Ironically, it was Sherry Jones's hope that her book would contribute to global peace. So far, it has turned out quite to the contrary.
Jones, who lives in Spokane, Wash., and was once a newspaper reporter in Montana, is the author of "The Jewel of Medina," a debut novel based on the life of Aisha, the prophet Muhammad’s youngest and favorite wife.
Jones has said in interviews that she began writing "The Jewel of Medina" in 2002 as her own “personal response” to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “As I read – books by western scholars, Islamic scholars, religious clerics, ancient Arabic poetry – what I gained from my reading was an impression of Islam being a religion of, primarily, peace,” she told London's TimesOnline. Jone also said that "she came to respect Muhammad as a leader who introduced women’s rights centuries before women’s lib."
It looked for a while as if Jones's project were moving exactly in the direction that she had hoped. Jones sold her book to Random House and seemed to be cruising smoothly toward a big release in August.
Then Jones sent a copy of the manuscript to academic Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, hoping that Spellberg would like the book and write a laudatory blurb for use on the jacket. Instead, Spellberg, offended by sexuality in the book (which includes a portrayal of the wedding night of Muhammad and Aisha), labeled it “soft-core pornography” and said it was “more dangerous than The Satanic Verses or the Danish cartoons."
Spellberg reportedly informed Random House that publication would expose the company and its employees to Islamic terrorism.
Random House grew nervous and dropped the project. In the UK, Martin Rynja, the Dutch-born owner of Gibson Square, a small, independent publishing house in London, took it up – only to have his house north London firebombed last weekend. It's not yet clear whether or not Gibson Square will go forward with the book.
In New York, however, small publisher Beaufort Books has picked the book up and advanced its release date to tomorrow, Monday, Oct. 6, when 50,000 copies of the book will be made available to the public.
Jones says in a YouTube video that she is very eager for readers to have a chance to experience "The Jewel of Medina" for themselves.
"We're getting the book out there as quickly as possible before more tempers flare over a book that nobody has read," Jones told The Wall Street Journal.
Jones says "The Jewel of Medina" has been sold to publishers in about a dozen countries. In Serbia, where the book has already been released, there were initially objections but according to Jones, these have quieted as readers have been able to read the book for themselves.
"Anyone who reads my book will see it's not offensive in any way," she told the Wall Street Journal.