Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Writing about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

In the following article “You still can't write about Muhammad", Asra Nomani jolts a few, causes the majority of Muslims to think and certainly agitates 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 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 extremes. 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 they 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 dims. The Majority of Muslims always choose the right path and they need to speak when the few extremists roar.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

You Still Can't Write About Muhammad
August 6, 2008; Page A15

Starting in 2002, Spokane, Wash., journalist Sherry Jones toiled weekends on a racy historical novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Ms. Jones learned Arabic, studied scholarly works about Aisha's life, and came to admire her protagonist as a woman of courage. When Random House bought her novel last year in a $100,000, two-book deal, she was ecstatic. This past spring, she began plans for an eight-city book tour after the Aug. 12 publication date of "The Jewel of Medina" -- a tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet's harem.

It's not going to happen: In May, Random House abruptly called off publication of the book. The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world.

Random House feared the book would become a new "Satanic Verses," the Salman Rushdie novel of 1988 that led to death threats, riots and the murder of the book's Japanese translator, among other horrors. In an interview about Ms. Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr. Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."

This saga upsets me as a Muslim -- and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way. "I'm devastated," Ms. Jones told me after the book got spiked, adding, "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." Last month, Ms. Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, so her literary agent could shop the book to other publishers.

This time, the instigator of the trouble wasn't a radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg's book, "Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr."

But Ms. Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms. Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.
In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: "the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life." Says Ms. Spellberg: "I walked through a metal detector to see 'Last Temptation of Christ,'" the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. "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."

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didn't "know anything about it [the book]," but telling them, "Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, 'Jewel of Medina' -- she said she found it incredibly offensive." He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullah's email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims -- "Hussaini Youth" -- under a headline, "upcoming book, 'Jewel of Medina': A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam." Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure "the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world."

Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House's Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an.")

"She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence," Ms. Garrett wrote. "Denise says it is 'a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue.' Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP." ("The Jewel of Medina" was to be published by Random House's Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Jones's agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

On a May 21 conference call, Random House executive Elizabeth McGuire told the author and her agent that the publishing house had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of the novel for "fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims" and concern for "the safety and security of the Random House building and employees."

All this saddens me. Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception. There is in fact a tradition of historical fiction in Islam, including such works as "The Adventures of Amir Hamza," an epic on the life of Muhammad's uncle. Last year a 948-page English translation was published, ironically, by Random House. And, for all those who believe the life of the prophet Muhammad can't include stories of lust, anger and doubt, we need only read the Quran (18:110) where, it's said, God instructed Muhammad to tell others: "I am only a mortal like you."

Ms. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam" (HarperOne, 2006).
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
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  1. Ghouse Saahab, you are only looking at it from the point of view of those who want to bait and fight Muslims. You are not looking at their counterpoint within the Muslim world--the extremists who picked, built and used the Cartoon issue to build their support and dominance in the Muslim street, so to speak.

    As for Asra, to me, she comes across as more sincere than, say Irshad Manji, but she's also mainly a distraction in the struggle for hearts and minds of the Muslim World and the struggle for moderation. If you don't agree with or believe me, just spend some time downtown Karachi, Lahore, Lucknow, or Hyderabad.

  2. Sabahat,

    Thanks for the notes.

    I really liked your first piont about extremists strenghtening their bases, same goes with the other extremists neocons, they are welling their financial resources.

    As far as Asra goes, much of the venom against her is because she dares every one. She has gone through a lot of rough times, but it will benefit the next generation of Muslim women, she has paved the path of liberation or at least intellectual path. She is one of my Muslim heroes for having the guts to take one a few insecure men determined to crush her, rather than understand her point of view.

    I may not agree with everything she does, but who agrees with everything that one does? We have to put behind her past and see the value of her work for the future generation of Muslim women.

    I have known her for over a period of 10 years, she was on my Radio show when Dr. Wadud led the prayers. I got a few nasty calls for putting that topic on the air.. heck, would you rather Michael Savage do it?

    Thanks, Mike

  3. I have to agree. I consider myself fairly open-minded, but even I flinched when I read the excerpt quoted in the article by Ms Nomani.

    Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is a very personal thing, and to use a literary device to bring to mind such intimate images between our Beloved Prophet and his wife, peace be upon him, I felt was in very poor taste.

    You may also be interested in the phenomenon of 'taboo' that Steven
    Pinker writes about. Essentially, this novel would fire up a very
    deep-seated 'taboo' response in many people's brains. A little bit like if I shoved a pedophilic photograph under the noses of your average Westerner, or shouted f**k in a train. Different people have different taboos - we don't really care much if we verbally degrade the ancient god Norse because we are just not attuned to respect that image, yet most of us would hesitate to curse our children's names.

    Respecting other people's deep-seated taboos, particularly when it comes to such important entities as the Prophet and his family, is important in this globalised era. Sure the line between artistic freedom and respect for others may be a little fuzzy at times, but I think in this
    case the vast majority of Muslims would agree it has been well and truly crossed.

    Rachel Woodlock
    Centre for Islam and the Modern World
    School of Political & Social Inquiry
    Faculty of Arts
    Room H5.51
    Building H, Caulfield Campus
    Monash University
    Vic 3145, Australia

  4. Mike,
    The Hindus ate beef according to vedic hymns. If somebody spearheads a campaign for beef eating, what will happen? Just like that Nomani is trying only to insult Islam with her actions.

  5. Dear Mike Ghouse:

    I'm sure both you and Asra Noumani are the people with good intentions. But, on the other side, you don't understand one thing and you have no intention to understand: the love of muslims toward their prophet, his family and companions.

    I'm a fond of literature. I also read authors such as Nabokov, D.H. Lawrence and Salman Rushdie. But I don't agree with you and Asra Noumani when it comes to making the prophet as a figure of a love making scenario in a novel. No one has any right to play with other people's sensitivities in the name of anything. There is something called respect. You're expecting me to respect your individual desire to read and write whatever you want; but you don't want to respect more tan a billion people's desire and feelings. And attempting to teach them what is right! What a political correctness?

    First of all, it is a myth to think that an excellent piece of literature has to have an element of lust in it. Even in the name of realism, you cannot justify this myth. If some authors think and act this way, it is fine. It is their choice. But there is not any necessity for it.

    AND, if muslims don't like to hear the idea of their prophet is a novel hero having sex in a novel plot, this cannot be considered as anti-literature and anti-civilization. This is an absurd reductionism and please, in the name of intellectualism, don't force such an idea to be accepted by others. Instead of criticizing their love, please try to understand it. First of all, you're trapped in a self-defeating argument by forcing such an idea.

    Instead, you should try to understand this love for the prophet and his family. Try to develop en empathy for it. This love has nothing to do with extremism. "If you don't like it, don't read it" approach is another form of reductionism. It is indeed an escape clause for those who don't want to understand the others. It is a form of imposing what you consider right for the others.

    Please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to justify violent acts in any form. I don't endorse them. I'm just trying to talk about feelings of a normal muslim, most of whom don't even practice religion regularly. I'm talking about my father who did not even pray till he was 50, my brother who drinks alchool when he is in a wedding or with his good friends and prays only Fridays. Examples are so many that will take forever to list.

    Currently, I'm reading Salman Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence." With the suggestion of my wife, I'll also read his "Midnight's Children" which was recently chosen the best novel among all those that have won Booker Price. I did not read "satanic verses." but my wife read it. She also read his other novels. However, reading him is different from endorsing him for whatever he writes. We also don't endorse Khomeini's death fatwa. On the other side, more than a million muslims like me would like to see you, Ms Noumani and Mr Rusdie to understand that you are the ones missing the real issue at stake.

    And please, please, don't use civilization, literature, democracy and moderation as a shield for your lack of understanding. All these terms are contested and there is not one definition to them.

    Best regards,

    Levent Basturk

  6. Dear Levent Basturk,

    Through dialogue we can learn about each other.

    I hope you have not drawn any conclusions about me or Asra Nomani without clarifying or even reading what was written. However, I would like to share a thought about how propaganda takes root.

    Most people are not judgmental, however for those few who are, this is a fodder “. But, on the other side, you don't understand one thing and you have no intention to understand: the love of Muslims toward their prophet, his family and companions.”

    I have had my own hesitations about the article, I have not supported the content of the novel, but had simply asked fellow Muslims to think and not react. That was the teaching of the Prophet.

    The second most important point I raised was “ The wild reactions of the few** on Cartoons and Salman Rushdie fatwa had done EXACTLY opposite of what Islam stands for, and what Prophet Muhammad taught us. He would have prayed for the guidance of the mischievous Belgium cartoonists instead of destroying their property and making them think that Islam is violent. The prophet has set that model for us to follow when he journey to Taif. Religion is never the problem, it is the individuals and their insecurities that cause them to dictate, harass and control others.

    Love for prophet is doing what he wanted us to do, being what he wanted us to be and Not be destructive, that is the first count, the second count is to take the middle path and the third point is to Jihad is to reign in one’s anger, hate, and revenge instincts. Those few Muslims failed Mohammad (pbuh) and yet you claim they love the Prophet?

    Had those extremists made an appointment with the news paper editor to share the sentiments, it would have been different. No human yields to threats no matter how weak one is. Prophet also forgave the very people who were ready to kill him, when he walked into Mecca peacefully.

    Love for the Prophet translates into creating peace, that is what Islam means.

    ** not a billion, and it will never exceed 1/10th of 1% of Muslims – and that is not a representative sample of Muslims or any one.

    Mike Ghouse

  7. Dear Tariq, Mike and Sabahat
    I am glad that this discussion begins and now we are started to speak against extremism. Everyone has a right to convey his or her thoughts but these small group of extremists should know that now Muslims are getting matured and are not ready to fell in any trap either by masters or by Mullahs....l

    Allah has promised that he will take care of the last religion and the holy book Quran... Few disrespectful cartoons and books by these so called masters will not going to damage this religion...but our reaction will speak louder then these cartoon and books... So I request every Muslim to check their emotions, do not let it go to the extreme and abstain from this religious rage....

  8. Congratulations on 2 fronts:

    1) This website was mentioned today on the religion section. Kudos to you!

    2) Congrats on successfully intimidating an American Publisher for the 1st time ever in history! Another terrorist attack on American soil is just what we need to get McCain elected, so by all means, please continue to use fear and intimidation on American interests. We really need a good reason to invade Iran and THIS could be the straw that broke the camel's back. My personal thanks to every member of the HY. Your activism effectively advances the Conservative Republican agenda & continues to enable our current paradigm. Thank you again. (Whew, and to think I almost voted for Obama Hussein Barack.)

  9. Pal,

    You got it all wrong! You did not even read it and made the comment that we harassed the publisher...

    Be thoughtful my friend



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


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 ( 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.


Thank you.


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.