I am sharing my own comments and the article published in the Washington post, there are many comments on the post at the link given with the article below.
Also included is the author's explanation.
Asra Nomani jolts a few, cause the majority of Muslims to think and certainly agitate the extremists. I do know one thing though; the masters know how to play the game, they know how the extremists react and tease them to play; and the extremists simply fall prey for it without realizing that they were had.
The Dutch cartoon Masters tested the mettle of the extremists, and succeeded in getting them to do the intended thing, so they can move their next pawn; that Muslims are extremists. They have several moves planned, as long as the dumb extremists play the game, the Masters will give them the exercise.
Both are wrong, however the onus is on the Muslims, as the Prophet asks them to walk the middle path and not extreme. If one were to do his Jihad, an inner struggle and the strength to remain peaceful despite the temptations to be angry, to retaliate (turn the other cheek), hate, malice, revenge and other vices. Alas those dumb extremists listen to their own Prophet and play the other game; to be the peace makers.
Islam flourished and contributed towards the civilization when its followers listened to Qur'aan and explored and mined every knowledge field for the benefit of mankind.
Asra Nomani writes about a bold new territory being explored by Sherry Jones. “The personal life of Aisha, a prominent Muslim Scholar and the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).”
I urge Muslims to gear themselves to think and not react. If you cannot listen to the prophet, then don’t read the book. The more you re-act, the more books will be written, the more non-chalant you get, the incentive to write them dims. The Majority of Muslims always choose the right path and they need to speak when the few extremists roar.
When news spread that Random House had nixed publication of a new novel, "The Jewel of Medina," about the life of Aisha, the youngest wife of the prophet Muhammad, a congratulatory message went out to "all members of Husaini Youths (HY)."
"Walking on the footsteps shown by Imam Khomeini..." it said, referring to Iran's revolutionary leader, "Active members of HY foiled the conspiracy of Western Media to humiliate our beloved Holy Prophet Mohammad.... The writer Ms. Spillberg from Huston, US wrote this book without any base naming it as a historical fiction on the personality of Holy Prophet." Quite colloquially, it ended: "But after watching the posts by our active members, they have withdrawn the plans of printing it. Hats off for these brothers and all the members of HY. May Allah bless us all."
No big deal that the message got the author wrong: the novel was written by Portland journalist Sherry Jones. But, indeed, the HY group had been in the mix this past spring as Random House executives pondered a warning that the book would be a "declaration of war" on the Muslim world. In April, without reading the book, a 28-year-old HY member from Hyderabad, India, Ali Hemani, a young professional, had posted a seven-point plan to convince Random House to shelve the book this past spring.
This past weekend, Husaini Youth got a new member: Sherry Jones who joined the online group to start a conversation with her critics. She got an unexpected response from the man who had posted the seven-point plan: "I extend my hand for peace with you from all the Members of Husaini Youth." Sure, Jones has received the kind of ugly responses from Muslims that captures so much of what the West fears when it comes to Muslims. But the dialogue generated by the controversy surrounding her unpublished book shows that something valuable and much deeper has been set off in the Muslim world: a lively--and, yes, civilized--debate.
Sparking this debate was Random House's decision to cancel publication of the novel because of fears of a backlash from "a small, radical segment" of the Muslim community. I wrote an opinion piece last week, stating that the decision saddened me as Muslim and a writer because I have come to appreciate fiction as a powerful tool for understanding history.
What I didn't mention was this: I also believe the Muslim community can only move forward intellectually, spiritually and politically if we can engage as intellectual warriors in a civil, peaceful conversation about even that which may offend us. Even the Qur'an (31:19) enjoins us to decorous debate: "Lo! The harshest of all the voices is the voice of the ass."
That sort of decorous debate is happening. On blogs like http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/ and http://www.mikeghouse.net/, Muslims are wrestling with prickly questions about the prophet Muhammad's "jailbait bride," as one blogger put it, and the place of sex in the prophet's biography. On his blog, Mike Ghouse wrote, "...the onus is on the Muslims, as the Prophet asks them to walk the middle path and not extremes....I urge Muslims to gear themselves to think and not react. If you cannot listen to the prophet, then don't read the book....The Majority of Muslims always choose the right path and they need to speak when the few extremists roar."
To me, debate is a good thing--and it's the kind of honest conversation I believe we can endure, just as the Jewish and Christian faiths have endured creative license with the maternal and paternal figures in their histories.
In the case of "The Jewel of Medina," most Muslims actually responded to the novel with restraint. Shahed Amanullah, the Austin, Tex.-based editor of a mainstream Muslim website, altmuslim.com, was among the first Muslims to hear about the book. He said he got a phone call from University of Texas of Austin associate professor Denise Spellberg. "Denise called me and said, 'I want to be able to address this book before it comes out. Can you help me find other Muslims who will want to help me with it?'" he recalled. "She felt it exoticized the history. She thought it was another imposition of Western ideas on Muslim society."
Not long after getting off the phone, Amanullah shot a now infamous email to a listserv of graduate students in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, telling them he had received a "frantic" call from Spellberg. The email landed that day on a forum board at HusainiYouth.com, where a blogger posted the seven-point plan to protest the book.
In the wake of the controversy, some bloggers have pilloried Amanullah, American Muslims and Muslims in general. But Amanullah says he never wanted the book pulled. "I'm upset the book wasn't published," he said, "not because I agree or disagree with the book." For him, "I don't want to be in the position where we are stifling speech. Preemptive censorship is not in our interest. That's worse than even censorship. We're not going to silence our way out of problems."
Amanullah said he sent his email about the book to encourage "transparency." To him, it's better not to "blindsided." "That way we are calm and rational about our response," he said. "If somebody is going to be playing in my sandbox I should know what they are doing there."
The debate over whether historical fiction works with Islamic history is "part of a dialogue that has to happen in the public square," said Amanullah. "Muslims don't do nuance. Fiction is about all the grays," he said. "People are really sensitive about their history. Everybody wants to define history as they see it. It gets sensitive because there are social and political ramifications to the telling of history. But historical fiction is a great way to kind of explore possibilities. I'm not sure Muslims are quite ready for that in terms of our history."
In an effort to save her book, Jones sent a review copy to the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a New York-based Muslim American organization, where Sabeeha Rehman, director of interfaith program, read the book. In a letter to Jones, Rehman said the book was "very engaging, lush in its detail and imagery," chronicling impressive "general knowledge about the historical setting and events" and a "convincing" portrait of Aisha as "a courageous woman."
Yet, Rehman wrote, the novel would offend "Muslim readers," arguing that "certain aspects of the book and its approach will not be accepted by Muslim readers, can cause a firestorm, and seriously question the validity of the characters and the accounts." She noted she was "deeply offended by the liberal description of the Prophet's interaction with women." "Muslims also hold the Caliphs in very high esteem," she wrote, arguing the characters of Omar, the second caliph after the prophet Muhammad died, and Ali, the fourth caliph, is "disparaging," such as when the novel has them "barking." She wrote that "for Muslims" the belief is that "a dog is considered an unclean animal."
The book, she concluded, "was reviewed far three target audiences: (1) Muslim women; (2) Interfaith groups; and (2) World Muslim community," and the book doesn't "serve any purpose for any of these three groups."
To me it's always dangerous to refer to any group in the monolith, as Rehman did referring to "Muslim readers." As a Muslim, I reject the traditional interpretation that dogs are dirty, as does UCLA Islamic scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl. But she was pointedly not alarmist in her argument, rather, just urging "caution."
For his part, the Husaini Youth member, Hemani, said in an interview that he had joined the group to "serve the purpose of my life, by gaining closeness to Allah," saddened by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the situation of Palestinians in Israel. In a decision that Muslims around the globe can use as a guidepost for public debate, he said he had only one choice when it came to welcoming Jones because Allah "says one who rushes towards good deeds is the one I hold close in my view."
Asra Q. Nomani, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, is the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." She is a professor of journalism at Georgetown University.
In response to Georgiason,
As American Muslims, we don’t need an opinion from the Mufti of Al-Azhar; it is our life, our nation and our society. We have to co-exist and the responsibility is not be shouldered by any single group, we all have to own the responsibility and do our part without scoring on the other.
Rogue elements are always part of a society, however you chop it, religiously, ethnically, racially or other uniqueness. You find them in Muslims, and without a doubt, they are among Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and every group. We need to find them and turn them over to the FBI as common criminals, whoever they might be.
Can we count the same number in other faiths? Robertson, Falwell, Hagee, Crendo and many more will terrorize other people and nations, if the laws of our land were to be loose. Heck they wanted to murder Chavez, bomb Mecca, cursed Arial Sharon, they are true brothers of Bin Laden. All of them have on thing in common; they are insecure and misrepresent their faith to their constituencies.
Muslims around the globe are going through a gradual reformation. I will focus on just American Muslims. There is a tremendous reform happening and in the last five years I have observed remarkable changes – you can compare it to the information technology that came in to being in the eighties and every day is a new day, so is with American Muslims. I am working on the paper and you should be able to see it.
Does Islam allow for the separation of church and state? – Absolutely. 75% of Muslims in the world live in democracies, the others would too if we American had not promoted regimes that are not democratic.
Does Islam allow for the full legal equality of women? – Take the blinders off and not read the media that focus on the negatives. Do we, even the most advanced society practice it? Three of the Islamic nations that make up 25% of Muslim population had women heads; we have accepted the possibilities some 40 years later than them. Religiously all women have their rights, but not in practice, it is a shame, Islam is no different than other faiths when it comes to dealing with women. Of course, it is highlighted more as it suits the agenda of the few who want to manufacture an enemy.
Does Islam allow for religious pluralism? - Same things goes; God in his book Qur’aan guarantees his grace to every one who is good to the fellow beings regardless of what one believes. In practice, you will find faith defenders guarantee heavens exclusively, as if they own it.
There is a revolutions going among Muslims to restore the faith as it was intended to, to be open and inclusive and pluralistic.
Mike Ghousewww.WorldMuslimCongress.comWhat is good for Muslims has got to be good for the world and vice versa to have sustainable peace and prosperity for one and all.
Censoring "The Jewel Of Medina"
This month the U.S. publisher Random House planned to launch an historical novel about Aisha, the wife of the prophet Muhammad. The book was a rarity in Islamic-themed literature: an attempt by a Western woman to fictionalize the personal life of the prophet, and to bring to a wider audience one of the great feminist heroines of the Middle East.
Instead, three months ago, Random House decided to abandon publication of "The Jewel of Medina", by journalist Sherry Jones. Fearing the book might incite the same violent reaction as the Danish Muhammad cartoons, and that company staff and property might comes under attack from Muslim extremists, Random House terminated Jones' contract, as reported by Asra Nomani, who first broke the story in the Wall Street Journal last week.
Random House was particularly concerned about a scene in which the Prophet Muhammad consummates his relationship with Aisha, a child bride. It's a short scene, and not to everyone's taste, in which Muhammad's embrace is likened to a "scorpion's sting", but it hardly amounts to "soft core pornography", as the university professor who first raised objections to the book, Denise Spellberg, has described it.
(Read Spellberg's take on the controversy here.)
But Random House's decision to bow down to a hypothetical terrorist threat is surely a grave insult to the Western tradition of free speech, and to Muslims' ability to take the book for what it is: a decidedly glowing portrayal of the Prophet (in marked contrast to the Muhammad Cartoons, or indeed Satanic Verses).
Here, Jones gives an eloquent defense of her book, and explains why we should all take note of Random House's assault on our freedoms.
By Sherry Jones
" 'I can't' never does anything," my mother used to say. " 'I can' does it all."
When I set out to write a book about A'isha bint Abi Bakr, favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad, I never doubted that it would be published. After all, I had all the elements I needed for a terrific work of historical fiction: a remarkable heroine, little known in the West; a famous hero, widely misunderstood here; a setting unfamiliar yet exotic; and an exciting tale of love, war, spiritual awakening and redemption.
Five years and seven drafts later, I had indeed landed a publisher for "The Jewel of Medina." Not just any publisher, either, but Random House, the biggest house in the world. I was thrilled not only by the two-book deal, which included a sequel detailing A'isha's life after Muhammad's death, but also by the passion with which everyone at the publishing company seemed to embrace this novel. I was thrilled, but not surprised.
Soon, the foreign rights sales started coming in: Spain, Italy, Hungary. I still wasn't surprised. My agent called to tell me of an eight-city U.S. book tour -- gratifying, but not surprising. Book of the Month Club signed on to feature "The Jewel of Medina" in its August 2008 issue, and Quality Paperback Book Club would follow up six months later. My book seemed destined for the best-seller list.
Then, a university professor, asked for an endorsement, called Random House with warnings of a terrorist attack by angry Muslims if my book were published. "A national security issue," University of Texas associate professor Denise Spellberg reportedly said. "More dangerous than the Satanic Verses or the Danish cartoons."
Now this surprised me -- stunned me, in fact. The follow-up letter from her lawyer provided the second hit in Ms. Spellberg's one-two punch, threatening to sue Random House if her name were associated with my book in any way, including, I assume, a listing in my bibliography. Her reason had me reeling: She objected, she said, to the book's "sexual content," of which there is almost none.
Several weeks later, Random House associate publisher Elizabeth McGuire delivered the final blow. After consulting with other academic "experts" in Islam as well as the company's head of security, Random House executives had decided to "indefinitely postpone" publication. Not because of terrorist threats, mind you -- but because of threats of terrorist threats. Because, in other words, of fear.
I was, of course, devastated by this news, coming as it did less than three months before my Aug. 12 publication date. I was also chagrined to realize the far-reaching ramifications of this historic decision to quash a work of art before it could even reach the public eye. Is Random House no longer publishing books about Islam? How does this bode for the future of publishing? What will be banned next? Art? Music? Theater? Dance?
As a journalist for the last 28 years, I hold the right to free speech especially dear. The First Amendment is, in my view, the very best thing about living in the United States. Publishing houses can, of course, do whatever they want. But university professors? Ms. Spellberg urged Random House to abstain from publishing. The reason, she is telling reporters now, is that she doesn't like my book. Does this development mean our public universities no longer support the free exchange of ideas?
I'm optimistic, but not naive. I expected my book to spark controversy. "The Jewel of Medina" is a novel of women's empowerment, never a popular theme among fundamentalists of any faith. I was also aware that some would take offense at any fictional portrayal of Muhammad, especially one by a non-Muslim American woman. Given the respect with which I treat the Muslim prophet, however, I never expected to be killed because of it. I still don't.
As an advocate for peace, I have high hopes for "The Jewel of Medina" and its sequel, in which A'isha and her rival, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, are dual protagonists facing off in the first Islamic civil war. Already I've had many requests for interviews with Muslim journalists and have been invited to participate in a 90-minute chat on IslamOnline.org, a Muslim website which boasts of 13 million hits weekly.
This type of dialogue is long overdue. So far, discussion has centered around my not-published book, which almost no one has read. Soon, I hope, we will address the text itself, in published form, and my ideas, derived from research and experience, of moderate Islam as a religion of egalitaranism and, yes, peace.
In the meantime, using A'isha as my example, I challenge all to do as I am striving to do: Rise up against the culture of fear that pervades our society, refuse to succumb to racism, stand up for our rights, and live courageous lives.
Journalist Sherry Jones is a correspondent for BNA, an international news agency in the Washington, D.C. area, and for Women's eNews in New York. "The Jewel of Medina" is her first novel.
YOUR COMMENTS BELOW
( I have posted several of my responses to the comments in the Newsweek Washington post link provided above)
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PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.
The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.