Sympathy For The Devil: The Narrator’s Argument In The Satanic Verses

He sings, “Just as every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners, Saints / As heads are tails, / Just call me Lucifer…” He sings “Just like all cops are criminals / And sinners and Saints alike / As heads and tails is, / Please call me Lucifer …”

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, however, does not explicitly reveal its identity. The novel is mostly narrated by the narrator in multiple third-person. This allows him to follow different characters while having access their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. In a few short first-person passages, the narrator inserts himself in the story. The narrator in these passages not-so subtly implies that he’s the devil, Satan. The tone of the novel is changed. The devil’s narration is always biased; he can never be trusted. In the New Testament (NT), he tempts Jesus, the son God, into suicide. The narrator from The Satanic Verses’s reputation is such that it casts serious doubt on his words. The Satanic Verses by Rushdie is narrated by Satan, who uses the story to try to prove that he’s worthy of redemption. It’s not easy – Satan has a reputation that is based on centuries of religious literature and texts as well as pop songs by Jagger. Satan orchestrates the action in the novel and the narrator uses Saladin Chamcha to argue that even those who do truly evil things can redeem themselves.

Even though the narrator doesn’t name himself, the Devil is implied right from the beginning. First, he asks about his identity to introduce himself. He asks himself, “Who are you?” The narrator may be God or Allah himself. It is then revealed that this is not true. After a few more pages, the narrator declares, “I obviously know the truth.” I watched it all. If I were to claim omnipresence and power, that’s not what I would do, but at the moment I think I could manage it. What if we ask: “Who is the most talented?” (10). According to notes on the novel’s website, this “allusion” is to John Wesley, who was criticised for setting up his hymns with popular tunes. He replied that the Devil shouldn’t have the best tunes.

The Satanic Verses third section makes the identity of the narrator even clearer. He stated that

“It was obvious that the Higher Powers [were interested in Saladin & Gibreel]; I speak for myself when I say they have an almost mischievous, wanton attitude toward fluttering flies. Also, let’s make it clear that people are changed by great falls. Do you believe they have fallen far? No personage, mortal or not, is more important than me when it comes to tumbles. From clouds and ashes to heavenlight and hellfire you may say. Unnatural Selections (133).

Milton’s epic poem begins with Satan in Hell, after “Him the Almighty Power / Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky / With hideous ruin and combustion down – To bottomless perdition…” Milton’s epic poetry begins with Satan as he falls to Hell. Rushdie’s novel’s narrator reveals that he, the Devil, is proud to be the leader of the fallen archangels.

The question is then raised as to if the devil in The Satanic Verses can be God. Farishta is asked, “Who am I?” by “God”, when he appears on Gibreel’s pillow. The apparition replies, “Ooparvala.” The Fellow Upstairs. ‘” (318). To answer the question, Gibreel’s visitor creates a massive storm and says, “Whether We be multiform, plural, representing the union-by-hybridization of such opposites as Oopar and Neechay, or whether We be pure, stark, extreme, will not be resolved here” (319). This passage suggests God is the same as Satan. Rekha Merchant says to Gibreel “I wouldn’t believe that Deity you have either. He lied about your Oopar Neechay Question like he has” (323). Rekha tells Gibreel she’s lying when she says that God and Satan are the same being. She states

The idea of light and dark, good and evil, is a fairly recent invention. Amos asks in the 8th century BC: “Shall there be evil if God has not dined it?”…. The word shaitan was not used as a human being until the Book of Chronicles of only the 4th century BC. (323)

Rekha’s argument is strong, and she’s not the only one who makes it. Valentius’ school, which was founded in the second century CE by a philosopher called Valentius speculated on “the origin of dark, and thus of the dualistic split of being”, is not true. Rekha’s demonic nature is well known. As Gibreel descends from the Bostan, she tells Gibreel that “You sent me to Hell” (8). Nothing she says is to be believed because she’s demonic. Gibreel knows that “the’real Rekha’ would have been unable to make such a speech” (323). Gibreel is being tested by this Rekha, an apparition. He recognizes her deception shortly after she speaks about the natures of good and bad. God is the only God. You are not the Entity or Its enemy, but a fluttering mist. No compromises” (335). Rekha is defeated by her lies and disappears.

Rekha’s argument seems to still be valid because Gibreel was told by the narrator that he is God. The “Deity” that visited Gibreel in Alleluia’s bedroom was revealed to be the narrator. He says:

I don’t say anything. Do not ask me for clarifications; the age of revelations has long passed. The rules are clear. You create, you arrange, and you let things go. If you always have to intervene, giving hints, changing rules or settling fights, where’s your enjoyment? It’s true that I haven’t interfered in the fights yet, but I am not planning to do so now. You’d be wrong to think that I’ve never wanted to get involved. I’ve done it many times. Once, yes, I really did. I spoke to Gibreel, the superstar while sitting on Alleluia’s bed. He asked me if I was a Neechayvala or Ooparvala. I did not answer him, nor did I intend to talk to this Chamcha. I’m going now. (408-9)

The narrator in this passage is a bit like Rekha. He tries to make it seem as if he’s both God and Satan. However, he doesn’t take credit for the creation. Instead, he boasts about his accomplishments, including the transformations of Gibreel and Saladin. The narrator’s claim that he had “not enlightened” Gibreel means that he told him lies – the apparition was saying that it came from Heaven and the narrator was telling the truth.

The narrator cannot be God. He’s Satan, Lucifer, or any other name for God’s enemy. In his opening statement, the narrator admits he’s not omnipotent, omnipresent or omniscient. The one true God would have these characteristics. The narrator, by saying “I don’t make any claims for the time being,” implies that Satan is still a God-like angel, but he doesn’t claim to be one. Rushdie never reveals the identity of any God who opposes Satan in The Satanic Verses. The narrator claims that “men have always used God as a way to justify the unjustified.” The women are turning to me because of this.

The narrator has chosen not to reveal himself. Satan challenges us to believe in him despite the reputation he has. Jesus, in the Gospels, describes the devil as a murderer who has nothing to do truth because he is a liar. Milton’s Satan says that he only finds comfort by destroying. “It is my constant thought …”” Rushdie’s Satan, however, does not dispute any of the accusations. Instead, he tries overcoming his past with a simple, inductive argument. If an individual who has hurt others and rejected their father can be forgiven for his actions, then why cannot the Devil receive the same forgiveness? To prove his point, Rushdie turns the charismatic Saladin Chamcha from a likeable character into a monster. Then he lets us see the world forgive Saladin for all of his wrongdoings.

Saladin is a sympathetic and understandable character at the beginning of the novel. It is Gibreel that is described first, as he is falling off the Bostan. Gibreel’s gyration and unintelligible singing is difficult to understand. Saladin’s humanity is repeatedly emphasized in an incredibly physical manner by the narrator. “Saladin Chamcha spluttered and coughed as he opened his eyes. As befitting a new born baby, he shed foolish tears.” Saladin’s childhood, despite being privileged, was able to inspire pity from the reader. When the ten year old Salahuddin lost the “fabulous loot” (35) from the found wallet and imagined his “dream city, ellowen Deeowen… London”(37), we felt a strong sense of empathy for him. Gibreel’s womanizing and halitosis is not as disgusting to us as Saladin. Saladin’s love for culture, city and wife, as revealed in the seventh volume, allows us to grasp the essence of who he was: “Culture and city; his wife, and his fourth and last love, about which he never spoke: his imagined son”. We can understand Saladin. His hopes and aspirations are reflected in us.

Saladin, before his transformation into a satanic figure, isn’t perfect. He is married to his wife and claims that he loves her, yet he “went in bed with Zeeny Vakhil within forty-eight hour of arriving at Bombay (51)”. Saladin rejects his past, and this is what makes him so alienating. The narrator admits to this being seen as odious. Satan then says that, from another perspective, one could see the heroism of his struggle, his willingness and courage to take a risk. Consider him from a sociopolitical perspective: Most migrants will learn (49). Saladin, despite his faults (which are not minor), is not as strange or disgusting as Gibreel.

Saladin has many similarities with Satan. Both Satan & Saladin reject the fathers they were born to. Both Satan and Saladin reject their fathers. Remember’st du / Thy creation, when the Creator gave thee existence? We have never been as we are today.” Satan denies responsibility for his son and is cast from heaven.

Saladin’s father is rejected in a very different way. Saladin initially distances himself with his father. Saladin rejects the second wife of his father without having met her. He then becomes British and an actor, all against his wishes. He even stops communicating. Saladin, on returning to India for the first time, blames his father’s faults, rather than denying his importance in his life.

What did the boy accuse his dad of? Of everything: espionage on child-self, rainbow-pot-stealing, exile. To make him something he never would have been. Making-a-man-of. Of what-will-I-tell-my-friends. Of irreparable sunderings, and offensive forgiveness… But most of all, magic-lampism. Being an open-sesamist. He had it all, the women, the wealth, the power, and his position. Rub, pokeof, genies, wishes, instantly master, hey-presto. He was a dad who promised a magic light, but then refused to give it. (69).

Saladin blames Changez for his demise after he tried to flee his father. Years earlier, Changez had loved his child in an infinite way. He sent his child to England to get the best possible education. Changez, trying not to show his son, made the superstitious movement that Saladin repeated later. Changez’s motion was a form of prayer. He seemed to be worried about the dangers of flight and wanted him and his son to be safe. Changez was most concerned about his son’s growth and safety. Saladin was taught a valuable lesson by being forced to pay in London for the first time. Changez, due to Saladin’s persistent rebellion, is forced to cut off his relationship with his child. “Face, mister,” says he, “I’m not going to explain anything else” (69). Changez must cast off his brightest light like God.

Saladin looks more and more like the Devil after he has returned to England, having fallen from his dad’s favor. He grows hair, his feet become hooves and his horns grow longer and thicker, twisting themselves into arabesques. Gibreel has a foul breath. He grows massively tall, “smoke started to emit from [his] porous” (294), and he breathes flames. Saladin’s real transformation occurs when he acknowledges his evil.

Saladin believes England to be better than India and so he defies his previous self. He acknowledges the evil in his actions when he finally transforms into a devil. The narrator speaks of Saladin as “I Am, He Accepted, That I Am”. Submission” (289). Saladin realizes that he harbors evil within himself and takes action to avenge it by attacking Gibreel. As the narrator says, “Who can the Devil accuse but Gibreel?” This passage is reminiscent of Satan’s statement in Paradise Lost “Farewell to Hope, and with Fear, Farewell Remorse; All Good to Me is Lost./Evil be thou My Good.”

After Saladin admits his evil desires, he looks for a way of injuring Gibreel. Saladin thinks he is seeking revenge on Gibreel because of “his treason in Rosa Diamond’s home; his silence and nothing else” (427). Saladin, however, is said to have more than revenge in mind by the narrator. Satan says:

Saying that the darkness may be closer than we imagine. In fact, it is natural for us to be drawn towards evil. Saladin Chamcha went to Gibreel Farristta to destroy him because, he said, it was easy. (427).

Saladin’s first reaction is that he doesn’t know what he really wants to do with Gibreel. Gibreel approaches him at Billy Battuta’s lavish celebration, searching for an attack. Chamcha tells Gibreel that Pamela is pregnant. Jumpy Joshuai was my old buddy. Here, I’ll admit, is an actual man. It seems that women go crazy. God knows the reason. They don’t want to wait long for his leave. Saladin accidentally arouses Gibreel’s jealousy. When Saladin reveals Jumpy’s existence, Gibreel runs after him and knocks his karate instructor out cold with an old oar. Saladin accidentally leads someone to do something evil, but he learns Gibreel’s vulnerability and embarks on his path towards becoming Iago. Saladin’s understanding of Farishtas maddening jealousy grows as he gets “closer” to Gibreel. He thinks to himself, “You bastard!… you’re really going off at the speed of knots with your wretched, deranged head.” Don’t think it means that I’ll be lenient with you” (436).

Saladin starts attacking Gibreel, after discovering the weakness of his enemy. He begins with a small comment, saying “She is a beautiful woman.” (438). Gibreel’s angry response tells Saladin to choose the Achilles’ Heel that is right for him. Saladin’s attempts to provoke Gibreel into jealousy are becoming more cruel and insidious. The narrator states, “There’s a time before evil; a time of evil; and subsequently, after the action has been completed, the next step is easier.” (438-9). Chamcha relates to Farishta that Strindberg’s former wife left him due to his jealousy, and watches Gibreel verbally abusing his lover. Saladin starts to call Gibreel & Alleluia. He uses his thousand and one voices to make Gibreel jealous. Saladin turns into a writer, speaking gibreel’s lines in a child-like voice, resulting in a set of new Satanic Verse.

I enjoy tea and coffee.

You do things with me that I enjoy.

Tell her what.

Lemon tart with rosy apples

What’s your sweetheart’s name?


***Roses is red and violets is blue

You are the sweetest person I have ever met.

Share it with others.

Waterloo is where she will be when she comes down.

She doesn’t wear No Yes she does

She’s at Leicester Square

She doesn’t wear any underwear

***Knickerknacker, firecracker,

Sis! Boom! Bah!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Rah! Rah! Rah!

***Violets and roses have different colors.

I have her here in bed.

Goodbye, sucker. (444-6).

Saladin has completed his transformation into a demonic, even though his external form is still human. He makes Gibreel lose his sanity and Farishta commits an “Unforgivable act” against Allie. Gibreel destroys Allie’s past with all her miniature Everests and the priceless guide-made one. Alleluia is ironically the first to call Saladin in order to get sympathy for her break up with Gibreel and share her story.

Saladin has totally ruined Gibreel. He has given up the good. He has become Iago. A new Satan. But very quickly, both his abandoned father and the person he destroyed forgive him. Gibreel runs through London as the buildings and people are on fire, using his trumpet Azraeel. He discovers Saladin who is the one responsible for his fall out of Alleluia. Saladin is trapped beneath a beam that has fallen in the Shaandaar Café, surrounded with flames. Gibreel had the option of letting Chamcha die in peace, but:

Gibreel Farristta lets his trumpet fall, stoops to free Saladin from prison, and he lifts him up in his arms. In a city at war with antagonism and rage on the night, this is a small win for love. (468).

Chamcha, upon hearing of his impending father’s death, decides to “reach Bombay immediately before Changez leaves for good.” (511). Salahuddin learns that his father has “recovered” (515) from his past. Changez forgives Salahuddin; he shaves the face of his father. He takes his old father to the bathroom, and says that he will get the magic lamp (529). Salahuddin receives from his dad the magic light that brings salvation and grace. Then, taking a pocket handkerchief, the man rubbed vigorously, three times. All the lights came on simultaneously. Zeenat vakil entered the bedroom” (533). Chamchawala’s repentance is evident when Gibreel confronts Salahuddin in the novel. He thinks that he will die for the verses he wrote, but he cannot bring himself to say the sentence of death was unjust. Gibreel committed suicide. Salahuddin was once the devil Saladin. He rediscovers and finds love for his father. He finds out that “despite his sins, weaknesses, guilt and humanity, he is getting another opportunity” (547).

The narrator tells Saladin Chamcha’s story to raise the question: Does Saladin merit redemption? No reader can possibly say no. Saladin’s evil is responsible for the death of Gibreel and Sisodia as well as Alleluia. We don’t resent his salvation, but we are grateful that he has sought redemption, and admitted his own fallibility. Saladin doesn’t end up like Iago the demi devil, whose final words were “Demand nothing”. What you’re aware of is what you’re aware. From now on I will not speak another word.

The narrator uses the novel to make a subliminal argument: If Saladin is entitled to a second opportunity, then all those that commit evil may also deserve a second shot. The narrator is Satan. He has certainly fallen from heaven. But he’s not the Satan in the Bible, Koran or Milton. The traditional Satan is not interested in redemption or returning to heaven. He wants to destroy God’s work on Earth and “wills evil and works good” (417). This narrator doesn’t represent the traditional Satan. He doesn’t seek to destroy God’s creation, men. Instead, he wants to change, argue, and transform them. The Devil can’t prove he deserves salvation. It’s an inductive argument based on examples. If Saladin is as bad as the Devil, why can’t he be saved? Saladin discovers that, “even the worst crime, being a father, can be forgiven at the end” (513). Can Satan forgive the father he had?

The narrator has a serious flaw: Satan is an archangel fallen from grace, but Saladin is only human. Saladin was saved due to and despite his humanity. The narrator has repeatedly stated that this quality is not present in him. The Devil, who was once a good angel and knew better than most humans how to avoid evil, would not be redeemed if he had fallen. Satan is able to defend himself, even in the face of this accusation. The narrator demonstrates a human understanding throughout his tale. Whether it be the love for Alleluia cone and Gibreel farashta, Rosa Diamond, Pamela Lovelace or Jumpy Joshi, or even Salahuddin, Changez and Changez Chamchawala. This Satan knows the power of sex as well as the struggle of climbing Everest. He also understands Ayesha’s charisma, her overwhelming emotions, and the bond between fathers and sons. The narrator brought tears to my eyes with his story of Changez’s funeral. Salahuddin descends into the grave, standing at its head, and the gravedigger is at its foot. Changez Chamchawala is lowered down. My father’s weighted head was in my hands. I laid the head down and put it to bed. Somebody once wrote: “The place where we can prove that the world exists is by dying within it” (533). Such a powerful prose could only be written by a demon with a heart.

Satan succeeds. Saladin brings him to our attention, and he is redeemed, or at any rate, we are able to understand. The third group of Satanic Verse is the narration’s verses. These Verses, in a paradoxical way, make up the whole novel. All 547 pages. These verses create and forgive, unlike Saladin. The narrator is devastated that his father, God, has never forgiven him. He never says a word in the novel.


Brians, Paul. Notes about Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses (1988) Online at

Jagger Mick Richards (The Rolling Stones). Beggar’s Banquet, “Sympathy For The Devil” London/Decca Records: 1968.

Jonas, Hans. Gnosticism is a religious belief system. Boston, Bacon Press: 1958.

The Quran. Transl. J. M. Rodwell. The Guernsey Press Co. in London published the work in 1983.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. W.W. Norton & Company published a book in New York in 1993.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha Ed. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York University Press: 1977.

Rushdie, Salman. The book, “The Satanic Verses,” is a controversial work of fiction by author Salman Rushdie. It tells the story of two Indian men and their journey through faith, culture and politics. The novel has sparked a great deal of debate due to its perceived irreverent treatment of Islamic beliefs and practices. New York: Viking, 1988.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. From the plays of tragedy. Ed. Peter Alexander. The Heritage Press in New York released a publication in 1958.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.