How interesting that, at the same time that a singularly bad piece of film is getting a huge chunk of Islam into a horrible tizzy, Salman Rushdie, he of the Fatwa and The Satanic Verses, should pop up in the pages of The New Yorker. Whatever overlap there might be between Rushdie and the filmmaker of Innocence of Islam ends when any discussion of craft and talent enters, yet their ability to stir profound reactions with, by Western standards, fairly harmless material, seems similar.
Having not read Rushdie’s most notorious novel, I had no idea of precisely how it insulted Islam. Apparently, it did so by airing some of the religion’s dirty laundry, pointing out material presented in works considered authoritative and valuable by the orthodox:
The historical record is incomplete, but most of the major collections of hadith,or stories about the life of the Prophet—those compiled by Ibn Ishaq, Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d, and Tabari—recount an incident that later became known as the incident of the “Satanic Verses.” The Prophet came down from the mountain one day and recited verses from what would become Surah—or chapter—No. 53. It contained these words: “Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza, and, thirdly, on Manat, the other? They are the Exalted Birds, and their intercession is desired indeed.” At a later point—was it days or weeks, or months?—Muhammad returned to the mountain and came down, abashed, to state that he had been deceived on his previous visit: the Devil had appeared to him in the guise of the Archangel, and the verses he had been given were therefore not divine but satanic and should be expunged from the Koran at once. The Archangel had, on this occasion, brought new verses from God, which were to replace the “Satanic Verses” in the great book: “Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza, and, thirdly, on Manat, the other? Are you to have the sons, and He the daughters? This is indeed an unfair distinction! They are but names which you and your fathers have invented: God has vested no authority in them.”
I have too many works on my To-Read list to spend time with Rushdie’s novel. Plus, it might get me barred from certain countries. This profile in the magazine, however, is worth the read.