veracity of Muhammad’s entire claim to be a prophet. After all, if Satan could put words into Muhammad’s mouth once, and make him think they were revelations from Allah, who is to say that Satan did not use Muhammad as his mouthpiece on other occasions? Thus Islamic scholars, apologists, and historians have attacked the Satanic verses with particular ferocity. Muhammad Husayn Haykal argues in his Life of Muhammadthat the incident never happened at all, and indeed could not have happened, for after all, Muhammad is a prophet:

This story arrested the attention of the western Orientalists who took it as true and repeated it ad nauseam”¦. It is a story whose incoherence is evident upon the least scrutiny. It contradicts the infallibility of every prophet in conveying the message of his Lord.

He marvels that even some Muslim scholars take it to be true. And its roots in the traditional sources are firm. It is hard to see how and why such a story would have been fabricated and accepted as authentic by such pious Muslims as Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa”˜d, and Tabari, as well as by the later Qur’anic commentator Zamakhshari (1074-1143), who is unlikely to have recounted it if he did not trust the sources, if it were not authentic. Here, as in many other areas, the witness of the early Islamic sources is compelling. Those who would wish away the Satanic verses cannot get around the fact that these elements of Muhammad’s life were not the inventions of his enemies, but were passed along by men who believed he was indeed the Prophet of Allah.

Besides this oblique reference to the Satanic verses incident, the Meccan sura 53 contains an account of two of Muhammad’s visions of the angel Gabriel, along with a challenge to the unbelievers to disprove the authenticity of those visions (vv. 1-18). Then after the denial of the three goddesses (vv. 19-23), Allah explains that unbelievers give the angels female names (v. 28) and that Muhammad should shun them (vv. 29-30).

Then follows a discourse on the differing outcomes of belief and unbelief. Allah will forgive those who avoid major sins (v. 32), but the one who turns back after embracing Islam (vv. 33-34) ignores what was told to Moses (v. 36) and Abraham (v. 37) — that no one will intercede for anyone else on the Day of Judgment (v. 38) and everyone will receive their just deserts (v. 39). Allah controls everything (vv. 43-49) and destroyed earlier populations of unbelievers (vv. 50-54). People then should heed Muhammad’s warning, for the Judgment is coming soon (vv. 55-62).

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2 Responses to Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 53, “The Star”

  1. θ says:

    There’s a lesson in Sura the Star. It is preventing Mohametan cultism – he is exalted above Gabriel, Moses and Jesus and Mother of Scriptures – it has a background of ascension to the highest presence of God – Mi’raj – where Prophet Muhammad ascends higher than other Prophets and angels.
    Moslems regarded Qur’an in much purer and higher standard than other Scriptures that teach God sends the delusion and the lying spirits to deceive heathens thru His Prophets.

  2. θ says:

    Story of Gharaniq is a silly fabrication because:
    (i) Logically, if Gabriel quickly corrected the alleged verse overnight how can the alleged rumor spread so fast reaching into Ethiopia where the early Moslems sought refuse (even unbelievably it caused the immediate return of many Moslems to Mekkah)?

    (ii) It is impossible for the heathens to tentatively listen to Qur’an since it is mentioned by Qur’an itself that the Mekkahs used to close their ears when hearing Qur’an. Worse, they used to make the odd gibberish thru boisterous dissonance and clamorous noises on purpose to overtone Qur’an when it is being recited.

    Q.41, v.5. And they say, Our hearts are within coverings from that to which you invite us, and in our ears there’s a blockage, and between us and you there is a barrier, hence do that, certainly we also do.
    Q.41, v.26. And those who disbelieve say, Do not listen to this Qur’an and speak noisily during it that perhaps you may overcome.
    Q.6, v.26. And they prevent from it and stay far from it. And they do not destroy except themselves, but they perceive not.

    (iii) There are at least 5 differing versions for that alleged insertion, and nobody can certain which one it is.

    (iv) Linguistically, Arabs never described their goddess as “Gharaniq” throughout their poetry, speeches, traditions, or writings.

    (v) A goddess is daughter, not a blonde boy (Gharniq).
    The idol which the heathens worshiped is a graven image on the carved stone, not a long-legged and long-necked stork (Ghurnuq).
    The use of a non-Arabic word “Gharaniq” instead of a known Gharniq or Ghurnuq proves it must be from a non-Arabic speaker. Hence, how could the Arabic-speaking heathens suddenly understand it?
    At least, if the passage were of a demon, it must have been from a non-Arabic speaking demon that doesn’t know whatsoever about three feminine images of stone in the old Arab polytheism.

    At most, the odd gibberish which the heathens have mistakenly heard of alluding to “Gharaniq” may just accidentally come from their own boisterous dissonance and clamorous noises.
    Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 8, p. 440.
    Qadi Iyad ibn Musa (1083–1149) did well when he said: “It is possible the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – was mentioning the belief of the pagans by way of derision, noting that at that time it was permitted to speak in the midst of prayer. To this position leaned Ibn al-Baqillani. It was also said that when he reached the words {Have ye thought upon Al Lat and Al Uzza and Manat, the third, the other} the pagans feared lest he would add something to mock their gods, so they hastened to interject and jeer so as to cover up what was coming next, as was their habit stated in the verse:
    “Those who disbelieve say: Heed not this Quran, and drown the hearing of it; haply ye may conquer” (41:26).
    Ibn al-`Arabi also approved of the latter interpretation, saying: “…The meaning of ‘amaniyya’ in the verse being: ‘recitation’. Allah Almighty therefore informed us in this verse that His way with His Messengers is that when they say something, Satan adds something to it on his part. This is an explicit proof-text that it is Satan that conveys this statement inside the Prophet’s words – Allah bless and greet him – and it is not the latter that says it.

    There are at least 5 differing versions for that alleged insertion, and nobody can certain which one it is.
    Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, Page 105-108
    The first evidence which imputes suspicion to the story is the fact that it has been reported in many forms and versions. First there is the report that the fabricated verses consist of the following words: “Tilka al gharaniq al `ula wa inna shafa`atahu-nna laturtaja.”
    Others reported them as consisting of, “al gharaniqah al `ula inna shafa atahum turtaja.”
    Still others reported that they consist of the following words, “Inna shafa`atahunna turtaja” without mentioning the word “al gharaniq” or “al gharaniqah” at all.
    According to a fourth version, they were supposed to consist of the words: “Innaha lahiya al gharaniq al ula..”
    A fifth version reads, “Wa innahunna lahunna al gharaniq al ula wa inna shafa’atahunna lahiya allati, turtaja.” The collections of Hadith have given us still more varied versions.
    The multiplicity of the versions proves that the report itself is fabricated, that it had been fabricated by the zindiqs-as ibn Ishaq had said earlier and that the forgers had sought thereby to spread doubt into the message of Muhammad and to attack his candidness in conveying the message of his Lord.
    Muhammad `Abduh. It consists of the fact that the Arabs have nowhere described their gods in such terms as “al gharaniq.” Neither in their poetry nor in their speeches or traditions do we find their gods or goddesses described in such terms.
    Rather, the word “al ghurnuq” or “al gharniq” was the name of a black or white water bird, sometimes given figuratively to the handsome blond youth. The fact is indubitable that the Arabs never looked upon their gods in this manner.

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