Part VI resumes the Jahilia plotline twenty-five years after the end of Part II.
After two and a half decades in the more tolerant city of Yathrib, Mahound is set to return to his native city. Jahilia has suffered an economic decline over the years, and many of the characters from Part II, including Baal the poet and Abu Simbel, are in ill health. Hind, however, has strangely not aged at all. She remains as ruthless and sexually voracious as ever, and she rules Jahilia with an iron fist. The narrator pays special attention to Baal, who can no longer construct decent poems or attract women.
One night, Salman – one of Mahound’s disciples – visits Baal to warn him that Mahound is returning. For a long time, Salman was a great supporter of Mahound, and even invented a spike pit that helped Yathrib defend itself against an army that followed them from Jahilia. However, Salman has now rebelled against Mahound because, under Mahound’s doctrine of Submission, “no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free” (376). (Submission describes the act of self-denial before Allah). Salman began to doubt Submission when he noticed that the content of Mahound’s revelations always seemed to benefit Mahound and no one else. To test his doubts, Salman – who worked as a scribe for Mahound – started making changes to the revelations that Mahound dictated to him for the sacred script. Mahound never noticed the changes, which confirmed Salman's belief that Mahound was not in fact delivering the words of Allah. His faith destroyed, and worried that Mahound would eventually discover his subterfuge, Salman fled to Jahilia, believing it the one place where Submission would never take hold. Of course, with Mahound's impending return, this no longer seems likely.
Unexpectedly, Abu Simbel accepts Submission, and addresses the people of Jahilia from his balcony, encouraging them to do the same. Hind is horrified by this, mainly because of her longstanding feud with Mahound; she had killed his uncle Hamza and other followers after the events of Part II. She pleads with the crowd to ignore her husband, but they take Abu Simbel’s side. Meanwhile, Mahound’s disciple Khalid enters the city and destroys the statue of Uzza, one of Jahilia's patron goddesses. When Uzza actually appears as a devilish woman, he kills her, and then reports back to Mahound.
Mahound next destroys Jahilia’s main polytheistic shrine, the House of Black Stone. Most of the citizens then convert, including Hind, whom Mahound forgives for murdering his uncle. Mahound’s men find Salman, who begs for his life despite having betrayed the faith. Mahound seems posed to order his execution, but Salman promises to bring Mahound to Baal, and the prophet agrees. Mahound had never recovered from the shame of the vicious poetry Baal wrote about him and his faith, as detailed in Part II.
Fearing for his life, Baal hides in a notoriously labyrinthine brothel, so intricate that he easily hides from Mahound's disciples when they search there for him. He disguises himself as a eunuch member of the staff, and from that vantage overhears men talking of outside events while they visit the prostitutes over the next months. He learns that most Jahilians have converted, though few of them are serious about Submission. Though prostitution is not sanctioned by Submission, Mahound has allowed some brothels to remain open temporarily. There is a thriving black market for pork and alcohol (both outlawed by Submission), and some people still secretly pray to the old goddesses. Gradually, Baal becomes disenchanted with both Submission and the old polytheism, and he becomes an atheist. However, he remains irritated by Mahound’s ceaseless search for power, so he develops a plan to undermine Submission.
Baal thinks of one patron, Musa, who gossips about Mahound’s large harem. Baal suggests to the prostitutes that the next one to entertain Musa should pretend to be one of Mahound’s wives. The youngest prostitute agrees, and Musa is delighted. Soon, all of the prostitutes pretend to be a wife of Mahound, the brothel's business triples, and Baal is pleased that all of Jahilia is complicit in this heresy. The women gradually begin to take on the personality traits of Mahound's wives in their everyday lives, and they insist on collectively ‘marrying’ Baal, who is the only male staff member who is not a eunuch.
One day, Salman visits the brothel and recognizes Baal. He explains that he is leaving town; Mahound’s theocracy has become too miserable to bear. Shortly afterwards, Mahound announces that all brothels must be closed and their owners arrested. However, the madam kills herself before she can be incarcerated, so the police officers arrest the prostitutes instead. When they beg him to intercede, he cowardly flees, and later regrets it. He begins to serenade them with beautiful poetry at the window of their jail cell every night, and eventually allows himself to be put on trial, where he explains to the public the gimmick he engineered. He is beheaded, and the prostitutes are stoned.
The narrator reveals that Hind never truly converted to Submission; she just sequestered herself and lived out her life unhappily. Not long after Baal’s execution, Mahound falls ill and readies himself for death. He has a vision of Al-Lat, who tells him that his illness is her revenge. “Still,” he says, “I thank thee, Al-Lat, for this gift” (406). Those are his last words.
As the Jahilia plotline concludes, Rushdie introduces a direct and pointed critique of Islam – and by default, of religion in general. He accomplishes this through the figure of Salman, who shares several characteristics with the author, and thus serves as a kind of stand-in for him. Salman shares a first name with Rushdie; in addition, his Persian ethnicity makes him an outsider among the followers of Submission.
This may be a reflection of Rushdie’s own life experience. Although he writes about India, Islam, and Eastern culture, he was educated in England and has spent most of his adult life in the West – thus, some might argue that his perspective is that of a foreigner, one who does not entirely belong to any one culture. Finally, Salman’s position as a scribe, and his invention of the spike pit, show that he is more intellectually inclined than his peers, and that he has a creative personality – both qualities that Rushdie might well identify with.
Initially, the Jahilia plotline encouraged the reader to sympathize with Mahound, who wrestles with doubt and uncertainty, and must confront persecution from Abu Simbel and the authorities. However, as Submission begins to flourish, Mahound is corrupted by power and takes advantage of his position to tightly control his followers’ lives. He no longer allows any room for doubt, but instead insists on certainty to cement his authority. By the end of Part VI, Jahilia has no clear moral center. Mahound and his followers are corrupt; Hind has sequestered herself; Salman has fled.
Baal is arguably Part VI's protagonist, but even his actions are rife with moral ambiguity. In Part II, he wrote verses attacking Mahound not out of principle, but to avoid being beaten by Abu Simbel. Here, he antagonizes Mahound from his hideout in the brothel, but makes no real attempt to overthrow the regime. Ultimately, Baal is too silly and cowardly to be considered a hero, and Submission is just one more malevolent force in a universe of moral bankruptcy. In this way, Rushdie implicitly questions what authority an artist can have in the face of true power and corruption. Baal uses his imaginative ingenuity to sow seeds of heresy and discord, but those attempts falter before the permanence of execution. The artist certainly has power - in fact, Baal seems to be the man Mahound hates most from his earlier life - but that power only resonates when it is supported by the men who control the force.
This narrative can be understood as a revisionist interpretation of Islamic history, but there are also parallels to more recent events. For example, the corruption of Submission could also be considered as an allegory for the Iranian revolution, which Rushdie satirized in Part IV. Like Submission, Iran’s theocracy first gained power as a populist movement, and it enjoyed support from many left-wing intellectuals. However, its leaders gradually exerted close control over the lives of its people. Indeed, Jahilia’s black market for pork and prostitutes evokes a modern theocratic regime more than any incident in ancient history. On the other hand, it is arguable that Rusdie is using this allegory to make a more universal statement about the way power corrupts ideals, and no revolution can remain pure, precisely because every person has both angelic and satanic potential. What begins as a pure intention is easily corrupted by our less noble qualities. In this way, this narrative parallels that of Gibreel and Saladin.