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Closing the episode on Satanic Verses and the Chapter on Muhammad/Islam vilification

By Muhammad Yunus,

January 24, 2012

 Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.

1. The Satanic Verses

Salman Rushdie may have earned some academic kudos by writing his famous book, The Satanic verses. It is a historically synergized parody that linguistically consigns its villain to the lowest pit of the hell [1] and condemns his wives to the level of prostitutes – and the details of this villain, his wives and those of the other key characters of the novel closely parallel that of the Prophet Muhammad and his wives and companions. Given that the Muslims love their Prophet profoundly and are required by faith to treat his wives like their mothers, it hurt their sentiments as deeply as a guy would feel if he sees an ad in a paper describing a brothel in his hometown whose inmates are all named after his saintly deceased mother, aunties and close relatives. He will have no doubt that mere coincidence could not attribute identical/ closely resembling names and characters to all the inmates of the brothel. While this indicated the Western intellectual community’s absolute disregard for the feelings of almost a third of global population (the Muslims), and their latent hatred and revulsion of Islam, it also betrayed an audacity of colossal measure and intensely pernicious myopia of the book’s author. He took a fictitious report from the work of the early biographic accounts, which were written in the literally style and mental framework and imageries of the era and abounds in fantasy, fables, poetic imageries and speculations verging on the fantabulous, the grotesque and the bizarre [2]. In other words, he spun his entire novel around a gossip, to covertly degrade and revile Islam, its Prophet, his wives and some of his companions. And lo and behold – he is regarded as a great intellectual of the era.

There is a saying that when an elephant falls into a ditch, the crow picks at its head. Islam has now fallen into any abyss of hatred and Islam-ignorant writers, no matter the level of their scholarship, pick at it and are showered with accolades, become public celebrities and advisors on Islam. But the truth ultimately prevails for it is captured in the pages of the Qur’an and all may rest assured, the book is going to remain there unaltered [3]  

2. The Qur’anic prediction on vilification of God’s Prophets and its reminder to ignore them

Salman Rushdie is not a lone celebrity in maligning the Prophet – however cleverly and lawfully he may have done it. Since the time of the Prophet, there has been an unbroken chain of covert and overt maligners of the Prophet, who have at times stretched their vocabulary to its penultimate limits to abuse and revile him. But this must not come as a surprise or shock. The Qur’an declares:

“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy - Satans from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore, leave them and what they forge” (6:112).

“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals - but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) as a Guide and Helper” (25:31).

In other words, the Qur’an forewarns the Muslims and broader humanity that there will always be “some enemies of the Prophets among the criminals” (25:31) who will “inspire others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them)” (6:112). At the same time, the Qur’an does not suggest any form of protest – peaceful or violent against such ‘criminals’ – as obviously God is enough to deal with the matter in His own way.

 3. An overview on history’s rejection and vilification of Prophet Muhammad

As a first premise, it must be clearly understood that both Islamic and Islam critical scholarship agree that the Qur’an was produced (revealed) in the lifetime of Muhammad and therefore its historical authenticity is above debate. That is to say, whatever is written in the Qur’an about the contemporaneous events must have been true otherwise Muhammad’s followers would have rejected him as a liar and a fraud and Islam would have died in the Prophet’s lifetime. Accordingly, Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004), who is credited with compiling a most compelling and definitive biography of the Prophet affirms that the Qur’an “does provide a firm basis of undoubted authenticity” [4]. So let’s begin with his maligners of his era as recorded in the Qur’an (italicized below) in full light of history.

In the very first place, the Qur’an does not credit him with any distinguished ancestry. It declares: “Did He (God) not find you (O Muhammad) an orphan and give shelter (93:6)? And He found you wandering, and gave guidance (7). And He found you needy, and gave sufficiency” (93:8). Without going into any detail of his early life that the Qur’an skips, one can say with surety that Muhammad grew up in the relative calm and peace that wealth, ambition and power often upsets. His problem starts as he makes his vocational claims and this is how the high and mighty of his community reacted.

They took Muhammad for a joke: they laughed at his followers, winking at each other as they passed by and made fun of them as they reached home (21:36, 25:41, 83:29-31). As the revelation progressed, and it’s spiritual, social and ethical impact started telling upon the close-knit Meccan society, the community leaders rejected reviled and maligned him. They called him an impostor, a madman (30:58, 44:14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36), and ridiculed the Qur’anic revelation (18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9). They also found the revelation strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), and condemned it as the legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13).

As Muhammad remained undaunted in the face of all opposition and vilifications, and the egalitarian message of the Qur’an continued to win converts, the Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribesmen) treated the converts as traitors and went to the extent of revoking engagements and marriage ties with them. The Quraysh leaders also feared that Muhammad’s claims could bring disgrace to them during the annual fair, when the delegates of pagan tribes from all over Arabia came to Mecca for pilgrimage and trading and brought rich presents for them. Therefore, they had to isolate Muhammad and keep others from joining his camp. They now questioned why Muhammad could not show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50), and why the Qur'an was not revealed to a man of importance from the two cities (43:31) - for Muhammad was neither wealthy nor powerful. They also declared that other people coached him or dictated to him morning and evening (25:5, 44:14). Furthermore, they argued that Muhammad had the power to separate a person from all his loved ones – his father, his mother, his spouse, his brothers and sisters and all the rest in the clan, and therefore he must be a deceitful liar and a great sorcerer. Accordingly they charged him with forging lies and witchcraft (25:5, 44:14), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious witchcraft that was bewildering (10:2, 37:15, 46:7), and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn (17:47, 23:70, 34:8). The prevalent clan ties and fear of revenge prevented them from taking to violence, but they hoped for a misfortune to befall Muhammad any time (52:30), while they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless (8:26, 85:10). 

Among his prominent maligners was Abd al-‘Uzza – a clan chief and his own uncle, nicknamed Abu Lahab (lit., ‘One of glowing countenance’, because of his appearance). He was so disgusted with Muhammad that he got two of his sons, who were betrothed each to the Prophet’s daughters, Ruqayya and Umma Kulthum to break their engagements. Tradition also tells us that Abu Lahab’s wife bitterly hated the Prophet, so much so that she threw filth on him and put thorns on his path. Another prominent Quraysh leader who bitterly hated and maligned the Prophet was ‘Amr ibn Hisham, whom the Muslims gave the nickname Abu Jahl (which means Father of Folly). He used to abuse the Prophet openly and had on one occasion, the entrails of a camel thrown on his back as he was prostrating in prayer.

The Qur’anic allusions also indicate that many of his own followers who had joined him for political expediency (referred to as the hypocrites in the Qur’an) reviled and maligned the Prophet and spread false rumors against him (33:60/61). It mentions about the Jews coming to him in disbelief and leaving in disbelief (5:61), listening to lies and distorting his words from their context by listening to others. Last but not the least, it speaks about the poets who roamed about in every valley on an aggressive campaign of lies against Muhammad (26:222-225).   

The Qur’an, however, in its disengagement with history, mentions the name of only one couple (Abu Lahab and his wife) and that too obliquely in one of its early Suras (111). This only shows the Qur’an’s utter disregard for those who rejected, maligned and vilified the Prophet and his religion, as judging by today’s standards, every pagan, Jew and Christian in Arabia must be cursing and abusing him until the Qur’an won them over.      

With this we turn over to a later era – the Medieval Europe that had felt the full brunt of Muhammad’s new faith. But for this sole villain and charlatan (as they obviously thought of Muhammad), the whole of the Eastern Christendom (Egypt, Arabia, Iraq, Syria) and northern African lands would have been part of the all pervasive Christendom. Besides, with the conquest of practically the whole of Spain within a hundred years of the Prophet’s death, and the parallel submission the lower regions of Europe to Islam, the ‘terror’ of the new faith must have haunted the whole of Christendom.

4. The Medieval diatribes against the Prophet

Though each and every soul in Europe for generations must have been cursing Muhammad and Islam, some illustrative remarks are reproduced below. The Muslim readers must look at them academically and sympathetically. No community of the world will have sweet words for those who conquer their lands and bring their people into the fold of their alien faiths. For the Christians, the Muslims were heretics and since all kinds of rumors circulated freely as they do so to this very day, inter-faith relation was always at the clash of sword. We live in a multi-religious world today and as Muslims we must forgive our past enemies and entertain no hatred against any community. The only object of tabling some of the vitriolic remarks is to brace the Muslim community against any violent outburst, if these are reprinted in the West – as they will in all probability be, to malign Islam and shake the confidence and ambivalence of the Muslim community – now openly unwelcome in the West. I will only say, don’t pull punches, hold back tears and remember that Qur’an asks us to “forgive (even) when we are angered” (42:37).

1)      The accounts given of him by his disciples were taken and twisted to make a hideous portrait of a cruel and lascivious individual, steeped in every kind of viciousness crime, who borrowed his few ideas shamelessly from erring Christians and drew his erring followers to him by means of conjuring tricks [5]

2)      In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Muhammad is put in the inferno, torn to pieces by pigs in a harrowing poetic imagery that is quoted in Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Prophet [6].

3)      The distinguished Italian scholar of Islam Professor Fransesco Gabrieli makes the following comments about Islam vilifying literature of the medieval era: “We find it in various versions, inconsistent in their content, but entirely consistent in their spirit of vituperation and hatred in the writings of chroniclers, apologists, hagiographers, and encyclopaedists of the Latin Middle ages…”  [7]

5. The Current Islam vilifying scholarship

Just two illustrations are cited below, though thousands can be found on the Internet:

“The examples and command of the Prophet, critics believe, have left a terrible legacy for Islam and cast a lurid light on the history of that religion. Time and again we read accounts on how the enemies of Islam were slain without mercy. And often the victors first inflicted atrocious penalties – lopping off limbs, gouging off eyes, cutting off tongues, noses, ears, fingers, hands, feet, testicles, and disembowelling not only with knives but with instruments first made red hot over fire” [8].

“The "Sirat Rasul Allah" reveals … Muhammad as a man that slaughtered captives, robbed caravans, sold women and children into slavery, had sexual relations with captive women, tortured prisoners, married a nine-year-old, forced his adopted son to divorce his wife so Muhammad could have her as a wife (she was purportedly quite beautiful), mandated war against non-Muslims, and who had some of his critics and rivals assassinated” [9]. 

6. Way Forward

If the Qur’an is a word of God, as the Muslims ardently believe, the Prophet Muhammad will be reviled and maligned at all times (2 above). A number of incidents are fresh in memory that led to violent responses from some Muslim individuals /groups and brought disgrace for the faith and unlawful killing of the alleged maligners of the Prophet. With the free access to the internet and the free license to abuse and malign the Prophet and faith of Islam, there is no way to stop the vilification of Islam and its Prophet. The question is how the Muslims are going to respond every time some odd fellow puts an incriminating material on the face book or any other media or manner. If they take to violence or create any form of civil disturbance or nuisance or pass any fatwa against the alleged offender, they will not only defy the clear instruction of the Qur’an (2 above), but also waste a great deal of energy and resources, fan the spark ignited by the knave into flame to their own detriment and gain a lot of negative publicity, frustrations apart.

The Muslims are expected to be a balanced community and to act a witness to humanity as the Prophet was a witness to his followers (2:143). If the Prophet were to be vindictive against the people who derided and maligned him, Mecca would have been knee deep in blood after he virtually conquered it. The Qur’anic records show that 1) the Prophet was mild to his men even after their serious lapses in Uhud expedition (3:159). 2) He readily excused others from taking part in Tabuk expedition (9:43). 3) He offered food to uninvited guests, and cordially entertained them, even if they caused him annoyance, by staying on after the meal for socializing (33:53) He also displayed the most pristine form of generosity by praying for the forgiveness of his enemies (9:80/84/113). He forgave the hypocrites who, after the defeat at Uhud had turned away from the believers in arrogance (63:5), and had discouraged the people of Medina from spending anything for the Meccan Muslims [Emigrants] in order to force them out of Medina (63:7), and who looked forward to the expulsion of the humble ones (Muhammad and the Emigrants) after their return to Medina (63:8). He held no grudge against those hypocrites who declined to join the Tabuk expedition – a march to the southern borders of the Roman Empire that militarily was doomed to failure. The Qur’an records: If there were immediate gains and a convenient trip, they would have followed the Prophet, but the destination was too far for them (about 350 miles) (9:42). Accordingly, the hypocrites ridiculed the Prophet in their hearts (9:64), privately joked about him (9:65), and tried to stir up discord and upset matters for him (9:48). Many of the Prophet’s followers preferred to stay back (9:38/46/93), and some of them requested him not to put them to such a hard test (9:49).

He forgave the nomadic Arabs who declined to accompany him in an unarmed pilgrimage to Ka‘ba at the risk of total annihilation (48:11), as they thought that the Prophet and his companions would never be able to return to their families (48:12).

Accordingly, the Qur’an describes him as a noble messenger (81:19), endowed with a sublime character (68:4), faithful to his trust (81:21), and (a manifestation of God’s) mercy to believers (9:61), and to all humanity (21:107).

7. Let the Muslims Search their Souls and Reflect!    

The Muslims must search their souls: do they really believe in the Qur’an as an unaltered and unalterable word of God [3]. If the answer is yes, then are they going to bear any grudge or hostility against a misguided fellow who derides and vilifies Muhammad more than fourteen hundred years after his death? There can be absolutely no doubt, were he alive today, and in a position of power, he would have simply ignored and forgiven all his detractors and vilifiers. Therefore the Muslims, acting as his witness to humanity (2:143) must respond likewise and ignore and forgive any maligner of the Prophet, even if they (the Muslims) are powerful. And if they are weak and morally oppressed, as is the case today, they will be both unlawful and indiscrete in making any aggressive response.

The Muslims must reflect! Can the sun lose its brightness by a patch of cloud, or can washing some dirty linens into an ocean pollute its boundless reserves, or flinging shoes on a mountain dislodge it. Any child can readily answer these questions. Another question in the same vein will be: Can a mortal belittle God or His Prophet by insinuating or vitriolic remarks. The obvious answer is No! God and His deceased Prophets belong to a different plane than that of the common humanity and no matter how hard humans try to undermine, stigmatize or vilify them, they can only earn the praise of their accomplices and supporters but make no dent in the grandeur of God and the sanctity of his Prophets. The great historian of our era, Maxime Rodinson, though skeptical of the Prophet Muhammad had to admit:         

“It is not belittling Muhammad to see him as a political figure – but to see him as no more than that would be a mutilation. And anyone who thus mutilates Muhammad is in fact mutilating himself in the domain of knowledge [10].” 


1.       Fareed Zakaria’s open letter to Salman Rushdie, dated Oct 23, 1988. link:

2.       Acceptance of The Satanic Verses Episode of The Classical Sira is Shirk and Kufr:

3.       The Qur’an was never edited and any effort to edit the Qur’an will be self contradictory.

4.       Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p.x [Foreword].

5.       Ibid., p. 302/303.

6.       Karen Armstrong, Muhammad, London 1991, p. 29].

7.       Rafiq Zakaria, Muhammad and the Qur’an, London 1992, p. 22.

8.       Benjamin Walker, Foundation of Islam, The Making of a World Faith, Peter Owen Publishers, U.K. p. 316.

9.       American Lawyer, Andrew J. Stunich - comment in his posting of April 01, 2010, in under, John Esposito’s book, Future of Islam.

10.     Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p. xviii.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.