The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part IV - "Ayesha"


This section returns to Gibreel’s dreams. Most of Parts IV and VIII are set in Titlipur, a rural village that shares the mythic quality of Jahilia, but exists in modern times.

However, the beginning of this vision is set in London. In it, we meet the Imam, a conservative Muslim leader living in exile in London. He has fled both his homeland of Desh and his archenemy, the empress Ayesha. From London, he and his aides broadcast anti-Ayesha propaganda to Desh using a ham radio. Bilal X, an African-American convert to Islam, is the Imam’s most faithful disciple; he is in charge of reading the broadcasts.

Once again, Gibreel finds himself not only an observer but also a character in his vision, playing the part of the angel Gibreel. The Imam asks Gibreel to help him reclaim Desh, but Gibreel is reluctant. The Imam rushes Gibreel and forces him to fly to Iran, to help the Imam overthrow Ayesha. Gibreel tries to explain that the people revolt against Ayesha because they hate her, and not because they love the Imam. The Imam ignores Gibreel and murders Ayesha. However, the spirit of the goddess Al-lat reanimates her body.

The Imam orders Gibreel to fight Al-lat, and he reluctantly complies. After a fierce battle with lightning spears, Gibreel kills Al-lat. The Imam becomes the absolute ruler of Desh and stops all of the country’s clocks.

Gibreel has a second, seemingly unrelated dream. This one is set in the peaceful village of Titlipur, which is famous for its beautiful swarms of butterflies. A landowner, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, lives in a luxurious house with his beloved wife, Mishal. Though they love each other, they have been unsuccessful in conceiving a child, something Mishal believes is a reflexion of their muted sexual passions.

One day, Mirza sees an peasant girl eating butterflies in his backyard, and he is overcome with lust for her. The girl has a epileptic seizure, so Mirza Saeed brings her inside. Mishal recognizes her as an orphan who sells animal figurines on the side of the road. Her name is also Ayesha, although there is no obvious connection between her and the empress from Gibreel’s first dream.

The Akhtars adopt Ayesha, who grows into a beautiful woman. However, no one wants to marry her because of both her epilepsy and her distracted demeanor, which makes people worry she is insane. She supports herself by making small figurines that promote chastity and family values. The toy merchant, Sri Srinivas, buys them as much to support her as to make a profit.

One man, a clown named Osman, falls in love with her despite her apparent insanity. He is a former untouchable who converted to Islam, largely to escape the restrictions of his caste. Ayesha spurns him, but nevertheless uses his likeness to make some new figurines, which she cannot sell because of Osman’s reputation for religious insincerity. On her way back from trying to sell the figurines to Sri Srinivas, Ayesha’s hair turns white and her dress turns into butterflies. When she returns to the village, she claims that she has lain with the archangel Gibreel, which breaks Osman’s heart. Gibreel is shocked to hear this, since he does not remember such an incident. Ayesha returns to Mirza's house, and grows extremely close to Mishal.

Meanwhile, Mirza Saeed stresses about his attraction to Ayesha. He encourages Mishal to take the veil and confine herself to the house, which is a dramatic departure from their progressive habits. He cannot determine whether this request is motivated by love for her or lust for Ayesha, whom he might secretly want to seduce in his wife's absence. Meanwhile, Mrs. Qureishi, Mishal's mother, has moved in with them and insists that Mirza release his wife from these demands. Because Mishal thinks it is some kind of erotic game, she plays along, but the religious devotion only brings her closer to Ayesha.

One day, Ayesha proclaims that the angel Gibreel has revealed that Mishal has severe breast cancer. Mirza Saeed accuses her of lying, and beats her. However, a terrified Mishal sees a doctor, who confirms Ayesha’s prophecy. Mirza Saeed believes God is punishing him for lusting after Ayesha by afflicting his wife with cancer.

Ayesha disappears for seven days. When she returns, she calls a village council, and tells the leaders that the archangel Gibreel has spoken to her again. This time, he has commanded that the entire village walk to Mecca. (The route crosses the Arabian sea, which the angel has promised will part for them.) If they do this, Mishal’s cancer will be healed. The village agrees to go. As Mishal and Mrs. Qureishi prepare to leave with the others, Mirza Saeed tries to talk them out of it, insisting that religion is nothing but superstition and that the journey will surely kill Mishal.


Gibreel’s two dreams in Part IV are dramatically different from one another, although there are some points of overlap. The first dream, about the Imam, is best understood as a political allegory. Some scholars, including Paul Brians, have noted the Imam’s resemblance to Ayatollah Khomeini, who would later issue a fatwa against Rushdie after The Satanic Verses was published. Brians notes the parallels between this story and the Iranian revolution; the Imam believes he can solve his country’s spiritual decline by literally stopping the clocks, a reference to the Ayatollah’s strict conservatism. (Rushdie himself has affirmed this interpretation of the section.)

The Imam’s ability to bend Gibreel to his will is a damning commentary on how theocratic regimes (like Iran’s) corrupt religion to suit their own purposes. This section also adds a dimension of complexity to the satanic verses story of Part II. When Gibreel is forced to fight Al-lat, he is uncomfortable using violence, yet the narrator describes her death in graphic, horrific detail. Although we never learn much about Al-lat as a character, the passage can be read as a condemnation of the way some ideologues try to eradicate those who are different from them. Interestingly, though, Mahound's non violent attempts to embrace Al-lat in the 'satanic verses' episode would necessarily have meant a compromise of his ideals. The contradiction seems to be that the only way to begin something new is to destroy what came before, even if that involves unpleasant violence. This theme will resonate with later sections of the novel.

The second dream is very different in tone from the first. While the Imam plot keeps extraneous details to a minimum, the narrator uses a more realistic mode for the Titlipur storyline. We get a full portrait of the village, including a description of the mythology surrounding its central banyan tree, and characterizations of minor figures such as Sri Srinivas and Osman. It is also more overtly literary than the first dream. For example, Osman functions like the fool in classical drama; in this trope, the fool is a social outcast but nevertheless makes profound insights about the people around him. Rushdie seems to acknowledge this parallel by giving Osman a job as a clown.

It is also worth investigating the use of anachronism in the Titlipur plot. At first, the superstitious, ignorant villagers seem drawn from ancient times – at the beginning of the dream, they believe epilepsy is the same thing as insanity, and that it is contagious. However, Titlipur melds traditional village culture with moments of modernity; for example, the Akhtars watch soft porn on a VCR, and Mishal accuses her secular husband of trying to emulate the English, which dates the story to the twentieth century. These anachronisms are part of Rushdie’s signature style. He appropriates pieces of different traditions and blends them together to create something entirely unique. However, it is also an accurate reflection of Indian life in 1989 (and to a lesser extent, today); pockets of traditional culture exist alongside fully modern cities, and these forces compete to fashion an Indian identity. Indeed, this conflict also resonates in the Titlipur story, in terms of attitudes towards women. Questions of a woman's sexuality, the veil, and her trustworthiness all appear in this section. Rushdie does not declare a traditional or modern approach to women as superior, but instead explores the complexity of the conflict.

The most obvious point of overlap between the two dreams is that they feature charismatic women who commune with the supernatural – and both of these women are named Ayesha. However, there are also thematic similarities. Both dreams address the problems that arise when a person tries to speak for God. The Imam and Ayesha both invoke Gibreel, but he is always bewildered when they call in his name. This harkens back to Part II, and continues to suggest that communion with a god is often more about the human's desire than the deity's desire. Of course, there are differences in the way each character invokes Gibreel. The narrator muses: “With Mahound, there is always a struggle; with the Imam, slavery; but with this girl, there is nothing. Gibreel is inert, usually asleep in the dream as he is in life” (240-241). No character has a truly harmonious relationship with God –indeed, in the world of the novel, such a thing might be impossible. What someone wants from God will determine how God speaks to him or her.

Finally, it is also useful to understand the hajj, one of the pillars of Islam. According to the faith, any person who is financially and physically able should make at least one pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (represted as Jahilia in the Mahound plotline) in his or her life. The villagers of Titlipur would be exempt from the expectation, either because of their poverty or because of their infirmity. The fact that Ayesha offers them a chance to fulfill the expectation despite these limitations gives her a miraculous air; she is promising greater service to Allah than they otherwise thought themselves capable of. Mirza Saeed tries to convince Mishal to simply fly to the city if she wants to go, but she is as attracted to the miraculous impossibility of the trip as she is to the hajj itself.