Last month I reviewed The Jewel of Medina, a historical fiction novel that dealt with the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride Aisha. Although I found the book interesting and timely, I had some quibbles with the plot and characterizations. Mostly I was concerned with the portrayal of Muhammad, which I felt was somewhat dubious. After posting the review, the books author, Sherry Jones, was kind enough to send me an e-mail which answered many puzzling questions I had regarding the book. I thought I would share this e-mail, as I found it both enlightening and edifying.
Thank you for reviewing "The Jewel of Medina." I'm glad you enjoyed it for what it is: An enlightening tale of the origins of Islam, and a story about the difficulties of harem life.
Zibilee, my portrayal of Muhammad as a sexual man is accurate according to the Islamic traditions. One tradition tells how Muhammad had intercourse with all his wives every night, and ends, "Allah gave him the strength of twenty men." Some traditions say he had as many as 20 wives at one time, although I could only verify a total of 12 in his harem. Those of us who grew up with Christianity are so used to separating spirituality from sexuality that we have a hard time holding both in the same container. But, as the Tantric tradition demonstrates, the two can -- and, perhaps, should -- be intertwined.
Many books have been written about Muhammad the military strategist, etc. My goal was to tell about the women behind the man -- his domestic life -- and to portray the difficulties of life in the harem. It seems that you picked up on these difficulties. My information came from the Islamic traditions as well as many books about Muhammad and his wives.
And yes, the hype surrounding "The Jewel of Medina" has set readers up for disappointment. Things weren't supposed to be like this, but I can't do anything about it. I can only hope that, in time, the controversy will fade and people can approach the book for what it's intended to be: A love story, a book about women's obstacles and women's empowerment, a look at the origins of Islam through the eyes of one woman, and a bridge-builder, showing us in this culture that Muslims are people, too, and that its leader was a man of compassion and gentleness.
I love to see my book discussed for its contents and not for the controversy. As a noted Italian literary critic said to me, "The scandal is nothing. The book is everything!"