Instructor: Prof. Cecilia Liu  



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The Prophet's Hair



Magical Realism



Symbols -- The Prophet Hair





:The Prophet・s Hair; is based on story of the theft of a relic containing a hair of the Prophet Muhammad. The tale is a fantastic account of the miraculous but disastrous events befalling all those who come into contact with it. The stolen relic is found by a moneylender, Hashim. 
Instead of returning it to the mosque from which it was taken, he keeps it. Under its influence, this previously secular Muslim becomes orthodox to the point of extremism and hurt his family by adopting it. 
His son, Atta, tries to take the hair back to Mosque, but at the last minute he finds out that the hair is no longer with him because there is a hole in his pocket (2849 L6). Then Huma comes up with another plan, and decides that it will have to be stolen by hiring a thief, .Sheikh Sín・, who takes the hair amid a scene of carnage. However, she ends up with a disaster. 

At the end of story, Hashim accidentally kills his own daughter, but he does not realize what he has done until he turns the light on. Finally, the thief is hunted and shot by the police, but his four crippled sons and blind wife have miraculously been cured by their contact with the relic. 
Rushdie describes Hashim・s family as an insecure and frightened family. The story is concerned with an iconic object, the hair, and its relocation from a holy place, the shrine, to the profane space of the outside world, then to a secret hiding place in the moneylender・s locked study, and finally back to the shrine again. 

Form: Storytelling
Narration: It is a flashback style of narration that starts from Atta・s search for a professional burglar.


1. Parable 2. Magical Realism

Parable: to check human desire & follow natural cause

Magical Realism

Hashim・s change: guilty? 
consider himself to be a superior? 
affected by hair?


1. painting: 1925, a German art critic, Franz Roh 
(a new post-expressionistic formXsurrealistic

2. literature: 1940s, a Cuban, Alejo Carpentier 
(:lo real maravilloso;Xmarvelous reality)

3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez・ One Hundred Years of
Solitude & John Fowels・ French Lieutenant・s 


realistic + fantastic + mysterious
+ enigmatic + mythologicalK elements

2 conflicting perspectives:

1) based on a rational view of reality
2) acceptance of the supernatural as mundane
set in a normal, modern world with authentic descriptions of humans and society



;By articulating a grievance, I could help, or so I hoped, to build bridges of understanding.; (Imaginary Homelands, by Rushdie) 

To mock at idol worship
--->  religion: a powerful tool in the hands of rulers 
---> deities or objects:
        Dh Tyuo (
戳Ql) , Matsu palanquin (
---> superstition, extremity


7-204 Al-A'raf (The Heights)

Waitha quria alquranu faistamiAAoo lahu waansitoo laAAallakum turhamoona

7:204 When the Qur'an is read, listen to it with attention, and hold your peace: that ye may receive Mercy. 

112-1 Al-Ikhlas (The Purity)

Qul huwa Allahu ahadun

112:1 Say: He is Allah, the One and Only

Hazratbal, Mosque

Entrance of the Sacred Relic Chambers


Entrance Door of the Sacred Relic Chambers

Interior View of the Sacred Relic Chambers


Some hairs from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad

Symbols -- The Prophet Hair

Through the journey of different places that the relic of the Prophet Muhammad has been relocated (from the shrine, the outside world, Hashim・s sanctum, and then back to the shrine again), the meaning of the hair is being changed as well. 

Hair as a religious relic

The hair is a famous relic which is regarded as a symbol of the sacred image of the Prophet Muhammad. It was restored in its shrine at Hazratbal mosque. However, the loss of the relic has caused the riots, the political ramifications and the changes in the two families. (2846 par 5~6)

Hair as a secular object 

The relocation of the relic changed the hair's meaning. However, it's not the object itself which changes the meaning, but human beings. Hashim, the moneylender, changes the relic from the religious value to a secular object (2846 last par). Even though the hair's meaning has been changed, its mysterious magic still exists. Influenced by the misappropriated relic, Hashim leads the family into carnage (massacre). 

Hair as a human heart 

The hair reveals the desire of human being by possessing the great rarity of beauty. It may also reveal the truth inside human beings. While having dinner with his family, Hashim gushed the awful truth in his mindXhow he thought about his marriage, his children, and revealed the existence of a mistress. He, finally, :got many things off his chest.; (2847 par 5~end) 

Prophet's Hair and Its Reverence

The hair displays on a certain day once a year. People touch or kiss the box and rub hands on their faces in order to get blessing. 
The hair has been formally authenticated; however, is it the right way to show love of the prophet? People do not need a part of his body to show their love, do they? The proper way is to follow his guidance and implement his Sunnah. Like Hashim, who possesses the hair, instead of bringing luck, he leads the family to a disaster. 


Irony1 What Hashim says and what he does is opposite. He likes to say that he sets great store by living honorably in the world. 

Hashim pointed out that while he was not a godly man he set great store by .living honourably in the world・. (2845, par 2 from the bottom) 

But actually Hashim isn・t worthy of honor because he treats cruelly those debtors who are unable to pay the latest installment of interest. 

That afternoon, a trembling debtor arrived at the house to confess his inability to pay the latest installment of interested owned, and made the mistake of reminding Hashim, in somewhat blustering fashion, of the Qur・an・s strictures against usury. The moneylender flew into a rage and attacked the fellow with one of his large collection of bulliwhipK.. 
(2848 par 3- 4, 2849) 

From the two paragraphs, we can see how Hashim treats his debtors. When one debtor reminds him that usury is against the Qur・an・s stricture, Hashim flies into a rage and attacks the fellow. By the fourth afternoon, he hires two thugs to extract the unpaid money from two of his broken clients.

He can do anything unscrupulously to get the money or achieve his goal. (2848, last par) 

It's clear that the moneylender's business is violent and threatening. He is faithful to Islam externally, but he still runs usury business which is strictly forbidden by Qur・an. When he gets the hair, instead of returning it, he keeps it to his desk. He persuades himself the Prophet would not have approved of this relic-worship because the Prophet abhors the idea of being deified. That・s his way to make his statement consistent. 

He can do anything unscrupulously to get the money or achieve his goal. (2848, last par) 

It's clear that the moneylender's business is violent and threatening. He is faithful to Islam externally, but he still runs usury business which is strictly forbidden by Qur・an. When he gets the hair, instead of returning it, he keeps it to his desk. He persuades himself the Prophet would
not have approved of this relic-worship because the Prophet abhors the idea of being deified. That・s his way to make his statement consistent. 

'And after all,・ Hashim told himself, the Prophet would have disapproved mightily of this relic-worship. He abhorred the idea of being deified! So, by keeping this hair from its distracted devotes, I performXdo I not?Xa finer service than I would by returning it! Naturally, I don・t want it for its religious valueKI・m a man of the world. I see it purely as a secular object of great rarity and blinding beauty. In short, it・s the silver vial I desire more than the hair. (2846-47) 

The truth is he desires the silver vial more than the hair. The prophet・s hair is a secular object rarity and blinding beauty which belongs to one of his collector・s mania. 

His keeping the hair violates Muslim law, and profanes the religious value. Under the hair・s great influence, Hashim changes his life style and becomes weird. When the inversion comes, he begins to pray :for the first time of his life; and forces his family members to do as the same. 

At five o・clock the next morning the moneylender forced his family to rise, wash and say their prayers. From then on, he began to pray five times daily for the first time in his life, and his wife and children were obliged to do likewise. (2847-48)

Also, he orders his family and servants to read Qur・an, which is :the only volume left untouched before; in their house.

He ordered each member of his family to read passages from this book for at least two hours per day. (2848 par 1, L5~6)

It seems that Hashim becomes a religious man because of reading Qur・an, but it・s not true. He is pious on his behavior not from the bottom of his heart. He starts to behave abnormally when he gets the hair. Besides threatening his debtors, he yells at his family and abuses them. (2849 par 5)

Anyhow, the moneylender・s occupation is not compatible with the society of Muslim. In a word, Hashim's reverence for religious worship is represented as hypocritical.


Huma tries to save her family, but the plan failed out of Atta・s voice. As the thief comes to Hashim・s house, Atta cries out :Thief! Thief! Thief!; oddly for three times. 
(2851 par 3, L5)

Is it coincidence or the power of the magic hair? It just happens and Huma can・t stop the disaster.


The prophet・s hair has the numinous and supernatural power which handles the fate of Hashim・s family and Shiekh・s in the story. Or we can say their destiny is influenced by the hair and the natural cause.

Is the hair so powerful? 

People would usually overextend and reinforce its mysterious strength, even if it・s only a trivial thing. Here, Rushdie uses the juxtaposition of the rich Hashim・s house and the poor Sheikh・s to set a contrast. The glassy contentment of the household is to be shattered which is a foreshadowing of the coming of their tragedy. Compared with Hashim・s luxurious house, Sheilkh・s family live in all darkness (blackness).

All around him in his study was the evidence of his collector・s maniaK (2846 par 2 from the bottom)

(2844 par 4, L 6 :Shiekh・s needy worldK; ) 

Kinto the light-repellent gullies of the most wretched and disreputable part of the city. 
(2852 par 2, L6~7)

Atta and Huma have a wealthy life; ironically, Shiekh・s four sons are crippled by their father to make their living.

For, with a parent・s absolutist love, he had made sure they were all provided with a lifelong source of high income by crippling them at birth, so that, as they dragged themselves around the city, they earned excellent money in the begging business.
(2850 par 3 from the bottom, L5~8 )

Kthat they were all sound of limb and strong of wind, as whole as they might have been if their father had not thought to smash their legs in the first hours of their lives. 
(2852 par 2 from the bottom, L4~6 )

Is the miracle fortunate to them?
Probably it is, but not all the persons involved think so. When the miracle happens to Sin・s four sons, they are furious because they lose their power to earn their living after having the sound bodies.

They were, all four of them, very properly furious, because the miracle had reduced their earning powers by 75 per cent, at the most conservative estimate; so they were ruined men. (2852 par 2 from the bottom, L6~9) 


Is the hair fortunate or unfortunate? 
The hair symbolizes the sacred image of the Prophet of Mohammed, and it・s an ironic object in this story. Its relocation is from the shrine (a holy place), to the outside world (the profane place), and to the moneylender・s locked study (the profane place), back to the shrine (a holy place) again. The relic should be put into the shrine, it is profaned and violates its holy nature when it is stolen. Hashim・s family・s reverence for icon is hypocritical, and they are subjected to the general carnage. The force of the hair seems to have been replaced its meaning through its transplantation. 
Many people suppose that they would be blessed if they hold the icon, but it・s not right. No matter the hair has the might or not, it deeply influences human being・s heart and behavior. 

Beyond human desire, people would like to hold the icon and hope they could have good luck. Hence they would forget the genuine importance easily and to be lost in their desire. This is a parable which teaches us to break with iconoclasm and superstition. 

All in all, the goal of religion is to help people lead a better life not to believe it blindly. 


Why did the relic play such a significant part in Hashim's life? After Hashim found the relic, what drove him crazy and abusive?

What are the elements of realism in this story? Of magic? 

The Satanic Verses was condemned by many Muslims as a blasphemous portrait of Islam and the prophet Mohammed. How are the various Muslims in the story depicted, and do those depictions add up to a blasphemous portrait of Islam?