“The Jewel of Medina,” a controversial work of historical fiction by American author Sherry Jones, was supposed to have gone on sale Oct. 15 in the United Kingdom. A series of events, however, have delayed its British release indefinitely. The book, which went on sale in the United States on Oct. 6, describes the life of Aisha, the young girl who became the Prophet Mohammed’s third — and according to many sources, favorite — wife.
Some Muslims have labeled the book blasphemous and have branded the author an enemy of Islam. An associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas at Austin said Muslims would find the book very offensive and, in an August interview in The Wall Street Journal, likened it to soft-core pornography.
While the author and publisher have argued that the book respectfully portrays Mohammed and his relationship with Aisha — in stark contrast to the Danish cartoons that have sparked so much protest and violence — the tone of the book is not the real issue. To many Muslims, not only is it offensive to ridicule Mohammed but it is forbidden and considered a dire insult to portray the prophet in any way outside the context of Islamic writings. This insult is magnified when Mohammed is depicted having intimate relations with his wife, a revered figure in Islam who is referred to in many Islamic writings as “Um ul Mumineen” (Arabic for “Mother of the Believers”). Because of this, in all probability many Muslims — not just a few radicals — will find the book offensive.
“The Jewel of Medina” is scheduled to be released in 15 other countries in 2008, including major European markets, Russia and Brazil. There have been no known fatwas, or religious opinions, issued by Muslim leaders calling for action against Jones or any of the book’s publishers at this time. Likewise, a spokesman for the U.S. publisher notes that Jones has not personally received any threats related to the book. The book already has prompted one amateurish attack against the home of its British publisher, however, and we believe that as the issue percolates, we will see more violence in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in connection with the book. [emphasis added]