Random House sent a copy out to selected individuals to gauge feedback. This feedback included on recipient lobbying Muslim websites and warning them of the books imminent publishing date. Random House fearing a backlash similar to the Satanic Verses or the more recent violence associated with the publication of some cartoons of the Prophet, has decided that it is no longer willing to publish the novel (some of the quotes in this piece are sourced from here).
The Jewel of Medina, focuses on the life of A'isha, one of the Prophet's wives. The historical record seems to suggest that when the Prophet married A'isha she was young, some say a mere six years of age. Most Muslims claim that the custom of the time would have meant that the marriage would not have been consummated until A'isha reached puberty. Truth be told, on this we will never really know the truth. But there is something troubling about grown men marrying pre-pubescent girls no matter what the circumstances.
The problem here is that Denise Spellberg, Associate Professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, declared the book to be a "very ugly, stupid piece of work" that "made fun of Muslims and their history". The rhetoric then escalated to whispers of this work being "a new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam." Spellberg went on to tell Random House editors that this was a "declaration of war" that would be "far more controversial than The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons". This must be one hell of a debut novel, particularly if it was going to see the author subject to a fatwa condemning her to death and incite the sort of violence we saw with the publishing of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons.
I hope another publisher has the testicular fortitude to pick it up and publish it.
The deputy publisher of Random House, Thomas Perry, in real chicken speak said that Random House had received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
It is always interesting to hear and read claims that Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace, yet any mention of the Prophet or his wives in any context is seen as an attack on Islam. In similar circumstances when Dan Brown had his historical fiction novel The Da Vinci Code published there were supporters and critics. Some loved the book, others thought it to be garbage. But, the Christian clergy of whatever stripe did not organize the masses to go out an boycott products or march on the publisher and burn it down, or issue a religious edict condemning the author to death. Perhaps the best way to approach any book is to read it first and then make reasoned arguments against it if you disagree with its substance. Yet, when it is all said and done the book is a work of fiction.
I unfortunately was not one of the lucky ones that saw an advance proof of the Jewel of Medina so I do not know whether the response by Random House is proportional to the offence the book may contain. More to the point, even if the book offends some Muslims, it is hardly likely to be the flashpoint that results in the implosion of Islam.
Yet, in any event, my question is, "whatever happened to free speech?"