"Islam offending" book back on shelves

BELGRADE -- Sherry Jones’ The Jewel of Medina, recently withdrawn, will be returned to Belgrade’s bookstores.

Jones' book premiers in Belgrade (Beobook)
Jones' book premiers in Belgrade (Beobook)

The publisher said that readers’ reactions were positive and that the book would soon be published in most European countries.

Beobook publishing company director Aleksandar Jasić explained the u-turn by saying that "it would be good for Serbia’s Muslim community", who fiercely opposed the book’s publishing, for the readers, "who are the only ones competent to judge", and for the publisher.

Jasić also said the readers' reactions so far were "very positive".

He explained that despite the fact that the book was withdrawn from the stores in July, copies were still available in the streets at double prices, adding that soon after the publisher dropped the book, pirate versions started to sell Beobook name.

Jasić said that many tabloids, as well as "serious Serbian newspapers", printed the most provocative parts of the novel, without the publisher’s approval. The parts that were published, Jasić said, were mostly taken out of the context.

The publisher has willingly withdrawn Jones’ book from the stores, after the Islamic Community in Serbia seated in Novi Pazar, protested, stating that the book described the life of Aisha, the seventh, and as it is believed "the favorite wife" of prophet Mohammad, "in a pornographic manner".

Serbia’s Islamic Community states that it is an insult and the sacrilege to write about the Islamic prophet outside the frames of Quran, emphasizing that writing about any of Mohammed's' wives – and there were twelve – is an offense to every Muslim, who considered these women to be their mothers.

On the other hand, publishers, experts on Islam, book critics, and for the most part the readers protested against the book’s withdrawal, saying that that in a democratic society no one had the right to conduct censorship, including religious communities.

Ombudsman Saša Janković was the only state official to react, by saying after separate meetings with Mufti Zukorlić and the publisher that in Serbia, "books are written and published freely".

In a public statement Janković said that everyone had an obligation to respect human rights and freedoms, and that the state’s role was to protect and to enable human rights to be implemented.

After Random House, the largest publisher U.S. publisher, cancelled the book’s publication, Jones’ novel premiered in Belgrade.

This publisher said that their decision came in fear of exposure to violent expressions of discontent “by a small radical segment” of the Muslim community.

In response, the Langum Trust foundation decided to “blacklist” Random House until the book is published. In a statement, David Langum, the founder, said that “this kind of cowardice" deserved the sharpest criticism.

Still, according to the announcements from the world’s largest online bookstores, such as Britain’s Bookseller, the Belgrade publisher will not stand alone in the decision to print and sell the book.

Britain's Gibson Square will publish the first copies of The Jewel of Medina in English, and will organize promotions in the largest British and of Commonwealth cities, along with participation in the Frankfurt book fair.

The Jewel of Medina is to be published in the U.S., Italy, Germany and Hungary, and it is expected that by late this year and early 2009, it will be printed in Russia, Brazil, Macedonia, Spain, Finland, Denmark and Poland, while negotiations are ongoing with publishers in Sweden and the Netherlands.