WASHINGTON: Random House, one of the oldest and biggest book publishers in the United States, has decided not to release a work of fiction published on the life of Hazrat Aisha Siddiqa, because of fears that it might trigger a storm of protest across the Muslim world as Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses did 20 years ago.
According to Asra Nomani, writing in the Wall Street Journal, six years ago Sherry Jones, an American journalist from Washington State, decided to write a novel based on the Holy Prophet's (PUBH) wife. She learnt Arabic, studied scholarly works on the life of her subject and came to admire her as a woman of courage.
Random House bought her novel - The Jewel of Medina - last year in a $100,000, two-book deal. She was to start her book promotion tour on August 12 but has been told that the book will not be released. Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, told Nomani that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now".
He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, 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."
After consulting security experts and Islamic scholars, Perry said the company decided "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". Nomani finds the decision disturbing as a Muslim as she believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanising way.
"I'm devastated," the author told her after the book got spiked, adding, "I wanted to honour Aisha and all the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored - silenced - by historians."
Last month, Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, which sets her free to try to find another publisher. However, it is doubtful if any major American publisher would risk the publication of a work that is more likely than not to cause tremors in the Muslim world.
Random House sent galleys of the book to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin, who was alarmed as he thought the novel made fun of Muslims and their history. She told Nomani that the novel "is a very ugly, stupid piece of work". She 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."