The Satanic Verses | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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The Satanic Verses | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The novel centers around Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha and takes place in modern London. Two subplots take place in Gibreel's visionary dreams: one involving the Prophet Mahound (based on Mohammed) and one involving a woman named Ayesha who leads an entire town on a pilgrimage.

Part 1

The novel opens as Gibreel Farishta, Bollywood actor, and Saladin Chamcha, voice actor, plummet toward Earth from the sky. Their plane, Bostan Flight 420, has just exploded on its way from India to London. As they fall, they begin to transform. Gibreel takes on attributes of an angel, while Saladin takes on attributes of the devil. They miraculously survive the fall, and wash up on the shore of England.

Moving backward in time, the narrative fills in some of the backstory for these two characters. Gibreel Farishta had been orphaned while he was a young man and was taken in by wealthy Babasaheb Mhatre and his wife. He begins a career in India as a movie actor, and once he begins to have success, has a series of lovers. One of his more serious relationships was with Rekha Merchant, a married woman. Gibreel had a brush with death as a result of a terrible illness, during which he loses his faith. When he becomes well, he immediately eats as much pork as he can hold, and it is while eating that he meets and falls for Alleluia Cone, an English mountain climber. When she leaves to go back to London, he decides to follow her—bringing him to the fateful Flight 420.

Saladin Chamcha grew up in Bombay, the son of a successful businessman. From an early age, he had wanted to move to England, and this dream becomes a reality. Saladin marries Englishwoman Pamela Lovelace, but the marriage is not a happy one. Saladin is on Flight 420 after spending time back in Bombay, where he had an affair and visited his estranged father.

Aboard Flight 420, and before it explodes, four terrorists take over the plane and hold some of the passengers hostage for several weeks. When the plane takes off again, a fight breaks out and explosives worn by one of the terrorists ignite. The plane goes down and the passengers are assumed dead.

Part 2

Gibreel Farishta dreams of a businessman named Mahound, who climbs Cone Mountain and receives a message from the archangel Gibreel. In the dream, Gibreel takes the role of the archangel. The angel's message is one of monotheism or belief in one god; however, the village at the base of the mountain, Jahilia, is comfortably polytheistic. The grandee of the village, Karim Abu Simbel, chooses a satirical poet named Baal (who is having an affair with the grandee's wife) to ridicule Mahound and his followers.

In attempting to make peace with Mahound, Karim Abu Simbel offers him a bargain: Say that the one God, Allah, has three subordinate goddesses—Lat, Uzza, and Manat—and Simbel will allow Mahound's religion to be recognized. Mahound, not knowing what to do, goes back up the mountain to consult the archangel. The archangel gives him verses that seem to allow for Lat, Uzza, and Manat to be recognized as divine, and Mahound goes back down to make the bargain.

However, later Mahound comes to believe that the verses he was given came from Shaitan (Satan), not the archangel (these are the "Satanic verses" of the title). He renounces them, and he and his followers are persecuted. They flee Jahilia.

Part 3

In England elderly Rosa Diamond sees the two men come ashore after falling from Flight 420. Gibreel is now glowing faintly and Saladin has small horns growing on his head. Rosa allows them to stay with her. Saladin makes a call home to tell his wife what has happened, and a man's voice answers.

Someone who saw them on the beach has called the police, thinking the men are illegal immigrants. The police arrive and arrest Saladin, but they do not arrest Gibreel, and to Saladin's shock, Gibreel does not attempt to prevent the arrest.

Saladin—who is now transforming more and more into a goat—is beaten and humiliated by the police. He is taken to a hospital where all the patients are only part human. After a time, Saladin and the other patients (and some staff) break out of the hospital. Saladin escapes to London, goes home, and surprises his wife Pamela and the man who answered the phone—an old friend named Jumpy Joshi—in the middle of making love. Pamela and Joshi are shocked, because they thought Saladin was dead and because he is now part goat.

Meanwhile, Rosa Diamond keeps Gibreel in a kind of trance by telling him stories of her life in Argentina. When she dies, he leaves and goes back to London. There he wanders throughout the city until he becomes confused and exhausted, finally fainting in a park. Fortunately, Alleluia Cone finds him and takes him to her home, where he sleeps.

Part 4

While he sleeps, Gibreel has another dream. An Imam from Desh, who is living in London with several of his followers, daily broadcasts radio programs denouncing the Empress Ayesha of Desh and inciting its citizens to rise up against her. One night, the Imam summons the archangel Gibreel, and once again Gibreel the dreamer enters the dream to play this role. The Imam forces the archangel to fly him to Desh, where he witnesses an uprising against Ayesha. As Ayesha is overthrown, the goddess Al-Lat rises over Ayesha's palace, and Imam commands Gibreel to kill her. In the battle between Gibreel and Al-Lat, the goddess is killed.

In another dream, Mirza Saeed Akhtar and his wife Mishal take in an orphan girl named Ayesha of Titlipur. After she has a vision of the archangel Gibreel, the villagers of Titlipur believe she is a saint and the wife of the archangel Gibreel. Mishal, who is trying unsuccessfully to have a child, becomes friends with Ayesha, believing that closeness to the archangel's wife might help. But one day Mishal tells her that she has cancer, and the doctor, when consulted, agrees. Ayesha tells the villagers that if they all go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Mishal will be healed. The villagers prepare for the pilgrimage.

Part 5

In London, Jumpy Joshi brings the goat-like Saladin to the home of Muhammad Sufyan, owner of the Shaandaar Café, hoping Muhammad and his wife will allow Saladin to stay in their home, which they also use as a boarding house. Hind, Muhammad's wife and the driving force behind the Shaandaar Café, does not want a man who looks like the devil in her home. But reluctantly she agrees.

Over the next few days, Saladin learns that he has been replaced by another actor in a television show he'd been working on, The Aliens Show. He also learns that Gibreel is trying to make a comeback in the movie industry. Pamela and Joshi continue to have their affair, and Saladin continues to transform, becoming larger and more goat-like all the time. Finally Hind kicks him out of her house, and he spends the night at the Hot Wax Club, where he lies awake raging against Gibreel in his mind. In the morning, he has changed back into human form.

Meanwhile, Gibreel has been in the care of Alleluia Cone, but after some good days, he begins to break with reality. He ends up wandering the streets of London, convinced he is the archangel Gibreel. He is hit by a car, taken to a hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and medicated. After he seems to be on the road to recovery, he takes a movie role as none other than the archangel Gibreel. At a party full of movie industry people, he again enters into a hallucinatory state and loses track of reality. He wakes up on Alleluia's doorstep.

Part 6

Gibreel dreams of Jahilia, 25 years later than his last dream of the city. Hind is basically running the city, because her husband is old and infirm. Baal, now in his fifties and unwell, learns that Mahound is returning to Jahilia. Mahound's religion, called Submission, has caught on despite its restrictive nature and insistence on obedience to a host of rules and regulations.

Mahound arrives with an army, and although Hind tells the people to resist him, her husband goes by night to Mahound and converts. The citizens soon follow this example.

Baal goes into hiding at a brothel called The Curtain. There, he convinces the twelve prostitutes to take on the personas of Mahound's twelve wives, and the idea proves popular with the clientele. However, Mahound orders a crackdown on all brothels, and Baal and the prostitutes are arrested and later executed.

Part 7

In London, Saladin moves back into Pamela's house, though Pamela and Joshi keep up their affair. Uhuru Simba is being prosecuted for a series of murders, though the evidence against him is slim and biased. Pamela, Jumpy Joshi, and Saladin become involved in an effort to free Uhuru Simba.

At a party hosted by Billy Battuta and Mimi Mamoulian, Saladin runs into Gibreel and is consumed by a murderous rage against him. Gibreel, however, is heavily medicated for his schizophrenia. A short time later, Gibreel and Alleluia invite Saladin on a visit to the country, and Gibreel—mentally unstable and under the influence of the medication—tells Saladin very intimate details of his sexual relationship with Allie (Alleluia). Saladin, still harboring a grudge against Gibreel for allowing him to be arrested, decides to use this to play a cruel joke on Gibreel. He makes several calls to Allie and Gibreel's home, using a different voice each time, and describes intimate details about Allie's body. This leads to a breakup of the relationship. Gibreel, undone by the breakup, wanders around, finally buying a trumpet at a record store and naming it Azraeel.

When Uhuru Simba dies in police custody and the true culprit of the crime for which he was arrested is caught soon after, the immigrant community erupts with unrest. This brings on a police crackdown, which only makes matters worse. In the midst of this, Gibreel walks around the city in a hallucinatory daze, blowing his trumpet, which he perceives shoots flames. And indeed, several fires break out. One kills Pamela and Joshi. Another breaks out at the Shaandaar Café, although Saladin goes into the burning building to rescue the Sufyans. He is followed by Gibreel, who intends to kill him. When Gibreel realizes Saladin went inside to save the family, he decides to forgive him and carries him outside. The fire's survivors are taken to the hospital.

Part 8

In this part, the story of the orphan Ayesha of Titlipur and the pilgrimage to Mecca continues from Part 4. The pilgrims make their way toward the Arabian Sea, which they will need to cross on their way. Ayesha has promised that the waters will part and they will be able to walk across. Mirza Saeed is unconvinced. He frantically tries to persuade them to go another way as he follows the walking pilgrims in his car. His wife Mishal's health gets steadily worse. The land is in the midst of drought, and some of the pilgrims die of thirst. On Ayesha's orders, the bodies are left behind. A few of the pilgrims lose heart and join Mirza Saeed in the car.

After a confrontation with a group of miners, the pilgrims reach a mosque in Sarang. A baby has been abandoned in front of the building, and Ayesha joins the Imam in saying it is the devil's. The baby is cruelly stoned, causing more pilgrims to lose faith in Ayesha. Yet the majority of the villagers want to continue the pilgrimage, and when they reach the Arabian Sea at last, most of them follow her into it to their deaths. Later, some who stayed ashore claimed they did see the sea part. Mirza Saeed goes home and, refusing to eat, eventually dies. As he dies he has a vision of completing the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Part 9

A year and a half after the Shaandaar Café, Saladin is summoned home to India, where his father is dying. Father and son reconcile, and after Changez's death, Saladin inherits his estate, including the magic lamp.

Gibreel, meanwhile, is going broke producing a series of unsuccessful movies based on his dreams. His life deteriorating, he murders Alleluia and movie producer S.S. Sisodia, then goes to Saladin's Bombay house and confesses to him. As he talks to Saladin, Gibreel strokes the magic lamp. He opens it up, and, finding a gun inside, shoots himself.

The Satanic Verses Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Flight 420 explodes after being hijacked by terrorists.

Rising Action

2 Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta fall to Earth.

3 Saladin is arrested and abused while Gibreel is not.

4 Gibreel and Saladin travel separately to London.

5 Saladin causes the breakup of Alleluia and Gibreel.

6 Gibreel sets out to get revenge on Saladin.


7 Instead of killing Saladin, Gibreel saves him.

Falling Action

8 Gibreel murders Alleluia Cone.


9 Gibreel confesses to Saladin, then shoots himself.

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