Will “The Jewel of Medina” create another Rushdie affair?

September 29, 2008

Proposed cover for The Jewel of MedinaAre we headed for another “Rushdie affair” over the yet-to-be-published novel The Jewel of Medina? First an American publisher withdrew its plan to publish the novel about A’isha, the child bride of the Prophet Mohammad, out of fear of a backlash from Islamist radicals. Then a British publisher announced he had bought the rights and would print the once feared historical novel“. Now comes the news that the publisher’s London office has been the target of an arson attack and police have arrested three men on suspicion of terrorism.

Some early signs are not encouraging. The Daily Telegraph quotes Anjem Choudhary, a radical cleric based in Ilford in east London, as saying: “It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty.” While his unbending interpretation of Muslim law is certainly debatable, his warning that publication of the novel could cause further protests is not.

On the other hand, Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala wrote last week that the mood among British Muslims had changed since they clamoured for Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to be banned. “Is this rethinking now widespread amongst British Muslims? Yes, my impression is that it certainly is with many now accepting that the Satanic Verses affair served to create (and for others reinforce) the unfortunate view that Muslims were backward, anti-intellectual, prone to violence and saw themselves as being somehow above the law,” he wrote.

“It is painful to admit it, but on the need to uphold the freedom to offend, Rushdie was right. The consequences of not doing so should be apparent by now to Muslims above all. Earlier this year, the leader of the far right Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, called for the Qur’an to be banned because he found some passages in the book offensive. And there’s the rub. Who is to decide what is offensive or not? What may be offensive to me may be just harmless fun to you and vice versa.”

Pakistani Islamists burn effigy of Rushdie after he was knighted, 17 June 2007/Asim TanveerThere’s a lot of political manipulation behind these “spontaneous” outbursts of violence against anyone accused of blaspheming Mohammad (as we saw in the Danish cartoons controversy). There are also ways of trying to counter this. The failure of Wilders’ much-hyped film Fitna to incite anti-Muslim tension in the Netherlands is a case in point. None other than the top Dutch counterterrorism official noted that the debate preceding the film’s premiere helped bring Christian and Muslim groups together to discuss their views and maintain calm when the film was aired.

If The Jewel of Medina is published, protests in the Muslim world (such as the burning of a Rushdie effigy in Pakistan last year pictured above) might be par for the course. The question is whether they will be matched by copy-cat violence in Europe.

London’s highly competitive newspaper market loves blaring headlines and shock quotes. There are bound to be more coming in this story and they may be justified. As this story progresses, I’m curious to see how Muslim groups in Britain and elsewhere in Europe react and whether those defending the principle of free speech get as much coverage as those railing against it.

Do you think the mood has changed among Muslims in Europe? Or is a repeat of the Rushdie affair on the cards?

6 comments

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I believe Muslim attitudes are changing. It is a natural process of growing up. They are in the process of leaving the toddler’s temper-tantrum stage of development, and are now on the verge of prepubescence.

Posted by DavidM | Report as abusive

I do not agree with the notion that the muslim attitudes are changing. It is hypocritical to defend writers (in the name of ‘free speech’) who disrespect Islam or its most sacred figure, but damning writers/public figures who deny “holocaust “or even talk ill about it.
British writer David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison at an Austrian court for denying the Holocaust.
So why are we sensitive towards the Jewish faith and not the Islamic faith?

Western nations brag about being the biggest proponents of peace in the world. What peace will this book bring to the world? Haven’t we learned from the violence that engulfed the Muslim world after the publications of Sulman Rushdie’s book and the Danish Cartoons (disrespecting Muhammad)?

Some circles in US and Europe believe that this book will ignite dialouge between muslims and non-muslims but I beg to differ. There are many other peaceful and decent ways to start a dialogue with the 1.61 Billion people of the Muslim world. It should be done with mutual respect and not with controversial, inaccurate and disrespectful text of this book “Jewel of Media”.

Posted by Saqib | Report as abusive

Respected Hadhrat Ayesha is completely above what mean people talk or relate to her clean character.But its rather an issue for such ingnorant people what they are carrying to the other world for themselves for which they are solely responsible and certainly not Prophet Jesus (Peace be upon him)will be saving them. And above all the ladies today cannot imagine how Pure,Sincere and Clean the hearts, souls, character, characterisitics were of the wives of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon all of them). You cannot perceive and achieve a 1 percent of that chastity and moral height even.If this lady jones want to create some artisitic piece of literature, there are billions of other ideas and characters to focus on.This is to me just the cheapest source of getting fame in the world,doesn’t matter if that is in a pathetic manner but their names will come on media at least.Woe to such people whether they are salman rushdie or this lady.Only disrespectful people or people (muslims) who donot regard their own mothers,daughters,wives would encourage such third-grade writings.

Posted by Muslimun | Report as abusive

London, UK, October 8, 2008 – Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain strongly condemns the US publication of the controversial book the Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. The book, described by a US academic who reviewed it as making “fun of Muslims and their history” and who also went on to say that “there is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path.”

Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain said: “We utterly condemn this book and its provocative publication. Western societies commonly practice self-censorship when it comes to issues of race, gender or sexual orientation. The original publisher – Random House – recognised the great offence the book would cause hence the decision not to publish it.”

“Yet, the decision to publish by Beaufort Books has once again illustrated there is to be no restraint on insulting, offending or breeding resentment when it comes to Islam– especially in this era of Western governments’ global War on Islam.”

“This book is undoubtedly offensive. It is a shallow and disgusting portrayal of some of the dearest people to us. It is amazing that some in Western Europe and North America – the author, the publishers, and some journalists –celebrate, as a value they call enlightened, the freedom to insult abuse and denigrate.“

”Is it any wonder why there is systemic anti-social behaviour and disrespect in western societies? Why children abuse parents? Why pupils abuse teachers? Why there is no respect for authority or why people disrespect each other? A society that feels comfortable abusing Allah, His Prophets, the religious beliefs that many – not just Muslims – hold sacred, will feel quite comfortable abusing and insulting lesser things.”

”Despite the fact that there is huge pressure on Muslims in the west to remain silent, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain will raise awareness and speak out, putting across our views in the most effective, vocal and persistent of ways regarding the book and the correct response of Muslims, because speaking against arrogance and ignorance, in defence of our Prophet is an obligation upon us.”

“Furthermore Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain will be exposing the neglect of the regimes in Muslim countries who take little or no effective action in defending the values of Islam. Only recently we saw how the Saudi regime used its influence to halt a fraud investigation into BAE systems, yet these rulers remain silent on any insults of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).”

“Occupation of Muslim lands, attacks on the Shariah, offensive Danish cartoons and now dishonour of the Prophet and the Mother of the Believers will no doubt continue until the Muslim world removes the impotent puppet rulers and establishes an Islamic government, the Khilafah that will stand up against these atrocities against Muslims and Islam.”

Posted by mars | Report as abusive

All these people crying, “What about free speech!” and “Censorship!” because Random House belatedly decided that it was not in their best interest to publish a trashy novel that was sure offend a whole lot of people, gave me an excellent idea for a farce. Here is a synopsis:

A young man named Ali writes an excellent first novel based on his experiences growing up in Muslim the West. Unfortunately, no agent will even read his manuscript. At first he is disgusted over The Jewel of Medina. It, after all, is making Sherry Jones, a second rate hack, rich and famous while he, a true artist, languishes in obscurity.

He has a change of heart. Using the pen-name Allen, he concocts a western identity and writes a novel that is even trashier than Jones’s, filled with blasphemous depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. His plan succeeds brilliantly: publishers begin a bidding war, scholars of Islam attack the book, naïve westerners defend the author’s freedom of speech, and Muslim fundamentalists hunt down the nonexistent “Allen.”

Giddy with success, and hungry for credit, Ali decides to play both sides. Using his real identity, he writes a another novel about Mary, who gets pregnant by a rabbi, and tricks Joseph into marrying her with a story about an angel who tells her about her immaculate conception. In a press release Ali says he hopes his book will “humanize” Mary, Joseph and Jesus and “create a platform for discussion” between Christian and Muslims.

This book also creates a storm of publicity when it is condemned by the Vatican and Christian fundamentalists. An English grad student, however, notices stylistic similarities between the two books and outs Ali/Allen for the fraud he is. Muslim and Christian fundamentalists join forces to hunt him down.

Meanwhile, an unscrupulous agent realizes that Ali has thoroughly discredited himself, so he steals Ali’s original manuscript, publishes it under his own name and wins Pulitzer Prize for literature.

That’s my plot synopsis. If any agents or publishers out there are interested, I would be happy to consider writing it.

Jim Fabris

Posted by Jim Fabris | Report as abusive

this book should not be published. Talking about muslim prophets .this book is very offensive to muslims! you dont see muslims writing a book about jesus because we respect other religions

Posted by someone | Report as abusive