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The Jewel of Medina

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Last summer, the world was buzzing about Sherry Jones's book, The Jewel of Medina. It was the Satanic Verses of the 21st century. When the book's publisher decided to publish excerpts, outrage soon followed. The outcry by the religious and intellectual community was justified, however. Many scholars in Islamic history have called the book grossly inaccurate at best.

The characters in this badly-written fiction novel are just as unrealistic. Meet Aisha, the seventh century prepubescent girl during the first several chapters, yet she sounds like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan merged together. "In her world, women weren't supposed to fight, only to submit. They weren't supposed to live, only to serve." Pretty precocious for a six-year-old! Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is another one of countless causalities in this error prone tale. Jones attempts to cultivate a hero out of Aisha, and in order to do so, she portrays the holy character of Imam Ali as treacherous, one-dimensional, and, audaciously enough, "self-centered".

Quite possibly the biggest fallacy in Jewel of Medina is that while it is offensive, it is also predictable. There has been an extensive history of anti-Islamic doctrine that uses sex and violence to attack the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and his faith. Jones's novel follows in that oft-trodden path, first conjured during the times of medieval Christianity. The book merely recycles controversial narratives regarding the Prophet Muhammad's wives found in earlier versions of The Satanic Verses.

Jones attempts, although unsuccessfully, to exalt the status of Aisha above that of others. There is a great chance that several of the incidents in the book, including the botched marriage of the Prophet to Alia, the Yemeni bride, had been narrated in several traditions. That, however, cannot explain the tragic nature of this book. The story once more has Aisha saving the Prophet, and in order to save him, Aisha tells the would-be assassin bride provocative stories about the Prophet's "desires". This tone has been followed throughout the book, and on several occasions, sexual innuendos are made. Other times, detail is given so much so that the book becomes insulting to read as a Muslim. Not only does the pre-teen Aisha speak of such topics in the book, her character also brings down others. The Prophet isn't spared either from this nonsense, "Desire? Muhammad was having so many of them at that moment, they clashed like lightning bolts on his face."

Even more insulting to the Prophet is the allegation he is often outmaneuvered by a skinny, red-haired teenager who is also depicted as some military mastermind. Her jealously leads her to believe that Prophet Muhammad's multiple marriages are motivated at least partly by desire not, as he tells her, to make strategic alliances.

Jones's prose is lamentable on so many fronts. She lacks basic knowledge and background to have ever written anything less than horribly awful. With regards to history, she is an inexperienced, untalented author. She plunged into an extremely sensitive and volatile intellectual argument based on very little research. The tale manipulates early Islamic versions of Aisha's life, the first of which was written at least 100 years after her death. She also incorporates a Turkish custom into seventh century Arabia hundreds of years before it even existed. Using this concept, she attempts to make us feel compelled to believe Aisha was indeed the favorite wife of the Prophet. This, however is not only the mistake of Jones, but rather should be attributed to unsound traditions that have consistently been proven by Islamic intellectuals as incorrect.

The Nancy Drew-like protagonist found in Aisha is also a sword fighter and detective. Yet all the while having the genius of mastermind, Aisha remains an emotionally immature child. This instance is one of many contradictions in the novel, which ultimately makes a fool out of the author. Jones has insisted that the book is heavily researched, but that claim can be thrown out the window without second thought.

The cover of the book has a warning: "The Jewel of Medina is a work of fiction." This, however, doesn't even begin to make up for this disaster of a book. It has very strong elements of the falsification of Islamic history and depends purely on controversy and media attention for sales. The book exploits those who know nothing about seventh-century Islam and adds to layers of ignorance about Islam among non-Muslims. It is a form of character assassination not just against Aisha but rather the Prophet, with the aid of some very twisted traditions on which the scandalous narratives are based.

Religious concerns aside, the book doesn't deliver as a piece of "art", if we can even label it as such. As literature, it is miscalculated and mediocre, and it does nothing to enlighten the everyday Western reader. It remains a question for many Muslims: how do we react? Certainly not by firebombing the home of the book's publisher in England! If anything, we are simply solidifying anti-Muslim stereotypes that such books present to the world. Our best bet is to combat such books with historically-correct accounts of history, a task that seems to be beyond many Muslims who buy into half-baked narrations that attack and demean the Prophet. Furthermore, a sad question to ask is: why are Muslims so easily up in arms against an attention-seeking novelist who will soon be forgotten in the annals of history, but not against the hundreds of fabricated narrations that slander the Prophet and Imam Ali and have continued to grace various "authentic" compendia of Hadith literature for over fourteen centuries now?

Author of this article: Huda Jawad
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