The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie is a wickedly funny book and nowhere as satanic as the title suggests. It actually refers to a series of proclamations that the prophet Muhammad made in recognizing 3 pagan goddesses in Islam, before he realized that the devil was the one issuing them instead. This is reflected in the chapter of Mahound (referring to Muhammad), which is a dream sequence dreamt by the character Gibreel Farista. Gibreel and his companion, Saladin Chamcha, have been blown out of the sky above London in a terrorist attack. Both miraculously survive and end having different fates. Gibreel, a renowned actor, is fleeing the public life after he got sick of it while saladin was returning to England after having serious disagreements with his father. There, Gibreel becomes an angel due to a halo while saladin takes the literal form of the devil, with horns and cloven feet. The book mentions their love lives and their actions to reconcile with their partners. Saladin,being the devil, is angry at Gibreel for abandoning him and this leads to him plotting against Gibreel to have him lose his sanity.
The satanic verses is a commentary on the idea of religion, especially Islam as both characters used to be Muslims. Gibreel lost his faith during a serious accident as he felt his pleas were unheard. Thus as soon as he was discharged,he stuffed himself with pork at a hotel buffet. Saladin was skeptical of religion and also left the faith to spite his father. Gibreel’s dream sequences of Jahlia (Mecca) and Ayesha, a girl clothed in butterflies, references to the life of prophet Muhammad and an event in 1985 where an indian girl, claiming to be able to part the Arabian sea to walk to Mecca, brought some 30 followers to their watery deaths. It is a critique of fanaticism and corruption in Islam, with Mahound (Prophet Muhammad) portrayed as a dictator churning out oppressive rules and yet having twelve wives.
Love and relationships are also pertinent in this story, as the two men engage with numerous women in their lives and struggle to reconcile with their kin. Saladin’s background is representative of the typical overachieving family that pushes their children mercilessly, leading to resentment. He breaks off contact with his father, whom he views as cruel and callous (having taken up a second wife who was his servant after the first one died). Saladin only thaws when he receives news of his father’s imminent death from cancer. Both father and son are make up with each other and saladin finds himself mournful, an about-turn from his previous stand. Saladin is also aware of his wife’s affair with Jumpy Joshi, but he is content to let nature take its course. Here, his relationship with her is more carnal than loving. Gibreel’s relationship with Alleuia Cone, the Everest mountaineer, starts off with reconciliation. However, things go downhill when Gibreel’s quirky acts get on her nerves. Finally Gibreel, suspecting that his wife was unfaithful, destroys certain items dear to Cone and leaves. In the end of the story, it is implied that Gibreel pushed her from the top of his building.
Racism is also prevalent in the book. Rushdie writes about the xenophobia gripping London, and the people are especially leery of Indians. Things come to a head when a respected black man is convicted of killing old women and dies mysteriously in jail. Vigilantes are formed and the police begin to crack down on the immigrant society. Arrests are made with impunity and looting breaks out. However, there seems to be a lack of understanding between the authorities and the immigrants. The authorities feel that things are better here compared to their homeland and that they should be thankful. They are unable to “understand, or demonstrate” what the destruction of their streets is suppose to achieve. It is simply, first world against third.
The book is well known for its controversy, with many Muslims enraged at the unholy caricature of the prophet Muhammad. Thus the book was, and remains, banned in many countries including Singapore. I had to source online to download a copy, and it wasn’t as easy as other books. Of course, if this was sold on the market there will certainly be a large hoo-ha over it. Yet, I still feel it is a great read and it is up to the reader to decide its quality.