False Story of Revelation from Devil

Satan cannot corrupt word of God to a Prophet

The Muslim Thinker, October/November/December 1989 Issue (Issue 1, pp. 15–17)

There is a baseless story, found in some Muslim classical works, referring to a time in his early mission when the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was at Makka preaching to the idolators against their false deities. It is asserted that once, while the Holy Prophet was reciting out his revelation (i.e., the Quran) before the idol-worshipping Makkans, as he came to the words referring to the names of three idols,

اَفَرَءَیۡتُمُ اللّٰتَ وَ الۡعُزّٰی ﴿ۙ۱۹﴾ وَ مَنٰوۃَ الثَّالِثَۃَ الۡاُخۡرٰی ﴿۲۰﴾

“Have you considered Lat and Uzza, and another … Manat” (The Holy Quran, 53:19–20),

the devil put it into the Holy Prophet’s mind to add the spurious words:

“these are exalted females whose intercession is to be sought”.

This concession to Arab idolatry, according to the story, greatly pleased the idol-worshippers. Then God acted to cancel this satanic insinuation, restoring the purity of His word, and in another passage (chapter 22 verse 52) reminded the Holy Prophet that sometimes the devil can exploit the human desires of prophets, altering their revelation accordingly, but that God always annuls any such corruption.

It is this story which forms the basis of the view put forward in the much controversial book The Satanic Verses [by Salman Rushdie]. In his English translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran, Maulana Muhammad Ali has conclusively refuted this whole account. We quote below from his footnote to verse 53:21. (Muir referred to below was an English author on Islam.)

“Verses 19–21 are made the basis of the false story of what is called the ‘Lapse of Muhammad’ or ‘Compromise with idolatry’ by Christian writers. Certain reports by Waqidi and Tabari are the sole authority for this charge against that incessant preacher against idolatry, every incident of whose life condemns it as a bare falsehood. … The fact is that the story was quite unknown to the earlier Muslims. There is not a single trustworthy hadith that lends support to this story.

“Muhammad ibn Ishaq, who died as early as 151 A.H., does not mention the incident, while Muir’s earliest authority, Waqidi, was born more than forty years later. It is stated in the Bahrain that when questioned about it, Ibn Ishaq called it a fabrication of the zindeeqs. And the famous Bukhari, the most trustworthy authority on the sayings of the Holy Prophet, was Waqidi’s contemporary, and his collection of sayings contains no mention of the story.

“As regards Waqidi, all competent authorities entertain a very low opinion of his trustworthiness. The Mizan al-Itidal, a critical work on the lives and characters of the reporters of Hadith, speaks of Waqidi as unreliable and even as a fabricator of reports. As regards Tabari, Muir himself represents him as guilty of ‘indiscriminate reception’. As against these two unreliable authorities, ‘those who reject this story are highly learned men’ (see the commentary Ruh al-Maani). The six collections of reports known as the Sihah Sitta (or the Six Reliable Works) do not mention it at all, and contain instead a report which essentially contradicts the story of the so-called compromise.

“Internal evidence, too, is against the story. We are told that instead of verse 21 the Prophet read the words: Tilk al-gharaniq al-ula wa inna shafaata-hunna la-turtaja, i.e., These are exalted females whose intercession is to be sought. But the insertion of these few words in a chapter which is wholly directed against idolatry is quite out of place: v. 23 condemns idols; v. 26 denies their intercession; v. 28 condemns the giving of names of female deities to angels, and so on. … Moreover, if the Prophet had made any such compromise, it could not have been a sudden event, and traces of it would have been met with in other chapters revealed about the same time. But a perusal of these shows clearly that the Quran’s condemnation of idolatry was never marked by the slightest change.”

Commenting on the other verse (22:52), which allegedly refers to the devil inspiring revelation in accordance with a prophet’s human desires, Maulana Muhammad Ali writes in his footnote 1701:

“This story has been rejected by all sound and reliable commentators. Thus, Ibn Kathir says: ‘Many commentators relate here the story of the Gharaniq … but it is from sources not traceable to any Companion’. According to Razi, commentators who aim at accuracy and truth say that this story is false and a forgery. Baidawi makes similar remarks.

“…Moreover, it is absolutely inconceivable that such an important incident as the Prophet’s having accepted the intercession of idols should have been mentioned in the Quran eight years after it happened. The 53rd chapter, in which the change is said to have taken place, was revealed before the fifth year of the Prophet’s call, while this chapter was revealed on the eve of the Prophet’s departure from Makka. That more than half the Quran should have been revealed during this long period without a single reference to the alleged story, and that it should then have been quite unnecessarily referred to in a chapter where it is quite out of place, is alone sufficient to give the lie to this story.”

It is the prime duty of Muslims to stress that the criterion of the truth of a reported event from the Holy Prophet’s life is not that it is found recorded in a classical biography or history of Islam. The report must be consistent with the irrefutable facts of the life of the Holy Prophet contained in the Quran and the works of Hadith, the Quran being the contemporary record of his life and times, whose authenticity is admitted by friend and foe alike. A report clearly at variance with these key sources is false, no matter how classical or voluminous the work in which it may be found. An example of the neglect of these sound principles was the book Muhammad, by Martin Lings, which is replete with fairy tales of the same category as this story. On what grounds it was awarded a prize of five thousand dollars by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Pakistan in 1984, we are utterly at a loss to understand.