How Muhammad made peace and slipped into Polytheism (thanks to Satan)
One of the most embarrassing events in Muhammad's life occurred when Satan put his words in Muhammad's mouth. Muhammad spoke Satan's words as the word of God. This event is documented by several early Muslim scholars and referenced in the Hadith and Qur’an. It must be pointed out that the "Satanic Verses" event is not something made up by non-Muslims. The event is recorded by the earliest Islamic sources available on Muhammad's life. No one should think that it is a story made up by people who are critical of Islam. It is an episode directly found in the early Islamic records.
This topique is one of the most controversial in Islam. Satan caused Muhammad to recite his words as God's words. The background to this event is that Muhammad and his followers were being persecuted for attacking the pagan faiths of
This is exactly what Muhammad did - he advocated the worship of pagan deities as intercessors with God. Later, after Muhammad admitted his mistake and took back the words
We have compelling historical evidence that the story is authentic (see as well " Muhammad and the Satanic Verses."). Following the "Principle of Embarrassment", i.e. declarations against the own interest are regarded as having a high degree of credibility because of the presumption that people do not make up lies in order to hurt themselves; they lie to help themselves. For this reason, Muslims would not have invented this story, since it calls Muhammad’s reliability into question. We also see that the story couldn’t have been invented by non-Muslims; for if non-Muslims had invented the story, Muslims would have exposed the story’s origin, instead of defending it in their earliest historical works.
The evidence for the general reliability of the Muslim accounts concerning the Satanic Verses is too overwhelming to ignore (See Appendix I). With this in mind, let us consider a condensed account of what happened:
THE CONTEXT OF THE SATANIC VERSES
When Muhammad first began preaching in
Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third ... these are the exalted Gharaniq (a high flying bird) whose intercession is approved. (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 165-166)
Al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat were some of the local idols worshiped in
When Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him ... Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, " Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion". (Ibn Ishaq, p. 166)
The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, repeated them (the verses), and he went on reciting the whole of Surah (53) and then fell in prostration, and the people (the Quraysh) fell in prostration with him. (Ibn Sa'd, vol. 1, p. 237)
Bukhari too confirms that after Muhammad recited Surah 53 the Quraysh accepted Muhammad and prayed with him:
Muhammad recited Suraht-an-Najm (53) and prostrated while reciting it and all the people prostrated and a man amongst the people took a handful of stones or earth and raised it to his face and said, "This is sufficient for me." Later on I saw him killed as a non-believer. Bukhari 2.019. Number 176; see also Nr 173)
Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet ... prostrated while reciting An-Najm (Surah 53) and with him prostrated the Muslims, the pagans (Quraysh), the jinns, and all human beings. (Bukhari, 2.019, Number 177).
Muhammad's desire had been realised; the Quraysh accepted him. The Muslims who had fled to Abyssinia heard about this and many of them began to return to
Now the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people, wishing to attract them as far as he could. It has been mentioned that he longed for a way to attract them ... (and) Satan, when he (Muhammad) was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue "these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved". (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 165-166)
This is what is meant by the phrase, the Satanic Verses; they were words that Muhammad spoke from Satan and his own desire. The Islamic accounts then say that the angel Gabriel rebuked Muhammad for what he had said:
Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said , "What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you." (Ibn Ishaq, p. 166)
Then Muhammad confessed: I ascribed to Allah, what He had not said. (Ibn Sa'd, vol. 1, p. 237)
I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken. (Al-Tabari, vol. 6, p. 111)
Muhammad then announced that Gabriel had now told him to speak against the idols and so what he recited changed. Previously it had been:
Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third ... these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved. (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 165-166)
Now the verse became:
Have you considered El-Lat and El-'Uzza and Manat the third, the other? What, have you males, and He females? That were indeed an unjust division. They are naught but names yourselves have named, and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them. (Qur'an 53:19-23, Arberry). Please read as well (Tafsir al-Jalalayn)
The last sentences ( What, have you males…) were abrogated after a while, because they were in contradiction with the unity of God, and were
This final form of the verse is what is now in the modern Qur'an. The Quraysh saw that Muhammad had now changed his message: When the annulment of what Satan had put upon the prophet's tongue came from God, Quraysh said: "Muhammad has repented of what he said about the position of your gods with Allah, altered it and brought something else." (Ibn Ishaq, p. 166-167)
This explanation, that Satan had placed these words on Muhammad tongue and God had now cancelled it, now had to be justified to both his followers and to the Quraysh. The answer came by referring to another part of the Qur'an: “Never have We sent a single prophet or apostle before you with whose wishes Satan did not tamper. But God abrogates the interjections of Satan and confirms His own revelations”. (Qur'an 22:52, Dawood). Muhammad's justification was that other prophets had had their wishes tampered with by Satan just as he had done, but God had corrected the whole situation.
al-Bukhari, Islam’s most trusted authority, confirms certain details of the story that only make sense if Muhammad really did deliver the Satanic Verses. According to Bukhari,
The Prophet performed a prostration when he finished reciting Suraht an-Najm [Surah 53], and all the Muslims and Al-Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah and in His Messenger Muhammad) and jinn and human beings prostrated along with him. (4862)
Though Bukhari understandably omits the embarrassing reason for the prostration of the pagans, he inadvertently confirms the account given by Ibn Ishaq and the others, who faithfully reported that the pagans bowed down because Muhammad spoke favourably of their gods. Muslims must account for Surah 22:52, which, again, declares that all God’s prophets received revelations from Satan—a verse so preposterous that it could only have been offered to the Muslim community as an absurd explanation for something like the Satanic Verses. Why should we believe that Muhammad was spiritually reliable, when Muhammad was the victim of black magic and, at one point, was convinced that he was demon-possessed? (For more on Muhammad’s spiritual difficulties, see "A Bewitched Prophet?")
The only conceivable reason the pagans would bow down in honour of Surah 53 is that the Surah originally supported paganism, and this is exactly what our earliest historical records claim. Thus, Muhammad, in a moment of weakness, gave into temptation and actively promoted polytheism by delivering a revelation from Satan
Following the Islamic accounts, Muhammad at that time had thus some problems and difficulties in convincing the Quraysh (the tribe of
PS: notice that this was his answer when he was in a weak position. This ayat is considered abrogated -by Islamic orthodoxy- by older (and far more belligerent) Surahs.
The facts are that the original monotheism was a little vague at the beginning, thus, lower gods were somehow permitted (could we call it the Allah’s trinity: al-Lat, al-Uzza, Manat?).
So, how did Muhammad managed to come out of this impasse? He got a new revelation (partly in Q 53). Still following Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad agreed on these new terms, so as well the Quraysh gods were allowed for intercession (al-Lat, Al-Uzza and al-Manat). But The Archangel Gabriel was not so happy. “What did you do Muhammad? Allah has not allowed you to do that”. So Muhammad got fear that his message had been adulterated by Satan. Actually, the Qur’an tells us that this usually happens (and happened (sic!)) to all prophets. (Q 22:52-3). So Allah sent down a new revelation to replace the words uttered by Satan. Actually, the Quraysh utilized this situation to mock Muhammad because this was a grave prejudice against all his revelation. If Muhammad had been rubbed once by Satan, who could be sure that it would not happen again?
In fact, Muhammad is the ONLY prophet that got a revelation, telling that this was part of God’s message, then retracting it, sustaining that it was of Satan. There is not one example of a holy prophet in the whole Bible where this happens. [" But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak . . . that prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20);
How many other words were influenced by Satan? Why would God make light of a prophet speaking Satan's words as God's? Didn't God command in the Old Testament that false prophets should be put to death? Didn't Jesus predict that false prophets would come and mislead many? (Matthew 24:11)]
SATAN PRODUCED A SURAH LIKE IT
One of the proofs used to show that the Qur'an is miraculous is that no one is able to produce a Surah like. This challenge is found in the Qur'an itself: “ And if you are in doubt concerning that We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a Surah like it”. (Qur'an 2:23, Arberry)
However, the event of the Satanic Verses casts doubt over this claim. For in this event Muhammad spoke words from Satan but everyone thought these verses were part of the Qur'an for “ the believers were holding that what their prophet brought from their Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or slip”. (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 166)
Thus the Islamic sources record that Satan produced verses which sounded exactly like those of the Qur'an. If they did not sound like the Qur'an then surely Muhammad, his followers and the Quraysh would never have accepted them?
AN EXAMPLE OF ABROGATION
The event of the Satanic Verses shows how a verse in the Qur'an could be modified or deleted at a later date. This is an example of the Qur'anic doctrine of abrogation. The Hadith also records several other occasions where verses of the Qur'an were modified, changed or deleted.
Muhammad had a deal with the devil. Satan led, he followed. If Muhammad began to get off course, Muhammad was corrected.
APPENDIX I: THE ISLAMIC SOURCES FOR THE ACCOUNT
This event is documented by the four early biographical writers of Muhammad's life: Ibn Ishaq, Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, and Tabari. The Hadith and Qur’an also contain direct references. Additionally several other Islamic scholars on Hadith (traditions) support the event's occurrence.
1) Tabari's "History", published by Suny, transl. by Watt
2) the "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir", (The Book of the Major Classes), transl. by S. Moinul Haq,
3) "Siraht Rasulallah" (The Life of Allah's Prophet) by Ibn Ishaq, transl. by A. Guillaume,
4) Wakidi's biographical material on Muhammad also includes the story of Muhammad speaking Satan's words (Sources of his works in English are difficult to find, however, Wakidi's work is quoted by W. Muir in "The Life of Mahomet").
5) A sub source from 3) can be found in "New Light on the Life of Muhammad", by A.. Guillaume. This source is from a manuscript containing information from other sources as well as Ibn Ishaq. The writer of the manuscript, Yunus ibn Bukayr, heard Ibn Ishaq's lectures at Kufa, and made notes.
6) Sahih Hadith of Bukhari (6.4862 (Vol Six, Muhammad Muhsin Khan, trad. (Riyadh: Darussalam, 1997). The actual Satanic verses are not recorded by Bukhari, but the event is related: (6.385 Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet performed a prostration when he finished reciting Suraht an-Najm (The Star, add mine), and all the Muslims and pagans and Jinns and human beings prostrated along with him. The pagans were totally opposed to Muhammad. They disliked him; he frequently insulted their faith. Yet here, something Muhammad said, caused them to prostrate with him and the Muslims, in "one accord". Muhammad had said something persuasive to move them to bow in worship. Of course it was the Satanic verses.
7) Qur’anic verses and Tafsirs: Zamakhshari (Great Islamic scholars). He commented on this event as well. (from "The Qur’an and its Exegesis, by Helmut Gatje, pages 53 - 55, publ. by Oneworld, Oxford, England): "Zamakhshari on Surah 22:52/51: We have never sent any messenger of prophet before thee, but that Satan cast into his fancy, when he was fancying; but God annuls what Satan casts, then God confirms His signs - surely God is All-knowing, All-wise. . The occasion of the sending down of the present verse is the following: As the members of the tribe of the messenger of God turned away from him and took their stand against him and his relatives also opposed him and refused to be guided by what he brought to them, then, as a result of the extreme exasperation concerning their estrangement and as a result of the eager desire and longing that they be converted to Islam, the messenger of God sheltered the wish that nothing would come down to him that could make them shy away. Perhaps he should have been able to use that for the purpose of converting them and causing them to be dissuaded from their error and obstinacy. Now this wish continued in him until the Surah called "The Star" (that is, Surah 53) came down. At that time he found himself with this wish in his heart regarding the members of his tribe. Then he began to recite, and when he came to God's words "and Manat, the third, the other" (Surah 53:20), Satan substituted something in accordance with the wish which the messenger of God had sheltered, that is, he whispered something to him which would enable the messenger to announce his wish. In an inadvertent and misleading manner, his tongue hurried on ahead of him, so that he said: "These (goddesses are the) exalted cranes. Their intercession (with God) is to be hoped for."...Yet, the messenger of God was not clear at this point until the protection of God "isma" reached him and he then became attentive again. Some say that Gabriel drew his attention to it, or that Satan himself spoke those words and brought them to the people's hearing. As soon as the messenger of God prostrated (for prayer) as the end of the Surah, all who were present did it with him and felt pleased (that is, the unbelievers felt pleased that their goddesses had been accepted as intercessors with God)
8) more in Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Abi Hatim, (6) Ibn al-Mundhir, (7) Ibn Mardauyah, (8) Musa ibn 'Uqba, and (9) Abu Ma'shar
Ibn Sa'd did use Wakidi's material, but he also was a scholar in his own right and did a great deal of research. He wrote a 15 volume work on the early Muslims and was much more than just a mere copyist. Tabari used Ibn Ishaq's material as well as Wakidi's, and others. But Tabari did not simply write anything he came across. He too was more than a mere copyist. Tabari was also one of the greatest scholars of Islam. He wrote a 39 volume history mostly related to Islam, as well as a thorough Commentary (Tafsir) on the Qur’an. Obviously Tabari thought that the story had enough merit to be included in his writings. These men were reputable Islamic scholars. They rank among the greatest in Islamic History. It is Ibn Ishaq, Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, Tabari and Bukhari who recorded and accepted the details of this event. If this story was told by people opposed to Islam then it would be fair to question whether they had invented this story as a way of discrediting Muhammad. But it is inconceivable that Ibn Ishaq, Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, Tabari and Bukhari would invent a story about Muhammad accepting idols.
All four of the biographies agree on all the primary facts: 1) Muhammad did not want to further offend the Meccans and he did not want God to reveal something to him that would cause further offence. 2) Muhammad desired a revelation that would bring peace between he and the Meccans. 3) When Muhammad began to recite the chapter called "The Star", Satan interjected some words and thoughts into Muhammad's heart and mind. This was coupled with Muhammad's own desires; thus Muhammad spoke Satan's words. 4) Later, Gabriel rebuked Muhammad for having spoken Satan's words. Muhammad admitted his sinful error and was then comforted by Allah. The accounts are very similar. Each contains minor different details, but all agree totally on the relevant essentials points; Muhammad spoke the Satanic verses. The fact that all of the earliest Islamic sources agree on the event is substantial evidence that it occurred. These are not Christian or Jewish sources, but early Muslim writings
APPENDIX II: Al-TABARI’S ACCOUNT OF THE SATANIC VERSES
The whole story based just on the History of al-Tabari (The History of al-Tabari, Volume VI: Muhammad at
According to al-Tabari, When the Messenger of God saw how his tribe turned their backs on him and was grieved to see them shunning the message he had brought to them from God, he longed in his soul that something would come to him from God which would reconcile him with his tribe. With his love for his tribe and his eagerness for their welfare it would have delighted him if some of the difficulties which they made for him could have been smoothed out, and he debated within himself and fervently desired such an outcome. Then God revealed: By the Star when it sets, your comrade does not err, nor is he deceived; nor does he speak out of (his own) desire...and when he came to the words: Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-‘Uzza and Manat, the third, the other? Satan cast on his tongue, because of his inner debates and what he desired to bring to his people, the words: These are the high-flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval. (Al-Tabari, p. 108). The polytheists were delighted that Muhammad had at last approved of their gods. To return the kindness, they "prostrated themselves because of the reference to their gods which they had heard, so that there was no one in the mosque, believer or unbeliever, who did not prostrate himself" (p. 109). Muhammad’s friendly relations with the polytheists were short-lived, however, for he soon learned that his verses praising pagan idols came not from God, but from Satan. Saddened to recognize his treachery against Allah, Muhammad lamented: "I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken" (p. 111). Yet "Gabriel" comforted Muhammad, informing him that all prophets fall for Satan’s tricks from time to time. This staggering and unbelievable claim even found its way into the Qur’an.
[Excursus 1: One of the terms Muhammad used to describe the pagan Goddesses - Manat, Uzza and al-Lat was "gharaniq" translated as "high flying cranes". The Arabic word "gharaniq" refers to certain cranes which fly at a great height. The pagan Meccans, impressed by the splendour of these birds, therefore described their goddesses by an analogous reference to them. When Muhammad quoted the very words used by the Meccans to exalt their goddesses, they said to one another "Muhammad has spoken of our gods in excellent fashion". In the area there were cranes that flew at high altitudes. It was quite logical for Muhammad to thus describe the idols as "high flying", metaphorically flying in the heavens close to Allah - to act as intercessors.]
APPENDIX III: IBN ISHAQ'S ACCOUNT OF THE SATANIC VERSES
Now the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people, wishing to attract them as far as he could. It has been mentioned that he longed for a way to attract them, and the method he adopted is what Ibn Hamid told me that Salama said M. b. Ishaq told him from Yazid b. Ziyad of Medina from M. b. Ka`b al-Qurazi: When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God he longed that there should come to him from God a message that would reconcile his people to him. Because of his love for his people and his anxiety over them it would delight him if the obstacle that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed for it and it was dear to him. Then God sent down "By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire," and when he reached His words "Have you thought of al-Lat and al-`Uzza and Manat the third, the others", Satan, when he was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue "these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved". When the Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him; while the believers were holding that what their prophet brought from their Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or slip, and when he reached the prostration and the end of the Surah in which he prostrated himself the Muslims prostrated themselves when their prophet prostrated confirming what he brought and obeying his command, and the polytheists of Quraysh and others who were in the mosque prostrated when they heard the mention of their gods, so that everyone in the mosque believer and unbeliever prostrated, except al-Walid b. al-Mughira who was an old man who could not do so, so he took a handful of dirt from the valley and bent over it. Then the people dispersed and the Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, "Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved".
The news reached the prophet's companions who were in
When the annulment of what Satan had put upon the prophet's tongue came from God, Quraysh said: "Muhammad has repented of what he said about the position of your gods with Allah, altered it and brought something else." (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 165-167)
 Qur'an 53:1-20
 Numidian cranes which fly at a great height. They were probably thought to fly near the heavens and thus be able to intercede with god(s).
 Qur'an 22:51/52
 Qur'an 53:19-27
Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari (translator: Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan); Ibn Ishaq, Siraht Rasul Allah, translated as, The Life of Muhammad, (translator: A. Guillaume),