Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

How Satan Trumped Allah and his "Messenger"

Sam Shamoun

The Quran makes the bold assertion that even if the entirety of mankind and jinn come together to produce something similar to it they will not be able to: 

Say: "If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support." S. 17:88 

The Quran also says that Satan is one of the jinn: 

Behold! We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam": They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! S. 18:50 

This means that the challenge of the Quran applies equally to Satan, that he too will be incapable of producing anything similar to the Muslim scripture. 

Yet, amazingly, Muslim sources say that Satan did meet the challenge by deceiving Muhammad into reciting verses which the latter thought were part of the Quran. Ibn Ishaq, one of the earliest Muslim chroniclers, records the incident: 

Now the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people, wishing to attract them as far as he could. It has been mentioned that he longed for a way to attract them, and the method he adopted is what Ibn Hamid told me that Salama said M. b. Ishaq told him from Yazid b. Ziyad of Medina from M. b. Ka`b al-Qurazi: When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God he longed that there should come to him from God a message that would reconcile his people to him. Because of his love for his people and his anxiety over them it would delight him if the obstacle that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed for it and it was dear to him. Then God sent down "By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire," and when he reached His words "Have you thought of al-Lat and al-`Uzza and Manat the third, the others", Satan, when he was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue "these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved". When the Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him; while the believers were holding that what their prophet brought from their Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or slip, and when he reached the prostration and the end of the Sura in which he prostrated himself the Muslims prostrated themselves when their prophet prostrated confirming what he brought and obeying his command, and the polytheists of Quraysh and others who were in the mosque prostrated when they heard the mention of their gods, so that everyone in the mosque believer and unbeliever prostrated, except al-Walid b. al-Mughira who was an old man who could not do so, so he took a handful of dirt from the valley and bent over it. Then the people dispersed and the Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, "Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved". 

The news reached the prophet's companions who were in Abyssinia, it being reported that Quraysh had accepted Islam, so some men started to return while others remained behind. Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said, "What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you." The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God. So God sent down (a revelation), for he was merciful to him comforting him and making light of the affair and telling him that every prophet and apostle before him desired as he desired and wanted what he wanted and Satan interjected something into his desires as he had on his tongue. So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses i.e. you are just like the prophets and apostles. Then God sent down: "We have not sent a prophet or apostle before you but when he longed Satan cast suggestions into his longing. But God will annul what Satan has suggested. Then God will establish his verses, God being knowing and wise". Thus God relieved his prophet's grief, and made him feel safe from his fears and annulled what Satan had suggested in the words used above about their gods by his revelation "Are yours the males and His the females? That were indeed an unfair division" (i.e. most unjust); "they are nothing by names which your fathers gave them" as far as the words "to whom he pleases and accepts", i.e. how can the intercession of their gods avail with Him? 

When the annulment of what Satan had put upon the prophet's tongue came from God, Quraysh said: "Muhammad has repented of what he said about the position of your gods with Allah, altered it and brought something else." (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], pp. 165-167; bold emphasis ours) 

The so-called sound narratives provide corroboration that this event took place: 

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Masud: 
The Prophet recited Surat-an-Najm (53) and prostrated while reciting it and all the people prostrated and a man amongst the people took a handful of stones or earth and raised it to his face and said, "This is sufficient for me." Later on I saw him killed as a non-believer. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 19, Number 176; see also Number 173) 

Narrated Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet prostrated while reciting An-Najm and with him prostrated the Muslims, the pagans, the jinns, and all human beings. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 19, Number 177)

Sura an-Najm (53) is the chapter that Muhammad recited when Satan placed the praise of the goddesses upon his tongue, thereby inspiring him to praise the idols of the Meccans! Note that al-Bukhari confirms two elements of Ibn Ishaq’s report: that all the pagans prostrated with Muhammad, and that a man took some dirt or stones and placed it on his forehead. 

Now for the entire pagan community to bow in worship with Muhammad in light of his scathing attacks on their gods makes absolutely no sense. It does make perfect sense, however, that they would prostate if in fact Muhammad had just praised their goddesses. As Christian apologist John Gilchrist puts it: 

"Surat-an-Najm" is the same Surah 53 which Muhammad was reciting according to the narratives we have quoted. What else could have prompted all present, both Muslims and pagans, to prostrate behind Muhammad but the concession made to the Meccan goddesses? One can understand the Muslims following any lead Muhammad gave (see the quote from Ibn Ishaq) but it is hard, if not impossible, to believe that the pagan Meccans would have joined Muhammad in worship at the end of the Surah if he had quoted it as it now stands with such a vehement denunciation of these same goddesses by name. The story does appear to have a compelling historical foundation. (Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, "Satan's Interjection and its Implications", 1. A Compromise in Muhammad's Ministry

Moreover, notice that Ibn Ishaq said that the following citation was "revealed" to console Muhammad for mistakenly reciting Satan’s words as the words of Allah: 

Never did We send a Messenger or a Prophet before you, but; when he did recite the revelation or narrated or spoke, Shaitan (Satan) threw (some falsehood) in it. But Allah abolishes that which Shaitan (Satan) throws in. Then Allah establishes His Revelations. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise: S. 22:52 Hilali-Khan 

The above text confirms Ibn Ishaq’s story in that it admits that Satan threw something into Allah’s revelation which required the latter to intervene by abolishing what Satan proposed. 

But this raises some uncomfortable questions for Muslims and for the challenge of the Quran:

  • If even jinn are incapable of matching the Quran then how was Satan able to deceive Muhammad into thinking that the verses which the devil put on his tongue were Quranic verses?
  • Wasn’t Muhammad able to tell the difference between Satan’s words and the verses of Allah?
  • Couldn’t he see that the verses which Satan composed were vastly inferior in quality to the Quran’s verses?
  • Couldn’t the rest of the Muslims, as well as the pagans, also see that these verses did not match up to the style of the Quran? After all, if the Quran is inimitable as it claims the people should have been able to immediately spot the difference between what Satan inspired and what Allah had revealed in the Quran.
  • And doesn’t the fact that neither Muhammad nor the rest of the people were able to see any qualitative difference between what Satan proposed with the rest of the Quran actually prove that the devil was able to meet the Quran’s challenge of producing something like it?
  • And if Satan did meet Allah’s challenge what does this say about the Quran’s claim of inimitability?
  • Doesn’t this prove that the Quran can and has been matched, which therefore falsifies its own claim of being unique and/or miraculous?
  • Moreover, what does this say about Satan’s power seeing that he was able to personally meet the challenge of the Quran without requiring any assistance from the rest of mankind and jinn?
  • Does this suggest that Satan is somehow all-powerful since he was able to produce statements of equal eloquence as those contained in the Quran?
  • In a related question, what does this say about Allah’s ability to insure that no one would be able to meet the Quran’s challenge?
  • Would not Satan’s ability to produce something identical to the Quran prove that either Allah isn’t all-powerful, the devil is his equal, or that the Quran is not from God?
  • What does this also say about Allah’s ability to protect his messengers from being controlled and inspired by Satan?
  • Doesn’t this cast doubt on Allah’s ability to protect his messengers and prophets? And if so, how can Allah be trusted to do what he says when his ability to carry out his promises can be thwarted by a finite creature like the devil (that is, unless Satan happens to be all-powerful as well)?
  • Finally, if Satan could inspire Muhammad what does this say about the rest of the Quran? What guarantee can a Muslim give and what evidence can s/he offer to prove that there are no other parts of the Quran which were actually inspired by Satan? 

Further Reading 

Is the Qur’an Miraculous?  

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

Muhammad and the Satanic Verses

Muhammad and the Daughters of Allah: A Summation of the Evidence for the Satanic Verses 

Abolishing What Satan Proposes?  

Muhammad’s Suicide Attempts

Muhammad and the Demons