Salman Rushdie - The Prophet´s Hair
Author: Salman Rushdie
Title: The Prophet´s Hair
Published: East, West; 1994
Genre: a short story
Setting: Kashmir valley India, beginning of the 20th century
2 groups: those whose god is money and those whose god is an actual deity, in this case the prophet Muhammad
Motivated by money: the thieves who beat and rob Atta, the flower-vendor who finds him, Sheikh Sin – the Thief of Thieves, whom Huma hired to steal the hair from her father
Hashim – the moneylender is under the spell of money when he is first introduced into the story, thought he switches his allegiance from money to religion
His family – also under the spell of money, he and his wife made sure to instill the values of money in their children.
The characters who can be considered devout Muslims at the outset of the story are few in name. Sin the thief´s wife and four sons can be considered this way.
The only character of any significance left unaccounted for is the Deputy Commissioner of Police, and his allegiance is open to interpretation. One could say his allegiance is to the law, or rather to justice, which in another significant motivator. He seems to be the personification of government in the story.
Brief summary of the plot:
The story takes place in Srinagar during a fierce winter when Hashim a moneylender comes upon a glass jar which contains a strand of silver hair from the prophet Muhammed. Upon finding this glass jar Hashim knows it was stolen only one day prior from the Hazratbal mosque. He is now faced with an important decision. Hashim knows that he must return the hair to the mosque because this is the right thing to do. However, being a collector himself he wants to keep the prophet’s hair as he convinces himself by doing so he is a “finer server” to the Prophet. Hashim becomes violent and insulting towards his family telling his wife “their marriage had been the worst of his afflictions” (Rushdie 45) and admitting his adultery with hired women. Hashim also insults his son and disowns his daughter and must do something before he loses his family completely. But Hashim is blinded by his greed and the curse that has been put on him by the artifact. Atta, Hashim’s son, attempts to steal the hair from his father in hopes of ridding him of this rage but loses the jar through a hole in his pocket. Hashim finds it once again and is outraged and he turns to Huma his daughter to tell him what happened. Huma is left with only one option, to hire Sheikh “the Thief of Thieves” (Rushdie 52) to steal the jar from her father. Sheikh had become a pickpocket after going broke from a gambling addiction and had children who he crippled at birth so they would have a “lifelong source of high income” (Rushdie 53). On the night of the burglary everything turns out badly with the death of Atta and Huma and the suicide of Hashim. The jar is found from the pocket of Sheikh and is returned to its resting place. Although the jar has caused much trouble for Hashim and his family it has brought a miracle to the least expected. Sheik’s children are healed but are upset because they can no longer beg, but his wife is blessed with the restoring of her vision.
Theme: Deals with religion, money, hypocricy of religion, which is satirized.
Statement I remember: Only the Sheikh´s widow had some reason for feeling grateful, because although her husband was dead she had regained her sight, so that it was possible for her to spend her last days gazing once more upon the beauties of the valley of Kasmir. (end)
My evaluation: Author satirically attacks fundamental devoteness, but not just of Islam, fundamentalism and hypocracy generally speaking. But because of his quite oriental style of writing the story is rather difficult to understand. Reader must concentrate very carefully.