The Jewel of Medina was written as a tribute to the Prophet’s feminist leanings but now it’s the target of religious and academic outrage
LA Times -Washington Post
Posted online: Monday, September 01, 2008
Once upon a time, Sherry Jones was a Montana newspaper reporter who dreamed she could contribute to world peace with a novel about the prophet Muhammad and his feminist leanings. Then she wrote it. Today? She’s the target of a Serbian mufti and a Middle Eastern studies professor with a lawyer.
Jones, 46 went from being a Book-of-the-Month Club pick to seeing her novel dropped by Random House, which said it had received “cautionary advice” that the fictionalised story of one of the Prophet’s wives might “incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”
Jones and her novel, The Jewel of Medina, are subjects of debate from Egypt to Italy to Serbia, where 1,000 Serbian-language copies were printed before the publisher backed out, too. Ironically, Jones began with a pro-Islamic mind-set when she began writing in 2002. After the September 11 attacks, she began to research the status of women under Islam. And she came to a conclusion: the Prophet supported more rights for women than do many of his modern followers.
“I wanted to tell the story of the women around Muhammad, and to honour them and him as well,” Jones said who otherwise writes on environmental issues for the Bureau of National Affairs.
She started writing a fictionalized story of Aisha, a young and much-beloved wife of the prophet. In April 2007, Random House gave Jones a $100,000 contract for the book and a sequel. Jones gave Random House a list of people who might review the book or write blurbs for it. One suggested reviewer hit the alarm switch. Denise Spellberg, who teaches Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas and has written about Aisha, said the book was inflammatory and problematic. Spellberg then contacted several Muslim Web sites and told them to oppose the book’s publication. Spellberg also wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that the book was “provocative”.
Publishing insiders are of two minds on the cancellation of Jewel, with many calling it alarming and recalling the violence that followed the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons about Islam and the worldwide fatwah inspired by Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses.
Some progressive Muslims, including feminist journalist Asra Nomani, disagree. “OK, so this isn’t the next great piece of literature, but it pushes the ball forward in challenging dogmatic ideas about how you can relate to Islam,” Nomani said.
“We need movement from this static relationship we have with Islam. ... Look, Mary and Mary Magdalene have taken hits and survived somehow.”
Carol Schneider, the Random House spokeswoman, said the company called security consultants and Islamic scholars, “all but one of whom expressed strong concern.”
Recently, a Serbian publisher agreed to print 1,000 copies, but within 24 hours said it wouldn’t do another run after protests from a Belgrade mufti, or Islamic scholar.
They got into trouble too:
Alice in Wonderland
Banned in China (1931) for the portrayal of animals acting on the same level as humans.
Publication delayed in UK . Confiscated in Germany by Allied troops. Banned in 1946 in Yugoslavia. Also banned in Kenya in 1991 and in the United Arab Emirates in 2002.
The Da Vinci Code
Banned in Lebanon after Catholic leaders deemed it offensive to Christianity.
The Gulag Archipelago
The book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was banned in the Soviet Union because it went against the common way of thinking there.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Temporarily banned in the United States and UK for violation of obscenity laws. Banned in Australia.
Throwing Stones At Random House
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; Page A12, Washington Post
The Post was entirely correct to criticize Random House for pre-emptively caving in to Islamic fundamentalists who might take offence with the novel "The Jewel of Medina" ["Random House's Retreat," editorial, Aug. 22].
But I can't help but think you would have a little more credibility on the subject if you hadn't allowed the same potential threats to dictate how you reported the controversy two years ago over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. The Post had its chance to assert its right to report current events as a major newspaper should by printing the cartoons, but instead you caved in to the mob just as Random House has.