Publishing giant Random House has scrapped plans to publish a book on Aisha, the wife of Prophet Mohammed, fearing that it could be the new Satanic Verses and may draw the wrath of the Muslim community.
"I'm devastated," said author Sherry Jones, whose novel The Jewel of Medina was bought by the publisher last year in a $100,000 two-book deal that was abruptly called off in May.
In a Wall Street Journal article, Asra Q Nomani, a former reporter of the journal, said, "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 humanising way."
The publishers feared it could become new Satanic Verses, a book written by Indian-origin author Salman Rushdie that led to death threats being issued to him, riots and the murder of its Japanese translators, the journal said.
"The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world," Nomani writes.
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, 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."
"I wanted to honour Aisha and all the wives of Mohammed by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored -- silenced -- by historians," Jones is quoted as saying in the article.
Last month, Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, so her literary agent could shop the book to other publishers.
This time, the trouble came not from any radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic, Nomani says, adding 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.
Jones put her on the list because she read Spellberg's book, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr.
Spellberg wasn't a fan of Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her.
"She was upset," Amanullah is quoted as saying. He says Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.
In an interview, Spellberg told Nomani that the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work."