The Satanic Verses

Surah 53 (Al-Najm/The Star): 19-22

19.  Have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza
20.  And Manat, the third, the other?

21.  Unto you males and unto Him females?
22.  They are naught but names that you have named – you and your fathers – for which God has sent down no authority.

They follow naught but conjecture and that which their souls desire, though guidance has surely come to them from their Lord.


Several verses of the Qur’an refer to the its announcer becoming disconsolate over his lack of converts and the hostility of sceptics towards his message:

{3.176}: ‘(L)et not those who hasten unto disbelief grieve thee. Truly they will not harm God in the least…’,


{6.33-35}: ‘We know well that what they say grieves thee… And if their turning away is distressing to thee’,


{18.6}: ‘Yet perhaps thou wouldst destroy thyself with grief  [‘fret thyself to death’ per Yusuf Ali] for their sake should they believe not in this account’, and


{35.8}: ‘Truly God leads astray whomsoever He will and guides whomsoever He will. So let not thy soul be expended in regret over them.


Similarly, {10.65}, {16.127}, {26.3}, {27.70}, {31.23} and {36.76} and, with particular reference to the Qur’an’s rejection by Jews and Christians, {5.41 & 68}. God also reassures the Qur’an announcer several times that he has not been sent to be his audience’s ‘keeper’ or ‘guardian’, {4.80}, {6.66, 104 & 107}, {10.108}, {11.86}, {17.54}, {39.41} and {42.6 & 48}. For him to seek to be responsible for the fate of others would be as though he sought to be  ‘… a tunnel into the earth or a ladder unto the sky’, {6.35}.


It is within this context that Al-Tabari’s history records an incident concerning the announcement of Surah 53 which has become particularly notorious. Verses {53.21-23}, in their canonical form, condemn the Meccans for worshipping three named pagan gods: al-Lat (see 〈11.〉), al-Uzza and Manat. However, al-Tabari reports (attributing his account to Ibn Ishaq) that as these verses had originally been announced, they had in fact not condemned but endorsed the worship of these gods as a means of prayer:

Now the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people wishing to attract them as far as he could …

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 subject and longed for it and it was dear to him.

Then God sent down, [Surah 53] and when He reached His words:

Have you thought of Al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other’,

Satan, when he was meditating upon it and desiring to bring reconciliation to his people put upon his tongue:

‘These are the exalted Gharaniq [often translated ‘high flying cranes’] 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 them from their Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake, or a vain desire or a slip … And the polytheists of the 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…


Al-Tabari states that the news of this incorporation of the pagan gods into Islam even reached the emigrant community in Abyssinia, causing some of its members to return to Mecca, believing that hostility between Muhammad and the Meccans had ceased. However, upon their return they were to be disappointed, for shortly afterwards, Ibn Ishaq reports, Gabriel had reproached Muhammad 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.’

The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God. So God sent down a revelation, for He was merciful to him, comforting him and making light of the affair, and telling him [{22.52}].

So God annulled what Satan suggested and God established His verses.


The verse, {22.52}, that God is said to have revealed to comfort Muhammad after he had incorrectly announced the verse of the cranes (and {22.53} which completes the thought) reads as follows:

{22.52} And no messenger of prophet did We send before thee, but that when he had a longing Satan would cast into his longing, whereupon God effaces what Satan cast.

Then God makes firm His signs, and God is Knowing Wise,

{22.53} That He might make what Satan casts to be a trial for those in whose hearts is a disease, and those whose hearts are hard – and truly the wrongdoers are in extreme schism.


The veracity of the story of the satanic verses was challenged early in Islamic history, but it remains an oft recited episode in Islamic lore, The Study Quran concluding that ‘it seems likely that many Muslims of the first centuries accepted that something like this incident actually happened or at least were comfortable enough with the story to pass it along as a subject of interest.


Whilst {22.52-53} is the only passage that seems to admit that Satan had ‘cast’ something into the Qur’an, albeit temporarily, the possibility that Muhammad’s revelations are the result of madness, sorcery or his possession by jinn is clearly perceived as an accusation that needs to be frequently refuted, see 〈15.〉 〈18.〉 Disconcerting as it may be for present-day Muslims, there are also several hadith in which Muhammad confesses that he had been, at various times, the victim of sorcery-induced hallucinations 〈18.〉 


A second Qur’an passage also appears to refer to a temptation upon its announcer that he declares an acceptance of idolatry as God’s word.

{17.73}  And they were about to tempt thee away from that which We revealed unto thee, that thou mightest falsely ascribe unto Us something other than it, whereupon they would surely have taken thee as a friend.

{17.74}  And had We not made thee firm, thou wouldst certainly have inclined towards them a little.

{17.75}  Then We would have made thee taste double in in life and double in death.

Then thou wouldst have found thyself no helper against Us.