Two men who were arrested last September on charges of conspiring to firebomb the London home of the publisher of a controversial novel about a wife of the prophet Muhammad have pleaded guilty, Reuters reported. Ali Beheshti and Abrar Mirza admitted to plotting an attack on the residence of Martin Rynja, publisher of the London-based Gibson Square Books, shortly before the press was set to release The Jewel of Medina by journalist Sherry Jones.
The Jewel of Medina, which depicts the life of Muhammad's youngest wife A'isha, became a topic of controversy last year, and the book's original American publisher, Random House, cancelled publication in May after being warned by Islamic history scholar Denise Spellberg that the book could incite violence from Muslim extremists. Beaufort Books subsequently published the book in the United States and Gibson Square bought the British rights to the book. The novel, which Jones said she had hoped would be a "bridge-builder," follows the story of A'isha from her engagement at age six to the time of Muhammad's death.
Rynja made a statement last October that publication of such books was important in a liberal democracy, and Salman Rushdie defended the book's publication, telling the Associated Press, "This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed." Meanwhile, the novel, categorized as a "historical romance" by reviewers at the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, has received an unenthusiastic, sometimes cold, response from critics.
"An inexperienced, untalented author has naïvely stepped into an intense and deeply sensitive intellectual argument," Lorraine Adams wrote in the New York Times Book Review. "She has conducted enough research to reimagine the accepted versions of Muhammad's marriage to A'isha, thus offending the religious audience, but not nearly enough to enlighten the ordinary Western reader."
Laurel Maury of the Los Angeles Times wrote in the newspaper's book review, "I suspect Jones wanted to write a feminist text, sort of Islam 101 for the post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer generation. I can't say whether, from a religious point of view, The Jewel of Medina is worth the anguish it's caused, but as literature, it's a misstep-ridden, pleasant-enough mediocrity."