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Muhammad love story finds US publisher

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beaufort Books, the independent American publisher that picked up OJ Simpson's fictional murder confessional If I Did It, is courting controversy again with the acquisition of North American rights in Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina, a reimagined version of the love story between Muhammad and his favourite wife Aisha.

The book was originally lined up to be published by Random House US, but was dropped after the publisher was warned by security experts and academics that it could be offensive to the Muslim community, and risked inciting violence from extremists. Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, described it as "a very ugly, stupid piece of work" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying it turned a sacred history into "softcore pornography".

Beaufort Books will publish The Jewel of Medina in October this year. The book's UK publisher Gibson Square Books - which also published OJ Simpson's quasi-memoir - has also lined up an October publication date. If I Did It, Simpson's hypothetical account of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, was originally lined up to be published by HarperCollins in 2006 but was cancelled and pulped after public outrage.

Jones said she had hoped to find an independent publisher with "gumption and verve", that "wouldn't be spooked by controversy, recognising it as a stimulus for discussion of my book's themes of women's empowerment, peace, and hope". She said she felt that Beaufort was the "perfect home" for her novel given its "track record of support for free speech and expression".

In a statement, Beaufort president Eric Kampmann said: "We are building a great team to bring The Jewel of Medina to the audience it deserves to have. Everyone at Beaufort is proud to be associated with this ground-breaking novel." Beaufort will publish Jones's sequel next year.

Jones's agent Natasha Kern has also sold rights in the novel to Spain, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Macedonia, Brazil and Germany. Following its publication in Serbia by BeoBook in August, it was withdrawn from bookshops after protests from an Islamic pressure group. (Source: