Gibreel Farishta is a Bollywood actor whose serious illness causes a loss of faith that, in turn, causes him to meet and fall in love with Alleluia Cone. As a result of his feelings for Alleluia, he boards the fateful Flight 420 to London, falls from the plane when it explodes, and is miraculously transformed into the archangel Gibreel. Gibreel plays an important role in the subplots of the novel—involving Mahound, the Imam, and the orphan Ayesha—because these plots occur in his dreams. As the archangel, the dreamer Gibreel enters these dreams and interacts with their characters. His sense of self in dreams is intermingled with the character of the archangel. And as the novel progresses, his sense of self in the waking world becomes merged with his angelic alter ego. By the climax of the novel, Gibreel believes himself to be an angelic being whose duty is to bring God's wrath, or perhaps his forgiveness, to London. As Gibreel's sense of reality erodes, he becomes an easy target for the revenge scheme of Saladin Chamcha. The long-term effects of Saladin's revenge on Gibreel's already deteriorating mental state prove to be a tragic combination.
Saladin Chamcha's dream from a young age was to leave India and move to England. Through persistence, as well as a willingness to leave his Indian identity behind and embrace all things British, he is largely successful. He becomes a well-known and busy voice actor, marries an English woman, and cultivates an impeccable British presentation. He's on his way back to England after a visit to India when the fateful explosion of Flight 420 occurs. As he falls through the air along with fellow passenger Gibreel Farishta, he transforms into a caricature of a goat-legged devil. When Gibreel fails to help him avoid arrest and torture at the hands of law enforcement, Saladin begins to hold a grudge that lasts throughout the majority of the novel. When presented with an opportunity to take cruel revenge against Gibreel, Saladin takes it, pushing Gibreel to the limits of his endurance, and beyond.
Alleluia Cone is a mountain climber who successfully scaled Everest and saw there transcendent visions few mortals have witnessed. However, her painful fallen arches prevent her from further climbs and cause her continual pain. Alleluia falls in love with Gibreel Farishta after his miraculous recovery from a mysterious and near-fatal illness. When he repeatedly shows up, unconscious, at her feet, she takes him in. When he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, she cares for him. However, Saladin's cruel revenge scheme ultimately poisons their relationship, and Gibreel, driven by jealousy and pain, throws her off the roof of a building.
Pamela Lovelace is an Englishwoman, and it is her Englishness that attracts Saladin Chamcha. Likewise, it is Saladin's Otherness that prompts Pamela to accept his love. Their marriage, based on this flimsy foundation, is unhappy. When Saladin is presumed dead after his flight explodes, Pamela begins an alcoholic bender that continues throughout the novel. She also begins an affair with Jumpy Joshi, becoming pregnant with his child. The two lovers die in a suspicious fire near the climax of the story.
Mahound is the main character of one of Gibreel's dream sequences. Mahound, based on Islam's Prophet Muhammad, is a businessman who encounters the archangel Gibreel and transcribes messages from him. In the early days of Mahound's interactions with Gibreel, he is persecuted and ridiculed for his teachings. He proclaims, then retracts, the "satanic verses." He is forced to flee the city of Jahilia and live in exile. When Mahound returns to Jahilia years later, he comes as a conqueror. His religion has exploded in popularity and influence. And the revelations he receives from Gibreel are ever more detailed restrictions and rules for behavior. This causes some followers to lose faith.
Ayesha of Titlipur
Ayesha of Titlipur is a main character of one of Gibreel's dream sequences. Ayesha is first seen in the novel eating butterflies. Despite her seizures and frequent vacant manner, she comes to be perceived as a prophetess. In this role, she brings the village messages from the archangel Gibreel. One of these messages is that Mirza Saeed Akhtar's wife Mishal has cancer, and a pilgrimage to Mecca will cure it. However, the entire village must go on the pilgrimage, and they must walk. The Arabian Sea, she assures them, will miraculously part so they can cross. Ayesha's absolute dedication to this cause wins her many devoted followers, and ultimately they do set out on the pilgrimage. However, when they reach the sea and walk into it, they simply disappear beneath the waves.