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, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


  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. 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. MoJo says:

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

    Which I don’t.  So I can’t.

  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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. megalith says:

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

  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. 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. 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. 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. Carrie Lofty says:

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

  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. 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. 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?


  27. Linda Blowney says:

    Abe Books in the UK says they have a copy available…;.y=0&sortby=3&sts=t&tn=Jewel+of+Medina

  28. megalith says:

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

  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. MoJo says:

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

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

  31. azteclady says:

    Regarding Barb Ferrer’s info…

    Well then. I certainly hope that if any violence is committed against Jones because of a novel that may never actually be, you know, read by people who might—if they could read it—feel some offense over it, Dr Spellberg is charged with instigating a hate crime.

    Of all the unbelievable criminal stupidity.

  32. I’m sorry to get in the way of the outrage here, but where exactly was there any threat of ‘terrorist action’? If I recall correctly a lot of Christian groups were up in arms (so to speak) about the Da Vinci Code, but no-one equated that with terrorism.

    I just get sick of people immediately making that connecton.

    To all the people making Rushdie comparisons, there is no longer ‘a fatwa’ on him. The Iranian government backed out of that back in 1998. And while we’re on the topic fatwa =/= death threat. It’s a religious ruling made by a scholar, and in this case Ayatolla Khomeini the spiritual leader of Iran back in 1989..

    And Salman Rushdie is a man writing Seriouis Literary Fiction [TM] and a Booker Prize winner. This lady is a) a woman b) I don’t quite recall her name even now and c) is writing genre fiction, and romance at that.

    As a Muslim woman myself, I don’t approve of fiction being written about the Prophet (saws) or Aisha (ra). And I don’t see why people shouldn’t be able to protest/express their feelings freely in a non-violent/non-threatening manner.

    NB. This is not a statement of intent to participate in terorist activities, dear God.

  33. Mfred says:

    This has nothing to do with Islam as a religion or Muslims as people.  This is all about jack-assery and hysteria. 

    Spellberg, obviously, is the jackass, for fomenting hysteria and then fanning the flames that rose up around her. 

    The publishers are jackasses and idiots for giving in to the hysteria, making idiotic decisions based on hysteria, and then using hysteria to justify their own idiocy.

    Mainly tho, I think its a sad commentary on the current state of the world, that knee-jerk reactions are taken as appropriate responses to something that could have been settled by saying (and I’m looking at you Ms. Spellberg),

    “Sorry, I don’t think this is a good book”

  34. Stephanie says:

    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.

    But it would be so funny to watch!

    Also, I agree with Mr. Swann completely. Not just because I’m a fan of Creative Commons publishing (or, you know, Free [Legal] Books on the Internet). Mostly because I’d love to see the head-splodey.

  35. tasha says:

    In the interest of fairness, this did not happen “six days before the publication date”; the WSJ article clearly indicates that the decision to “postpone indefinitely” came in May.

  36. Barb Ferrer says:

    I’m sorry to get in the way of the outrage here, but where exactly was there any threat of ‘terrorist action’?

    From the Wall Street Journal article
    Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House’s Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.”)

    “She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence,” Ms. Garrett wrote. “Denise says it is ‘a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue.’ Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP.”

    Perhaps not a terrorist threat, per se, but definitely, the fanning of flames.

  37. Jody W. says:

    I trust the author got to keep the advance.  And maybe a judgement in her favor for pain and suffering? 

    Am also goggling at the “soft core porn” summation if the deflowering was as detailed as the book got in that respect.

  38. Sandia says:

    i totally think this spellberg is a dingleberry.  i read the wsj article and i’m amazed that the people who passed around how horrible the book is without forming their own opinion – they just transmitted dr. spellberg’s opinion that it was offensive. 

    when will people learn that they should condem something they haven’t read.  drrr grrr…..

    on the other hand, i’m at the office and couldn’t stop laughing at the sheik’s menage a fatwa…. bwahahahaha…..

  39. Silver James says:

    I’m supposed to worry about the sensibilities of a group of people who murder daughters, sisters, wives and other FEMALE relatives because some asshole prick got his fucking honor bent out of shape? Who torture and mutilate women so they can’t enjoy sex?

    I would never have bought this book. But if it gets published, you can be damn certain that I will by as many copies as I can!

    Dr. Spellberg, I hope you rot in a slush pile of academic obscurity.

      Yeah, but where’s the romance in fatwa?

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

    AMEN and HALLELUJAH, Marcella!

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

    *chokes* Oh god, Megalith….I’m writing that down!

  40. Natalie says:

    shewhohashope, why does it matter that Salman Rushdie is an award winning male who writes serious literature and Sherry Jones is a non-award winning female who writes genre fiction?  Do they not both have an equal right to freedom of expression in the United States? 

    Of course, publishers aren’t agents of government and they can make whatever decision they want about publishing or not-publishing a book, but to claim that Rushdie has more of a right to blaspheme in fiction than Jones because he’s a man who has won awards and Jones isn’t is, well, ridiculous.

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