Another crisis for publishers over the threat or, at least, perceived threat, of Islamist terrorism. The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones's debut historical novel about Mohammed and his child bride, A'isha - the prophet is supposed to have become engaged to her when she was six - scheduled to be published in America next week has been pulled by Random House. According to the Wall Street Journal, Random House had paid a $100,000 advance when Denise Spellberg, associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, saw proofs of the book and decided to "warn Muslims" of a novel that in her opinion "made fun of Muslims and their history". Jones's contract and eight-city tour to promote the book were cancelled at once and she was invited to take it elsewhere.
Amid controversy that Random House has overreacted and thrown in the towel without a fight, Thomas Parry, the company's deputy publisher, has rushed out a statement saying the company received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".
He added: "In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."
Spellberg denies leaking details but she has said: "You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft-core pornography." Sherry, who spent several years learning Islamic history and has almost completed a follow-up novel, is aghast at Spellberg's accusations. She says: "There are no sex scenes in this book. The novel, whose bibliography includes 29 scholarly and religious books, is a work of serious historic fiction detailing the origins of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife.
"Although I've been aware from the start that my books might offend some people, I've never been afraid of physical harm because of them. I've expected controversy, yes, but never terrorism."