After Random House changed its decision to publish Sherry Jones‘ controversial novel about Mohammed’s child bride Aisha, Belgrade publisher BeoBook pulled copies of the Serbian translation of The Jewel of Medina. The pull was in response to threats of protest from the Islamic Community in Serbia administered by Islamic Mufti Muamer Zukorlić, who called the book “offensive to Muslims,” demanded it be removed from shelves and requested an apology from BeoBook’s director, Aleksander Jasic.
According to the New York Times, Random House cancelled publication of Jones’ novel because it feared The Jewel of Medina “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.” Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said it “disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now.” Read Random House’s full statement regarding the decision here.
“Obviously someone wishes to join the ranks of those who produced the cartoons in Denmark several years ago and it is an insult to all Muslims of the world, especially for us here in Serbia.”
Furthermore, publishing rights were reverted back to the author whose agent was successful in subsequently shopping the manuscript. On the 5th of September, Beaufort Books, U.S. publisher of another controversial book, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, announced it will be releasing The Jewel of Medina in October of this year.
However, the decision by Random House not to publish the book was also based, in large part, on the opinion of Denise Spellberg, an associate professor at the University of Texas in Austin. Spellberg referred to the book as soft-core pornography but, as reported in the Times Online:
“The author avoids graphic sex scenes between the two…A’isha says: “This was the beginning of something new, something terrible. Soon I would be lying on my bed beneath him, squashed like a scarab beetle, flailing and sobbing while he slammed himself against me. He would not want to hurt me, but how could he help it? It’s always painful the first time.” After consummating her marriage to the Prophet, she says: “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.” “
More disturbing than a censorship of sexual content, Spellberg called the book a “declaration of war” that “counts on stirring up controversy to increase sales.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Asra Q. Nomani, wrote:
“Ms. Spellberg wasn’t a fan of Ms. Jones’s book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg’s classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. “She was upset,” Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel “made fun of Muslims and their history,” and asked him to warn Muslims.”
After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didn’t “know anything about it [the book],” but telling them, “Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, ‘Jewel of Medina’ — she said she found it incredibly offensive.” He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.
The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullah’s email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims — “Hussaini Youth” — under a headline, “upcoming book, ‘Jewel of Medina’: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam.” Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure “the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.”
Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House’s Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.”)
Nomani is an Indian-American Muslim journalist, author, and feminist, known as an activist in the Muslim reform and Islamic feminist movements.
Spellberg says that the publication of The Jewel of Medina by Random House was cancelled due to the “threat of a threat.” Salman Rushdie, indefinitely under fatwa for authoring the controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, calls it “censorship by fear” that “sets a very bad precedent.” Rushdie’s most recent book, The Enchantress of Florence, was published in May, coincidentally, by Random House.