The Satanic Verses: Study Questions. VIII. The Parting of the Arabian Sea
1. As the pilgrimage makes its way towards the sea, it encounters a number of problems--burying the dead, surviving the rains, enduring the hostility of crowds--and Ayesha becomes stricter and more severe. Does our attitude towards her change in the course of the pilgrimage? What changes take place in the attitudes of the pilgrims?
2. Ayesha's phrase that "everything will be asked of us" seems to resonate in this section even when it is not repeated (and particularly loudly when it is). What different meanings does the phrase seem to possess, and how does it shift in its meanings as the events of the pilgrimage unfold?
3. The incident of the stoning of the baby seems to represent an important change not only in our attitude towards Ayesha but in the pilgrims and their attitude towards her as well. What significance does the incidence have in the development of the pilgrimage?
4. Mirza Saeed follows the pilgrims in his car. What differences are reflected by the contrast between the car and the walkers? Who joins Mirza Saeed and why? Do the riders in the car represent a distinctly different group from the pilgrims, and if so, why do they continue to follow the pilgrimage
5. Among the other changes that take place in the course of the walk are those of Mishal Mirza Saeed, her health, her function in the pilgrimage, and her relationship with her husband (and even her mother). What are those changes, why do they take place, and how do they affect the other characters?
6. A further manifestation of the satanic verses seems to be Browning's well-known poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," which Mirza Saeed recites (in English) to the pilgrims, and which Ayesha refers to as "the Devil's verses, spoken in the Devil's tongue" (484). Even if you do not remember the poem from your childhood, it is relatively short and quite entertaining, and you can look it up. Why does Mirza Saeed recite it? Why is it diabolic? What is the significance of the fact that it is in a language that virtually none of the pilgrims understand?
7. As the pilgrimage continues it no longer remains a private or even village event but becomes a public event, attracting the attention of the press and the hostility of onlookers. What are the public reactions to the pilgrimage, and what are their effects on the pilgrims themselves?
8. Mirza Saeed repeats Baal's first test ("What kind of idea are you?") by offering Ayesha to take her, his wife, and a number of other pilgrims (but not all) to Mecca by plane, if, in return, she gives up the effort to cross the Arabian Sea. She refuses. Does she pass the test? If so, how and why? Does your opinion of the reliability of the test change as a result of the incident?
9. The pilgrims disappear into the ocean, but the survivors (except for Mirza Saeed) see the waters part. What is Mirza Saeed's reaction to this witness on behalf of the pilgrims? What is your reaction? What is the relation of this outcome to the earlier statement of Mirza Saeed that "the mystical experience is a subjective, not an objective truth" (239)?
10. In the end, Mirza Saeed himself comes to some sort of vision. What sort? What do you make of it? Compare it to Ayesha's earlier claim (which she attributes to Gibreel) that if we can open our souls, we can open the sea. Compare it to the question from Blake (338): "does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?" What conclusion does the vision and death of Mirza Saeed provide for this section?
11. As sometimes happens in Rushdie's novels, fiction here turns out to be strongly based on reality. The Ayesha Pilgrimage is a fictionalization of the "Hawkes Bay case," in which a young woman named Nasreen Fatima, inspired (she claimed) by the hidden twelfth Imam, led a group of 38 Shias into the sea (Pakistan, February 1983). Most were drowned; the survivors claimed they had a mystic experience. Does its basis in fact change the way the story might be read and interpreted?
12. Perhaps in the conflict between Ayesha the visionary and Mirza Saeed the non-believer neither wins (or both do). Are there any senses in which Mirza Saeed emerges as a hero? What are his admirable characteristics? What principles or values does he have that he can set against the religious claims of Ayesha?