In 2008 Sherry Jones’ literary endeavours yielded ‘The Jewel of Medina‘. Now in 2010 we have the sequel ‘The Sword of Medina‘ …
It is creative writing at its most cloy: “His head pressed to my shuddering heart. His stiffened face, as if turned to stone, when I’d laid him in our bed. Now he lay beneath me, buried in my room, the fresh earth moistened by my tears. Exhausted after the long night, I’d fallen asleep atop his grave. Not even the call to morning prayer had roused me….
…from the rooftop rang the muezzin’s call to worship, summoning all Muslims to pledge their allegiance. In the doorway I spied the fat, bald-headed al-Abbas lurking like a spy in the shadows. Revulsion sent me out to the courtyard where my sister-wives clustered in the mosque’s entryway and watched the goings-on. ‘Everyone seems so happy, all of a sudden’, drawled Raihana, the Jewess, her haunting, houri eyes turning down at at the corners.
She’d been a gift to Muhammad from his men, a captured princess. Our warriors had killed all the men of her tribe after their leaders had tried to assassinate Muhammad, and her resentment over the deaths of her husband and sons had given her a bitter tongue. ‘Don’t tell me another prophet has risen from the dead….I watched Zaynab walk away with a yearning to join her, to bury my face in my hands and succumb to the anguish of losing Muhammad. By al-Lah, wasn’t my grief greater than hers? Hadn’t Muhammad loved me best of all his wives. He’d known me all my life…Al-Zubayr clamped his hand around my hair and dragged me into the adjoining room…”
NEWS, REVIEWS, RESPONSES – SWORD OF MEDINA
8/4/2010 “…A very frustrating read because of the lack of depth. Not a book I would recommend unless you are on a desert island with absolutely nothing at all to read”.
NEWS, REVIEWS, RESPONSES – JEWEL OF MEDINA
5/4/2010 “The website of Random House UK posted the following note [date not provided]: “Further to recent media reports about a novel called ‘The Jewel of Medina’ by Sherry Jones, Random House UK would like to make clear that the title was never acquired for release in the UK. It was due to be published by Random House Inc USA which has different publishing lists to the UK-based company. Random House UK has no detailed knowledge of the book nor any influence over its US release status” http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/Clarification_Statement.pdf
22/5/2009 “I think the Index on Censorship website is a good thing…However, Sherry Jones, the author of the book Jewel of Medina, who protests there, may not provide the most outrageous case against censorship because there is the other relevant issue that her book is, by all accounts, really bad…” http://finchesblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/jewel-of-medina-and-censorship.html
“A taxi driver was found guilty Friday of plotting to firebomb the London home of the publisher of a novel about the child bride of the Prophet Muhammad. Abbas Taj, 30, was convicted of conspiracy to recklessly damage property and endanger life for waiting in a getaway car while two accomplices poured diesel through a mailbox of the home and office of Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja in September.
The men were spotted igniting the fuel with a disposable lighter, and police quickly smashed down the door and put the blaze out….Taj, Beheshti and Mirza are due to be sentenced in July.
7/3/2009 Aaminah Hernandez’s review:”There was a lot of manufactured controversy over The Jewel of Medina. As a practicing Muslim, I fully expected to hate it based on the very idea that it is a fictionalized account of a revered woman: Aisha, wife of our Beloved Prophet. The media made a bit of noise about how it took a particular event in Aisha’s life and twisted it into a ‘sexier’ story. Like most Muslims, I expected it to offend me. I admit I went into reading this novel with a bias. As it turns out, the book was not what I expected.
It was much, much worse….For just a moment, let’s ignore the controversy surrounding the book. Allow me to be the ‘average’ reader, a non-Muslim perhaps. The writing is of poor quality. Cliche runs rampant throughout the book. Characters are one-dimensional,simplistic, in fact. Although Jones claims to be inspired by Aisha and wanting to bring her story to the world, she does not succeed in making A’isha a likeable character. Nor does she manage to create even one other character that a reader can relate to or be similarly ‘inspired’ by.
….The Jewel of Medina has hyper-sexualized Aisha’s story, and while there may be concerns about other historical and revered figures being misrepresented, there is a significant difference in Jones’ portrayal of Aisha. Arguments claiming that Jesus may have married, for example, do not denigrate his character, but instead pose questions where historical data has left gaps that people have a desire to fill in understanding his life. Jones, however, did not need to fill in any gaps in Aisha’s life. Instead, she seems to be using the idea of fiction as an excuse to write something completely fabricated and ridiculous that seeks to deny the very virtues for which Aisha is revered. Ultimately, it is the tasteless, explicit sexual discussion in the book that further differentiates it from the way other spiritual figures have been written about.
The letter I received from the editor with the book said that all criticism of the book had come from people who had not actually had an opportunity to read it. I can now say: I’ve read it and the other people who critiqued it were being too generous.”
Debate at the Bishopsgate Institute, London
Kenan Malik: As the British sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each other’s fundamental beliefs to criticism.’[But ]The trouble with multicultural censorship, is not just that it silences dissenting voices. Take the furore over ‘The Jewel of Medina’ .We have to recognise that in a plural society it is both inevitable and important that people offend others .We have to accept the pain of being offended.
Tariq Modood: Virtually every country in Europe has punitive legislation against holocaust denial? Why? Because of the distress this would cause to those who lost their near ones and have been scarred by it. Northern Ireland has had legislation on incitement to religious hatred, explicitly to protect Catholics. The play Perdition was ditched by the Royal Court Theatre because the director received phone calls from powerful people in society.Equal citizenship means treating people with civility and respect, not as second-class citizens of society.
14/2/2009 The Economist: “…Mr [Kenan] Malik and others suggest that free speech in the West is in retreat. Other publishers, faced with books that were likely to cause widespread offence, have been less resolute. In 2008 Random House was set to publish ‘The Jewel of Medina‘, a misty-eyed account of romance between Muhammad and his wife Aisha. The firm reversed its decision after a series of security experts and academics cautioned them against publication (one American academic described the work as historically inaccurate ‘soft core pornography’) warning it would be dangerously offensive….Two decades after the fatwa was imposed on Mr Rushdie, it appears that many Western artists, publishers and governments are more willing today to sacrifice some of their freedom of speech than was the case in 1989. To many critics that will be seen as self-censorship that has gone too far. But a difficult balance must be struck: no country permits completely free speech. Typically, it is limited by prohibitions against libel, defamation, obscenity, judicial or parliamentary privilege and the like. Protecting free expression will often require hurting the feelings of individuals or groups; equally the use of free speech should be tempered by a sense of responsibility….”
“As in other countries, the Muslim community in Serbia also requested the book’s ban, saying they were offended by the novel, especially the details describing the intimacy between Mohammed and his young wife Aisha.
The BeoBook publishing house withdrew the book from the stores, saying it had no intention to insult anyone, but released it again a month later, when publishers in other countries announced they were going ahead with distribution plans.
Jonesís follow-up, ‘Aisha and Ali’, will follow Aisha’s life after the prophet’s death.
‘I think the manuscript will be ready in few weeks and we’ll immediately contact the author to buy the rights and prepare a translation’, publisher Aleksandar Jasic told Belgrade Insight.’We plan to have it ready for the Belgrade Book fair in October’.
Author Sherry Jones declares, rather breathlessly, “I am pleased to announce that I have recently accepted an offer from Stockholm publisher Earbooks for Swedish rights to The Jewel of Medina. This is the newest deal cut by our Scandinavian agent Phillip Sane of the Lennart Sane Agency, who promises more publishing opportunities in the near future.German publisher, Pendo Verlag, already holds German distribution rights in Sweden.
The contract, on which the ink is barely dry, adds Sweden to a list of 20 publishers, including Beaufort Books of New York, the bookís U.S. publisher, which launched the book Oct. 6. The book is also available in Germany, where it was published Nov. 2; Italy, where Newton Compton published it Oct. 16, Serbia, where Beobook published it in mid-August, withdrew it, then re-published it Sept. 14 (and where it was the number-one best seller for two months); and Denmark, where Pressto Kommunikation published it Nov. 27. In Spain, Ediciones B plans to debut the novel Feb. 4, 2009.”
3/11/08 Author Sherry Jones’s next project “…the sequel is finished and in the hands of Beaufort Books’ editors. There is talk of bringing it out this spring in the US and in Germany. That’s very exciting, because it’s a better book! It covers the time in Aisha’s life after Muhammad’s death, when she really came into her own as a political being. It also provides the point of view of her nemesis, Ali, so the reader gets a much more well-rounded portrait of both Aisha and Ali. My working title is ‘Aisha and Ali,’ although that will probably change.
I also envision a third book in the trilogy, about Sukayna bint al-Hussein, the great-granddaughter of Muhammad, the granddaughter of Ali. She was an early Arabic feminist, living in Mecca during the height of that’s city’s intellectual glory, and a fascinating woman. Another inspiration!!! ” http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2008/11/november-book-club-jewel-of-medina-by.html
26/10/08 Azad Moeveni in ‘Time.com':
“…In an interview published with the novel, Jones says that her objective was to ‘empower women, especially Muslim women.’ But again, empowerment is a matter of perspective. Given that her narrative strips Aisha of the purity for which she is called the ‘Mother of the Believers,’ and given the increasingly conservative social mores that hold sway among young Muslim women across the world, many would argue that the novel fails in this regard.
Jones’s treatment of Ali, the key imam of Shia Islam, the Prophet’s cousin and Aisha’s eventual political rival, is another flashpoint… the problem is not Jones’s reproduction of this historically attested antagonism, but her cartoonish portrait of Ali as the Jafar villain out of Disney’s Aladdin. Jones undermines herself here with an astonishing insensitivity to Muslim sensibilities (the faith considers dogs ritually impure) by resorting to verbs usually reserved for dogs to describe Ali’s disagreeableness to Aisha. He points his sharp nose, sniffs for lies, barks ó a virtual canine companion to the Prophet ó and that’s all before the first chapter even starts….To give The Jewel of Medina the full Edward Said treatment would take pages …” http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1851965,00.html
“The Jewel of Media, the debut novel by Sherry Jones, has sold 3,000 units through October 19, according to Nielsen BookScan. ..A Beaufort spokesperson said the book has also done well in the library market…”
Jamiat Ulama, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa:
“Muslims are humbly urged to write to the Ministries of Arts and Culture and the Home Affairs asking for a complete ban on the blasphemous book The Jewel of Madina. ”
20/10/08 Shelina Zahra Janmohamed’s review:
“….The author claims she wants to humanise Aisha, to reach out to the Muslim world and to create debate.
I found the opposite of this spirit in the book. Muslims will not recognise the characters and stories here because they vary so wildly with recorded history. As the copyright note makes clear, this is a work of fiction.
Take, for example, the night of ‘Hijrah’. This was the moment when the first band of Muslims left the hostile city of Mecca to move to Medina where Islam flourished – a turning point in Islamic history. But the book changes events to place Aisha at the house of Muhammad.
Jones changes the very essence of these individuals, so their characters are at odds with historical traditions.
Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, as well as one of the great leaders of early Islam, is portrayed as conniving, hot-tempered and lascivious. The Islamic texts document him as a consistently staunch defender of truth and justice, an upstanding character.
So, if you drive a wedge between Muslims and others by fictionalising core characters, how can the book be a platform for debate?” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7676873.stm
Statement from Ulema meeting convened by the Muslim Council of Britain:
“On Sunday 12th October leading British Muslim scholars (‘Ulama) and community representatives affirmed their strong displeasure with all acts which dishonour the Prophet Muhammad and his noble family. Muslims, they declared, have a deep love for the Prophet and his family and find their portrayal in The Jewel of Medina insulting and unacceptable.
The Ulama maintained, “In the current climate of acute tensions and genuine efforts to forge harmonious relations in our society the publication of this contemptible book could only undermine the good work done in this field.” If the author intended to ‘honour Islam’ she would have consulted the recognized scholars as she was said to be advised to do. Under the guise of ‘fiction’ she has, instead, chosen to deliberately pervert the established historical facts.
– Calls Muslims to demonstrate their disapproval of the book through peaceful and dignified means.
– Calls upon Imams to designate a special khutba [sermon] on the virtues and pre-eminence of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his family in Islam.
– Affirms that British Muslims are in no way amused with sacrilege that is passed off in the name of ‘freedom of speech’. Such unbridled attacks on their faith can only fuel the flames of discontent and extremism in our Society.
– Invites other relevant bodies to work with the MCB and scholars to convene an international conference on the Prophet Muhammad and his family.
– Urges the Government and the Department of Communities and Local Government in particular to employ its political capital to bring to an end this campaign of calumny.
The meeting resolved to monitor the responses of the relevant parties and continue with its consultations….
“This is not about the debate on whether it violates the principles of free speech with fears of extreme actions by a ‘small’ group of Muslims. The publication of this book can only add insult to the mass injury caused to the Muslims with the violent attacks against Muslims in their soul, bodies and heartlands.
Publishing the book will altogether add to what now separates the Muslim world from the western world and that is the right to safeguard the treasures and the icons of the Islamic faith from western bias and western pornography. It is more a question of morality than one of rights and every one with a sane mind will agree that rights cannot take precedence on the morality of a people or of an entire faith that is represented by more than 1.5 billion people.
It is incredible that the west find it easy to target the Muslims and the Prophet of Islam including his family – note that the Prophet of Islam and his family has never offended the western world – but the same defenders of rights and freedoms fails to attack other faiths. Moreover Sherry Jones (the writer of this book) criticized the character of Imam Ali (A.S) & insulted his holy presence.”
Yusuf Patel in Islamic Revival blog:
“Sherry Jones promised a work of ‘extensively researched historical fiction’. Whilst capturing the ‘fictional’ dimension perfectly, the end result wreaks of an orientalist mindset, viewing Islamic culture and values through the prism of narrow western eyes. Her treatment of the Mother of the Believers, Aisha (RadiAllahu anha) has far more in common with a Jane Austen novel than a serious historical account. The style of her novel, choice of protagonist, as well as her subsequent statements, all suffer from a mistaken belief that the ‘real’ Aisha (RadiAllahu anha) needs to emancipated from the shackles of a male dominated recording of history….
…”And why did ye not, when ye heard it, say? – ‘It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to Allah! this is a most serious slander!” [Surah an-Nur: 16]
Surely this should be our response to Jones’ attack, which is wrapped in the garbs of establishing a bridge of understanding between people. Her work is a most serious slander.
In this day and age where gossip is more exciting than news, where reality television is preferred over reality, where newspapers infer guilt or innocence, tales of sexual misdemeanor and indiscretions, Sherry Jones enters the fray and slanders and defames the mother of the believers in a manner that trivialises who she was and how dear she is to the Muslims.”
“…The War on Terror climate has seen continued attempts from different quarters to present Islam, Muslims, Shariah law and their History in a derogatory light whilst continuously hiding behind Freedom of expression. In this case the author apparently was trying to honour Islam, The prophet and his wife through the book which has merged fact, fiction and fantasy to pander to the sexual tastes of its audience.
It is of no surprise to hear the detailed accounts of sexual adventures of celebrities, the break-ups, divorces and one -night stand stories. To use the same norms and values and thrust them onto depicting religious figure heads of Islam surely would un-nerve any one, regardless fo their faith or background.
Sherry Jones apparent detailed study of Islam and the lives of the Prophet and wives is surely questionable. What is even more questionable is the universality of the concept of Freedom of Expression and its suitability for protecting the dignity, rights and accommodation for people of differing persuasions.
Sherry Jones surely was mocking Islam when she mentioned how she was honouring Islam by writing this book….”
Irshad Manji’s endorsement:
“Sherry Jones does an extraordinary service to Islam in popularizing — and humanizing — a Muslim heroine. It’s the kind of history that I never learned in my mosque or madressa. As a faithful, feminist Muslim, I say ‘mashallah’ for this riveting novel.”
[Note - Manji heads the Moral Courage Project, New York University]
“London’s Gibson Square said publication of the book in Germany and Italy is going ahead.”
Ethar El-Katatney, an Egypt Today blogger writes:
“In her ‘day job,’ 46-year-old Jones is a correspondent for the Washington DC-based Bureau of National Affairs, an international news agency, and Womenís eNews in New York, with 28 years in journalism….Jones says she wrote the book to provide her Western readers with ‘a greater understanding of Islam [so] that we can start to build bridges with Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures [which] we’ve demonized.’
If that is the case, then her bridges are built on sand. English books and Arabic books translated by Western authors made up the bulk of her research. Jones admits that since her Arabic skills are minimal, she couldn’t access Arabic sources directly, and limited finances prevented her from actually traveling to the Middle East. Beyond the lack of primary scholarship, Jones has taken great literary license in depicting history in a manner that fits best with how she wanted her novel to develop….
The publisher sent a copy of the novel to Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin. While not a Muslim, Spellberg is an expert on Aisha, having published an academic book about her life titled Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of Aisha Bint Abi Bakr, and Random House had hoped the professor would write an endorsement of the book.
Instead, Spellberg advised them not to publish the book, and was quoted in international press calling it a ‘very ugly, stupid piece of work,’ ‘soft core pornography,’ ‘a national security threat,’ and ‘more dangerous than [Salman Rushdie's] Satanic Verses….
Consider the story of Aisha and Safwan Al-Muíattal, which features prominently in the novel.
According to historic account, Aisha accidentally leaves her necklace behind as the Prophet’s caravan gets ready to move. She goes back to fetch it, returning only to find that the caravan had left without her, not realizing she wasn’t in her litter because she was so light. Safwan ibn Al-Mu’attal, a man she had hardly ever spoken to, found her and took her home. Aisha was accused of adultery, and was eventually vindicated by God by means of a series of Qur’anic verses revealed to the Prophet (PBUH).
In The Jewel of Medina, Jones spins this into a tale of star-crossed lovers: Aisha had been engaged to Al-Mu’attal as a child and was deeply in love with him. She made up the story about forgetting her necklace, because she had conspired with Al-Mu’attal to remain behind and run away with him. She eventually realizes how wrong she was and returned to Medina ‘clutching Safwan’s waist,’ ‘loose hair lashing [her] face,’ and ‘resting [her] cheek against [his] shoulder.’
Scenes throughout the book involve Safwan flirting with Aisha, hugging her, and kissing her. ‘The stuff of tawdry, lurid romance novels, not Islamic history,’says Spellberg.
Jones defends her fictionalized account: ‘I wanted to show how Aisha might have grown from a woman controlled by men and longing for men to give her certain things to her maturation into a woman in control of her own destiny. So I used her relationship with Safwan as a metaphor. I gave her a situation where she was tempted and she overcame it. And as we all do when are able to overcome temptation, she became a wiser and more mature and more spiritually aware person.’
Spellberg sees only sensationalism, not a moral lesson. ‘The author made selective use of the past then twisted it for provocative effect to market to an American public vastly ignorant of Islamic history, and the role of women in it,’ the scholar argues. ”
“Gibson Square specialises in publishing books related to current affairs. Recent works include … Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan, which examines Islamic extremism in the capital. ”
Dr Ali Ettefah, blogging in the Washington Post:
“Censorship can be interpreted in different ways, be it state-enforced censorship or selective and voluntary restraint. But I fail to see censorship in this matter. Random House, a large publisher with vast international business, has made a business decision to drop publishing a controversial novel, perhaps one out of tens of thousands proposals that it receives in due course of business (The web site of Random House lists 10,000 books available on line for a brief browsing or purchase). Alternatively, a competitor picked up the business. This is hardly a case for a gripping thriller of writer’s suppression….
Many censorship rules remain on the books in Britain and in other EU countries, where the ‘freedom’ of expression is not an absolute right. British censorship rules continue to apply to films in theatres where every fiction film must first obtain a public viewing license from a review board. Newspaper articles remain subject to a self-policing censor practice since the second World War– articles in breach of the privacy of, or offensive to, the Royal Family or ‘sensational’ political stories that can ‘adversely’ affect society. There are also established decent public conduct laws that protect privacy, social behaviour, libel and defamation of public figures, let alone religious role models and prophets. Other EU countries such as Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, for example, completely ban the Nazi doctrine or any publication or broadcasting of, say, Hitler’s famous Mein Kampf as they all ban the Nazi party. It is now an offence in the European Union to refer to a person of Roma origin as a ‘Gypsy’ and Russia has strict rules against promotion of many sects of protestant Christianity.
The focus must shift to criminal conduct. There are established laws to deal with arson and the perpetrators must certainly be held answerable without a relapse to the sensationalism. The extremist minds set to justify criminal conduct as their means of protest ought to be reminded of the law. Firebombing a book publisher in London, or an abortion clinic in middle America, or a car bomb in the middle of a Baghdad market all have roots in the same settings of unacceptable behavior– just as more memorable and spectacular, but aimless, hate crimes of bombing Underground trains in London, or crashing airplanes into New York buildings. Alas, criminal behavior ought not to be confused with, or hyper-emotionalized as, a social trend, a legal issue, a ban or censorship.
Farzena Versey’s review:
“Apparently, Ms. Jones for all her two years of research has managed a version of chick lit, where Aisha gets in confessional mode and in a Mills and Boon fashion ‘leans on her husband’, ‘falls into his arms’, and in a rather treacly account relates that “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.’
At age nine or eleven, the ‘all my life’ seems rather a stretch. If Jones wanted to portray a Lolita, then the purpose has been served. The West and critics of Islam seem rather obsessed with the sexual element. They perhaps are the inheritors of a construct where chastity belts were common. Rarely will you see enlightened Muslims or even rabble-rousers discuss these issues….There is a huge problem in dealing with the human and the fallible. The human in religion is not fallible….
If people do believe in a certain faith, then let them decide on how to define their belief. That too constitutes freedom of speech. Fictional accounts of this nature only serve as trashy one-upmanship. They do not humanize or, alas, even demonize religion.”
“Beaufort Books went ahead and released The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones on Monday, nine days ahead of schedule. The novel has been described by an American academic as an ‘anti-Islamic polemic’. It tells a fictionalised account of the experiences of Aisha, one of the Prophet’s brides. The marketing material reads: ‘Married at nine to the much-older Mohammed, Aisha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Mohammed marries again and again, taking 12 wives and concubines in all.’
“This is not a free-speech issue; it’s a free-market issue,” Kampmann said. “Most first novels don’t sell that many copies. I’m investing real money in the book and I’m expecting a nice level of sales.”
“The Jewel of Medina” is a second-rate bodice ripper or, rather, a second-rate bodice ripper-style romance (it doesn’t really have sex scenes). It’s readable enough, but it suffers from large swaths of purple prose. Paragraphs read like ad copy for a Rudolph Valentino movie. ‘From my camel’s hump I could feel the leaf-kissed air moving like a cool, moist cloth across my brow as I inhaled the fresh clean scents of petal and blade and springs gilding the morning,’ says A’isha. The newly founded Islamic community is fleeing Mecca, and she’s selling air freshener. Also, it’s unfortunate that Jones refers to male genitals as ‘the scorpion’s tail.’Perhaps this is an Arabic metaphor, like the Petrarchan conceit of lips like cherries, but it doesn’t work.
The characters are difficult to believe. A’isha is a 7th century prepubescent girl for the first part of the novel, yet she sounds like a mix of Gloria Steinem and Pippi Longstocking. Dreaming of adulthood, she muses, ‘I’d rather be a lone lioness, roaring and free, than a caged bird . . .’. Looking at her mother, she notes: ‘In her world, women weren’t supposed to fight, only to submit. . . . They weren’t supposed to live, only to serve.’ Pretty precocious for a 6-year-old.
… I suspect Jones wanted to write a feminist text, sort of Islam 101 for the post’Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ generation. I can’t say whether, from a religious point of view, ‘The Jewel of Medina’ is worth the anguish it’s caused, but as literature, it’s a misstep-ridden, pleasant-enough mediocrity.”
Laurel Maury writing in the Los Angeles Times
“Ms Jones, 47, a liberal feminist, journalist and divorced mother of a 14-year-old daughter, has produced a story of love and intrigue about Mohammed, Aisha, his harem and women’s empowerment after studying Islamic history in the library. …
The terror attacks of September 11 and the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan aroused her interest in Islam and the role of women in the Muslim world, she explained.
…Some other critics have criticised Ms Jones’ prose style, and her description of Aisha’s first night with Mohammed has attracted considerable attention. …
But she remains undaunted, and her second novel, The Battle of the Camel, is already complete. This covers the great historical schism in Islam that created its rival Sunni and Shia strands, and features the widowed Aisha leading troops into battle on a camel against the forces of Ali, Mohammed’s nephew. The subject is just as controversial as Mohammed’s love life – and the reaction is likely to be just as heated.
“With British publication in doubt for Sherry Jones’ “The Jewel of Medina,” the U.S. publisher of her controversial novel about the Prophet Muhammad has moved up the release date from Oct. 15 to Monday. ”
“Beaufort, the U.S. publisher that issued O.J. Simpson’s reviled, once-rejected ‘If I Did It,’plans to release “The Jewel of Medina” on Oct. 15, with a first printing of 50,000. As of Monday afternoon, the book was No. 204 on Amazon.com. Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc. will both stock the book in stores, spokeswomen for the superstore chains said.”
“While in no way condoning firebombing the publisher’s offices, I find Jo Glanville’s defence of the publication of Aisha, the Jewel of Medina as an act of courage on the part of the publisher ridiculous (Respect for religion now makes censorship the norm, September 30). Would she be so ready to describe as an act of courage a decision to publish a book denying the Holocaust, or advocating paedophilia, or race hate, or antisemitism, or violence against women? Probably not. And if not, there are limits to her conception of freedom of speech – as there are limits to that of anybody else who wishes to live in a relatively open society but would also object to such publications.
There is no such thing as free speech – and a good thing too. There are rather just degrees of tolerance, permissiveness and relative freedom, with boundaries, legal, social and cultural. And there are always limits, many of which we are barely aware of, so much do we take them for granted. The issue with this book and others that have offended Muslims, including The Satanic Verses, is that their publication is liable to give Muslims the possibly correct impression that a culture riddled with its own shibboleths, taboos and areas of interdiction does not consider it a problem to offend their sensitivities, not least by trivialising their religion and their culture in works of fiction. This is far worse than being anti-Muslim. It treats Muslim sensitivities as being beneath consideration. No wonder they are angry”.
Institute for Cultural Research, Lancaster University
“Author Miss Jones has now called on Professor Spellberg to retract her comments, saying they are ‘unfair’ and ‘slanderous’. ”
“Jones, 46, an American journalist (this is her debut book), sounds like a tough cookie. Perhaps this is down to her upbringing. She was an Air Force brat who lived on a series of bases. She spent 20 years in Montana, which she considers home, graduating from the University of Montana’s creative writing program. She moved to Spokane, Washington state, about a year ago.
She had begun reading about women in the Middle East, while at the same time pondering her college honor’s thesis and decided that the Prophet’s wife Aisha’s story would make a good book.
Jones, who has never been to the Middle East, ended up taking two years of Arabic language classes. She gathered every book she could find to make her novel historically accurate about seventh-century Arabia. She lists more than two dozen books in the bibliography. She recently said that she dreamed of going to Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, a favourite of hers, and seeing The Jewel of Medina listed in the store’s books newsletter. She says: ‘For me, this book felt almost like giving birth and losing the baby’.”
Jafar Siddiqui writing in the Wall Street Journal
“I must take exception to Elizabeth Samson’s Sept. 10 op-ed, ‘Criminalizing Criticism of Islam.” While her arguments are broadly valid, Ms. Samson’s moral cudgel appears to be wielded only against the villains of current fashion: Islam and Muslims…
There are numerous European laws that punish the defamation of religions and — in the case of Denmark — causing pain to people of any faith. Yet Flemming Rose of the Jyllands-Posten deliberately commissioned cartoons insulting the prophet Muhammad. I believe he wanted to goad Muslims, and his tactic worked with a tiny minority of intolerant Muslims. I doubt if Mr. Rose would publish pictures of rape victims or dead children, and certainly not anti-Semitic or anti-black articles. The media always exercise care and self-restraint because of the potential for injury, and because they wish to avoid retribution from powerful quarters. But not when it
comes to Muslims.”
THE SALAAM BLOG
It is described as ‘a historical fiction novel of the love story between the Prophet Mohammed and his favorite wife Aisha’ according to the publisher’s press release [see http://www.jewelofmedinabook.com].
Don’t expect a novel which enhances respect for the holy Prophet, peace be on him, or for the mothers of the believers! Instead there is torrid language befitting Playboy magazine.
This is the first novel by Sherry Jones and she is working on a sequel -presumably also pandering to orientalist fantasies and mocking Islamic personalities.
The original publishers, Random House, decided to drop the title because of the hurt and resentment that would be caused by such sensationalist and cheap literature.
The title was then taken up in the US by Beaufort Books. Its President Eric Kampmann states that “everyone at Beaufort is proud to be associated with this ground breaking novel.” Mr Kampmann is a literalist Christian who has himself written tracts such as ‘Trail thoughts- a daily companion for your journey of faith’ [see his website http://www.trailthoughts.com/]
The question now is how should we respond. Firstly, we should shame the bookís supply chain in the UK. Jullian Baggani wrote a short but sensitive article earlier this week in The Guardian entitled ‘A right to offend does not mean it’s right to offend’.
While commenting on an offensive portrayal of Jesus at an exhibition in Gateshead, he also noted, ‘You can’t just ignore the background against which lampooning takes place. Christians, for instance, are not oppressed, despite what wannabe martyrs would have us believe. British Muslim, in contrast, are a somewhat beleaguered community. We should think twice before mocking them, because while comedy speaking truth to power is funny, the powerful laughing at the weak is not…that does not mean we should never do anything that causes Muslims offence, only that we should not do so lightly.'(The Guardian, 4th April 2008).
Moreover there are lessons from the Danish cartoons controversy (exactly two years ago – funny how Muslims are regularly terrorised by these ‘cultural’ bombs). The lesson was that one of the most effective ways of getting the Danes to their senses was a trade boycott.
Surely bodies like the Muslim Council of Britain and the British Muslim Forum can now join hands and call a meeting of Muslim ambassadors to alert them of the problem?
The Government will then wring its hands and say that Britain has a free press and freedom of expression. However this is hum-bug. There are enough examples of interference when it is in the national interest.
For example ‘fears that fresh revelations about disputes between Tony Blair and George Bush on the Iraq conflict could damage Downing Street’s intimate relationship with the White House prompted this weekís unprecedented threat by the attorney general to use the Official Secrets Act against national newspapers'(The Guardian, 24th November 2005).
Similarly a book that cast a critical eye on the relationship between the Bush and Saud families, ‘House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties,’ by Craig Unger, was dropped by its British publisher just weeks before it was scheduled to arrive in stores. According to an editor, ‘We’ve had to withdraw it for legal reasons’ (see article by Eric Boehlert in Salon.com, 23rd March 2004).
There are numerous examples too of pressure groups and lobby groups using their clout:
(i) In April 2008 the Dutch government nipped in the bud a project by Ehsan Jami – a founder of the Council of E-Muslims – for a gratuitously mocking and sacrilegious cartoon film on the Prophet. On seeing a still from the movie, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin, took action. One approach was to convince the producer that such films had repercussions on social harmony and coexistence in the Netherlands as well as its national interests. This was reinforced by the signal that if Jami didn’t cancel his movie, the government would withdraw its security protection for him. That was enough for the message to get through. The Muslim Coordinating Council of the Netherlands thanked the Justice Minister for his intervention.
(ii) A TV ad campaign featuring lingerie-clad women praying for beautiful hair was recently banned by the advertising watchdog because of offence to Christians (The Guardian, 12th March 2008).
(iii) In September 2004, the BBC dropped an adult cartoon series ‘Popetown’ it had produced itself after complaints from Catholics. The late Sidney Shipton of the Board of Deputies and coordinator of the Three Faiths forum observed, ‘We had a hand in persuading the BBC not to show ‘Popetown’…the idea today of making a mockery of religion is becoming too popular with playwrights’ . (Jewish Chronicle, 24th December 2004).
(iv) A paper on the genetic origins of Palestinians was deleted from the journal ‘Human Immunology’ because it included an historical introduction calling Jews living in the Gaza strip ìcolonistsî (Nature 414, 2001)
(v) The Wiesenthall Centre successfully stopped the Glyndebourne Opera Company from staging John Adamís ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ as it was deemed anti-semitic. Apparently ìKlinghoffer was condemned on the grounds that it portrayed the hi-jack of the cruise-liner Achille Lauro in neutral, even-handed terms…’
(vi) In March 2006, a play on the life of Rachel Corrie – who died under an IDF bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23 – was cancelled by the New York Theatre Workshop because, according to its artistic director ‘…what we heard was that after Ariel Sharonís illness and the election of Hamas…we had a very edgy situation’ (The Guardian, 1st March 2006)
(vii) The British-based author and publisher Carmen Calil was ostracised because her book ‘Bad Faith’ on Vichy France and a reception in New York was cancelled. This was because of a postscript in which she stated that she had grown anxious while researching the ‘helpless terror of the Jews of France’ to see ‘what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people…'(The Guardian, 11th October 2006)
(viii) Gurpreet Kaur Bhattiís play ‘Behzti’ was axed by the Birmingham Reperatory Theatre in December 2004 after protests by Sikhs
(ix) Similarly the play ‘Perdition’ ran foul of the likes of David Cesarani and the Institute of Jewish Affairs in 1987 ñ because it recounted the collaboration of some Zionists with the Nazis in Budapest in 1944. The play was then censored by the Royal Court ñ according to Ken Loach, the attack ‘came from those who objected to the political critique of Zionism and the consequent dispossession of the Palestinians’ (letter to The Guardian, 23rd December 2004). More recently Cesarani had this advice to offer: ‘the Jewish response to Perdition…was to lobby and use the media ëto correct gratuituous misrepresentation of religion and belief at every opportunity. Other ethnic groups could learn a lot from the way we dealt with this’. (Jewish Chronicle, 24th December 2004)
Perhaps our representative bodies should be seeking an appointment with Professor Cesarani!
Mr Rushdie of Satanic Verses notoriety has of course criticised Random House from backing down and letting the title go to Beaufort Books. He makes his usual statement censorship and intimidation – a bit rich when this is coming fast on the heels of his successful libel action blocking the account of his police protection officer Ron Evans – four thousand copies had to be pulped.
A similar fate should await Sherry Jones’s sacrilegious novel. (414)