The Satanic Verses | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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The Satanic Verses | Part 2 : Mahound | Summary



As Gibreel falls, he has visions. He sees Shaitan (Satan) cast out of heaven, and Hagar the Egyptian and her son abandoned by Ibrahim (Abraham) in the desert. He sees the grandfather and father of "the businessman," on whom his dreams center. The businessman is named Mahound.

The businessman climbs Cone Mountain, which rises above the polytheistic city of Jahilia, a city built entirely of sand in various forms. On the mountain, the businessman receives a message from the archangel Gibreel—a message of monotheism. In the city, a festival is taking place, and wealthy Karim Abu Simbel, Grandee of Jahilia, walks among the celebrating crowds. Abu Simbel brings a young satirical poet named Baal to the temple of the goddess Lat, where he beats him for having an affair with his wife Hind. Then he commands the poet to write scathing satire about Mahound and his followers—Khalid, Salman, and Bilal.

Later, as Grandee Karim Abu Simbel is pampered by his many concubines, he decides it doesn't matter if his wife is having an affair, "[a]s long as she is discreet." He thinks about what to do about Mahound, whose religious message is causing problems.

Baal commences writing about Mahound and his followers, finding it easy to make fun of them. Meanwhile, Mahound struggles with an offer that Abu Simbel has made him: If Mahound will allow that three of the goddesses of Jahilia can be worshipped as deities or angelic beings under Allah—Lat, Uzza, and Manat—then Mahound and his followers will be officially recognized and Mahound will be given a seat at the council of Jahilia. Mahound is tempted by this offer, though his followers have objections. When his uncle Hamza advises him to climb the mountain again to ask Gibreel what to do, Mahound does so. This is dismaying to Gibreel, "the dreamer" because he feels unprepared for the upcoming encounter and because he is, in the dream, playing the roles of both Gibreel and Mahound.

When Mahound gets to the cave at the top of Mount Cone, he falls into a trance, and Gibreel realizes he is inside Mahound. Mahound has questions, and doubts, but Gibreel—not having answers—simply listens. After a long while, Mahound has a vision of Gibreel in which Gibreel speaks with a Voice that is not his, but is not God's, either.

After Mahound goes back down the mountain, he shares the verses that Gibreel said to him, including the words "Have you thought upon Lat and Uzza, and Manat ... their intercession is desired indeed." Later that night, Khalid, Salman, and Bilal are attacked, and with the help of Mahound's uncle Hamza, fight off their attackers. The fight leaves two assailants dead, who happen to be Hind's brothers. Also that night, Mahound paces and walks late into the night, finally fainting in the street. He wakes with a splitting headache in Hind's home. She tells him she is his equal and opposite, just as the goddess Al-Lat is the equal and opposite of Allah, and that there can be no peace among Lat, Uzza, Manat, and Allah. After he leaves, messengers bring news to Hind that Hamza has killed her two brothers.

Mahound goes back to the mountain cave and wrestles with the archangel Gibreel. This time, he comes down the mountain with the revelation that the message from the previous visit was from the devil, Shaitan. He removes the verses he had recited from the written record. Shortly after Mahound repudiates the satanic verses, his wife is killed.

Driven by Hind's thirst for revenge, Mahound's wife is killed and Mahound and his followers are persecuted, though they eventually escape the city. After Mahound is gone, Gibreel is alone on Mount Cone, where he is attacked by Lat, Uzza, Manat in the form of winged creatures.


This dream sequence is a retelling of the story of Muhammad and the founding of Islam. Mahound's actions in this chapter are loosely based on the early years of Islam, when Muhammad first introduced his message to the city of Mecca (called Jahilia in the novel). It moves from retelling the story of Islam's patriarch, Ibrahim (Abraham), who abandoned Hagar and their son Ismail (Ishmael) in the desert to die. Hagar and her son survived with the help of the angel Gibreel (Gabriel). (Note that, in Islam, Hagar occupies a matriarchal position similar to that of Sarah in the Judeo-Christian tradition.). It mentions the Prophet Mahound's (Muhammad's) marriage to a woman 15 years his senior and his meetings with the archangel Gibreel in which he was given the prophetic message—the words that would, over 23 years, be revealed and written down as the Qur'ān.

Although the motif of dreams, visions, and premonitions has already made several appearances in the novel, this long and important dream sequence is an obvious example. Because of the mystical nature of the dreams and visions, this motif helps to develop the theme of belief and unbelief. Any time a dream of vision occurs, readers have to try to discern whether it is real or imagined. Rushdie rarely gives conclusive evidence either way, so readers must live in the tension of not knowing whether belief or unbelief is appropriate.

In this example, however, an added dimension of the theme emerges because the dream is a retelling of an actual religious figure's actions. In this context, belief and unbelief becomes more consequential—the faith of real people is involved. The controversy surrounding this novel hinges on Rushdie's portrayal of Mahound/Muhammad, which is considered by some Muslims to be not only inaccurate but also irreverent. There is no doubt that Rushdie humanizes his Muhammad figure and gives a secularized account of these events. In addition, the tone of Rushdie's prose is humorous and often satirical, adding to a general sense that the characters in the story, including Mahound and Gibreel, are flawed and often ridiculous. In secularizing the history of Islam and its Prophet, Rushdie claims his own cultural heritage as a person from a Muslim background, without assenting to its religious claims. Rushdie approaches these stories of Islam as a storyteller, not unlike Gibreel, who plays deities in movies.

An incident from Muhammad's life might also shed light on the motif of dreams, visions, and premonitions. One of the most important incidents in Islam is the "Nocturnal Ascent," in which Muhammad falls asleep and is taken ever higher until he reaches the divine throne. There, God gives Muhammad an important revelation and allows him to meet other important prophets, such as Jesus and Moses. This story is remarkably relevant to The Satanic Verses because there is some debate about whether Muhammad went on this journey in the flesh or simply had a dream or vision. This question (in the body, or just in the mind?) is an important question in the novel as well.

This plot line of the novel is also the part most closely connected to the titular "satanic verses." The story of the satanic verses is drawn from Muslim tradition, although many Muslim scholars consider the story apocryphal. Muhammad is said to have received the verses in one of his many revelatory meetings, as an affirmation of the three goddesses Lat, Manat, and Uzza: "these are exalted females whose intercession is to be desired." Later, Muhammad said the verses were from the devil, not from the angel, and they were removed from the writing of the Qur'ān.

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