The Satanic Verses and their implications for the Miracle of the Qur'an

For the historical background on the satanic verses, please read the article by Ernest Hahn. Here I only want to reflect on the implications of this event on the claimed miracle of eloquence which propsed as proof for the divine authorship of the Qur'an.

Muslim authorities admit that Muhammad was at one time inspired by Satan to put some verses into the Qur'an. Some time later, upon receiving further revelation from Jibril, that those verses were not from God, but interjected by Satan, they were removed again. The Qur'an reports about it in Surah 22:52

Never sent We a messenger or a prophet before thee but when He recited (the message) Satan proposed (opposition) in respect of that which he recited thereof. But Allah abolisheth that which Satan proposeth. Then Allah establisheth His revelations. Allah is Knower, Wise;

This means Satan was able to interfere with Muhammad's revelation and create some verses in praise of the idols al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat, [see Sura 53:19-20], calling them "al-Gharaniq al-ula", "the high birds". He later annulled this (see Asbab al-Nuzul by al-Wahidi; chapter on why Sura al-Hajj was revealed).

It seems that Satan was able to inspire some verses and nobody realized it until Allah pointed it out by giving further revelation. This means in particular: there was no "inferior language" in those verses which came from Satan in comparison to those which came (supposedly) from Allah because Muhammad didn't realize it at the time.

The Qur'an states:

"And if you all are in doubt about what I have revealed to My servant, bring a single sura like it, and call your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful." (2:23)

and specifically includes the jinn in the challenge:

"Say: ‘If all mankind and the jinn would come together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce its like even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.’" (17:88)

According to the Qur'an, Satan is one of the jinn. We have learned that he gave revelation which Muhammad recited as being divine Qur'an. This revelation was sufficiently "like it" because Muhammad himself was not able to recognize that those verses were from Satan instead of from God. He was not able to distinguish those verses from the rest of the Qur'an based on their language. Instead, he needed another revelation from God to be informed about the falsehood of the former.

This incident has several implications. The challenge of the Qur'an to "bring a surah like it" was actually met by those satanic verses in Muhammad's own time, which in turn leads to the conclusion that the rest of the Qur'an is not from God either.

Some might want to respond with the argument that these satanic verses are "not long enough" to be counted as a whole sura as the Qur'an demands. This is a rather weak argument based on quantity instead of quality since such a response already acknowledges that the verses meet the criterion to be "like the Qur'an". If the Qur'an had contained a sura as short as these verses, you would not have rejected to believe it based on brevity. How do you know what is the minimum length for a possible sura?

For those who do not want to accept that these verses meet the challenge in a qualitative way, and who claim that they know with their "feeling for good Arabic", that these are inferior to the Qur'an, we respond that they apparently claim to know Arabic better, and that they have a better grasp on how to evaluate a sura than even Muhammad himself, who could not distinguish the fake from the real on the basis of language features.

In the very least, this incident shows that Muhammad himself did not have any objective criteria on which to base an acceptance or rejection of a text that would take up the challenge in the Qur'an.

Where then do you get your "feeling" from or from what source will you derive your "criteria" on the basis of which you can decide whether a certain Arabic text meets the Qur'anic challenge, or not? Particularly, on what basis can you reject these suras as not meeting the challenge?

Further discussion of the miraculous eloquence of the Qur'an
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