I am writing a review of LDS author Daniel C. Peterson’s work, Muhammad: Prophet of God put out by Eerdmans (yes, Eerdmans, the formerly evangelical publisher). One of the topics addressed by the book relates to the power of the spoken word in Arabian thought. Poets were particularly potent enemies. Muhammad faced the wrath of a number of them (and they learned to fear him as well). Someone who could turn a phrase or a verse could bring great shame upon the objects of his literary wrath. A tribe with a great poet was blessed, the opponents of that tribe shamed.
The mind-set that invests tremendous weight in being “shamed” by satirical language is difficult for many in the West to understand. But, it still exists, especially in Muslim contexts. Take the current furor over the knighthood of Salman Rushdie. In comparison with many other works that have been written over the decade’s, Rushdie’s novel is mild, a work of fiction satirizing many aspects of religion, and not just Islamic religion. I doubt Khomeini even read it. Its title was all that was needed. Muslims can talk about the “Satanic verses,” but others may not. That Rushdie dared to engage in satire of Muhammad and Islam is all that matters. For large numbers of Muslims, Rushdie is worthy of death. Just look into their eyes. This is not the result of rational thought, it is visceral, and it is encouraged by the culture and the history spawned by Islam.
The Satanic verses themselves are found in Islamic writings. I have on my desk the English translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, titled The Life of Muhammad. There on pages 165-166 you have the entire story laid out. Muhammad and his movement were facing difficult times in Mecca, and the Quraysh were opposing his claim to prophethood. He longed for acceptance, and so, Surah 53 was “revealed” to him. But as it was originally given, it read as follows:
19 Have ye seen Lat an Uzza 20 And another the third (goddess) Manat? 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.
Lat, Uzza, and Manat, are female pagan deities, worshipped and prized in Mecca. When Muhammad gave forth these words, there was a temporary peace between himself and the Quraysh. They went out, saying, “Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion” (p. 166).
However, given that this contradicted everything he had said about monotheism, later generations explain that this was a trick of Satan, and God “annulled” the Satanic verses, replacing them with what is found in the Qur’an today:
21 What! for you the male sex and for Him the female? 22 Behold such would be indeed a division most unfair! 23 These are nothing but names which ye have devised ye and your fathers for which Allah has sent down no authority (whatever). They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire! Even though there has already come to them Guidance from their Lord!
Not only this, but another Surah (22) was revealed, which includes these words:
52 Never did We send an apostle or a prophet before thee but when he framed a desire Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but Allah will cancel anything (vain) that Satan throws in and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom: 53 That He may make the suggestions thrown in by Satan but a trial for those in whose hearts is a disease and who are hardened of heart: verily the wrongdoers are in a schism far (from the Truth):
This leads into a discussion of the entire concept of “abrogation” and the like, and surely, for many, leads to many questions regarding the reliability of Muhammad’s “revelations.” But my point here is that this is discussed in Islamic sources, but no one issued a fatwa in response. But it is the element of non-Islamic satire, where in essence the tribal elements of early Islamic history have now been transferred wholesale into the Muslim vs. non-Muslim context. Rushdie made reference to this incident in the context of satire, and just as this led to great anger and outrage between tribes in the deep deserts of Arabia 1400 years ago, so too today the outrage is easily seen.
Of course, Islam has no problem encouraging the demonization of others, the mockery of Christianity, for example (their imams speak often of the “cross worshippers” for example), but that’s fine, because the idea of having a single set of standards that binds all is foreign to their thinking. That is why it is quite appropriate to speak of the “Religion of Perpetual Outrage.” No matter what you say, or how you say it, a reason for offense can be found.
I have noticed another development that I will note briefly in passing. Recognizing how potent is the term “phobe” in shallow Western thinking, Muslims are co-opting the term from the homosexuals and have now begun pressing the phrase “Islamophobe” with dreadful regularity. You can always tell when one side has no meaningful arguments to present in its defense when it adopts the “me-phobe” terminology. “Homophobe” is just as meaningless and absurd a term as “Islamophobe,” and I, for one, lose all respect for anyone who utilizes the language. The only meaningful context in which such terminology could be used would be one of abject ignorance combined with abject bigotry–like calling Rosie O’Donnell a Christian-o-phobe. That would be appropriate. But when men and women who are knowledgeable speak the truth about Muhammad and Islam, attacking them as “Islamophobes” is just as empty, just as absurd, and just as much an abandonment of rationality, as the regular use of “homophobe” is by the apologists for homosexuality.