The Jewel of Medina is Now On Sale - No, Wait. Nevermind.

The Jewel of MedinaFrom the “Holy Shit” Department comes an article that was highlighted in today’s Publisher’s Lunch and dispatched to me by TeddyPig (Hi Teddy!): the Wall Street Journal reports that Random House is stopping publication of The Jewel of Medina and giving the rights back to the author, six days before the publication date out of fear of fallout from the Muslim community over the book’s content.

The book by Sherry Jones is a work of historical fiction based on the life of Aisha, one of the wives of the prophet Mohammed. Random House paid a $100k advance for the work but when UT Professor Denise Spellberg read an ARC, she denounced the book as a “very ugly, stupid piece of work” (note to authors: Don’t ask her for a cover quote. Ever.) and said, “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”

Wait, wait, before you pound your head on your desk, there’s more. Ms. Spellberg alerted Shahed Amunullah, a guest lecturer and editor of altmuslim.com, who spread the word to a listserv of Muslim graduate students. From there that email appeared the website “Hussaini Youth,” and within three hours, a person published “a seven-point strategy to ensure ‘the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.’”

Now you can bang your head.

After Ms. Spellberg had a conversation with an editor at Knopf, an imprint of Random House with whom Spellberg has a book contract, alarm was raised within the company that the book, the author, and the employees of the publisher could be the victims of “widespread violence.” Spellberg followed up the conversation with a letter from her attorney stating that Spellberg would sue if her name were associated with the novel.

The story has set the internet on fire, pretty much, from Galley Cat to political bloggers weighing in. I’m trying to find an excerpt, a copy, anything about this book, because six days before publication must mean somewhere, somehow, someone has a copy and I have an eBay account. You have a copy? Let’s talk.

I must also note that according to the WSJ article, Sherry Jones has signed a termination agreement and her agent can shop the book to other publishers. I hope another publisher brings the book out, and soon, because one hissyfit and the threat of terrorist action should not block anything, let alone a historical fiction novel.

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  1. 1
    Chanel19 says:

    I keep hearing in the media that Islam is a religion of peace, love, tolerance and promotion of education.

    Yup, sure sounds like it.

    action79:  maybe 79 virgins should smack the publisher around the back of the head?

  2. 2
    Elyssa says:

    That’s just downright scary. 

    I just tried looking for it on Amazon, but it’s like the book does not exist.  It’s still showing up on Bamm, Amazon uk and Amazon ca.  But really… to cancel a book because of fear?!  Plain ridiculous.

  3. 3

    Since when has ‘this might offend some people’ become a good enough reason to censor our freedom of expression?  It’s a sad, sad day when fear of terrorism makes us lay down one of our most sacred rights as Americans. *shakes head*

  4. 4
    azteclady says:

    Color me not surprised, if indignant.

    Dan Brown can talk about Mary Madgalen and insert all sorts of weird stuff in Christianity’s ‘sacred history’ but dog forbid the same is done with Muslim history.

    Huhuh

  5. 5
    Anaquana says:

    This disgusts me.

    If this book were about any other religion it would have been published no matter what anybody said or threatened to do.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    re: Islam meaning “Peace” – it does.  But alas, the root word of “Fundamental” is “mental.” And some folks define “peace” as “doing things my way.”

  7. 7
    MoJo says:

    I’d publish it if I had any $$$ to offer but killer royalties.

    Which I don’t.  So I can’t.

  8. 8
    Ocy says:

    …y’know, the controversy just makes me want to read the book.  Now I’m off to do some desperate internet hunting to see what I can dig up.

  9. 9
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I’m waiting to see how long it is before Dr. Spellberg announces a deal for a historical fiction based on the life of one of the wives of Mohammed?  Or perhaps she’ll just create an alternate prophet, the one no one knew about, and then writes about his wives.

    Me?  Cynical?  Whyever would you think that?

  10. 10
    Chanel19 says:

    Ah, but most nations founded on Judeo-Christian principles don’t own a hell of a lot of the world’s oil reserves.  Can’t upset the Gulf States now, can we?

    ball96:  the balls in our court and this shouldn’t be a 96 hour wonder on the internet.

  11. 11
    Victoria Dahl says:

    This is ridiculous. How many insane works of fiction have been written about religious figures of other religions? Too many to count.

    Also, “(note to authors: Don’t ask her for a cover quote. Ever.)” is the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard.

  12. 12

    If she can’t find a publisher she should pull a Cory Doctorow and release it into Creative Commons, no money, but the thought police would blow a blood vessel trying to suppress it then.

  13. 13

    If a religion can’t maintain its dignity despite naysayers, scrutiny and the odd insult, that really says something.

    This reminds me of those protests a couple of years ago when over someone accused Islam of being a violent religion. Muslims took to the streets, chanting, burning effigies and uttering threats. “How dare you say we’re violent!? Say it again, and we’ll kill you!!”

    *disclaimer: as always, the feasibility of any religion is largely dependent on the circumspection and behavior of its followers. Just because some Muslims are prone to bad behavior does not mean all of them are, or that their religion is any more flawed than any other. Thank you.

    **disclaimer added in a probably fultile attempt to avoid a shitstorm of fervent religious defensiveness.

  14. 14
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Are you fucking kidding me? Is Salman Rushdie also having his contracts canceled? Is it “too dangerous” to publish him as well? I mean he had a freaken jihad called down upon him and last time I checked, and he is still in print.

    You have got to be fucking kidding me . . . 

    This book just got publicity that couldn’t be bought. Dollars to donuts Random House “reconsiders” (assuming this wasn’t some kind of publicity grab in the first place). If they don’t they’re morons.

  15. 15
    Kimberly Van Meter says:

    As a journalist this pokes at a very raw nerve. By condoning censorship under the guise of “protection” it only propagates more of the same f*cked up philosophy. To cave under pressure of terrorist action puts power in the wrong hands. Where does it stop? That’s the scarier question…

  16. 16
    megalith says:

    I hope the public commentary is hitting particularly hard on Spellman, who acted like a hysterical, hate-mongering zealot. How could the book possibly be worse than what she did to this author? Disgraceful. With people like her around, we don’t need terrorists.

    Let’s hope this goes the way of the Rachael Ray scarf nonsense. The sooner the book finds a publisher, the sooner we’ll all be able to actually read it and make up our own minds.

  17. 17
    AgTigress says:

    Oh dear, this is very distressing. 

    As it happens, I am wholly in agreement with Dr. Spellberg on just one point, namely ‘the deliberate misinterpretation of history’, and this is why I have no time for the many ‘alternative history’ novels that are so popular today. 

    But suppressing a work of fiction because it might offend a particular religious or ideological group is wholly unacceptable in our culture.  Freedom of speech – and writing – is something that we should treasure and defend.  I suspect I should dislike the book, but I defend passionately the right of the author and the publishers to publish it.

  18. 18
    megalith says:

    And that would be Spellberg. Denise Spellberg, not Spellman. Spellberg, the hysterical, hate-mongering zealot. Okay?

  19. 19
    dawnm says:

    The saddest thing is that none of this surprises me.
    Except WTF were they thinking in asking a professor (mid East & religious studies ) for a cover quote for a piece of ( I would presume given Spellmen says it’s soft core porn ) romantic historical fiction?

  20. 20
    dawnm says:

    OK apart from anything else here’s a quote from the book quoted by Wall St Journal

    The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.”        “

    Can anyone say purple prose in Arabic?

  21. 21
    Leah says:

    You know, I can see Ms. Spellberg thinking, “wow, someone might not like this and cause a big stink, and given the cartoon mess, and Rushdie, well, I don’t want to have my name on it.  Maybe I should mention this to my publishing colleague, in the way off chance that no one else has thought of this.” (because you know others did).  I can’t really fault her for being hypercautious.  BUT—-then she turned around and ratted this author and her book out to someone she had to know was going to take this or some other negative action.  That, to me, is really kind of wicked and unforgiveable.  And she wants her name out of it?  Her name will be forever associated with it.

  22. 22

    Denise Spellberg’s maelstrom of self-righteous quotable quotes isn’t because a woman wrote a book based on the fictionalized life of a woman on the periphery of Islam, is it? I’m sure that’s not why Salman Rushdie never gets an Undo on his books even UNDER THREAT OF A REAL FATWA (and even when some of them are uneven, but that’s a sidebar).

    I’m massively ignorant on this topic right now (reading furiously to catch up on trends in romance publishing) but isn’t there already like an entire imprint devoted to American women and Arab men? No?

    Anyhow, I love it when romance brings people who are traditionally marginalized in the US to the forefront, and I hate hate hate that this may frighten publishers away from helping in that effort.

  23. 23
    Carrie Lofty says:

    If you can’t write soft-core porn about Muhammad’s wives, the terrorists have won.

  24. 24
    megalith says:

    And it’s Barb for the win! Turns out Dr. Spellberg is the author of a feminist book about Aisha, wife of Mohammed. Jones read Spellberg’s book, liked it, and suggested Spellberg be asked for a quote. Apparently, Spellberg was so shocked and appalled that Jones’s book included sex between Mohammed and his wife that she felt compelled to warn not only Muslims but Jones’s publisher that it would likely cause a jihad if published. Apparently, depicting Mohammed having sex with his wife is “making fun of the prophet” in Spellberg’s opinion.

    Alrighty, then.

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    isn’t there already like an entire imprint devoted to American women and Arab men?

    Yeah, but where’s the romance in fatwa? “The Sheikh’s Convenient Virgin’s Deaththreat” or “At the Sheikh’s Fatwa’s Bidding” are really not what makes good romance. The bodyguard alone is too distracting of a plot point.

  26. 26
    Barb Ferrer says:

    The author of the novel put the academic on her list of people to query for blurbs because she had read and admired a work of the Dr. Spellberg’s on A’isha.

    The more I think on this, the more it infuriates me.  Dr. Spellberg had so many different recourses—as an academic with a specialty in this culture and religion, she had to know what the reaction would be, which in my book, turns it into something very calculated and far more ugly than she purports the book to be. 

    And if she thinks that “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life,” equates to “soft core pornography,” well then, there’s a lot she’s been missing out on.  And as far as it being a deliberate misinterpretation of history… what?  She was there?

    Feh.

  27. 27
    Linda Blowney says:

    Abe Books in the UK says they have a copy available…

    http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?bt.x=0&bt;.y=0&sortby=3&sts=t&tn=Jewel+of+Medina

  28. 28
    megalith says:

    No, no, no. Where’s your imagination, Sarah? The bodyguard is there for the Sheik’s Menage a Fatwa.

  29. 29

    Yeah, but where’s the romance in fatwa?

    I would buy any book with the byline “Puts the F in fatwa!” Anytime, anywhere.

    Not to insult the ubiquity and extreme profitability of the romance publishing industry, but, if this professor lady hadn’t made this enormous and unnecessary stink, what are the odds that Osama bin Laden would have gotten his latest shipment from his romance book club and flipped the freak out over this novel? Like, why is this necessary?

  30. 30
    MoJo says:

    The bodyguard is there for the Sheik’s Menage a Fatwa.

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

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