The Jewel of Medina

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The Jewel of Medina
Jewel of Medina cover.jpg
Cover for the planned Ballantine release of The Jewel of Medina
AuthorSherry Jones
CountryUnited States
PublishedOctober 2008
Gibson Square (UK)
Beaufort Books (US)
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages432 pages

The Jewel of Medina is a historical novel by Sherry Jones that recounts the life of Aisha, one of Muhammad's wives,[1] from the age of six, when she was betrothed to Muhammad, to her death.[2]

Although the novel was originally scheduled for release in 2008, the publication run was canceled by Random House due to concerns about possibly inflammatory content. Domestic and international publication rights were subsequently picked up by other publishing houses.[3][2][4]


Random House signed Sherry Jones to a two-book contract in 2007, offering her an advance of one hundred thousand dollars,[5] with The Jewel of Medina scheduled to be released on August 12, 2008.[6] The novel was to be featured by the Book of the Month Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.[6]

Sherry Jones in Århus, Denmark, 15 March 2009

Prior to publication, the Random House publicity department solicited comment from Denise Spellberg, professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas. She reportedly described the book as "incredibly offensive" and a "very ugly, stupid piece of work," suggesting that its "explosive" content could inspire violence among radical Islamic groups and thereby represent a threat to national security.[5] Random House responded by canceling the publication run.[7]


The Washington Post,[8] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,[9] and Las Vegas Review-Journal[10] printed editorials critical of the cancellation. Irshad Manji wrote in The Globe and Mail that preemptive censorship was offensive to Muslims.[11] Adam Kirsch criticized Spellberg and Random House for depriving Muslims of the freedom to reimagine their religious tradition through the eyes of a novelist.[12] Carlin Romano argued that Spellberg's "aggressive act" was tantamount to advocacy of censorship.[13] Spellberg said that she did "not espouse censorship of any kind" and that she had "used [her] scholarly expertise to assess the novel...."[14][15]

Salman Rushdie derided the decision as "censorship by fear."[16] Andrew Franklin of Profile Books labeled it "absolutely shocking" and branded Random House editors as "cowards."[17] Bill Poser decried what he perceived to be suppression of speech deemed potentially offensive "out of fear of violence by religious fanatics."[18] Geoffrey Robertson argued that the publisher should pay Jones "substantial compensation" and recommended that the book be placed on a website "so everyone can read it."[17]

Stanley Fish disagreed with the characterization of censorship, arguing that as a nongovernmental entity, Random House had simply made "a minor business decision" and that no free-speech concerns were implicated.[19] For her part, Jones insisted that she had approached her topic "respectfully," envisioning the novel as "a bridge builder."[20][6]


The cover of the Serbian edition, the first official edition of the book.

The Jewel of Medina was published in Serbia in August 2008. After strong reactions from the Serbian Muslim community, Serbian publisher Beobook withdrew it from stores[21] but returned it to shelves shortly thereafter to forestall widespread piracy.[22] It remained the number-one bestseller in that nation for at least two months.[23]

On September 4, 2008, British publishing house Gibson Square announced that it would publish The Jewel of Medina in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth,[2] with founder Martin Rynja calling for "open access to literary works, regardless of fear."[2][24] Alvaro Vargas Llosa praised the firm's "willing[ness] to run the risk of not letting the threat of violence inhibit free expression."[25]

The following day, Beaufort Books announced plans to publish the novel in America,[3] signing Jones to a contract with a smaller advance but higher royalties.[3][26]

On September 27, 2008, Rynja's London home was firebombed.[27] Three men were arrested on suspicion of commissioning, preparing or instigating acts of terrorism and ultimately convicted of conspiracy to recklessly damage property and endanger life.[28] Radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudhary warned of further attacks.[29] Gibson Square postponed publication of the novel indefinitely.[23]

As of 2009, the book had been published in Germany, Denmark, Serbia, Italy, Spain,[23] India,[30] Hungary, Brazil, Russia, North Macedonia, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.[3][15][22][31]


Marwa Elnaggar criticized the book's portrayal of pre-Islamic Arabic culture, suggesting that Jones was influenced by "the idea of the exotic and mystical Orient."[32][33][34] Ethar El-Katatney critiqued the book as "flawed."[35][36][37][38]

Farzana Versey dismissed the writing as "chick lit . . . rather treacly."[39] The New York Times Book Review scathingly described Jones as "an inexperienced, untalented author" of "lamentable" prose.[40]

Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Muhammad condemned the novel as "blasphemous" and Jones as "an enemy of Islam," denouncing the story as "yet another chapter in the continuing war against Islam and Muslims."[41] Jones retorted that she was offering "the hand of peace with a book that is respectful" and urged Muslims to read the book and judge it for themselves.[citation needed]


A sequel entitled A'isha: The Legacy of the Prophet internationally and The Sword of Medina domestically was published in October 2009.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jan Goodwin, Price of Honour: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. London: Little, Brown Book Group, 1994
  2. ^ a b c d "Muhammad novel set for UK release". BBC News. 4 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  3. ^ a b c d "Publisher of O.J. book to handle Muhammad novel". The New York Times. Associated Press. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-08.[dead link]
  4. ^ Jones, Sherry (2008-10-15). The Jewel of Medina: A Novel: Sherry Jones: 9780825305184: Books. ISBN 978-0825305184.
  5. ^ a b Nomani, Asra Q. (2008-08-06). "You Still Can't Write About Mohammad". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Sherry (30 December 2009). "Censoring "The Jewel Of Medina"". The Washington Post. "Islam's Advance: PostGlobal" blog. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  7. ^ "Book on Prophet Muhammad's wife dropped". Press Trust of India. NDTV. 7 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
  8. ^ Random Error, Editorial, Washington Post, August 22, 2008
  9. ^ Censorship never goes out of style by Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 31, 2008.
  10. ^ Islamic intimidation trumps liberty again, Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 25, 2008.
  11. ^ Pre-emptive Censorship is Offensive to Muslims by Irshad Manji, The Globe and Mail, August 22, 2008.
  12. ^ Freedom's Gift to Religion by Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun, August 26, 2008
  13. ^ 'The Jewel of Medina': Anatomy of a Ruckus by Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 19, 2008.
  14. ^ Spellberg, Denise (2008-08-09). "I Didn't Kill 'The Jewel of Medina'". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  15. ^ a b Nawotka, Edward (13 August 2008). "UT professor's complaints lead to cancellation of book about Muhammad's wife". Austin American-Statesman. alternate archive. Archived from the original on August 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  16. ^ Bone, James (16 August 2008). "Salman Rushdie attacks 'censorship by fear' over The Jewel of Medina". The Times. London. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  17. ^ a b Flood, Alison (12 August 2008). "Call for compensation after shelving of Islam novel". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  18. ^ Poser, Bill (25 August 2008). "Rushdie 1, Fish 0". Language Log. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
  19. ^ Fish, Stanley (24 August 2008). "Crying Censorship". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 August 2008. Retrieved 27 August 2008.
  20. ^ Honan, Edith (7 August 2008). "Random House pulls novel on Islam, fears violence". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  21. ^ "Book "offending Muslims" withdrawn". B92. 17 August 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  22. ^ a b ""Islam offending" book back on shelves". B92. 15 September 2008. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  23. ^ a b c Sherry Jones, Real Clear Politics (31 December 2008)
  24. ^ "Once Feared Historical Novel Finds Home in Britain". Gibson House website. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  25. ^ Alvaro Vargas Llosa (10 September 2008). "The Freedom To Publish". The New Republic. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
  26. ^ "Beaufort Books Secures Deal to Publish Once Feared Historical Novel The Jewel of Medina" (Press release). Beaufort Books. 8 September 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  27. ^ Jamie Doward and Mark Townsend (28 September 2008). "Firebomb attack on book publisher". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  28. ^ Adam Fresco, "Radical Muslims guilty of firebomb plot on publisher of Prophet Mohammed book", The Times, 15 May 2009.
  29. ^ John Bingham (28 September 2008). "Radical Islamic clerics warn of further attacks after publisher is firebombed". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  30. ^ "Controversial book on child bride of Prophet released".
  31. ^ Lyall, Sarah (2008-09-28). "Attack May Be Tied to Book About Muhammad". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-29.
  32. ^ Elnaggar, Marwa. "When Sherry Jones Writes About 'A'ishah". IslamOnline. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  33. ^ Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved October 14, 2008. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ Archived from the original on February 18, 2011. Retrieved October 14, 2008. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ "The "Flawed" Jewel of Medina". 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
  36. ^ El-Katatney, Ethar (October 2008). "Flawed Jewel". Egypt Today. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
  37. ^ Jones, Sherry. "Sherry Jones (by Ethar El-Katatney)" (MP3) (Telephone interview). Interviewed by Ethar El-Katatney. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
  38. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 13 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  39. ^ Versey, Farzana (Summer 2008). "Who Says You Can't Write about Muhammad? How Liberal Fiction Dictators Play with History". State of Nature. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  40. ^ Adams, Lorraine (2008-12-14). "Thinly Veiled". The New York Times.
  41. ^ "The Jewel of Medina". Islam for the UK. 2 October 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  42. ^ Jones, Sherry (2009). The Sword of Medina: A Novel: Sherry Jones: 9780825305207: Books. ISBN 978-0825305207.

External links[edit]