The myth of Gharānīq (Arabic: أسطورة الغرانيق) is an alleged story that, when reciting Quran 53, the Prophet (s) was influenced by the Satan and uttered two non-Quranic phrases in between the verses of that sura, which were thought to be revealed verses, but Gabriel apprised him of the Satanic source of those phrases. The story claims that the event took place about two months after the migration of a group of Muslims to Abyssinia. Among western orientalists, this was first referred to as the story of “Satanic verses” by William Muir in his Life of Mahomet (1858).
Narrations of the story of gharaniq appear in a number of Sunni books of history and Quranic exegesis, including Ibn Ishaq’s al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, al-Tabaqat al-kubra, and al-Tabari’s Tafsir. In contrast, many Sunni and Shiite scholars have argued that the story of gharaniq is questionable. Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, a Shiite exegete of the Quran, believes that chains of transmission of the hadiths of gharaniq are weak, because in his view none of the main transmitters ever met the Prophet (s) in person; that is, they were not among the companions.
Ibn Hayyan al-Andulusi rejects the Prophet’s influence from personal desires and satanic suggestions, explicitly saying that the story does not appear in reliable Sunni sources. Moreover, Fakhr al-Razi, a Sunni theologian and Quranic exegete, attributes the story of gharaniq to superficialist exegetes of the Quran, holding that true researchers appeal to the Quran, the tradition, and reason to show that it is fabricated and false.
Some orientalists draw on the citation of the story of gharaniq in Islamic sources to suggest the possibility of satanic interventions in revelation, which is strongly rejected by Muslim scholars. Satanic intervention in revelation was used by Salman Rushdie in his novel, The Satanic Verses, which led to the issuance of the ruling of apostasy against him by Imam Khomeini.
Summary of the Story
According to Sayyid Ja'far Murtada al-'Amili’s account of the myth of gharaniq in his al-Sahih min sirat al-nabi al-a'zam, stories appear in certain Sunni sources, such as al-Durr al-manthur, al-Sirat al-Halabiyya, al-Tabari's Tafsir, and Fath al-bari, to the effect that, about two months after the migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, the Prophet (s) was among the polytheists that Quran 53 was revealed to him. Prophet Muhammad (s) recited the sura up to its nineteenth and twentieth verses: “Have you considered Lat and ‘Uzza? and Manat, the third one?” where he was influenced by Satan and thought that the following well-known verse among the polytheists was also part of Quran 53 (Sura al-Najm): “These are the exalted gharaniq [tall gorgeous birds], whose intercession is hoped for.”
As the story goes on, Prophet Muhammad (s) uttered those words as part of revelation, but at night when Gabriel went to him, the Prophet (s) recited Quran 53 to him and included those words too. Gabriel denied the sentence “These are the exalted gharaniq, whose intercession is hoped for,” and the Prophet (s) wondered: “did I attribute to God what He did not say?” After that, God revealed verses 73-75 of Quran 17 to the Prophet (s): “They were about to beguile you from what Allah has revealed to you so that you may fabricate something other than that against Us, whereat they would have befriended you. And had We not fortified you, certainly you might have inclined toward them a bit. Then We would have surely made you taste a double [punishment] in this life and a double [punishment] after death, and then you would have not found for yourself any helper against Us.”
The Myth of Gharaniq in the Works of Muslims
The story of gharaniq is cited in some of the Sunni works of history, Quranic exegesis, and hadith, including Ibn Ishaq’s al-Sira al-Nabawaiyya, al-Tabaqat al-kubra, Tarikh al-Islam, and al-Tabari’s Tafsir. These sources cite the story of gharaniq in their accounts of the migration of a group of Muslims to Abyssinia. The story was later cited by other scholars as well, including 'Ali b. Ahmad al-Wahidi (d. 468/1075-6), Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1143-4), 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar al-Baydawi (d. 791/1389), and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505).
Problems in Chains of Transmission, Historical Account, and Denotation
Although the story of gharaniq is cited in several Sunni sources, some Muslim scholars have rejected the story. For instance, in his Tanzih al-anbiya', al-Sayyid al-Murtada believes that hadiths of gharaniq are weak and rejected by scholars of hadith. Here are some arguments against the authenticity of the story of gharaniq:
- Problem in chains of transmission: according to Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, none of the hadiths in which the story of gharaniq is narrated were originally transmitted by the Prophet's companions, and the closest transmitters to the Prophet’s era were tabi'un (companions of companions) who never met the Prophet (s) in person and were not there when the event allegedly took place. Moreover, about Ibn 'Abbas who also narrated the story, Ma'rifat says that he was born three years before the migration to Medina, and so he could not witness the event by himself. Accordingly, none of the ultimate transmitters of the story could personally see the alleged event.
Here are some Muslim exegetes of the Quran who rejected the story of gharaniq:
- Ibn Hayyan al-Andulusi appealed to verses of the Quran, including verses 1-4 of Quran 53 and verse 15 of Quran 10, to show that the Prophet (s) could not be influenced by personal desires and satanic suggestions. Moreover, quoting Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Bahaqi a Shafi'i scholar of hadith in the fifth/eleventh century, he says that the transmitters of the story of gharaniq are unreliable, stressing that the story is not cited in reliable Sunni sources of hadiths, known as Sihah, nor in early sources of hadiths.
- Abu l-Futuh al-Razi, a Shiite Quranic exegete and scholar of hadith in the sixth/twelfth century, believes that the story of gharaniq is false in many aspects. As for the Quranic verse, “Allah nullifies whatever Satan has interjected,” he rejects the interpretation by some Quranic exegetes to the effect that the Prophet (s) could be influenced by Satan. For one thing, he suggests, the polytheists in Mecca used to recite poems when the Prophet (s) wanted to recite the revelation in order to confuse the Prophet (s), and this part of the verse means that God prevents their satanic temptations, or some polytheists might have uttered those words when the Prophet (s) was reciting the Quran, which some people thought that the words came from the Prophet (s).
- Fakhr al-Razi, a Sunni theologian and exegete, believes that the story of gharaniq was a narrative of superficialist exegetes, adding that true researchers have dismissed the story as fabricated and false based on the Quran, the tradition, and reason. In addition to seven verses of the Quran about the Prophet’s purity, he points to Sahih al-Bukhari, in which the Prophet’s recitation of Quran 53 as well as the prostration of Muslims, polytheists, humans, and jinn are cited, but no reference is made to the story of gharaniq. Fakhr al-Razi notes that the Prophet (s) persistently negated all the idols, and so to say that the Prophet (s) praised the idols is to exit Islam.
Some orientalists have appealed to the citation of the story of gharaniq in certain Islamic sources to show that Satan could interfere in revelation. Yusuf Durra al-Haddad (1913-1970), a Lebanese author and priest, cites the verse 98 of Quran 16, in which the Prophet (s) takes refuge to God from satanic temptations when reciting the Quran, to show that Satan interfered in the Prophet’s revelations.
According to the contemporary scholar of Quran, Murtada Kariminiya, some orientalists, including Arthur Jeffery, Montgomery Watt, and Joseph Horovitz, accept the story of gharaniq. Moreover, the story provided material for part of the novel, The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, because of which Imam Khomeini ruled that its authors and publishers apprised of its content should be executed.
There are many articles in rejection of the myth of gharaniq, including:
- Idama-yi sitiz-i farhangi-yi miyan-i Islam wa-dushmanan (The continued cultural fight between Islam and its enemies) by Sayyid Murtada 'Askari (the journal of Mishkat, no. 26).
- Afsana-yi gharaniq ya iftiraʾ bar tawhid (The myth of gharaniq or fabrication against monotheism) by Ja'far Subhani (Khordad 1341 Sh/June 1962 in the journal of Dars-hayi az maktab Islam).
- Ta'ammuli dar afsana-yi gharaniq wa-nigah-i Ayatollah Ma'rifat bi in mawdu' (A reflection on the myth of gharaniq and Ayatollah Ma'rifat’s view of the matter) by Muhammad 'Ali Sultani (the journal of Ilahiyyat wa-huquq, no. 26).
- Afsana-yi gharaniq (The myth of gharaniq) by Sayyid Ja'far Shahidi (Summer 1377 Sh/1998, the journal of Miqat hajj, no. 24).
- The book Naqd-i tawti'a ayat-i shaytani (A critique of the conspiracy of satanic verses) by 'Ata' Allah Muhajirani (first published by Ittili'at Publication in 1368 Sh/1989, and reprinted twenty-six times until 1386 Sh).
- Afsana-yi gharaniq wa-bahrabardari-ha-yi khawarshinasan (The myth of gharaniq and uses by orientalists) by Sayyid 'Isa Mustarhimi (published in 1388 Sh/2009 in the journal of Qur'an-pazhuhi-yi khawarshinasan, no. 7).
- The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, edited by John L. Esposito