So what's happening? Well, a book is going to be published next month.
Hey, I thought the Bluffer's Guide looked at things that have happened. It's changed! We've moved to Monday, so we will be looking at stories that are coming up. A sort of news heads-up.
So what's special about this book? While The Jewel of Medina may not be a Booker Prize candidate, it could create quite a stir. It was originally to be published in August, but the U.S. publisher Random House backed down after being warned it could upset Muslims.
Oh dear. Yes. The radical fringe of Islam is already gearing up for the protest.
Who wrote the book? It's a first novel by journalist Sherry Jones, 46. She said she was shocked to learn in May of the Random House decision. "I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed. ... I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder," Jones said. She has never visited the Middle East, but spent several years studying Arab history. She said the novel was a synthesis of all she had learned.
What's the book about? The relationship between the prophet Mohammed and one of his wives, Aisha. She was, by some accounts, 6 or 7 years old when betrothed to Mohammed and 9 when the marriage was consummated, when Mohammed was 52. The marriage was delayed until after the Hijra, or migration to Medina, in 622.
What's going to upset Muslims? There are apparently some slightly racy parts to the book. Some Muslims may consider it blasphemous.
What alerted them to the book, if it has yet to be published? According to the Wall Street Journal, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars in April. The publisher was seeking endorsements, but Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin, didn't like the book at all. She decided to warn Muslims of a novel that, in her opinion, made fun of Muslims and their history. Soon the story was on the Web, and the debate started in earnest. No actual threats were received by Random House.
So Random House backed off pretty quickly? It was a very swift retreat. Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry said 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."
Is this another Satanic Verses? The author must certainly hope not. Author Salman Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for almost a decade after Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for Rushdie to be killed. The Satanic Verses, which dealt with the life of Mohammed, got fantastic publicity. It joined Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time on the list of books that many people bought but few actually read.
What happened to Salman Rushdie? He was knighted last year, prompting more protests from Muslims. The fatwa was never formally lifted.
Hey, maybe Sherry Jones is actually happy about this publicity? Some have suggested that, although living under a fatwa would not be worth the royalties, as Rushdie tells us.
Then, of course, there were the Danish 'toons. Indeed, scores of people died worldwide in 2006 in protests after some cartoons appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. One depicted Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. There were attacks on Danish-owned buildings and boycotts of Danish products.
So is this censorship? Therein lies the debate. What's more important: The right to publish what you want, or Islamic sensibilities?
So that's it, then. I'll never get to read the book. Don't be hasty. British publishing company Gibson Square signed up to release the book followed by U.S. publisher Beaufort Books, which will release the book in October and a sequel in 2009. Beaufort president Eric Kampmann said it was a "groundbreaking novel." Jones said that she was pleased to have found a publisher "that wouldn't be spooked by controversy." Deals have also been reached with publishers in Brazil, Italy, Germany, Russia, Spain and other countries, Jones's literary agent Natasha Kern said.
Open-ended discussion question: If you were the boss of Random House, would you have faced down the potential protests and published The Jewel of Medina?
Sources: Wall Street Journal; Reuters; The Guardian; religionfacts.com