Little is known about the love life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but when journalist and author Sherry Jones wrote her first two novels, it was the focus of her work.
"The Jewel of Medina" and "The Sword of Medina" are centered on one main character, A'isha bint Abi Bakr, "The youngest and most beloved bride of the prophet Muhammad," according to Jones.
"I wrote these novels primarily for non-Muslims, people like me who have never heard of this amazing woman," said Jones at a lecture last Wednesday in the women's Studies department in Monroe Hall.
Jones worked as a journalist for the last 25 years, but after 9/11, she was inspired to dive deeper into the world and history of Islam and try her hand at writing a novel.
"I wanted to learn about who are these people that we are speaking in this country so negatively about," said Jones. "I wanted to take things and learn them for myself … that's the journalist in me."
Jones stressed that understanding the history of Islam is very important for people trying to understand Muslims today.
"Understanding brings empathy. And empathy, I believe, brings peace," Jones said.
Jones began her lecture with a history of the Islamic faith and the journey of Muhammad during Islam's early years. After researching scholars of Islam, Jones discovered that Muhammad had been engaged to A'isha when she was only 6 years old.
A'isha's father was Muhammad's closest friend and a powerful merchant according to Jones. Muhammad and A'isha were married when she was 9 years old.
These two ages used in Jones's novel are very controversial, and critics argue that using these ages causes Muhammad to look like a pedophile. Other Muslim scholars believe A'isha was around 14 to16 years old when she was married to Muhammad.
According to Jones, "Western scholars do tend to accept the 6 and 9 ages."
Denise Spellberg, a historian from the University of Texas and one of Jones's 29 sources, argues that there isn't a historical A'isha that we concretely know anything about due to the lack of accurate historical records.
This lack of accuracy caused Jones to resort to legends. These legends tell of the "trickery" that occured between A'isha and Muhammad's 11 other wives. This trickery became one dimension of Jones's first novel.
Legends portray A'isha as a very capable and smart woman. According to Jones, A'isha's story can help to explain a lot about the type of person Muhammad was.
"That Muhammad singled out this intelligent, head-strong, witty, proud young woman as his favorite wife says a lot about him and his intentions for women," said Jones. "I think Muhammad was a feminist."
Jones's second novel, "The Sword of Medina," takes place after Muhammad has died. A'isha, who is still young, then has the responsibility of continuing Muhammad's legacy and the traditions of the Islamic faith.
Jones's novels have been published in 20 languages, but this was no easy task. When Jones tried to get her first novel published, Random House was about to sign her, but backed out when many historians said the novel would outrage the Muslim community.
Beaufort Books, Inc., the company who finally signed Jones, had to hire special security because of threats made against them, according to Jones.
Critics have called Jones, "The world's most dangerous author" and a "dirty sex worker."
According to Jones, she was just trying to "bring to life women who achieved great things."