Can­celed Muham­mad novel finds new pub­lisher

The Covington News - - Religion -

SPOKANE, Wash. - A his­tor­i­cal novel about the prophet Muham­mad and his child bride that was pulled by Ran­dom House over con­cerns it would anger Mus­lims has found a new English-lan­guage pub­lisher.

Gib­son Square will pub­lish the book next month in Great Bri­tain, say­ing Wed­nes­day that it is im­per­a­tive that “The Jewel of Me­d­ina” by au­thor Sherry Jones, of Spokane, not be spiked by fear of vi­o­lence. Jones told The As­so­ci­ated Press that a U.S. pub­lisher would also be an­nounced shortly.

Her his­tor­i­cal novel is about Aisha, the third wife of the prophet Muham­mad, and a ma­jor fig­ure in the rise of Is­lam.

“I was com­pletely bowled over by the novel and the mov­ing love story it por­trays,” Gib­son Square pub­lisher Martin Rynja said in a news release.

“’The Jewel of Me­d­ina’ has be­come an im­por­tant barom­e­ter of our time. The love story is some­what known in the Mus­lim world but en­tirely un­known to West­ern read­ers,” Rynja said.

Fail­ure to pub­lish the book “would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages,” he added

The novel was orig­i­nally to be pub­lished by Ran­dom House in Au­gust, and was to be a Book of the Month Club se­lec­tion.

But Ran­dom House, which paid Jones $100,000 for “The Jewel of Me­d­ina” and a sec­ond book, dropped the novel af­ter con­cerns were raised by non-Mus­lims that the con­tents were ex­plo­sive. Ran­dom House said in Au­gust that “cred­i­ble and un­re­lated sources” had warned that the book “could in­cite acts of vi­o­lence by a small, rad­i­cal seg­ment.”

Jones has ar­gued that her first novel is re­spect­ful to Is­lam and would not in­cite vi­o­lence. She con­tended it would ac­tu­ally pro­mote un­der­stand­ing among dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

“Now we can all move the con­ver­sa­tion for­ward to ad­dress the themes in my de­but novel and its se­quel, of women’s empowerment, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and peace,” Jones said.

Ran­dom House for­feited the ad­vance to Jones, 46, a for­mer news­pa­per re­porter, and al­lowed her to find a new pub­lisher.

Her agent, Natasha Kern, has been looking for pub­lish­ers will­ing to pub­lish both books, and to deal with any back­lash.

“It was cru­cially im­por­tant that the pub­lisher would have in­dus­try-lead­ing dis­tri­bu­tion in Bri­tain, which Gib­son Square has,” Kern said. “And it was also im­por­tant that it had an ex­cel­lent track record on han­dling books in a good way that were provoca­tive and had achieved some de­gree of con­tro­versy be­yond the pub­lish­ing com­mu­nity.”

Gib­son Square has pub­lished as­sas­si­nated Rus­sian agent Alexan­der Litvi­nenko’s “Blow­ing up Rus­sia,” and “Lon­don­istan,” a book by Me­lanie Phillips on Bri­tain’s re­fusal to stem home­grown fa­nati­cism.

The book will also be pub­lished in Ger­many, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Hun­gary, Jones said. In Au­gust, Ser­bian pub­lisher BeoBook re­leased “The Jewel of Me­d­ina” but then quickly with­drew it from stores af­ter protests from lo­cal Is­lamic leaders who said it in­sulted Muham­mad and his fam­ily.

Fol­low­ing the Ran­dom House de­ci­sion, Sal­man Rushdie, whose “The Satanic Verses” led to a death de­cree in 1989 from Iran’s Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini that forced the au­thor to live un­der po­lice pro­tec­tion for years, said the pub­lisher had al­lowed it­self to be in­tim­i­dated.

“I am very dis­ap­pointed to hear that my pub­lish­ers, Ran­dom House, have can­celed an­other au­thor’s novel, ap­par­ently be­cause of their con­cerns about pos­si­ble Is­lamic reprisals,” Rushdie said in an e-mail sent last month to the AP. “This is cen­sor­ship by fear, and it sets a very bad prece­dent in­deed.”

The con­tro­versy erupted af­ter Ran­dom House sent the novel to var­i­ous ex­perts on Is­lam in the U.S., seek­ing cover blurbs. Some of the ex­perts de­nounced the work, one call­ing it a “dec­la­ra­tion of war” against the Mus­lim world. Ran­dom House can­celed the pub­li­ca­tion in May, but the news did not be­come pub­lic un­til early Au­gust.

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