Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, a chaotic and bewildering novel which earned him a permanent death fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in February 1989, will attend a literary conference in New Delhi, India in March, in defiance of Islamic naysayers. We can credit him with the defiance, but not his oeuvre with literary worth. I signed a petition in 1989 that opposed the fatwa and called on Western governments to uphold freedom of speech, a petition inspired by Khomeini’s death sentence on Rushdie and on anyone who dared defend him or promote his book.
Out of curiosity, I tried reading The Satanic Verses, and one-quarter into it was unable and unwilling to finish it. I would liken it to a fantasy tale centered around the ribald adventures of believers in the merged worlds of the Rosicrucians and Yale’s Skull and Bones secret society.
If it hadn’t been for Khomeini’s fatwa, as someone has noted elsewhere, Rushdie’s novel would be gathering dust in second-hand bookstores, and Rushdie himself perhaps would be writing for The Daily Telegraph or the Guardian to earn a living.
So, what were those “Satanic Verses” that got the turbaned tyrants of Iran incensed? What is Sura 53 all about? It has to do with that obsession of inadequate and repressed Muslims everywhere: women! No wonder they’re raped, and beaten, and disfigured, and reduced to fractions and invisibility! Allah was the original male chauvinist pig. But, never mind The Satanic Verses. Here is a less obtuse accounting of what really happened in seventh century Mecca.
Once upon a time Allah had three daughters. You heard right. Not one, but three daughters, and they were all as powerful as he. As goddesses, they were worshipped by Arabs before Mohammad put an end to that pagan polytheism. Their names were al-Lät, al-Uzza, and Manät. They were okay, said the Angel Gabriel to him in his sleep, or in his dreams, or in his ear. “They are the Sorority of Serenity Now! Sirens of the Belly-Dance. Top-drawer cunning vixens! Make offerings to them in their temples, and your wishes will be granted!”
That was the original Sura, as reported by early Islamic scholars. Mohammad of course was dictating the Koran and speaking as though in a trance (reciting what he was hearing, so to speak, or so he claimed), and his scribe hurriedly scratched it all down on parchment rescued from the looted Alexandrian Library, bleached of any blasphemy. Mohammad, the Billy Sunday of his day, had decided that the Meccans he was trying to convert to Islam liked variety in their deities. Why not keep some sexy seductresses, and add some spice to the creed?
At least, that’s what he thought he thought, as he was listening to “the voice.” Mohammad was of two minds: he was hearing voices, while his subconscious worked overtime to see how he could take advantage of what he was hearing.
Then he had a change of mind. Or Gabriel came to him again one night, chewed him out, and changed it for him. Gabriel peered over the scribe’s shoulder and read the latest Sura. He exploded.
“You fool! You dunderhead! That wasn’t me whispering in your ear last night! That was…Shaytan! I was in the Crab Nebula last night on other business, so I never told you that Allah had three daughters! I got a proper tongue-lashing from Allah this morning, thanks to your date-addled brain, you mewling kid of a camel, you spawn of a Jewess!”
Mohammad looked hurt and humiliated. He muttered under his breath, “Oops!”
Gabriel paced back and forth furiously, shaking his finger at Mohammad. “Now, listen up, chowder head! There is only one God, and his name is Allah! No goddesses! No daughters! No sons, either! Tell your scribe to cross out that Sura, and replace it with, ‘Are men’s children to be boys and Allah’s to be girls? How unfair!’ That’s how it should read! Those are Allah’s very words!”
Now, Mohammad wanted to establish a new religion, and be exalted for what remained of eternity as its infallible founder. Still, he found it a curiously awkward means to spread the Word, and the Word was Allah’s. A rather roundabout way of revealing that Word to mortals he could not imagine, he would think in his most private moments. Allah speaks it to this snooty Angel, and the Angel whispers it to him, and he recites it to this bent-over, aging scribe. Not very time efficient.
Mohammad blinked in confusion. “But, oh, my Winged Whispering Wonder! What about al-Lät, and al-Uzza, and Manät? Do they not exist? Temples have been built for them, the yokels here have worshipped them for ages. Are we to have no variety in our worship? Allah is fine, as the Main Moon Man, but…people say it gets old, just worshipping one god. Why not a family of them?” He paused, and had a thought. “And if they are his daughters, who was their mother? We are missing a goddess, it would seem.”
“What Shaytan told you was blasphemy!” shouted Gabriel. “There are no other gods! Only Allah! All other gods are figments of men’s imaginations! Unreal! Without temporal or spiritual substance! Shape up, Mohammad, or Allah will choose another Prophet, and leave you to run with the dogs!”
Mohammad looked quizzical. He blurted, “Is Allah androgynous? Is he…without gender?”
Gabriel was stunned by this statement. Mohammad was illiterate. Where could he have picked up those words? But, he stepped up to Mohammad and slapped him silly, and so hard that the lice in the Prophet’s beard jumped ship, and Mohammad’s cheek was red for a day and a night. “How dare you question Allah’s manhood, you filthy jammal! You pile of dog chur!”
But Gabriel otherwise did not answer the question. He remained in the tent long enough to make sure that Mohammad instructed the scribe to make the change. He could not instruct the scribe himself, because he was visible only to Mohammad, and could only be heard by the Prophet. Mohammad explained to the scribe that he got it wrong the first time, because of accumulated wax in his ear.
The scribe, of course, was accustomed to Mohammad talking to himself, or at least to the unseen and unheard Angel Gabriel. He sort of believed in the existence of the Angel, because, often as he scratched away on the parchment, he felt a cold presence weighing on his shoulders and breathing down his neck.
We are assuming that Gabriel was of the masculine suasion. The Bible tells us so.
Before he went poof and vanished, the Angel Gabriel pulled from inside his robes a long, curved object. “Here,” he said. “With this you will conquer Arabia, if all else fails.” He handed it to Mohammad.
The Prophet gasped and took the object. Holding the bejeweled and intricately tooled leather scabbard in one hand, with the other he drew out a curved sword. The blade was shiny and beaten to razor sharpness. It was the most wicked looking weapon he had ever seen. His hand fit perfectly inside the guard, grip, and pommel. He hefted it once or twice. It had an admirable balance. “Milord!” he exclaimed. “What workmanship! What is it called?”
“It is a scimitar,” answered Gabriel, ignoring the open-mouthed amazement of the scribe, to whom the weapon had appeared miraculously in Mohammad’s hands without cause. “It is a better tool for conversion than the spears and flat swords your companions carry.” He paused and looked sly. “What does its form remind you of, Mohammad?”
The Prophet’s sight was fixed on the gleaming metal. His mind was dazzled. He shook his head.
“Allah is the Moon God, and that is the shape of the quarter moon. Henceforth, that will be your symbol, and your pulpit, so to speak. Sew that symbol to your banners. Now, get to work! Pack up everything here and move to Medina! There you may plot without distraction.” With that, the Angel Gabriel said, “ma’a as-salaama,” and went poof.
“Thank Allah for me,” said Mohammad to the empty air.
So, Sura 53:19-20 were emended to deny the reality of Allah’s daughters. These are verses 21-22.
Of course, this embarrassing and compromising episode was reported over a century after Mohammad’s alleged death (his existence being alleged anyway) by Ibn Ishaq and al-Tabari. They had cell phone camera video evidence of the confrontation and correction – recorded by an anonymous witness, who may have been Baal – but that evidence was lost during the turmoil of the Islamic conquest of the Arabian Peninsula.
As everyone knows, Islam was so far ahead of its time. Lost also are volumes on quantum mechanics, heart transplants, the discovery of Uranus and Neptune, various heliocentric theories, a tantalizing treatise on electricity, a dissertation on agricultural irrigation, not to mention the entire oeuvre of Abdul ibn-Knish, including his Córdoban comedies. Western scholars argue that ibn-Knish was the Noël Coward of his day, to judge by the pitifully few fragments of his plays that are preserved in the Vatican Library. It is thought by experts that the Angel Samantha served as ibn-Knish’s muse, going by the name of Elvira.
In the Unexpurgated Koran, only one copy of which has survived and which is secured in a booby-trapped vault deep beneath the Vatican, another scholar relates that it was the Angel Samantha who whispered the untruths into Mohammad’s ear about Allah’s daughters. In this rare, early copy of the Koran, Suras 53 through 57 have been nicknamed the “Henpecked Allah Verses.”
The Angel Samantha was in due course unceremoniously chucked out of Paradise by Allah, once he learned of her betrayal and her role in advising Mohammad behind Gabriel’s back. As she plummeted to the flaming nether regions in a burqa, she balled up a fist, punched a hole through it, and shouted back, “Oh, who wants to sit at your stinking feet forever singing your praises, you megalomaniac!” It is reputed that she formed a liaison with Shayton and assisted him over the millennia in spurring hostile and often bloody divisions among Muslims. It was, underground scholars aver, she who enticed many Muslims to part from the Sunnis and become Shi’ites, whose original name was “She’s It!” It was quite a radical career change.
Of course, most of the Korans that are regularly burned by Muslims are those containing the uncorrected Sura 53 and other shocking and prurient chapters that were simply edited out of standard, general circulation Korans over the centuries by conscientious Islamic scholars. It explains much, such as why most Muslims are a humorless lot and super-sensitive to any criticism. Muslims are a most repressed people. And the Korans with the corrected Sura 53 underscore Islam’s inherent and wholly creditable misogyny, not to mention the scale of its troubling and murderous psychosis.