11 August 2008

Random House and A'isha -- Muslim Opposition

It seems that Random House could not stand the heat in the kitchen and has bailed out. Random House was set to publish a historical fiction novel by Sherry Jones, this would have been her first novel, quite an event for an aspiring author. However, the subject matter of this piece of historical fiction was none other that A'isha, the child bride of the Prophet Mohammad.

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?"


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I really hope they'd publish it, and if they would the book would surely be available here.

One good thing about living in DK is that no censorship whatsoever.

fatih syuhud said...

A segment of society of any religious preference prefer this line of thought.

Self-censhorsip may be what the random house and their advisors are taking into account. Just like what western guys have been doing to Jews (anyone has the gut the criticise Israel and jews in particular?). the answer is no. :) or if yes, face the consequences of anti-semitic label. :)

Brett said...

The Catholic Church's reaction to the Da Vinci code was pretty full-on. From memory, the film was banned in the Vatican (who would that affect?) and the Pope condemned the film and asked Catholics to boycott the film (not sure how you boycott a film). The Last Temptation of Christ garnered a similar reaction, except in that case there were actual protests.

Regardless, I am glad Random House pulled the book. There's more than enough tension in the World right now and Muslims have been on the receiving end of a lot of hate and prejudice.

Incidentally, 'freedom of expression' is most often cited as justification for acts of hatred.

therry said...

Faith said "anyone has the gut the criticise Israel and jews in particular? the answer is no"

That's funny, because Americans criticise Jewish people all the time :D

And Indonesians even hate Jewish and people from Israel to such extent there are flag burnings and demonstrations being held to defend Palestine.

Yeah yeah... please clear up the mess you've caused in your own country before you start meddling on other country's businesses.

That's such a typical answer: someome tries to publish a book about Aisha! Better mock the Jews now as a retaliation!

Blame the Jews! LOL.

Rob Baiton said...

Writer One...

There is always censorship in some form. Sometimes it is as Fatih points out, self-censorship.


Indeed! It is self-censorship and Random House tries to legitimate that argument through the idea that the subject matter is offensive.

On Israel and Judaism. I agree that the labeling of arguments as anti-semitic is a sure fire way of quickly shutting down any discussion or criticism.


I agree that the Catholic Church called on Catholics (and perhaps others of the Christian Faith) to boycott The Da Vinci Code. But, the call was not to boycott everything American by any stretch of the imagination.

The difference is that despite the controversy The Last Temptation of Christ played in the theatres. Even though there were claims the film and the book were balsphemous it still managed to pass the censors. In any event the basic premise of the book was that Jesus was challenged by the same temptations as the rest of us. To me that would seem to make sense after all he was to die for our sins (ie our inability to shun the temptations). It is this that makes the difference!

Similarly with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ there was considerable controversy as it was deemed to be anti-semitic, yet it still played in theatres and people were allowed to make up their own minds.

Your comment that Muslims have been on the receiving end of a lot of hate and prejudice is an interesting one. Muslims have been known to dish out a fair bit of hate and prejudice of their own as well.

It reads very much like an apologist, "Islam has copped a bit of flack so their response in this regard is fair".

I am not suggesting that 'freedom of expression' or 'freedom of speech' is without limitation. To the contrary, there is some speech and expression that is clearly offensive.

My point was, "is or can historical fiction be offensive, particularly when it is clearly identified as fiction?"

Rob Baiton said...


Are there people that criticise Israel and Judaism, yes! There are lots of them, I agree.

However, I also agree with the general idea that Fatih suggests and that is where criticism or debate raises questions about particular events of history or actions of the Jewish State then a sure fire way of shutting this debate and criticism down is to label it anti-semitic.

Are the Jews to blame for the world's problems, Nope!

Is there some kind of Zionist conspiracy for world domination? If there is I fail to see it. Maybe I am too stupid to spot the signs. However, if there is a Zionist conspiracy to dominate the world then couldn't we also easily make the claim that there is a Muslim conspiracy also dedicted to the idea of world domination?

In this regard wouldn't the drive to adopt Sharia as the underlying basis of Indonesian law be a part of this plan for world domination. Further, wouldn't the ideas of one Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and the creation of a pan-Asian caliphate be part of a plan for world domination?

Maybe the world is not as 'cut and dried' as it all seems.

oigal said...

"Self-censhorsip may be what the random house and their advisors are taking into account.'

Fatih.. It's not self censorship when your decision is based on the threat of violence.

As for the Jews statement, you really need to get out more.. every western democracy has vibrant and vocal anti-jewish and anti- Israel lobby groups.. Want to see some anti-jewish cartoons..try googling and see what you get (of course that kinda wrecks the myth doesn;t it).

Rob Baiton said...


The point on self-censorship for me relates to the idea that in this world of ours that is now so politically correct we are afraid to do anything that might cause any offence whatsoever.

The Random House decision not to publish is indeed an act of self-censorship under the not so subtle threat of violence if they were to publish.

Random House does acknowledge that the risks of publishing, in their mind, outweigh the benefits. The deputy editor says something along the lines of, one of the reasons not to publish is to ensure the safety of staff.

Clearly there is a threat. The rhetoric of "declaration of war" and the like leaves little to the imagination. The calls to war and violence are interestingly and increasingly being encouraged by western apologists for Islam. If Islam is truly a religion of peace and tolerance then this would be a good chance to prove it!

On the Jewish front, I agree! There is a vocal anti-Israel lobby. There is also a vocal pro-Israel lobby!

My only point is when the going gets tough then the easiest way to shut down constructive debate is to start throwing around the anti-semitic tag willy nilly.

However, I also make the point that despite protests films like The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ still make it into theatres. Cartoons that satire the Christian, Buddhist and other faiths get printed without the same level and degree of violence that occurs when something is printed or shown depicting the Muslim faith.

The Catholic Church has not issued a fatwa demanding the death of Dan Brown for suggesting that Jesus had a sexual liaison with Mary Magdalene that resulted in a child.

Maybe the comparisons are not fair?

Jen said...

I always would like to see "alternatives" of whatever the "official" religions have been conveying to the public. Dan Brown's is probably just pure fiction, but it did a good job in making people think about the "possibility" of Jesus' offsprings.

Jewel of Medina is also marked "fiction" but it may bring up angles or perspectives that might shed light on some issues.

I'd love to read it and will ask around if those select few who have read would be kind enough to lend it to me. :)

Rob Baiton said...


If you get a copy you could do a roaring trade in making it available for photocopying...

After all Indonesia is a land where the right to copy is more important than copyright :D

Seriously, I agree that even though it is supposedly a work of fiction, if it gets people thinking critically about the issues and perspectives then to my mind this is a good thing.

therry said...


I think the bottom line is that some people are just too sensitive, they take EVERYTHING way too seriously.

The questions that I want to ask is:

If they have a strong faith towards their religion, then why is it that everything is always taken as a threat, eg. when overseas NGO came to help the people in Aceh, all of a sudden there were talks about Christianization. And don't even get me started on the Danish cartoons.

Rob Baiton said...


Slightly off-track but that is always the Indonesian way, to blame the invisible hadn of interference.

Timor Leste only wanted to separate from Indonesia because this invisible hand of intereference, usually in the form of a foreign NGO was promoting such an idea.

You still here this sort of reasoning from the DPR and the Commission for Foreign Affairs at the House of Representatives that blame other countries for meddling in Indonesian domestic affairs.

So, it is hardly surprising that when a foreign Christian NGO comes to town that there is suspicion of the motives behind their arrival.

As I have said previously, everyone talks about tolerance and peace, but the reality is that this is often nothing more than lip service to an ideal.

rimafauzi said...

Historical fiction, in terms of the plot of the story maybe.

But all muslims know, according to their history lessons and the hadits that they have learned from when they were little, The prohphet Mohammad did marry aisha when she was 6 years of age, but did not consummate their marriage until she was 9. Between the age of 6 and 9, all they did was anything other than penetration.

You can check with your local Muslim cleric/teacher about this.
So, that part is actually a fact, yet that is the part that might be construed as being "slanderous".

Well, if that is the case, then I really am speechless.

Rob Baiton said...


That is why I chose to use the term historical fiction :D

The plot or story is all fiction but it is interwoven with factual occurrences.

That said I have not seen anything but the cover of the book. It would be interesting to read it to see whether the claims being made about it are worthy of debate.

I was being politically correct to a degree. Let's face it most people when they think of a grown man engaging in any kind of sexual activity with a six-year-old, even if it does not involve penetration, as being pedophilia.

Arguments that there was no age of consent in Muhammad's time is a furphy. As my understanding is that in that part of the world the age of consent was tied to a girl's first period and the entry into puberty. By my reckoning that makes for "an age of consent".

This then requires Muslims to have faith that Muhammad did in fact wait untul A'isha entered puberty. Yet, even so, I am sceptical that a nine-year-olds life experiences way back then meant that she was any more prepared for marriage than a nine-year-old would be today.

I have read some interesting discussions on this topic with Muslims claiming that in the Middle East at that time girls started menstrating earlier and therefore men took them as brides earlier, and a whole lot of other interesting explanations trying to explain the sexual elements of Mohammad's relationship with A'isha.

For me it is what it is, Mohammad married a six-year-old and consummated that relationship when A'isha was nine. If that is the historical fact then what is the dilemma.

My guess is that there has to be something else in the book that causes the supposed offence.

WhoNeedsMoreCrapOnTheWeb? said...


"Between the age of 6 and 9, all they did was anything other than penetration.
You can check with your local Muslim cleric/teacher about this.
So, that part is actually a fact, yet that is the part that might be construed as being 'slanderous'.
Well, if that is the case, then I really am speechless."

Of course, Rima knows this because she's started off with doing "anything other than penetration" when she was 6 (without being married first, nonetheless).
It's a fact because Rima's mom's uncle's first cousin twice removed, told his hairdresser, who told other hairdressers, one of which, told me her history when we were little.
You can check with your local hairdresser about this. It is also written in someone's diary somewhere.

I wished Rima was just speechless, rather than purporting tall claims without reputable citations... or any citations at all for that matter, considering the hefty accusation.

* pause for effect *

Gosh... that sure was fun! :D

* cough *

Seriously though....


I agree that the arguments on this issue can get furphy... and it goes both ways, mind you...

My understanding is, it was more of a cultural thing during the Prophet Muhammad's time rather than about whether or not there was an age of consent.
If you want to be fair... look at all of the cultures of the world from way back then, and tell me what's the percentage of marriages involving minors occurred and were considered the norm.
For one thing, that will give you context and perspective.

A cursory stroll to the good ol' Wikipedia on Aisha will tell you that she was actually betrothed to someone else -- who was a not a Muslim -- before she was then betrothed to the Prophet Muhammad, thus, implying that it was all pretty much run-of-the-mill really.

On that very same page, it will also tell you that Aisha did not even leave her parents' home to live with the Prophet Muhammad until whatever age she was supposedly when the marriage was finally consummated.
So one would assume there was no hanky panky until then... and if there was, that would be just another assumption too.


.... if anyone actually has done a proper and thorough research on this issue before throwing stones, please put your hands up...

Anyone...? .. Anyone...?
Don't be shy now... :]

There was a guy, an Islamic scholar, who actually done so to challenge this 6-to-9 mantra of Aisha's age.
He wrote a thorough footnote of an analysis in his book "Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad" (1992, US Edition, p. 30, note 40 -- according to this site, under "Determination of the True Age of Aisha").

To summarise, apparently, Aisha was born in or just before the year of the Call (to Islam, i.e. when the Prophet Muhammad received his calling from God).
The first wife of the Prophet, passed away in the 10th year of the Call, after which, the betrothal with Aisha was arranged.
The emigration (hijra) to Medina took place 3 years later, and Aisha came to live and consummated her marriage 2 years after the emigration.
If you've done your maths correctly, that would make Aisha at least 15 years old by then.
Unless I'm mistaken, a 15 year old having sex is not that controversial yet in today's standard...

... which now makes this post as boring as fart, so I guess it's time to move along now...

Publish the book... whatever...

Whatever your belief is, if you're not part of the solutions, then you're part of the problems.


Rob Baiton said...

Who Needs More Crap On The Web...

I tried to check out your blog but I keep getting an Internet Explorer error (I guess I will try again later).

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

I agree that a "cultural norm" argument can be made and allude to that fact. The age of consent argument, at least in my mind, falls within the parameters of that argument.

This is particularly the case when people start trotting out she was only 9 years old and the like.

The combination of custom and cultural norm gives a variable age of consent, but still an age of consent.

I have read through the Wiki page a number of times. So, I am familiar with the info that is there.

I have also previously heard and read about the suggestion that A'isha was 15 or more before the marriage took place or was consummated. Although, I did not have an original citation for that (I will now check it out).

Boring as fart is a little harsh, although I am not offended! It is nice that people have opinions on a broad range of subjects.

I would also beg to differ that a Religious leader having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old or marrying her is not controversial by today's standards.

I am guessing Warren Jeffs wished the idea was a whole lot less controversial.

Peace indeed!

rimafauzi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rimafauzi said...

@whoneedsmorecrap: yes, who needs more crap, especially from an anonymous coward.

i have read numerous hadits in my quran and hadits reading days, and it is always the lucky numbers 6 and 9.

here are some from the web

as for the 'anything else than penetration' part, i read several times from various sources about aisha sitting on his lap. That is it and that constitutes as something other than sexual penetration as is talking, swimming, drinking, shopping. they are all acts other than sexual penetration.

plus, 15 yr old having sex with an old men might not be a controversy for you, for other people it is still sickening.

Yes Rob, whatever happened to free speech? Here I was commenting on what you wrote about people that have died thousands of years ago, then along came this crapper and crapped all over me. I wonder, PMS or castrated?

Rishardana said...

Hi Pak Rob :)

As from your previous post about satire and crucifixion, I still belief that efforts to malign Muhammad, or Jesus, or Buddha is unfair and wrongly addressed.

Let's take an example of Muhammad. Here's a man who's been known as a very honest person all his life. He was not married until he was twenty-five years of age. 25 years living in fidelity with his first wife Khadijah until she died.

Then he got married several times and mostly for political reason and the development of the new Islamic world.

I mean, marriage is not all about sex :) there's education, protection, guidance, and other stuffs too. Let's take Aishah for example, she was taken as a wife and then became the best student of Islam for years to come.

If we were to dwell too much whether there's a penetration or not, or any other sinister allegation, I don't think it will solve anything but our need to vilify a good person.

Here's what Sir George Bernard Shaw, another great man, said about Muhammad:

"I have studied him - the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today."

I think I'll take words from these sort of people than some random author looking to gain a few bucks by selling controversial issues :)

Anyway, if Random House decided to withdraw the book, good for them. If they decided to release it anyway, fine by me. If this is some sort of marketing ploy to hype the book for sales purposes, well I don't know :D

rima fauzi said...


"If we were to dwell too much whether there's a penetration or not, or any other sinister allegation, I don't think it will solve anything but our need to vilify a good person."

I assume this is directed at me. Like I said in my previous post at the crapper. I have read in various places years ago, that the marriage was not consummated until she was 9. Before 9, all she did was sit on his lap. sometimes he would come and watch her play with her dolls. etc.

Nowhere did I write about the goodness or badness of anybody, it was just based on what I read. period.

But I do agree with you when you said malign against these people are unfair, as nobody really knows what really happened then. It was thousands and thousands of years ago, and nobody alive bear witness of anything. I personally dont trust any of the books, they could easily have been manipulated.

Rob Baiton said...


I thought about writing in defence of you, but then thought better of it :D

I figured you would be able to defend yourself, and defend you did.

I did make the point though that 15 still did not make it right or any more palatable in my mind.

The beauty of anonymity and ranting. T guess that some people cannot help themselves but make it personal. The same arguments could have been made for the case of A'isha being 15 without the overly personal attack that led off the post.

I have wondered about the idea that A'isha did not leave to live with Muhammad until later therefore no hanky panky could have occurred. It is not like anyone is going to tell the Prophet what to do anyway, right?

I guess my blog is starting to evidence the good, the bad, and the ugly of the free speech debate.

Rob Baiton said...


As always a thoughtful response!

The point is not to malign or slight or anything else for that matter. I have not read the book in question and I would hazard a guess that no one that has commented to date has read the book.

My points have been that if the book is as it is claimed to be, a work of historical fiction, then why give so much creedence to what it contains.

The idea that the book is a declaration of war on the Islamic faith seems on its face a little extreme. I have yet to read a novel of historical fiction that is the precipitating factor in a war.

Therefore, there must be a little bit more to this novel than just Muhammad's marriage to A'isha that is destined to offend the masses. What that is I do not know.

My other point is the one that Rima makes. These events occurred more than a millenia ago and much of what we know comes down through an oral tradition. Those that bore witness to these events are long dead and the recollections of these events we are told remain as true today as they did when the events they describe occurred.

Try a game of Chinese Whispers and you will see the difficulty in maintaining the integrity of an explicit oral history. The gist might remain the same but the contect changes and it sometimes changes radically.

I just have this thing about book banning and burning. I love to read and I think I am mature enough to make up my own mind on what I read. I am disappointed that I am not getting to read this book for myself.

Mia said...

I find it interesting how Random House gets all chicken-scared at the thought of publishing something that might offend the moslems. If it had been a fiction about Jesus or Buddha, however twisted the book might be, they wouldn't have hesitated to print it.

When I lived in Germany, I bought a picture/cartoon book about the mock-up story of Jesus, how from birth he was intoxicated with weed brought by one of the three Kings, and all Jesus' life he was getting high and doing things without realising what he did. When Jesus died (from OD, naturally), he went to marijuana Heaven and joined his buddies: Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and other rock stars associated with drug addiction. I'm a Christian myself, yet I bought the books just for kicks. I still keep the book at my hometown, and I remember clearly that nobody gave a rat's ass bout such books. It's one's right to interpret things, and other peole's right to read or not to read it.

My point is, the publishing company is apprehensive about how the market might react. I personally would be interested to read the book, but obviously Random House doesn't think their readers are mature enough. Do they have a reason to think that?

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment!

What is the title of the cartoon book as I wouldn't mind having a read myself.

I wonder why Random House folded under the pressure. Yet, I am also not surprised that they did. For me it highlights the increasingly difficult times we will face in the future as small groups and minorities get to define the discourse in which we live.

It also begs the question as to when are people going to stand up and say 'enough is enough'?

How long will it be before publishers opt not to publish any material that might cause any offence to any person? Or can you offend some elements of the community and not others.

mia said...

The book is called "Das Leben des Jesus" (The LIfe of Jesus), by Gerhard Haderer. Sorry, I only know the German version (Haderer is Austrian and works in Germany).

I googled the author and found an old news that his readers aren't all mature after all: he was sentenced in absentia for blasphemy. News at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/mar/23/austria.arts

Look at the cartoon image there.. it's about Jesus walking on water :p

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks. I will check out the link later as well.

Anonymous said...

Just read it on the local newspaper. Denmark is printing the book!

Rob Baiton said...

Writer One...

I guess I will be sending you my order then :D

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