On the pulling of The Jewel of Medina

When I first heard about The Jewel of Medina, I thought of all the non-fiction accounts we already have about Aisha’s life: the story about her swinging when Muhammed first meets her; the way her mom called her in and told her she was to be married; how years later she “lost a necklace” and wandered in the desert with a hottie for hours, pissing Muhammed off. I read books like this when I was getting my MA in Middle Eastern Studies. Do we really need another Aisha book?

A few weeks ago, no one was talking about this book. Then, the publisher pulled it for controversy it hadn’t even caused yet. Then, writers as big as Rushdie objected. In the future, the publisher would recant and actually release it. And gee, what a crate-ful of books they would sell every hour. If this was the novel’s publicity strategy, it was genius!

I found out today that Asra Nomani deemed the book controversial…after consulting with Denise Spellberg at UT. Denise was one of my professors when I was at UT. She was the one who turned me onto all those Aisha books. And she was really cool: I took an independent study course with her when she found out I was a creative writer trapped in an academic program, and all she ever assigned me was the duty to meet her for coffee once a month and write short stories.

Do I think The Jewel of Medina should be published? Yes. Will I read it? Absolutely not. And ah, the sweetness of living in a culture that allows the freedom to publish such a book and the freedom not to read it.

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