By SEAN GANNON
September 26 marked the 20th anniversary of Viking Penguin's publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. While generally well-received by the critics, its treatment of Islamic themes in a series of narrative subplots was quickly deemed blasphemous and Viking Penguin's refusal to heed demands for its withdrawal led to an international furor, culminating in an Iranian fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death. His crime? Responsibility for a book which was "compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the prophet and the Koran" and "dared to insult the Islamic sanctities."
Photo: Bloomberg - An 800-year-old manuscript of the Koran, written in gold. Did the Islamic holy book emerge out of a two-centuries-long dialogue between Muslims and the Christians and Jews they encountered during the Islamic con quest?
That Rushdie was forced to spend 10 years in hiding (and still lives under threat of execution) on the grounds that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction, represented a "total distortion of the historical facts" about Islam is deeply ironic, given that a genuine critico-historical assault on "Islamic sanctities" had been under way for more than a decade with no repercussions.
Spearheaded by scholars at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), it focused largely on the Koran, which these so-called new historians of Islam subjected to modern historical and philological analysis. Their findings flatly contradict the Islamic account of its origins.
According to this account, the Koran represents the uncorrupted word of God, "constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable." It was transmitted to man through Muhammad, a prosperous Meccan merchant who received it via the angel Gabriel as a series of verse revelations between 610 and his death in 632. Uneducated and illiterate, Muhammad committed these revelations to memory before reciting them to his followers, who memorized them verbatim in turn. The killing of hundreds of these "memorizers" in the battle of Yamama in 633 alerted his successor as Muslim leader, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, to the danger that the revelations could be lost. He therefore gathered all available sources into a loose compilation called the suhuf which was then used by the third caliph, Uthman, to produce in the mid-650s a standardized text of the Koran. Copies were sent to Islamic communities with orders that all other versions be destroyed. Muslims believe this Uthmanic recension is the Koran as we have it today.
Did the Islamic holy book emerge out of a two-centuries-long dialogue between Muslims and the Christians and Jews they encountered during the Islamic con quest? For the rest of the commentary, please visit the Jerusalem Post, Qur'an: The gospel truth?