LONDON — Early this month, Gibson Square publishers here announced that it would publish "The Jewel of Medina," a novel about the early life of A'isha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a bold decision: the book's United States publisher, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, had canceled its publication in August amid fears that it would offend and inflame Muslim extremists. (It has since been bought by another American publisher, Beaufort Books.)
For his part, Martin Rynja, Gibson Square's publisher, said that it was "imperative" that the book be published. "In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear," he said. "As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate."
Early Saturday morning, Mr. Rynja's house in North London, which doubles as Gibson Square's headquarters, was set on fire. Three men were arrested on suspicion "of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism," the police said.
No one was injured in the arson, in which a small fire bomb was apparently pushed through the house's mail slot. The police were already on the scene as the result of what they described as "a preplanned intelligence-led operation," and, helped by firefighters, broke down the door and put out the fire.
A fourth suspect, a woman, was arrested Sunday on charges of "obstructing police" after the police searched four houses in and around London.
The attack recalls the trouble surrounding the publication of "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie in 1988. That publication sparked violent protests around the world, forced Mr. Rushdie into hiding and led to the murder of the book's Japanese translator.
Mr. Rynja, who is said to be under police protection, "has shown nothing but courage," Sherry Jones, the author of "The Jewel of Medina," said Sunday in a telephone interview from Spokane, Wash. She said she had corresponded via e-mail messages with Mr. Rynja since the incident. "I really can't say what he's going to do at this point," she said, "but I haven't heard any indication that he's not going to publish."
"The Jewel of Medina" is scheduled for release on Oct. 30 in Britain. It is one of 15 countries, including Spain, Germany, Italy, Brazil and Hungary, with plans to bring it out. Natasha Kern, Ms. Jones's agent, said that she had been in touch with a number of the publishers and that they intended to "go ahead with the book."
The book tells the story of the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and A'isha, who married him as a child and is often described as his favorite wife. Ballantine Books bought the rights to it in a two-book deal for a reported $100,000, describing it as "a fascinating portrait of A'isha, child bride of the Prophet Muhammad, who overcame great obstacles to reach her full potential as a woman and a leader." Ballantine had planned to publish it in mid-August.
But it scrapped those plans after being warned that the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment," Thomas Perry, deputy publisher of Random House Publishing Group, was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.
The most alarming warnings apparently emanated from Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Sent the book in advance, she determined that it was "an ugly, stupid piece of work" and "soft-core pornography," she told The Journal.
She passed on her judgment to a colleague who edits a Muslim Web site, and the word began to spread on the Internet.
But in the interview, Ms. Jones, 46, disputed Ms. Spellberg's characterization, saying the book was "an epic love story and a story about women's empowerment" and was neither overtly sexual nor offensive. The book, she said, "has been inappropriately and inaccurately characterized as a soft-porn book, which is the most inflammatory rhetoric anyone can use when talking about the subject matter, given the sensitivity of any religious group toward their sacred figures."
She added, "I hope as many people read it as possible, so they can see my book has been lied about."
After Ballantine canceled the book, it was picked up by Beaufort Books, a small New York company. On Sunday, its president, Eric M. Kampmann, said that "The Jewel of Medina" had already been shipped to bookstores and that publication would go ahead as scheduled.
In an interview, Mr. Kampmann sounded shocked by the news from London. "We are going to take precautions," he said, although he would not say what they were.
Mr. Kampmann said that he still stood behind the book.
"We found it to be credible historical fiction, and the author to be a very open person who did not have an anti-Muslim ax to grind — probably the reverse," he said. "We became involved with the book because it was wrong that an American publisher would fail to stand up to a real or imagined threat."
Ms. Jones, who contributes to the Women's E-News Web site and is the Montana and Idaho correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs, a news agency in Washington, said she was not intimidated by the attack on Mr. Rynja.
"I don't spend my time worrying about how I'm going to die, but how I'm going to live," she said. "I think a life where you can't express yourself and you can't speak is a life worse than death."