Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Challenge 2013 - Book 5: The Jewel Of Medina

The book I actually wanted to review this month is actually very popular, therefore I had not been able to get it in the library yet. So bummed I went to find another book, stumbling upon this book, which has already caused major stirs before it has been even released. It's a fictional novel based on the early life of the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Aisha bint Abu Bakr.

The hard facts:
Title: The Jewel of Medina
Author: Sherry Jones
432 pages
Publisher: Beaufort Books, 1st edition (2008)
ISBN: 978-0825305184
Find it on Amazon

The story:
Aisha, a little girl in Mecca is suddenly confined to the house by her parents. There, she has to await her wedding, expecting the groom to be her childhood friend. However, the 6-year old finds out on her wedding day that not her peer is her intended husband, but the Prophet Muhammad, 50-something at that time. She is in shock and wants to refuse, but then submits to her fate, expecting to be released from confinement and moving to her new husband’s home. However, her confinement continues until the age of nine, after the family has relocated to Medina to escape persecution in Mekka. Once she has moved to the house of the Prophet, she quickly assumes the role of head of ther Harim, the women’s household. She is being raised by her sister-wife, Sauda, and enjoys the attention of the Prophet. The years pass; several battles against their enemy, Abu Sufyan, the rich merchant who has expelled Muhammad and his followers from Mecca, take place for survival and control of the area. Muhammad marries several more women, some of them being war widows, others securing political alliances. Aisha is dealing with her jealousy towards these women, which is a frequent issue between herself and the Prophet. At some point, she decides to run away with her childhood friend to be free from the increasingly strict rules the wives of the Prophet are submitted to and become a Bedouin warrior. When she notices that her friend has different plans for their future than she does, she decides to return to Medina, where her welcome is rather cold from the masses. Under pressure from his comrades, the Prophet sends her back to her father’s house until he has a revelation of Aisha’s innocence. However, their relationship keeps experiencing its ups and downs as more women join the Harim and Aisha’s position is in danger. Eventually, after his mistress Maryam falls pregnant, the Prophet accuses Aisha of lying about her own pregnancy to gain attention. The Prophet retreats for prayer and meditation for guidance on the future; while he is withdrawn, Aisha tries to visit him in his refuge, trying to explain her situation to him an plead for forgiveness. On the way back, she has an accident and miscarries. However, due to another revelation, Muhammad forgives his wives for their constant quarrels and disharmony in the Harim. The wives reconcile and Aisha is confirmed in her position as head of the Harim. The book ends with Muhammad’s death and the beginning of the quarrels on the succession as head of the Umma, the community of the early Muslims.

My opinion:

As I mentioned, there was an enormous controversy about the release of this book. The first publisher retreated from the contract due to threats from fundamentalist groups. The author, however, managed to get the book released after all and the publishing rights sold to other countries. To really form an opinion on the controversy, I talked to a colleague of mine, who is a fairly liberal and low-key Muslim (believe me, only she can fast for Ramadan for a months and no-one even noticing, I admire her!). What I needed to understand was how offending a piece of writing about the Prophet and his wives would actually be. I came to understand that it is understood that even though he had a total of 13 wives, he had only had a marital relationship with his first wife; the ones who followed were mostly widows he married to be able to protect and support them or women who secured a political alliance. Thus, depicting the Prophet, who is considered a man without sin by Muslims, as a man who married women because of desire and had marital relations with all of them would indeed be offending to them. Furthermore I learned that according to Islam, the genre of "historical novel" is an issue because filling in gaps in history by fiction distorts the truth and should therefore not be practiced. I believe a "normal" Muslim would resort to simply ignore this book, as it is not even a very good or entertaining piece of writing; more radical ones may, as it has happened, turn to threats in order to prevent the book from being released.

 Let me add that even Islam scholars cannot agree on an opinion of the book; while some endorse it as a good insight in the life of the early Umma, others condemn it as blasphemy.

To sum it up: not really worth your time.


  1. Wow this book sounds really interesting! I may have to check it out. :)

    1. Thanks, Jen! To me, actually, it was more the interest about the controversy. The book itself wasn't very good, in my opinion. Let me know what you think if you read it!

  2. If nothing else, I just learned more about Islam in the minutes I've spent here than I ever knew before. I like to think that true lovers of books respect the effort by the author, regardless of religious affiliation, but I'm coming to realize that those opinions sway every single decision of every single day. I know, I'm a little slow. :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Melissa! It was really important to me to see the book from the Muslim point of view, and the discussion with my colleague was really important for this review. Obviously, this book would be offending to most Muslims; but while the radical fundamentalists resort to threats of violence, most Muslims would simply not read the book and be done with it.

  3. Ha! Always good to know when a book should be avoided. Thanks for the recommendation Steph!

    1. Glad to be of assistance, Sarah ;-) I can REALLY recommend the "Bourbon Kid"-series, for everyone who likes Quentin Tarantino!