By Majed Iqbal- The passion of the Christ, The Satanic Verses, The Last Temptation of Christ, Danish cartoon of Prophet Mohammad and sketches of Hindu Goddess- recent times have seen plenty of controversies surrounding religion under the shroud of Freedom of expression.
In addition to these on-going debates lands the latest hot issue in the form of a Book titled “Jewel of Medina” by Sherry Jones that has made it one of the most controversial books of the season is the next showdown in this battle of ideas of religious sensitivities and the values of the ‘free world’.
Jones book is based on the life and events surrounding the Wife of the Prophet of Islam, Aisha, a renowned and well respected figure head for all Muslims referred to as “The mother of the believers”.
Sherry Jones has said, “I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored – silenced – by historians. Anyone who reads the book will not be offended,” Jones said. “I wrote the book with the utmost respect for Islam.”
But despite these re-assurances by the author, the content of the book has already been dubbed as offensive and provocative.
Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, who has written Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘A’isha Bint Abi Bakr, said about Jones’ book, “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography (referring to a scene involving Muhammad consummating his marriage to Aisha).
Even Salman Rushdie came into the open for Jones’ defense criticising the London Publishers, Random House, who had pulled out of the deal to publish the book. The Langum Charitable Trust, which awards lucrative literary prizes, said the company was too easily intimidated.
“Random House has exhibited a degree of cowardly self-censorship that seriously threatens the American public’s access to the free marketplace of ideas,” the trust said.
The War on Terror climate has seen continued attempts from different quarters to present Islam, Muslims, Shariah law and their History in a derogatory light whilst continuously hiding behind Freedom of expression. In this case the author apparently was trying to honour Islam, The prophet and his wifes through the book which has merged fact, fiction and fantasy to pander to the sexual tastes of its audience.
It is of no surprise to hear the detailed accounts of sexual adventures of celebrities, the break-ups, divorces and one -night stand stories. To use the same norms and values and thrust them onto depicting religious figure heads of Islam surely would un-nerve any one, regardless fo their faith or background.
Sherry Jones apparent detailed study of Islam and the lives of the Prophet and wives is surely questionable. What is even more questionable is the universality of the concept of Freedom of Expression and its suitability for protecting the dignity, rights and accommodation for people of differing persuasions.
Sherry Jones surely was mocking Islam when she mentioned how she was honouring Islam by writing this book.
Well, some can argue, that you cant stop her from saying that can you? Freedom of Speech!
PICTURED ABOVE- Serbian publisher decided to re-release the novel about the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s love life, after it was withdrawn in August 2008, the Tanjug news agency reported on September 14. Publisher, BeoBooks, withdrew 1,000 copies it printed in Serbian on August 18 under pressure from Islamic leaders. It was the first to be published in the world, according to local reports.