The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part II - "Mahound"


As Gibreel transforms into an angel, he has a series of visions: of his mother, of three little girls, of a businessman. As the images become clearer, we realize that the businessman is Mahound, the main character of the novel’s second, parallel storyline. This storyline gives an alternate version of the founding of Islam, and Mahound is an antiquated form of the name Mohammed. All of Mahound's story takes place in Gibreel's dreams.

Mahound climbs Mount Cone (presumably a reference to Alleluia Cone), where he receives visions that inspire him to start a new, monotheistic religion in the ancient, crumbling city of Jahilia. Jahilia is a polytheistic desert city that embraces its excess of sand. In a digression, the narrator provides a revisionist retelling of how the prophet Ibrahim abandoned his daughter Hagar in the desert; she was fortunately rescued by the angel Gibreel. The narrator calls Ibrahim a bastard and portrays Hagar as the real heroine of the story.

Karim Abu Simbel is the Grandee of Jahilia; the Grandee is the head of its ruling council. The people of Jahilia worship pagan gods as well as Allah, and Abu Simbel has become rich by taxing the offerings left at the pagan temples. One day, he is walking through the markets with Baal, one of Jahilia's poets. In Jahilia, it is customary for relatives of murder victims to assassinate the murderer themselves, and to write a poem commemorating the vengeance. Since “few revengers are gifted in rhyme," Baal has a lucrative practice in composing assassination poems (100).

Abu Simbel suddenly assaults Baal – supposedly for having an affair with his wife, Hind – and then insists Baal write poetry making fun of Mahound and his ragtag group of followers, who are confusing people with their revolutionary talk of monotheism. They insist that Allah is the only god. (At this point, the parallels between Mahound and Mohammed should be clear, if they were not already.) That night, Abu Simbel reflects on his fear of Mahound, and decides he will allow Hind to continue her affair with Baal. Baal's poetry is vicious and popular, and serves to enflame the hatred of and scorn for Mahound's new religion.

Abu Simbel summons Mahound and asks him to change his theology: he wants Mahound to recognize the town’s three patron deities as demigods under Allah. In particular, he wants recognition of the goddess Al-lat. He promises to convert all of Jahilia and cease the persecution if Mahound will submit to his proposal. Mahound is tempted by the offer, and asks his uncle Hamza and three disciples for counsel. They rightly warn that Abu Simpel is trying to compromise his integrity, but urge him to climb Mount Cone to receive wisdom from the archangel Gibreel, who gave him his initial visions. Our Gibreel, who has been watching the vision passively, is shocked that the characters are suddenly asking him what to do. He realizes that his perspective on the story keeps shifting - sometimes, he watches from above, and sometimes is involved in the action. In this case, he has been recruited as a crucial, active participant. In a surreal sequence, Gibreel and Mahound wrestle together with theological uncertainty.

Mahound returns from the mountain, and his disciples notice the distant look in his eyes that marks the receipt of a vision. They follow him to the town's poetry festival, where most of Jahilia has gathered. There, Mahound announces his embrace of the town’s patron goddesses, and Abu Simpel gladly leads the citizens into a bow before Allah. However, Hamza and the disciples are disappointed that Mahound compromised his theology to gain converts. That night, Hind’s brothers try to assassinate Mahound’s three main disciples, but Hamza interferes and kills the assassins.

After discussing the new theology with Hind, Mahound feels doubt, and he returns to the mountain for more guidance. There, he realizes that his vision was not from Gibreel but from the devil, and that the verses recited at the poetry festival were not God’s word; they were “satanic verses” (126). He publicly repudiates his earlier proclamation. Abu Simbel and Hind retaliate harshly, by murdering Mahound’s elderly wife and by confining his followers to ghettoes. Ironically, the persecution increases the number of converts and eventually, Mahound and his followers flee Jahilia for the more tolerant city-state of Yathrib.


Some students may find this section confusing – after all, it is an elaborate description of Gibreel’s vision, and has with only a tenuous connection to Part I. However, “Mahound” is in fact the beginning of the novel’s most important subplot. It centers on the ‘satanic verses,’ which are drawn from a real incident in Islamic history. Just like in the novel, Mohammed allegedly embraced the existence of three female demigods in his home city of Mecca, but soon after repudiated the compromise as having been spoken by the devil. This story is considered apocryphal, and has been removed from the Qur'an. Historians of Islam continue to debate the meaning and historicity of the story.

Rushdie’s retelling of the mythology surrounding the satanic verses caused a massive controversy in the Muslim world. It was not only his embrace of the apocryphal story; it was also his consideration of Mohammed as a human being defined as much by self-interest as by piety. Most notably, the controversy led the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa – that is, an order for Muslims to kill Rushdie. The fatwa, which was declared in 1989, remains active today, according to the Associated Press. For many years, Rushdie had to live in hiding from fear for his life, and several other people associated with the book's publication were attacked and wounded; the Japanese translator was killed. Rushdie explained his point of view in a 1996 interview as follows: “I felt that I had inherited the culture without the belief, and that the stories belonged to me as well. And because they belonged to me they were mine to use, in, if you like, my way.”

The characters’ experiences resonate with Rushdie’s ideas about culture and religion. Gibreel and Saladin both lose their religious faith before the start of the novel, but they continue to live under religious influence. Gibreel makes his living by acting in religious films and associating himself with deities (which could be considered a type of blasphemy); Saladin identifies strongly with Muslim culture, despite his attempts to disavow his Muslim identity. The same might be said of the narrator, who retells Muslim stories in Part II but gives his own, non-traditional perspective on characters like Ibrahim, Hagar, and Mahound (i.e., Mohammed). Rushdie believes that culture belongs to everyone, and individuals are free to interpret it in their own way. We inherit our culture no matter how skeptical we might be about it. His characters and his narrator are textual examples of this philosophy.

Although Part II’s plot is a departure from that of Part I, there are certain stylistic features that carry over to give the novel a sense of aesthetic unity. For example, Rushdie continues to condense common words and expressions into compound phrases, such as “goodguy badguy” (127). His stylistic use of slang and cliche have an ironic, anachronistic air when he applies them to the ancient story of Mahound. The narrator also compares parts of Gibreel’s vision to a Bollywood film, analyzing how it fits into that genre’s narrative conventions. He makes similar comparisons in Part I between his characters’ lives and Indian cinema. Also, the narrator continues to reflect upon his own omnipotence. He is aware that he is relating the dream of his own character, and in fact explores how that character (Gibreel) is confused by the power of omnipotence. Gibreel does not understand how his perspective keeps shifting - he watches from above, his eye meanders through the town, and he even becomes an active participant. In many ways, this confusion is a comment on the act of storytelling and perspective, which a reader tends to take for granted unless attention is drawn to it. Implicitly, this idea suggests that how we see a story impacts what it means to us, and by default, that truth will always be subjective.

Duality and opposites continue to be important motifs in this section. In Part I, Rushdie highlights the similarities and differences between two main characters, suggesting that each has the potential to be angelic and satanic. In Part II, the duality motif continues to resonate, albeit in more explicit ways. From the perspective of his followers and the people of Jahilia, Mahound is susceptible to both angelic and satanic forces. However, from the reader's perspective, this dichotomy is more complicated. We know that Mahound did not receive his message from the devil; he received it from Gibreel, who has been associated with Gabriel. On one hand, this suggests that Mahound's visions are somewhat self-generated; after all, he had political clout to gain by making the compromise with the Grandee. On the other hand, this contradiction suggests that Gibreel must confront his own inner conflict between angelic and satanic qualities. Both Mahound and Gibreel realize that human nature contains both earthly and divine components that often work against each other. As Rushdie describes it, “Gibreel in his dual role is both above-looking-down and below-staring-up. And both of them scared out of their minds by the transcendence of it.” (114)