52 pages 1 hour read

Salman Rushdie

The Satanic Verses

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1988

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Summary and Study Guide


The Satanic Verses is a 1988 magical realism novel by Salman Rushdie. The novel weaves together different narratives spread across hundreds of years, framed by the story of two competing Indian Muslim actors. The publication of The Satanic Verses caused controversy, particularly due to the novel's supposedly blasphemous depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The book was burned, riots resulted in death, and a religious edict was issued against Rushdie in 1989 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that called for the author to be killed. Rushdie was placed under police protection; several translators of the novel were attacked or killed by people who wanted the novel banned. This guide uses an eBook version of the 2000 Picador edition.

Plot Summary

A Bollywood actor named Gibreel Farishta and a voice actor named Saladin Chamcha are onboard Bostan Flight AI-420 from India to the United Kingdom. When terrorists detonate a bomb, Gibreel and Saladin are thrown from the plane and plummet together toward the ground. As they fall, their bodies seem to transform: Gibreel becomes an angel while Saladin becomes a demon. They both survive and wake up on a beach in England.

Gibreel was orphaned as a young man but was adopted by a wealthy family. He became a famous actor and had many romantic relationships, including one with a married woman named Rekha Merchant. Gibreel lost his religious inclinations after a serious illness. After recovering, he ate a huge amount of pork and fell in love with an English mountaineer named Alleluia Cone. Gibreel was travelling to meet her in London when the bomb exploded. Saladin grew up in a more modest home. He dreamed of going to Great Britain from a young age and eventually made his dream a reality, marrying a British woman named Pamela Lovelace. Their marriage faced difficulties, however, so Saladin returned to India to visit his father. While there, he had an affair. He was onboard Flight AI-420 to return to Pamela. The flight was hijacked by terrorists who held some of the passengers hostage for four weeks before the journey resumed, at which point the terrorists' bomb exploded and the passengers were all thought to be dead.

While falling from Flight AI-420, Gibreel dreams about a businessman in the Middle East named Mahound, an allegory for the Prophet Muhammad. In the dream, Mahound receives a message from the archangel Gibreel, who tells him to convert the people in the region to a monotheistic religion called Submission. Mahound follows the order and tries to convince the polytheistic town of Jahilia to believe in a single, all-powerful god named Allah. As part of the agreement he reaches with the villagers, three older gods will be allowed to be a part of the new religion as minor figures who are subordinate to Allah. These goddesses—Uzza, Lat, and Manat—are incorporated into the religion with Gibreel's permission. Later, Mahound worries that the verses describing the goddesses in the religious text are the product of Satan (known as Shaitan). Mahound tells his followers to reject these so-called satanic verses and, as a result, he and his followers are chased out of the town.

Gibreel and Saladin leave the beach and stay with an elderly English woman named Rosa Diamond. During this time, Saladin begins to grow horns while Gibreel emits a strange glow. Saladin attempts to call his wife and is concerned when a man answers her phone. The two men are reported to the police by someone who believes that they are illegal immigrants. The police only arrest Saladin, however, and Gibreel does nothing to stop them. During this time, Saladin increasingly begins to resemble a goat. The police beat him and send him to a hospital that treats other people who are turning into animals. Saladin helps the other patients break out, goes to London, and finds his wife having an affair with a friend named Jumpy Joshi. Gibreel stays with Rosa, enchanted by her stories about Argentina. Eventually, she dies and Gibreel travels to London. He wanders until he collapses in a park, where Alleluia Cone finds him.

In Alleluia's home, Gibreel dreams about an Imam (a Muslim leader) who lives in London while trying to overthrow the ruler of Desh, Empress Ayesha. The Iman summons archangel Gibreel (again, the role is played by Gibreel in the dream) and uses the archangel to travel to Desh to challenge Ayesha. Gibreel, bound by the Iman's instructions, witnesses the overthrow of Ayesha and then defeats a goddess named Al-Lat in battle. Gibreel continues to dream. This time, he dreams about a man named Mirza Saeed Akhtar who adopts a child with his wife Mishal. The child is named Ayesha of Titlipur, and the people in the village decide that she is the wife of archangel Gibreel. Mishal tries to get close to the saintly Ayesha to help with her dream of becoming pregnant. However, Mishal develops cancer, and Ayesha tells the villagers that they must make a pilgrimage to Mecca to cure Mishal.

Jumpy Joshi finds Saladin a room to rent in the back of a café owned by Muhammad Sufyan. Muhammad's wife Hind is reluctant to allow the increasingly demonic Saladin into her home. Saladin learns that he has been replaced on the television show in which he starred, while Gibreel is about to return to moviemaking. Saladin grows in size and his appearance becomes so terrifying that his hosts tell him to leave. He loathes Gibreel, and after a night at the Hot Wax Club, discovers that he has returned to a human form. During this time, Gibreel slips into a delusion. He convinces himself that he is the archangel Gibreel from his dreams. He falls into a deluded trance while meeting with film industry representatives and wakes up outside Alleluia's home.

Gibreel dreams about Jahilia again. After 25 years, Mahound is rumored to be returning to the city to preach his new religion named Submission. Mahound approaches Jahilia with an army, and after a brief standoff, most of the townspeople convert to his religion. Mahound orders the closure of the town's brothels and the execution of certain people, including prostitutes.

Saladin returns to his house where Pamela and Joshi now live. All three become involved in the campaign to free a man named Dr. Uhuru Simba, who has been accused of murder. Saladin meets Gibreel at a party. He is furious with Gibreel, who is taking medication after being diagnosed with mental health issues. Later, Gibreel and Alleluia invite Saladin to the countryside. Under the effects of medication, Gibreel tells Saladin secrets about Alleluia, and Saladin uses this information to harass Alleluia until she breaks up with Gibreel. Shocked by the split, Gibreel wanders despondently around the city then buys a trumpet that he names Azraeel. Uhuru Simba dies in custody, and the real criminal is caught causing riots. The police respond violently to the riots. Gibreel wanders through London, blowing his trumpet and believing that it spouts flames. When fires actually do start, Pamela and Joshi are killed while Saladin tries to rescue his hosts from the burning café. Gibreel follows Saladin into the burning building and, after initially trying to kill him, decides to rescue Saladin.

Ayesha of Titlipur leads the pilgrimage to Mecca. The group marches toward the Arabian Sea, which Ayesha has promised will part before them. Mishal's health worsens as her husband Mirza Saeed tries to convince the pilgrims to take a different route. Some of the pilgrims suffer from accidents or die of dehydration. Ayesha tells the pilgrims to leave the dead behind. She describes a mining accident as the judgement of God and finds a baby left alone in a mosque. She agrees with a local Imam that the baby is Satanic. The baby is stoned to death. When they finally reach the sea, Ayesha leads them into the water. Many pilgrims drown, though some will later say that they saw the water part. Mirza Saeed returns home and dies.

Saladin returns to India 18 months after Gibreel saved him from the burning café. He visits his dying father, and the two repair their broken relationship. Among the possessions Saladin inherits from his father is a magic lamp. Gibreel runs out of money after his attempts to return to the movie industry falter. Becoming desperate, he kills Alleluia and a movie producer named S. S. Sisodia. He flees to India and tracks down Saladin, telling him what he has done. As they talk, Gibreel takes hold of the magic lamp. When the police arrive to arrest Gibreel, he opens the lamp and finds a gun inside. Gibreel takes the gun from the lamp and kills himself.