Canceled Muhammad novel finds new publisher
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.